Hell is not a pleasant topic. If at the very thought of hell you shudder, this is a good thing. For those of us who are seeking heaven, being completely and totally separated from God for all eternity in hell is the last thing we want to think about. We must understand, however, what Jesus and the Church teach on hell so that we can avoid it and help others avoid it too.
Now, to understand fully why hell exists we have to begin by recognizing that God desires us to choose Him. We are given each day to make the decision to love God and love our neighbor. If we make the conscious choice not to love God and our neighbor through our actions, words and thoughts we commit sin.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
explains: Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. … Sin sets itself against God's love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become "like gods," knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus "love of oneself even to contempt of God." In this proud self-exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation. (CCC 1849-1850)
When our lives become about sin and not about God we are attempting to create an environment in which God has no authority in our lives. If we do not like those who are in authority over us at work or in civic government we get a new job or we look to change our civic leaders. We are used to making choices like this in American culture. This is not so with God. He holds ultimate authority over our lives and if we do not like His commandments we cannot simply change them according to our tastes this day or this decade. One does not simply change God’s commandments. Instead we are invited to make choices that reveal God is in charge, not my ego or my political party or my pocket book. Choices clearly have consequences in time and especially in eternity.
For those who choose to follow God’s laws and respond to Jesus’ call to conversion the reward is heaven. For those who obstinately reject God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ the punishment is hell.
explains again: We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves… To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell." (CCC 1033)
Hells exists, then, so that those who do not want to obey God and live in His presence in this life have a place to exist after they die and pass on to eternity. If this sounds dark and dreary, it should. You don’t want to go to hell.
Let us conclude by listening to St. John’s uplifting words: “My children, I am writing this to you so that you may not commit sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world. The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way we may know that we are in union with him: whoever claims to abide in him ought to live [just] as he lived.” (1 John 2:1-6)
Fr. Gross is pastor of the Church of Epiphany in Watford City and Our Lady of Consolation in Alexander. If you have a question you were afraid to ask, now is the time to ask it! Simply email your question to
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