Hell demystified

Recently I have had the pleasure of talking to Jehovah Witnesses. I must have been feeling the Holy Spirit that day. When they knocked on my door, I decided to engage them rather than being dismissive. After all, they only want to talk about the bible right? Don’t worry I’m not naive enough to believe their pitch. They gave me a pamphlet about knowing the “truth.” Of course, it is based on their interpretation of the Bible. One sentence caught my eye, “at death humans cease to exist.” Paradoxically they seem to believe that only the righteous will be raised. From the same pamphlet, it says, “most who have died will be resurrected and will live on a paradise earth.” So for Jehovah Witness, there is no hell or heaven, but a kingdom for the righteous that will come when Jesus comes back.

Catholic Confusion

Unfortunately, It seems that Catholics are equally confused about hell. I almost didn’t become Catholic over a misunderstanding regarding hell. One Sunday in RCIA class, the topic of hell came up. This older woman stated that she did not believe in hell for God was love. Confusingly I asked well doesn’t hell exist? What does the church teach? The debate went back and forth. Opinions flew around the room, but nobody could tell me what the church taught. Finally, the older lady looked me in the eye and say, “why do you need to believe in hell?” With that, the class ended. Racing home I vowed to look up what the Catholic Church taught.

Peace washed over me. I smiled as I read the paragraph because It was exactly what I had thought the Church taught. Let me explain.

The Truth About Hell

First, the Jehovah Witnesses are not wrong. There will be a resurrection and final judgment and a new kingdom and new earth. The problem is they deny particular judgment. They also deny hell’s existence. This goes against Catholic teaching.

The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death, the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.”615 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

So sorry lady from RCIA. We must believe in Hell because the church tells us it exists. Of course, that reasoning isn’t going to work for my Jehovah witness friends. They need biblical proof.

When Jesus speaks of Hell, he uses the word Gehenna (the Greek word for hell). Here are just a few passages:

But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Mt 5:22,29

Another common image is a fiery furnace.

The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Mt 13:42, 50

My point is that Jesus spoke of hell or Gehenna. To deny the existence of hell, you have to say Jesus was misquoted or Jesus is lying. Now you could argue that hell will exist when Jesus comes in power. Thus hell exists after the final judgment. Yet this does not line up with all passages in the Bible.

Biblical Proof of Particular Judgement

The most obvious passage begins on Luke 16:22, which describes the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus lived a life full of suffering and hardship. It describes how when Lazarus dies he is carried to Abraham’s bosom. The story goes on to say that the rich man also died. He was being tormented in the netherworld. While the rich man begs Abraham to relieve him, Abraham cannot because there is a gap between them.

If Jesus did not want us to believe in life immediately after death, why did he tell this parable? Clearly, Jesus was okay with immediate judgment after death.

Jesus also acknowledges life right after death when speaking with the thief. In Luke 23:43, Jesus tells the thief that today he will be with Jesus in paradise. Thus we do not have to wait for the kingdom of God to be fully here. Our place is decided by our actions in this life.

Thus we must say diligent and awake.

Catholic Church and Hell Now.

Having examined the Catechism and the scriptures, it has become clear that Hell exists. Likewise, we know that souls enter heaven and hell immediately. So the only loophole now is who is in hell. The Catholic Church has this to say regarding who is in hell.

God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance”:619

The fact that no-one is predestined has led some Catholics to speculate that hell might be empty.

Bishop Barron has famously said that we may have a reasonable hope that hell will be empty. In other words, God wants to save everyone. If anyone is in hell they have chosen to be there, Bishop Barron optimistically believes that nobody chooses to go to hell.

Yet the Bible paints a different picture

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few

Few find the road that leads to life. Thus I believe hell to be full; although, I trust in the mercy of God

My Final Thoughts on Hell

Hell is not a pretty picture. Nobody wants to imagine anyone eternally suffering. Thus I used to have beliefs similar to Jehovah witnesses. I thought God destroyed the souls in hell. Maybe over a long period, but one day there would be no more evil souls. One day I was meditating on this idea when a voice spoke in my mind. It said, “I could never destroy a beautiful soul no matter how wicked.” If you are a mother, I think you understand. You could never destroy your child no matter how bad they are. Sure you may separate yourself from them, but you still love them. God is a good father and he acts the same way. He separates himself from us, which cause us enormous pain, but he wouldn’t dare destroy us.

