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If the Lord Gave Us Free Will, Then Hell Is a Thing

 

I know that some people don’t believe in Hell. I want to give those folks an opportunity to change my mind, so my short essay today will be to argue for the certainty of everlasting hellfire and damnation being a possible fate for any person.

I begin with the stipulation that man has free will. The Lord made man in His image, which means that we, like the Lord, can choose our actions.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states,

1730 God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. “God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel,’ so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.”26

The Lord is not merely pretending at this, like a parent who knows that no matter what willful stubbornness a child may display, the whole family will be showing up for Aunt Martha’s jubilee on time, dressed to the nines, with smiles pasted on.

We really do have free will, so we can really choose God, or we can choose not-God. The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger and rich in compassion, so I’ve been told, and He really, really wants us to choose Him so the opportunities are many, but for each person there comes a moment of final judgment.

As my Catechism says,

1022 Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven–through a purification594 or immediately,595— or immediate and everlasting damnation.596

In other words, at the moment of our deaths, the Lord will allow us to see our lives clearly and understand them and the just judgement that He renders will either be for us to live with Him forever in Heaven, for many of us after we are made perfect through a purification (we call it Purgatory — pray for those souls), for others who are already ready to live immediately in the fullness of the Lord, or, to live without Him forever in the state of Hell.

Hell is not other people, but rather the absence of the Lord, so it really is a choice that we men are capable of making.

One might argue against this point by saying that, well, like a loving parent, who knows that the child will be happier if he is made to attend Aunt Martha’s party well dressed and pleasantly behaved, God, who is so much more loving than any parent can be, would want our happiness and would not allow us to choose Hell, so it can’t really be a thing. His mercy is infinite!

I disagree. I believe in mercy, but I also believe the Lord’s justice is without end, and I know there are really depths in the human soul that are capable of great evil. Some people choose Hell, of this I am sure.

And the Lord who loves us all with a boundless, infinite love, gives it to them. Of that, I am also sure.

Published in Group Writing
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There are 136 comments.

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  1. Member

    People can choose to walk with God, or to walk away from God. If you choose to separate yourself from God, God will honor that choice.

    • #1
    • August 5, 2018 at 4:26 am
    • 4 likes
  2. Member

    It’s turtles all the way down. I would say more, but I am leaving for church in five minutes.


    And this conversation is part of our Group Writing Series. In August, we are tackling the subject of Will, whether the free kind or another kind. If you happen to have thoughts on any form of Will, why not sign up and start a conversation on the subject?

    • #2
    • August 5, 2018 at 4:57 am
    • 4 likes
  3. Member

    And thanks to @cbtoderakamamatoad for jumping in this morning. I’m sure by the time I get back, this will have generated a “Hell” of a fight.

     

    • #3
    • August 5, 2018 at 4:58 am
    • 3 likes
  4. Coolidge

    Hell is something that only exists within the imagination of some human beings. It’s very likely that the idea of hell was first discussed when people reflected on the injustices seen in among humans on earth.

    People who were obedient to the God of Israel were being oppressed while people who were not obedient to the God of Israel were not oppressed and living lives of relative abundance. So, some people began to think of a future intervention by God, a day when someone would right the wrongs the existed in society. The last would be first and the first would be last.

    Jesus told his followers that within “this generation” God would intervene and would turn the tables so that the wicked would no longer rule over those obedient to God’s commandments.

    But generations passed and nothing happened. There was no son of man descending from the clouds. So, in reality, there is no heaven or hell. There is just the natural world.

    Could there be something beyond the natural world? Perhaps. But once we discover, scientifically, something beyond the natural world, it becomes part of the natural world. For example, let’s say that it could be proven that prayer for cancer patients works to cure their cancer. 

    Prayer would no longer be part of the supernatural; it would become a form of medicine. Instead of going to the doctor to get a cancer treatment, you would go to church and have people pray for you and your cancer would go away.

    But prayer has not been scientifically proven to work. So far as we know, only the natural world exists. This means there is no heaven and no hell.

    • #4
    • August 5, 2018 at 5:27 am
    • 1 like
  5. Reagan
    iWe

    Mama, you are arguing from the Catechism.

    If you don’t believe that the Catechism is true, is there an argument here?

    • #5
    • August 5, 2018 at 5:33 am
    • 5 likes
  6. Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad Post author

    If you don’t believe in the Lord then it is unlikely that you will believe that He created us with free will either, I’m guessing. 

    Also, it is not surprising that supernatural things are not scientifically provable. Prayer may not have been “scientifically proven to work,” but it also has not been scientifically proven not to work.

    As one of the authors of a recent and rigorous study on the effectiveness of prayer said, the study was not the final answer on the power of intercessory prayer, and the study raised interesting questions that will require additional answers.

