Monday, October 7, 2013

Why Is There A Hell If God Loves Everyone?

Not an uncommon question - why does Hell exist if God loves everyone?

First, there are a few things we must understand about the nature of God, the nature of humans, and our relationship with God.
  • God is the source of all good.  God does not create evil (which isn't really a "thing", but rather an absence of a good).  
  • God cannot act in a way that is evil (lacking in goodness).
  • God allows humans to choose to do good or evil. We have free will. 
  • It is possible to reject God's grace. This is our own free choice.
  • God wants (wills) all be saved.
  • If anyone goes to Hell, they have chosen to do so.
God loves us so much that he allows us to choose hell. That might sound like a radical statement, but it it true - God allows us to choose Hell, against what he wants for us. Why? Because God respects our freedom SO much that He would allow us to choose something bad for us. Without such freedom we could not choose to love freely either. Because if there is no ability to choose to not love God, then we aren't free to choose to love Him either. The choice would have been already made for us.

Love doesn't always equal nice, clean and pretty. Love isn't about feeling good. It is about what is best for the other, despite the cost to myself. As a parent this is certainly the case. I see parents make the common mistake of wanting to be a friend to their children and so they do not discipline them, which can lead to spoiled kids. I remember the first time I punished my first child. I cried more than she did. But, I did it because I truly love her.

God wants what is best for us - that is freedom to choose to love Him. In order to give us this option He allows us to choose that which is not in our best interest. Free will cuts both ways.

Thus, the Catechism says:
1036 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
Hell is being separated from God for eternity. Since we are created for union with God, it is unnatural for us to be in Hell. But, God never stops loving us. We are the ones who stop loving Him. He cannot stop loving us, because by his nature, God is love.
"Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him." - 1 John 4:8-9.
God values one of us more than all of the rest of His creation added up. Christ died on a cross and rose again so that we might have life eternal with Him. He didn't live, die, and rise again for stars, mountains, animals, or plants.

He died for you and me. His children.

The Catechism says:
220 God's love is "everlasting": "For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you." Through Jeremiah, God declares to his people, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you."
To be loved by God does not mean He won't allow us to choose not to love Him - even eternally. This is why there is a Hell, even though God loves everyone.


Nicole Resweber said...

I've had this conversation many times, and I keep getting stuck in the same place. Your essay actually highlights it:

"Love is about what is best for the other, despite the cost to myself." I absolutely agree with this definition.

But a few sentences earlier, "God respects our freedom SO much that He would allow us to choose something bad for us."

We know that hell/rejecting God is "bad for us." It seems incongruous to then define God's "everlasting love" as "allowing His children to choose everlasting torment." Are we saying that our choice is a greater good than our eternal souls?

Jennifer Chan said...

I have been confronted with this by so many atheists it is unbearable...they just don't understand that we are given freedom of choice...we choose between good and evil...if we do not love God and break His commandments and just refuse to believe in Him then why should we even think that God will just bring us to Heaven to be with Him..

Nicole Resweber said...

Jennifer, I know what you mean. It was conversations with atheist or agnostic friends I was referring to above. Where they get hung up seems to be in wrapping their head around a God who *is* love itself being able to just watch while His children choose eternal damnation for themselves.

It's been my experience that "because He gives us free will" isn't a very compelling argument for many people.

Marcel said...

I believe the Catechism's section on Free Will might help.

Nicole Resweber said...

"Man's Freedom," 1730-ish? I'll spend some time with that, thanks.

Marcel said...