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Catholic Faith
  Who is in hell?

     "If God commands us to always forgive our enemies, and to do good to people that do bad to us, why would He do the opposite and send people to hell that do bad to Him?
      This problem has troubled Christians for two thousand years.
     The Church has cleared the way for belief that perhaps God does not inflict eternal punishment on any good person. In an official Encyclical, it is declared that God's mercy and love are always greater than His justice. Good people, from all times and places and backgrounds, need not fear eternal damnation.
      We take these truths to be foundational: God is infinitely loving, infinitely merciful, and infinitely compassionate. We may assume then that He wants to find a way to save everyone. But God is also infinitely powerful. Therefore He will be able to save everyone; that is to say, everyone who wants to be saved. At the very least, God will offer His saving grace to everyone. We still have the free will choice to reject Him.
      You will notice that the Church has never said that there is anyone in particular in hell--even Judas. Judas would always have had the grace and opportunity to repent. We donít know how and when or where, but it is the reason the Church will never condemn anyone to hell. It canonizes saints, but never places anyone in hell since it dare not limit Godís mercy.
      But remember, being saved doesn't necessarily mean getting away scot-free. Both rewards and punishments come in many degrees, so it is prudent to always just try our best.
     "God is VERY merciful. But mustn't He also be just as just?"
     No. That would leave us all teetering between heaven and hell. It is an official Doctrine of the Church that God's mercy is always, in all cases, greater than His justice. We still have free will, and He still allows us to reject Him. But no good person would do that.


ĒBut if God loves everyone, would there be anyone in hell?Ē

God loves everyone while they are still alive on earth. No one ever said He loves those persons after death who have spent a lifetime rejecting Him, and who opt to spend eternity without Him. A person has until death to accept Godís love, and He certainly hopes until the last second that they will do so. Then all books are closed.

All we know for certain about hell is that it is the state of being without God. The only ones ďthereĒ are those who knowingly and deliberately choose to be without God. It is inconceivable that they should have any other fate than that of their own choosing.

"There are many parables about how narrow the path to heaven is. ("Enter by the narrow gate...and those who find it are few.") It sounds like Jesus is saying that the majority of people are going to hell (or destruction). I find this extremely discouraging."

Christ is saying that a life of evil and sin is far easier and more attractive to us than a life of virtue. Only a few will choose to lead a life of virtue and love. This theme is repeated four or five times, such as in the parable about the seed that is cast to the wind that produces only a few trees that last long enough to bear fruit, or the one about the camel passing through the eye of the needle.

Read all by themselves, it does seem that the great majority of people are headed for hell. But the Church interprets them differently. Yes, it is impossible for humans, all by ourselves, to do God's will and be saved. But we are not all by ourselves. God is always at our side, always offering His saving grace.

The way to heaven is indeed narrow. Left on our own, it is so narrow that no one could find his way. But we are not on our own. God is willing to help us find the way, if we just allow Him to. He is infinitely loving and merciful and helpful and powerful, but free will means that we must accept this help freely. Then we will make it to heaven. Is there a limit as to how many can go? No, just as there is no limit as to His love and power. With the help of God, all things are possible, even sinful mankind winding up in heaven. Amazing, isn't it? Christianity is a wondrous Plan!

Take the camel parable for example. A camel simply will not pass through the eye of a needle. It is not that it can't be done all the time; it can't be done at all, ever! So are we to conclude that absolutely no one who is not poor will get to heaven? No, of course not. Christ does explain that one, when the frustrated questioner starts complaining. Christ says, "But what is impossible for men, is easy for God." In other words, the whole idea is that it is impossible, but as Christ said, it is only impossible if we do not receive help from God. It is impossible, not just difficult, for any man to reach heaven on his own. But with Godís help, and Godís sacrifice and atonement, it is not only possible but promised.

That is the key to all of these similar sayings. Few if any humans are naturally good enough to stay on the hard road to heaven all by themselves. But God has a clever plan to help us all. His love for us in infinite. His mercy and compassion for us is infinite. His willingness to forgive us for all of our stupidities and evil and selfishness is infinite. He does love us all, Lord knows why!

Only a few find the narrow road. For the rest, God is there, willing and able to give directions and assistance. He will find a way. He will set us on the right road. The wicked, it is true, will refuse His help. But you are not wicked, and neither, I truly believe, are the vast majority of the people of this world.

"My pastor says that if you don't believe in Christ and the Trinity, you will go to hell. What about other religions that do not believe exactly as we do? Are all those people really going to hell?"

God is all powerful, all merciful, and infinitely loving and compassionate. Anyone who thinks that He would create billions of people in a time or place with no chance at all of being taught Christianity (in thirteenth century India, for example), just to send them to eternal torment is certainly not paying any attention to the big picture. The essential message of Christ was love and forgiveness. If you do not believe this, you are not really a Christian.

What is the fate of all the billions of people who never heard of Him? That is not for us to worry about. We know that God will treat them fairly and with infinite love and mercy. Our favorite quote from the Bible is "In my Father's house there are many rooms." There are some deluxe accommodations for Mother Theresa, and we are sure there is a standard "good" room for a farmer from thirteenth century India who did the best he could with what he knew.

