22 Apr 2018

Christianity and Hell

All Posts, Religious 15 Comments

I have written several posts here on the concept of hell (although the only one I can find right now is this one). I was thinking about it again after watching this trailer of the movie “Come Sunday”:

I think the only way to really make sense of hell is that the sinner in a sense chooses it. Here is CS Lewis: ““In creating beings with free will, omnipotence from the outset submits to the possibility of … defeat. … I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside””.

Note that this isn’t merely us being squeamish about the implications of sin. Look at what Jesus Himself said (Mt 23:37, NIV): “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

15 Responses to “Christianity and Hell”

  1. ThomasL says:

    Yes, I would also point you to Fr Garigou Lagrange’s famous work Life Everlasting, that similarly argues that each soul casts itself, in a sense, to where it is most disposed. This is congruous with St Augustine’s even more famous line “My loveis my weight”. Remembering of course he is working with a pre-Newtonian idea of gravity, he is basically saying we are all finally drawn to what we love the most. If it is God, that is where we will end up, and if our true love is something other than God, we well might get it, but find that it is Hell (there is a worthwhile Twilight Zone to this end…)

    The justice of Hell is also addressed in some detail in Josef Pieper’s the Concept of Sin and in the paper the Justice and Goodness of Hell by John Lamont. The latter is particularly interesting in one sense, in that is a direct answer to some specifically critiques that a just God could not permit there to be a Hell.

    All that said, it is a “both/and” in that Hell is also an inflicted (not just self-imposed) punishment. It would make an interesting psychologically profile, but the idea for that last part is the point that, knowing with certainty that I’d go to jail for X, I could still choose to do X. Does that make the jail self-imposed? Not really, the punishment is what I deserve in justice, but it still isn’t me punishing myself.

    Hell in orthodox Christianity works out as a bit of both, between the fact that it is a true punishment, but in some rather strange way, one that was freely chosen.

    And, of course, because of Christ’s Sacrifice, one that could be avoided by repentance….

  2. Rory says:

    Bob, I’ve actually been meaning to ask you something somewhat related to this, but for now do you mind me asking what you make of universalism, or perhaps more specifically Christian universalism a la Rob Bell or Robin Parry? Your position on hell as described above and in other posts seems consistent with universalism but I’m guessing you either don’t have a favorable opinion or it is nuanced.

    If you’re not familiar, Robin Parry’s YouTube channel might be of interest (he’s got only 10 or so directly dealing with Christian universalism). One such video to get you started:


    • ThomasL says:

      Bell’s view of a kind of puragatorial Universalism has a few issues. One, of course, is that it is simply outside the traditions of orthodox Christianity. (While it is accurate that others, even in the Early Church, have suggest similar things, those views had always been roundly rejected.)

      But the second is a philosophical/theological problem that is even more fundamental. The theological basis of the fixity of will for the Saints in Heaven is the same as the fixity of will for those in Hell, and the two stand or fall together.

      That is, if the will is still changeable after death, it isn’t just those in Hell that could change for the better; those in Heaven would be in danger of falling, and so the road between Heaven and Hell would necessarily run both directions.

      Again, that doesn’t just violate Christian tradition (though it does that too), it is makes something of a farce of Heaven, since our relationship to God would be eternally unsettled.

      • Counterfactual says:

        But doesn’t Heaven have the reputation of being a place that once you see it, you would not want to leave? In fact, if people, after seeing it, want to leave, it is arguable that it is not Heaven at all.

        Let us just say that Hell does not have the same reputation, so I am not sure the road between them would be a two-way road.

        • Rory says:

          This is my thought process as well

      • Dan says:

        Why couldn’t it be that man would never go bad once they were in the presence of God in Heaven, but could also be saved after death?

        It’s similar to the question I always have when Dr. Murphy discusses his thoughts on what Hell is. If giving some men full knowledge of the consequences of their actions would make them willingly choose Hell, then why wouldn’t God deny us this knowledge? He denies it during our life, why would he part it on us when we die if it will result in us choosing Hell? That makes no sense to me.

        • Andrew says:

          I don’t think He really does deny us the knowledge of the consequences of our actions during life. I think we have the faculties to evaluate the decisions we are making. What we don’t have is another being that can see our entire existence at once evaluating us. After life, God pulls up all the old records and says, “I gave you life and here is what you did with it.” He does that for your life in its entirety, all the good and all the bad. How often do we do that for ourselves while we are alive? We certainly have the ability to evaluate all of our life’s memories but we tend to hide from those that make us uncomfortable.

          I don’t see it as, “Here’s all the negative consequences of your actions that you never realized while you were alive.” I see it as, “Here’s all the things that you knew were sinful and persisted in anyway. You denied their significance to everyone, including yourself. You hid from the truth until this moment. Now, there is nowhere left to hide.”

      • ThomasL says:

        (Replying to all, as the point is similar).

        This is contradicted in no small part by the fall of the angels. But rather than answer it all myself, I’d suggest this article in the Summa:


        Mind you Origen at least speculated (and Bell follows him in this) on the salvation of the demons and of Satan, which is something you’d have to reckon with if you hold this view, but as St Thomas points out:

        “[This] is also contrary to the authority of Sacred Scripture, which declares that demons and wicked men shall be sent “into everlasting punishment,” and the good brought “into everlasting life.” Consequently such an opinion must be considered erroneous; while according to Catholic Faith, it must be held firmly both that the will of the good angels is confirmed in good, and that the will of the demons is obstinate in evil.

