A Lenten Reflection on Hell

Eleven years ago, while in discernment for my vocation, a Dominican tertiary told me that the best reason for becoming Dominican was for the salvation of my own soul.

I was reminded in today’s reading how infrequently we hear homilies about the consequences of NOT accepting Christ and his love for us. In fact, I don’t recall hearing a sermon on hell even when hell is the subject of the Gospel reading. And hell is often the subject of the Gospel.

Hell is mentioned by name 13 times in scripture. Twelve of those citations are translated from the word Gehenna, meaning “the abode of the damned”. Jesus himself uses the word in eleven of the twelve instances.

Yes, Jesus died for many and he loves all who ever lived and will live – saints and sinners alike. But Christ died not for humanity but for individuals.

Jesus loves you so much that he would have freely gone to the cross for you even if you were the only sinner that ever lived from the beginning of time.

But true love is not imposed. It must be freely offered and freely accepted. There is no in-between. You either accept love or reject it. To ignore proffered love is the same as spurning it. This truth is so universal that unrequited love is the subject of most of the pop songs ever written and almost all country and western music.

Since God is love, to reject God’s love is to rebuff God – and to be separated from him. If we die in this freely chosen state of separation, we condemn ourselves to hell. Even during corporal life, to live without God is to create hell on earth. If you don’t believe it, read a newspaper.

Don’t take my word for it. Read what Jesus and the Bible has to say about hell – and about salvation.

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Today’s Gospel Reading

Mathew 25:
When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”. . . Then he will say to those at his left hand, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”. . . And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matt. 25:31-46)

You have heard that it was said to the men of old, “You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, “You fool!” shall be liable to the hell of fire. (Matt. 5:21-22)

Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matt. 7:13-14; see also Luke 13:23-24)

Not every one who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.” (Matt. 7:21-23)

Suffering: I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. (Matt. 8:11-12)

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matt. 10:28; see also Luke 12:5)

The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. (Matt. 13:42)

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. (Matt. 23:15)

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, saying, “If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.” Thus you witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? (Matt. 23:29-33)

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. (Mark 9:43-48; see also Matt. 5:29-30; 18:8-9)

He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him. (John 3:36)

The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell” (Jas. 3:6).

. . . God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell . . .” (2 Pet. 2:4).

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor. 6:9-10)

Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21)

For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. (Phil. 3:18-19)

For he will render to every man according to his works: To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. (Rom. 2:6-8)

Those who do not know God and those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus] shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. (2 Thess. 1:8-9)

And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name. Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. (Rev. 14:11-12; see also 19:1-3)

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The catechism confirms that the ancient teaching of the Church on the afterlife has not been abandoned.

The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion . . . Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where men will weep and gnash their teeth. (CCC 1036)

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To avoid hell, we must accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. The scriptures tell us what we must do to be saved:

We must persevere:

Mathew 10:22 You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.

Romans 11:16-23 If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too. 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the [a]rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, ?Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.? 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God?s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.

We must hope for salvation:

Romans 8:24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?

We must Love:

Corinthians 13:13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

We must repent:

2 Corinthians 5:20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

James 5:16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective [a]prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

We must believe:

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

We must be baptized:

Mark 16: 16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.

And we must trust in God. We must trust and acknowledge that it is grace given that saves us, that empowers our faith and gives us the strength to persevere. Salvation is given, not earned.

It is not theology that saves us but a person – our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Each of us has our own love story. Let us go forth and share it.

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About Steve

Steve Graves is a professed Dominican who formally sat sits on the council and served as Formation Director and Communication Director for the Immaculate Conception chapter.