To Learn more about Bishop Barron’s opinion watch this

Harry Potter ban

My introduction to the magical world of Harry Potter began in 3rd grade.

Every day Mr. Winberg would read us aloud from the book just before the school bell rang to let us out. He did it repeatedly until he was asked to stop by the administration. They were afraid that our impressionable minds couldn’t tell fact from fiction.

But I’m glad happened.

In a way, the incident spearheaded my own pathway into reading. I vowed that I would finish the story. Not knowing where the teacher had left off, I devoured the book cover to cover. Each year marked the tradition of getting the new Harry Potter book. It was definitely a part of my childhood.

Eventually, I would grow to appreciate other works. In Middle School, I became slightly obsessive over Lord of the Rings. I almost went to a convention! From Lord of the Rings, I would gravitate to the lessor known epic fantasy series, The Wheel of Time. Somewhere in between, I would be fascinated with Arthurian legends.

Ultimately it all comes back to Harry Potter.

Magic

Magic vs Religion

All the epic fantasies that I grew up with have some sort of magical system. So what is magic?

Magic seeks to manipulate spiritual powers. It is a very technical enterprise. If I say the right words or combine the right ingredients, I will get my desired outcome.

Despite what my former pastor would say Catholic liturgy is not magic. The consecration of the Eucharist is not magic, but a prayer. It begins:

Be pleased, O God, we pray,

to bless, acknowledge,

and approve this offering in every respect;

make it spiritual and acceptable,

so that it may become for us

the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son,

our Lord Jesus Christ.

This marks the difference between magic and religion. The latter seeks to beg God or gods to help with their request. fn

The Historical Tension

The introduction of Christianity to ancient cultures brought with it a tension with the practice of magic. In one hand, the New Testament itself seems indifferent to magic. The Magi bring gifts to the baby Jesus. On the other hand, the dynamic between divine miracles and magical illusions can be seen in the story of Simon the Magician (Acts 8:9-25). In this story, Simon the Magician attempts to buy the power to perform miracles specifically the power to baptize people with the Holy Spirit. Needless to say, this did not go over well and Simon the Magician is asked to repent.

Catholic Teaching Today

“All forms of divination are to be rejected:  recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to ‘unveil’ the future.  Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers.  They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone” (CCC #2116).

So divination is wrong because it seeks to obtain knowledge from a source other than God. So one cannot practice magic and be Catholic.

The Controversy regarding Harry Potter

So why am I talking about magic? Well, there was a controversy involving a Catholic high school and Harry Potter.

You see, history repeats itself. Father Dan Reehill had the bright idea to remove the Harry Potter book series from St. Edward Catholic school.

His reasoning?

The books present magic as good and evil. It glorifies the act of divination, conjuring the dead, and casting spells, therefore, the readers can be persuaded that those acts are not sinful. He also alleges that the cures and spells were inspired by real cures.

He has a point, but then, I’m hoping he removed Lord of the Rings and Narnia too. If not, he just comes across as a hypocrite.

Magic in Lord of the Rings and Narnia

Does Lord of the Rings and Narnia fit Fr. Reehill’s description? Let’s look.

  1. Does the work present magic as good and evil?

Yes, Lord of the Rings and Narnia surely fit. Gandalf is one of the good guys, yet he is a wizard, who does spell casting. Gandalf can conjure fire and create light. Galadriel, who also does magic, is also depicted as good. So good that she withstands the temptation of the one Ring.

Narnia is in a similar way. Both Aslan and the White Witch have magic. Other beings both good and bad have magic.

Therefore, his first description fits both literary works

  1. Glorifies divination, conjuring the dead and casting spells**

Lord of the Rings showcases divination through Galadriel’s mirror, where she can see past, present, and future events. Gandalf does spell casting. The only thing left out is conjuring the dead. In my opinion, the fact that Lord of the Rings does not describe conjuring the dead does not shield it from the same criticism. Lord of the Ring glorifies divination and spell casting through its positive depiction of the characters, who do these things.