    • #6
    • August 5, 2018 at 5:37 am
    • 3 likes
  7. Thatcher

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad: Some people choose Hell, of this I am sure.

    As Satan said in Paradise Lost, “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

    Some people do indeed choose Hell . . .

    • #7
    • August 5, 2018 at 5:38 am
    • 6 likes
  8. Reagan
    iWe

    HeavyWater (View Comment):
    . So far as we know, only the natural world exists.

    You are making a claim of there being some kind of objective reality. But it is no more logically certain to there to be an objective reality than for there to be a Creator.

    If people believe in a deity, and live their lives as if that deity is real, then that is THEIR reality – and their reality is yours, too, if they believe that infidels should be killed.

    So Hell exists for MamaToad. It is part of her reality, as well as the reality for billions of others. It may not be your (or my) reality, but we share this world, and what other people believe is – absolutely – REAL, regardless of any underlying Truth.

    • #8
    • August 5, 2018 at 5:40 am
    • 2 likes
  9. Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad Post author

    iWe (View Comment):

    Mama, you are arguing from the Catechism.

    If you don’t believe that the Catechism is true, is there an argument here?

    I am not arguing from the Catechism, but I am using it to back up my arguments. 

    I believe that the Lord created mankind with free will, and that man will face a judgement at the end of life, and that Hell is a possibility.

    Most non-Catholic Christians, and even my very secular Jewish husband, believe in God and free will and life after death.

    I am arguing that belief in the Lord, belief in being created with free will, necessitates belief in Hell, a state of being without the Lord for all eternity.

    • #9
    • August 5, 2018 at 5:40 am
    • 2 likes
  10. Reagan
    iWe

    This, by the way, is why the Torah refers to “other gods.” Anything that people worship is a god – because they worship it. And it has power, because people have enormous creative (and destructive) power. 

    • #10
    • August 5, 2018 at 5:42 am
    • 2 likes
  11. Reagan
    iWe

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):
    I am arguing that belief in the Lord, belief in being created with free will, necessitates belief in Hell, a state of being without the Lord for all eternity.

    I believe in G-d (though I don’t think any two people have the same exact one).

    I believe in Free Will.

    I believe that upon death our souls leave our bodies. At that point… I am not sure that judgement is what happens, exactly. Some souls may rejoin their source – G-d. Others may be recycled, sent to inhabit other bodies. Others may be snuffed out, or… the Torah is entirely silent on the subject. We know where souls come from. We don’t know where they go.

    What is clear to me is that the Torah makes it clear that we are supposed to live our lives for what we can achieve, not for a reward or punishment after we die. Which is why the text never mentions heaven or hell.

    Obviously Christianity went in a different direction – and those ideas certainly pollinated many within Judaism as well.

    • #11
    • August 5, 2018 at 5:53 am
    • 2 likes
  12. Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad Post author

    What does the Torah say about the possibility of choosing not-G-d? Is such a state possible?

    • #12
    • August 5, 2018 at 5:56 am
    • 1 like
  13. Thatcher

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad: I believe in mercy, but I also believe the Lord’s justice is without end, and I know there are really depths in the human soul that are capable of great evil. Some people choose Hell, of this I am sure.

    CB, this is a great post and I agree with your perspective. God’s mercy is infinite, but were forgiveness not contingent on repentance (even at the moment of death) what would it really mean?

    I knew a priest who once told me that the Catholic Church affirms that hell exists, but does not assert that anyone is there. For only God and the individual know what happens in the end.

    • #13
    • August 5, 2018 at 6:22 am
    • 6 likes
  14. Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad Post author

    Clavius (View Comment):
    I knew a priest who once told me that the Catholic Church affirms that hell exists, but does not assert that anyone is there.

    I don’t assert that any particular person is there, but common sense tells me that there must be some.

    • #14
    • August 5, 2018 at 6:25 am
    • 5 likes
  15. Thatcher

    Stad (View Comment):

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad: Some people choose Hell, of this I am sure.

    As Satan said in Paradise Lost, “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

    Some people do indeed choose Hell . . .

    Well, it’s good to be king, but there is only one king. You will just end up “serving” in Hell.

    This calls back to a discussion I had with @susanquinn. I think we should be calling terrorists, mass murders and their ilk “stupid” instead of “evil.” Evil has a certain panache; no one wants to have the reputation of being stupid (even posthumously). And since the ultimate result of being evil is eternal torment, it is pretty damn stupid (pun intended).

    • #15
    • August 5, 2018 at 6:42 am
    • 3 likes
  16. Thatcher

    JosePluma (View Comment):
    I think we should be calling terrorists, mass murders and their ilk “stupid” instead of “evil.”

    No, I think evil is appropriate.

    But regardless of what we call them or what they think, we should wipe them out . . .

