Meaning of Life
There a God?
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.
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.
"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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