Playing the Indian Card

Friday, March 30, 2018

Pope Francis Abolishes Hell?

War in Heaven: Bosch
Pope Francis has gone and created another flurry of confusion with another off-the-cuff interview. This time he has been paraphrased as denying the existence of Hell.

The Vatican has issued a “correction,” but it is itself oddly ambiguous. It simply points out that the interview was not recorded, and the Pope’s words were not quoted verbatum. Therefore, it cannot be taken as an accurate transcript. This leaves open the possibility that, yes, the pope really did deny the existence of Hell. Indeed, if he did not, you would expect a clearer denial.

Above all else, we need clarity on such matters.

I understand very well that many people do not want to accept the reality of Hell. I was one of them, when I was younger. It is terrifying to contemplate, in the first place. It seems to violate the concept of divine mercy. And why would God create souls only for eternal torture?

But the issue, obvious as it is, came up early in the Church, and was debated and decided, and closed. Origen, the great Church Father, wanted to propose a doctrine of universal salvation: sooner or later, if after an era in purgatory, or perhaps several lifetimes on earth, each soul would eventually find its way to the divine glory. But despite the attractiveness of this proposition, and despite Origen’s considerable personal prestige, he lost the argument and was declared heretical on this point. As Francis would be, if he really said this. There is apparently no wiggle room here.

Like it or lump it, the matter is painfully unambiguous in the Bible. Jesus does not say that all people are basically good, but some become stray lambs. He divides people systematically into good and bad, sheep and goats.

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.” (Matthew 25-31).

Again, at the beginning of John’s gospel:

“Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

That seems like a pretty clear division. We all sin, no doubt, but some of us are dedicated followers of evil. Some are children of darkness, and some are children of light.

Jesus tells us to love our neighbour as ourself. But then, when asked, “who is our neighbour?” he does not say “everyone.” He tells the story of the Good Samaritan. Our neighbour is the one who does good; and others in the tale are contrasted; they are not our neighbour. They do not stop to help the injured man.

And how many people would, in real life, have done what the Samaritan did? How many, finding a stranger bleeding in a ditch, would put him up at an inn or in hospital at his own expense? Would it be most people? Probably only a minority, actually. In the parable, it is only one of four, or fewer. There was, after all, at least one robber; then both a priest and a Levite pass by without helping.

Awkwardly, the Bible says this plainly as well:

Matthew 7:14:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
So we apparently cannot even use the old dodge that “there may be a Hell, but we cannot know if anyone is actually in there.”

Faust and Mephistopheles.

The Beatitudes are often quoted: “Blessed are the poor.” It is usually overlooked that they are paralleled by a list of condemnations:

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”

There it is again. There are two kinds of people: the good and the bad. Those who listen to the shepherd, as it were, and those who follow their own wants.

There seems to be a class of people to whom Jesus does not even offer salvation.

Matthew 3: 7:

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”
Jesus and John the Baptist don’t appear to hold back much in describing the scribes and Pharisees as evil in so many words. They are called “full of hypocrisy and wickedness,” and asked “How will you escape being condemned to hell?” Jesus blames them for “All the righteous blood that has been shed on earth,” and tells them “you do not enter the kingdom of heaven.” They are introduced as “children of hell” (Matthew 23:13).

Matthew 13: 10-15:

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables: 
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”
Given that God is indeed infinite in his mercy, this must mean that some people have taken a basic position that they are never going to repent, no matter what. If so, Hell is necessary as a matter of divine justice. There is no point in making it temporary and corrective.

It is troubling, but nothing is gained by whistling past the graveyard. As St. Paul said, we must “work out our salvation in fear and trembling.”

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