We are not saying that your pastor is wrong. He just does not understand that "acceptance of Christ and the Trinity" is not something that has to be done right now, right here, in a manner that we can understand. He does not understand that it is not even by our faith alone that we are saved, it is by the pure grace of God. And God can offer that gift of grace and faith to anyone, at any time, even if they have never heard of Him. God can do things and arrange things in ways that are far beyond our ability to understand.

Please see our special article about the true meaning of Biblical words at The Bible

"There are several examples in the Bible where it says that you WILL go to hell. In Revelation 21:8 it says that unbelieving murderers, the sexually immoral, idolators, and liars will take part in the lake of fire which is the second death. In Revelation 3, it says that a person whose works are not found perfect before God will be blotted out of the Book of Life."

You are saying that anyone who has ever lied or had sex outside of a Church marriage is doomed to hell? Anyone who has not led a perfect life is doomed to hell? This is absurd. You must not rely on your own interpretation of these words. No one is without sin except Christ Himself.

The Church teaches us that what these passages, and others like them, mean is that if we are ushered into God's presence for Judgment with these sins still unrepented and unforgiven, we will be condemned. The whole crux of Christianity is that if we are repentant and ask God for forgiveness, He will forgive us. It is only because of the atonement of Christ that He is able to do this.

"Is it sinful to think that there will be a lot of people in hell, like my preacher believes?"

No, but it is very un-Christian. We acknowledge that there is a hell, and that there are unfortunate souls there, but we must hope and pray that no one is in hell. Why? Because Christ commanded us to love our neighbor--everybody else on earth--as much as we love ourselves. Do we hope and pray that we ourselves do not go to hell? Yes. Then we should genuinely hope that no one else goes, either, and constantly pray for everyone else to go to heaven with us.

"There are times when I feel that being a human has to be one of the worst things imaginable. If we were any other organism, I'm sure we wouldn't have to live in fear of what happens when we die, or whether we might have the wrong beliefs all along, or anything like that."

There is no such thing as ďthe wrong beliefs,Ē unless you think that being evil and hurting others is right. God is infinitely understanding and infinitely fair. He loves each and every one of His children.

We are not supposed to live in fear; we are supposed to live in loveóof God and of our fellow mankind, for His sake. It we do that, or at least usually give it a good faith effort and ask forgiveness when we fail, we will live forever in infinite happiness. No other organism has any hope of that. We alone are Godís children.

Do you have children? How do you feel about them? Would you have children just to see them tormented forever? Wouldnít you try your best to make them happy? What if you were truly infinitely powerful, and could do absolutely anything at all? Donít you think you could find a way to make your very own dear children happy, and not torture them?

For some reason, a lot of people think that God is nothing at all like a loving human parent, but instead is something of an unfair monster. Nonsense. He suffered terribly and died for you. You are His beloved child, and-- as even a halfway decent person--you have nothing whatsoever to fear.

"My wife's family are Hindu. Are they all going to hell?"

Of course not. To be a candidate for hell, you have to make the conscious choice to reject God's grace.

God will find a way to offer them heaven. It could be a last minute conversion; it could even be something outside of time that we cannot even comprehend. And if they have been good people, God will give them the grace to believe the Truth and to accept.

The fundamentalist Christian movement preaches that almost every one who has ever lived is in hell. But you must remember that God is infinitely powerful. He can do simply anything. What is impossible for men is easy for God, according to Christ. And God is infinitely loving and merciful and compassionate and fair. That means these qualities have no bounds whatsoever.

It is easy to see why the Catholic Church makes it a doctrine that His love is always greater than His justice, and that He will be able, in His infinite power, to find a way to offer the acceptance of Christ and His sacrifice to everyone.

Even I could figure out how to do that. I would just suspend time for the instant before someone dies, and carefully explain the full Truth to them, and ask them if they really want to spend eternity with God in Happiness or to spend it in the fires of Hell, and aren't you really sorry now for offending God, and don't you really want to accept Christ as your saviour? And I bet I would get a very high acceptance rate. Well, if it is that easy for me to figure out, I am sure God had no trouble with it at all. God forsakes no one.

Don't forget, God is outside of time. Time is how we measure the change in material things. God is not material. He is spiritual. For God there is no time. He simply is. And He is infinitely powerful. That is often overlooked.

But the Church does teach that if a person has turned their back on God all their life, and refuses to heed their conscience, and places himself in a higher position than God by not acknowledging God's authority, then that person may not be able to accept God's saving grace when offered. This is still not a certainty, since God is infinitely merciful, but it would be a bad bet to think that we could lead this kind of terrible life and still be saved. Nothing relieves anyone, no matter when or where they were born, from the responsibility of following their conscience.

"But what about the parable of the wedding garment, in Matthew 22? What about the weeping and grinding of teeth?"