        We must seek for the cause of this obstinacy, not in the gravity of the sin, but in the condition of their nature or state. For as Damascene says (De Fide Orth. ii), “death is to men, what the fall is to the angels.” Now it is clear that all the mortal sins of men, grave or less grave, are pardonable before death; whereas after death they are without remission and endure for ever.”

        That is, it wasn’t the gravity of the angels’ sin that makes them unforgivable, it was the completeness and fixity of their choice that makes them incapable of repenting.

        Men, after death, are in a similar spiritual condition, and the choice of their will is fixed one way or the other.

        • ThomasL says:

          Also all of Question 98. ‘The will and intellect of the damned’


          You may or may not agree with it (and it is certainly
          an uncomfortable subject), but this is the traditional Christian understanding, and it is always worth engaging with the tradition.

        • Rory says:

          I’m not trying to entangle you in gotchas, but how were they in Heaven in the first place and then sent to Hell if their choice was “fixed”?

          It would almost seem there is a conflation of two possible understandings of “fixed” – one relying on the omniscience of God to know once an entity has made a fixed choice, and another that more conforms to our human understanding of the word in that we’re saying whatever decision you make regarding the rejection or acceptance of God is now what you live by eternally. If the angels fell from Heaven after some time, can others? Regardless of the answer it seems to violate the one way street principle.

          • ThomasL says:

            It is not a gotcha, and I don’t mind the question, but it is a misunderstanding. I’d recommend reading the entirety of the two articles linked, plus, if you have time, this conveniently recent post by Ed Feser: https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2018/03/no-hell-no-heaven.html

            This quote by St Thomas Aquinas details the difference:

            “Consequently man’s will adheres to a thing movably, and with the power of forsaking it and of clinging to the opposite; whereas the angel’s will adheres fixedly and immovably. Therefore, if his will be considered before its adhesion, it can freely adhere either to this or to its opposite (namely, in such things as he does not will naturally); but after he has once adhered, he clings immovably. So it is customary to say that man’s free-will is flexible to the opposite both before and after choice; but the angel’s free-will is flexible either opposite before the choice, but not after. Therefore the good angels who adhered to justice, were confirmed therein; whereas the wicked ones, sinning, are obstinate in sin. Later on we shall treat of the obstinacy of men who are damned.”

            This is a fundamental formal distinction between reason and intellect, since reason arrives at an understanding of certain possibilities by abstraction from the specific to the general, but intellect arrives at all possibilities immediately from the principle.

            Yes, I know that is crazily complicated, but I’ll short circuit and say that being purely spiritual neither God nor angels use reason, but pure intellect.

            That is, they don’t figure things out, they *know*. God knows all (of course) and angels know some, but what they know they *know*.

            It dates back to at least St Augustine’s (late 300s, early 400s) commentary on Genesis, if not earlier, that the angels that fell did so in the moment of their creation. That is, some (by free will) chose evil, and others good, but they made the choice once and for all upon the moment of their creation.

            That makes sense when you combine the two, as they weren’t learning anything new, since they apprehended instantly everything that they knew, they knew exactly what they were doing, and it wasn’t like they were going to change their mind.

            Though it moves a bit off topic, I would recommend the book God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy by Fulton Sheen for an detailed philosophical treatment on reason, intellect, etc. More detailed and more accurate than I can summarize.

            • ThomasL says:

              FWIW, it isn’t inconceivable for God to *reveal* something to an angel by a kind of direct revelation and so come to some new knowledge that way.

              What I am saying is that angels don’t sit around pondering and then all of a sudden shout, “Eureka! I figured it out,” but rather understand things from their very principles.

              (This is also a bit of a refutation Plato, incidentally, that would have located all sin as a kind of ignorance. It is true of men that some degree of ignorance always remains in our acts, but the fall of the angels shows us that perversity of will is the true culprit, not lack of knowledge.)

  3. Mark says:

    God loves you so much, that He will not impose Himself on you. If you want to spend eternity without Him, He will give you your wish.

    On a loosely related note, Fragments of Truth will be playing one night only (tomorrow, 4/23) at select theaters around the country. Read a review here: https://answersingenesis.org/reviews/movies/fragments-of-truth/

  4. cavalier973 says:

    An interesting element of Jesus’ story about the rich man and Lazarus is that the rich man never asks to be allowed to leave Hell. The most he asks is that Lazarus be sent with a drop of water on his finger to relieve his torment, a little (why not ask for Lazarus to bring a cup of water?). Does “Dives” accept–embrace, even–his fate of eternal shame and separation?

    In any case, while “Dives” seems content to remain in torment, he doesn’t want his brothers to wind up in Hell.

    It is my private, non-scriptural, opinion that those who die without Christ might still be saved, from God’s perspective, but they will, in God’s actual presence, be unable to overcome the shame of shooting Him by their unbelief, and will thus never have the capacity to ask for mercy.

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