    • #16
    • August 5, 2018 at 7:11 am
    • 6 likes
  17. Coolidge

    iWe (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):
    . So far as we know, only the natural world exists.

    You are making a claim of there being some kind of objective reality. But it is no more logically certain to there to be an objective reality than for there to be a Creator.

    If people believe in a deity, and live their lives as if that deity is real, then that is THEIR reality – and their reality is yours, too, if they believe that infidels should be killed.

    So Hell exists for MamaToad. It is part of her reality, as well as the reality for billions of others. It may not be your (or my) reality, but we share this world, and what other people believe is – absolutely – REAL, regardless of any underlying Truth.

    There are lots of different gods to choose from. You can choose the gods of Zoroastrianism or you can choose the Elephant Milk god of Hinduism.

    It’s just that these gods and the God of Israel have not been proven. They haven’t been disproven either.

    The natural world has been proven to exist, if anything outside of our consciousness can be proved to exist.

     

     

    • #17
    • August 5, 2018 at 7:27 am
    • Like
  18. Thatcher

    Stad (View Comment):

    JosePluma (View Comment):
    I think we should be calling terrorists, mass murders and their ilk “stupid” instead of “evil.”

    No, I think evil is appropriate.

    But regardless of what we call them or what they think, we should wipe them out . . .

    I think it’s more effective (and kinder) to avoid making them evil in the first place. Most of them are aimless young men who are easily seduced by evil because “evil is Cool!” If the counter narrative that these yahoos are moron losers dominated the media, we’d have a lot fewer of them.

    • #18
    • August 5, 2018 at 8:29 am
    • 2 likes
  19. Member

    @HeavyWater, with your faith in science, I wonder what is your reaction when you read a science, geography or medical textbook written in the 18th or 19th century. Weren’t they just as confident of their truths then as you are now?

    • #19
    • August 5, 2018 at 10:08 am
    • 5 likes
  20. Coolidge

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    @HeavyWater, with your faith in science, I wonder what is your reaction when you read a science, geography or medical textbook written in the 18th or 19th century. Weren’t they just as confident of their truths then as you are now?

    It’s likely that they were confident. That’s why it is always important to say, “based on the data we have available to us as of today, we think it is likely that this drug heals this disease better than a sugar pill.”

    In other words, our confidence is provisional. With more data we might need to change our conclusions.

    • #20
    • August 5, 2018 at 10:12 am
    • 2 likes
  21. Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad Post author

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    The natural world has been proven to exist, if anything outside of our consciousness can be proved to exist.

     

    Do you believe that man has free will? Or is that not a question you bother with, since science cannot prove it one way or another?

    • #21
    • August 5, 2018 at 10:13 am
    • 2 likes
  22. Member

    HeavyWater (View Comment):
    You can choose the gods of Zoroastrianism

    Zoroastar believed in only one God who would come and save the world.

    I like Zoroastar. It’s why some theorize the wise men who visited Jesus were zoroastrian.

    • #22
    • August 5, 2018 at 10:21 am
    • 4 likes
  23. Member

    There are many tools that avail us in pursuit of the truth – science, philosophy, and religion.

    Science isn’t the be-all, end-all of truth.

    • #23
    • August 5, 2018 at 10:24 am
    • 5 likes
  24. Member

    HeavyWater (View Comment):
    HeavyWater

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    @HeavyWater, with your faith in science, I wonder what is your reaction when you read a science, geography or medical textbook written in the 18th or 19th century. Weren’t they just as confident of their truths then as you are now?

    It’s likely that they were confident. That’s why is always important to say, “based on the data we have available to us as of today, we think it is likely that this drug heals this disease better than a sugar pill.”

    In other words, our confidence is provisional. We more data we might need to change our conclusions.

    @HeavyWater, maybe I’m a little dense, but I don’t see how your response to my comment relates to your original comment.

    • #24
    • August 5, 2018 at 10:27 am
    • 1 like
  25. Coolidge

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):

    Do you believe that man has free will? Or is that not a question you bother with, since science cannot prove it one way or another?

    In discussions regarding free will, definitions are the key.

    Some view free will as simply meaning, “I am free to listen to Neil Diamond or The Rolling Stones, since the music of both are not banned by my government and are available on amazon.com or iTunes.”

    Others view free will as meaning, “I choose to listen to The Rolling Stones. I wasn’t brainwashed into listening to The Rolling Stones by my older brothers when I was younger.”

    I think it’s the latter conversation that is more common. Can I really be free of all of the environmental and genetic influences on my current self?

    To that, I say there is no free will. I am a product of all of the genetic and environmental influences on me.

    If I go two days without sleeping, I will be grumpier than if I get 8 hours of restful sleep for the next two days. I can’t “will” myself into acting as though I had restful sleep if I did not have restful sleep.