This parable describes a king who gave a feast for his son's wedding. When the invited guests did not bother to show up, he invited every person he could find, bad and good alike. Now it was the custom in those days for the host of the wedding to provide each of his guests with a wedding garment, something special, like a tux, that everyone was supposed to wear. It was traditional. The servants would make sure you got one as you came--you did not have to bring one yourself.

When all the guests had come into the dining hall, one person still did not have on the required garment. The King asked him how he came to not be wearing one. The man refused to reply; obviously he had no good answer. This was a great insult to the king, and the man was tied up and thrown out the door.

This is exactly the point we are making! First, note that only one person, of all the motley assortment of guests, was not properly attired to meet the king. The man had been offered a free garment by the king and had refused to put it on. Even then the king wanted to be fair, and asked him for an explanation. Only after the man showed his complete disregard for the king was he thrown out.

This is an excellent example of God's patience and forbearance. God will offer us all a wedding garment (His saving grace) before we enter His presence, even if we were born in seventh century India or twelfth century America. He can always do this, because He is infinitely powerful. He will always do this, because He is infinitely merciful and loving.

ĒWhy did Jesus bother teaching about hell, if His message was love?"

One thought is that the threat of hell is a much more powerful incentive to behave ourselves than just offering an eternity of unknown happiness. I would venture to say that the vast majority of people avoid sin mostly out of fear of being punished in hell. So from a psychological standpoint, it was a good move for Christ to describe it vividly.

But a true Christian will lead a good life not because of any threat of punishment, or even because of the reward of heaven. We are good because it is our best and true nature, because we are true children of God, out of love for Him. Being kind and forgiving and loving in this life foreshadows our eternal life united with God. We lead a good life simply because of who we are.

"If a baby dies, how does God decide if she goes to heaven or hell?"

Hell is reserved for those who make a conscious and deliberate act of will to reject God. Therefore there are no babies or children in hell.

It is a doctrine that God gives every person who has ever lived an equal chance at eternal happiness. It is also a doctrine that He is infinitely fair and loving. It doesn't matter that babiesí bodies have not had a chance to mature. Their souls were created perfect at conception, in the unchanging image of God.

We donít know exactly how God handles this problem. But He does.

"Two people: one who has led a blameless life following the teachings of Jesus but for the first time ever commits a mortal sin and before obtaining absolution dies; another who is the direct opposite of the first person makes a deathbed confession and is absolved. How do you feel God would react?

Your first scenario is not possible. There are some principles we have as foundational.    (a) God is all knowing, all merciful, all just and all compassionate.    (b) God will never punish anyone unjustly and as a matter of fact allows everyone the opportunity for salvation without exception.    (c) Since God's love for us is infinite, everything that happens to us is the best possible event for our salvation. Therefore God would simply not allow one of his faithful children to be tempted enough to commit a major sin, without giving them ample time for contrition and forgiveness. We do not know just how he would manage this, but he would, for certain.

Your second scenario assumes that this bounder will skip all punishment and go directly to heaven like a saint. This is not so. Both rewards and punishments come in all sizes and degrees. Just because we avoid hell does not mean we get off scot-free. God takes everything into account at all times, rest assured.

So just do the best you can.

"I am Jewish. Why will I be cast into the pool of fire for eternity?"

Not to worry! Often forgotten is the simple fact that Christís own mother is Jewish. Ditto His earthly stepfather, Joseph. In fact, all of the Apostles and disciples were Jewish, including St. Peter. Christ Himself was a rabbi, and taught in the Temples. So we do not honestly believe that He will hold being Jewish against anyone. This is a widespread and very wrong misinterpretation.

But at some time, perhaps in the last instant of your life, God is going to ask you if you want to accept the sacrifice that He made for you. Of course at that point you will have no difficulty saying that of course you will!

"I am Wiccan. I think that when you die you go to a place called "Summerland," which is a great meadow with peace and animals, and wait there for your next life. Do you think I'm going to hell?"

It is not important what you believe concerning what will happen to you after you die. After all, that is essentially unknowable. What is important is what you believe concerning how you live your life right now. Be good, follow your conscience, love everyone, help everyone in need. Then God will give you the grace to discover the Truth before He judges you. You will not have to worry about exactly what your reward will be. The Church hopes and prays that not a single person will be punished in hell.

Catholics honor nature as much as anyone, but we do it because it is a creation of God, and is therefore good and beautiful. All life is special and sacred, but only because of the Creator. The deer does not merit our adoration, only the Maker of the deer. And that Maker has made us, His children, the protectors and guardians of all living things. We are certainly messing up that duty!

"But I also like Wicca because women are thought of as honored, beautiful creatures, not submissive like in the Bible."

It is males, not the Bible or religion, who have made women into second-class people. Yes, it is absolutely outrageous. Women certainly are honored and beautiful! St. Paul reflected the mores and customs of his day two thousand years ago when he wrote about women being submissive. This is not the Word of God.

The Bible is not intended to be true history or true science, and the customs it speaks of are simply what was commonly thought way back then. Catholics are not fundamentalists. We regard the Bible as a moral document, giving us spiritual guidance to reach heaven. That guidance consists of accepting Christ as our saviour, and being merciful and kind and loving and forgiving.

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