A friend of mine and her husband are going through RCIA (instruction preparatory to joining the Catholic Church) at our parish. I enjoy chatting with her because many of the issues she is examining carefully are those I had to ponder as I was considering my own return to the Catholic Church in 2004. In one conversation, she mentioned that her husband has trouble with any hint of "hell and damnation". It's not uncommon for people to find it hard to understand that this doctrine is congruent with the all-surpassing love of God, but I've been thinking about it ever since.
It is true that we, as Christians, need to accept the truths of God that have been reliably revealed to us, regardless of the depth of our understanding. But that doesn't mean that they are always incapable of being at least partially understood. I think it is this way with the Final Judgment.
For me, the major discomfort with the thought of condemnation is any implication that it is arbitrary or somehow the spiteful comeuppance of an irritable God. This is, truly, not in harmony with the nature of God as we know him, he who is merciful, gracious and made of the very substance of love more real than we will ever know. So what is the place of eternal hell in the picture?
How long, O LORD? I cry for helpFor me, I find tremendous hope in the fact that the evil and injustice I see in the world will absolutely not be allowed to stand. Torment, evil, vileness, malice, contempt, the snarl of envy and deceit, those who prey against the weak and helpless -- all this will be called to a halt when the Time comes. People will not be innocently entrapped nor caught accidentally in the backwash leading to everlasting death -- no, they will freely have chosen for or against love, goodwill and the kingdom of God. If they choose against, they will have made their move into the absence of God where all evil and hatred and the things unable to live in the light of Christ grow and flourish. Those loathsome things and the ones who choose them will be left outside the walls of God's city. And where God is not is no good thing.
but you do not listen!
I cry out to you, "Violence!"
but you do not intervene. (Hab 1:2-3)
But the people we love, what about them? There is lovableness in them. And even in those we don't love aren't constructed solely of evil; we see goodness, grace, and worthy objects of love. How can we deal with the fact that they may be condemned? How could this be?
Fear not. Eventually, each person will have the opportunity to freely and without handicap, constraint or lack of understanding answer the question of Jesus, "Will you be mine, or will you choose to have it your own way?" We will buy our own ticket for the train of our choice by accepting or spurning his invitation to ride in his railway car.
- - - - -
I'm finally writing these thoughts because I learned a young friend of mine is being caused considerable pain by being harassed at school. And then my daughters told me about the case of Megan Meier who committed suicide after being harassed by the (wait for it) mother of a former friend. I'm sorry, I'm a mild-mannered, Clark-Kentish kind of woman, but this sort of thing incites me to rage and thoughts of highly-
For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock. (Psalm 27:5)