    If I consume a bowl of soup containing a teaspoon of salt and my blood pressure is taken an hour later, my blood pressure will be higher than it be would if I had consumed a bowl of soup without salt.

    So, in some sense, there is no free will.

    Addiction to gambling or drugs or alcohol can be viewed through the prism of free will or lack of it.

    For example, if I say, “My uncle is an alcoholic,” that seems to imply that if he takes one drink of alcohol, he no longer has free will to stop drinking. He lacks some ability to control his future behavior.

    But people who believe that people lack free will think that the behavior of all of us is “determined” (not free) by all of the social pressures, legal pressures, environmental pressures of the world and by our genetics, all of which we did not choose.

    I didn’t choose to be born in Southern California in the middle of the 20th century. Did I choose to be good at math but average at reading? Not really. Did I choose to develop my math skills while neglecting my reading skills? Or was I born with a predisposition to be attracted to compliments about my math abilities while being put off by criticism of my reading abilities and, thus, was “determined” to spend more energy on math than on reading?

    Was I really the author my decisions when I was in high school? Or were my decisions merely the expressions of genes and environment? Looked at this way, there is no free will.

    • #25
    • August 5, 2018 at 10:52 am
    • Like
  26. Coolidge

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):
    HeavyWater

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    @HeavyWater, with your faith in science, I wonder what is your reaction when you read a science, geography or medical textbook written in the 18th or 19th century. Weren’t they just as confident of their truths then as you are now?

    It’s likely that they were confident. That’s why is always important to say, “based on the data we have available to us as of today, we think it is likely that this drug heals this disease better than a sugar pill.”

    In other words, our confidence is provisional. We more data we might need to change our conclusions.

    @HeavyWater, maybe I’m a little dense, but I don’t see how your response to my comment relates to your original comment.

    My original comment centered on distinctions between the natural world and the supernatural world, the ability of human beings to obtain knowledge of the natural world and the inability of human beings to obtain knowledge of the supernatural world.

    Let’s say that someone says, “In order to go to heaven, you must worship the 7 Grand Unicorns every day and worship no other Gods.” We currently have no way of determining if this statement is true or false. It’s a statement about the supernatural world and we don’t have access to the supernatural world, if the supernatural world exists at all. It’s very likely that the supernatural world does not exist. My guess is that it doesn’t. But no one can prove it one way or the other.

    • #26
    • August 5, 2018 at 10:59 am
    • 1 like
  27. Thatcher

    JosePluma (View Comment):
    I think it’s more effective (and kinder) to avoid making them evil in the first place. Most of them are aimless young men who are easily seduced by evil because “evil is Cool!” If the counter narrative that these yahoos are moron losers dominated the media, we’d have a lot fewer of them.

    They become evil because evil seduced them? It doesn’t matter whether or not they think evil is cool, righteous, fun, mean, a pathway to their twisted view of heaven – whatever! They can be smart, stupid, or highly intelligent too.

    No matter what, they are evil, and they should be identified as such and treated appropriately.

     

    • #27
    • August 5, 2018 at 11:06 am
    • 4 likes
  28. Member

    iWe (View Comment):

    Which is why the text never mentions heaven or hell.

    Obviously Christianity went in a different direction – and those ideas certainly pollinated many within Judaism as well.

    The word “Hell” was a Germanic word and concept that has nothing directly to do with the words used in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. In translations, it tends to replace three terms that I can remember off hand: sheol, Hades, and Ge Hinnom.

    • #28
    • August 5, 2018 at 11:06 am
    • 3 likes
  29. Thatcher

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):

    Clavius (View Comment):
    I knew a priest who once told me that the Catholic Church affirms that hell exists, but does not assert that anyone is there.

    I don’t assert that any particular person is there, but common sense tells me that there must be some.

    I would agree.

    • #29
    • August 5, 2018 at 11:48 am
    • Like
  30. Thatcher

    Stad (View Comment):

    JosePluma (View Comment):
    I think it’s more effective (and kinder) to avoid making them evil in the first place. Most of them are aimless young men who are easily seduced by evil because “evil is Cool!” If the counter narrative that these yahoos are moron losers dominated the media, we’d have a lot fewer of them.

    They become evil because evil seduced them? It doesn’t matter whether or not they think evil is cool, righteous, fun, mean, a pathway to their twisted view of heaven – whatever! They can be smart, stupid, or highly intelligent too.

    No matter what, they are evil, and they should be identified as such and treated appropriately.

     

    I agree entirely. I spent a good deal of time dealing with evil. I just think we’d get less of it if we associated it with stupid instead of “cool, righteous, fun…”

    • #30
    • August 5, 2018 at 12:11 pm
    • 3 likes
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