Narnia doesn’t fare much better. In those stories, the Centaurs are a noble breed of proud warriors, who seek wisdom from the stars. They are skilled in astronomy and divination. How is this any different than astrology? Does CS. Lewis get a pass because he wrote a Christian allegory?

  1. easily pursued others that the acts are fine

While Harry Potter was my gateway into the fantasy genre, Lord of the Rings captured my imagination. I wanted to be a magical Elf. I joined the fan club website. Bought Lembas (Elven bread) and went on adventures. Could I have then fallen prey to paganism and pop spirituality, yes. Yet that doesn’t mean the work isn’t worth reading.

My opinion about Harry Potter

There has been a rise in occultism and pseudo-paganism in recent years. While we can point fingers at the media (of which Harry Potter seems the least offensive, I’m looking at you Netflix Sabrina the Teenage Witch), the real culprit is ourselves. We have removed beauty, wonder, and reverence from our liturgy and wonder why people flock elsewhere. We deny the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit and act surprised when people search elsewhere for supernatural power. If there is a notable difference with Harry Potter, it would be that it places magic not in some faraway land, but in a modern setting. Yet if the church operated to her full potential, the idea of modern magic would not be so appealing.

  • For an opinion that is different than mine go here.

Left Behind: What do Catholics Believe?

Does anyone remember the Left Behind series?

Growing up, my mom was a fan. She let me ready the kid’s version of the book.

Those books scared me a lot.

I remember vividly the descriptions of people disappearing. One minute they were there and the next minute their clothes would be in a pile in front of you. I thought that would happen to me. Jesus would leave me all alone.

As someone with a disability, this is equally terrifying. I found myself wondering what would happen to me if Jesus took my parents or caregivers when I was on the toilet.

Thus I stopped thinking about the final judgment.

Theology behind Left Behind

“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years were ended. After that he must be loosed for a little while. . . . And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be loosed from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations which are at the four corners of the earth.” Revelation 20:1-3, 7-8

Protestants, who believe in the events in the Left Behind series, take the above passage literally. They believe in a thousand-year reign of Christ called the Millennium. Christ will establish this reign when he comes again in glory just before he judges all souls at the last judgment.

What About the Rapture?

The rapture is the name for the event where people disappear. There is a debate in Protestant circles. Some people believe that God would not torture his people. Thus, He raptures them before the time of persecution (pre-tribulation). Others believe that the rapturing of the elect occurs after the time of persecution(post-tribulation). For those who believe in pre-tribulation, Jesus comes three times: He comes as an infant; He comes to rescue his elect; he comes to instill his reign and final judgment. Yet the three visitation view is not biblical.

Mathew 25:31-46

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Passage Explained

Jesus never describes more than one coming. In the above passage, he implies that the final judgment takes place immediately after his second coming. Thus Protestants, who believe in a millennium, fail to reconcile the words of Jesus in Matthew with Revelation.

Catholics don’t read Left behind series

I remember I was talking to a catholic once and somehow we got on the topic of end times. I think a new Left Behind movie was coming out. My questions about Rapture and end times confused him. As a Catholic myself, I now know that Catholics don’t say much about end times. Yet every Mass we recite “he (Jesus) will come again to judge the living and the dead.” So clearly we at least believe he is coming back.

Like Protestants, Catholics believe in a tribulation. This tribulation will shake the faith of the believers and they will worship the antiChrist, which is anything that causes humanity to worship itself. After this period of trial, Christ will come and judge everyone both living and dead. At this point, the dead will reunite with their bodies. Lastly, God will transform the material world. (See Catechism 675 -677)

But What About The Millennium?

For Catholics, the thousand-year period is presently here. Jesus reigns from his throne in heaven. The angel binds the devil so that he cannot hinder the preaching of the gospel. When the devil gets loose, that will start the tribulation. Catholics take seriously the command to stay awake and be vigilant for we do not know the hour that the Lord is coming.

End Times: What’s The Point

When properly understood, the end times offer immediate value to one’s spiritual life. For starters, it causes us to be alert and gives us a purpose. We can respect God and his sense of justice. Lastly, we can have hope of life after death. The latter of which can be comforting to those grieving the loss of a loved one. I know that I can have peace in the fact that God will take everyone at once. I hope in and rely on God’s mercy that I may be a sheep and enjoy even with Christ.

For more information, check out this post from Catholic Answers