Hope for Stephen Jay Gould?

A reader asks:

Could you clarify this statement concerning S.J. Gould: “God have mercy on his soul and grant him everlasting life through Christ.”

As a Protestant, I believe that if a person doesn’t believe in Jesus, then that person is lost. There is no “second chance” after death.

Now, it may be the case that some people will be saved who haven’t heard the Gospel. However, Mr. Gould certainly heard the Gospel message, even though he lived in Mass. If he rejected that message (and of course I have no way of knowing this) then he must live with that consequence.

Good question. Catholics also reject the idea of second chances after death for those in mortal sin. As the Catechism makes clear: (CCC 1035). “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.’ 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 if Gould did die in mortal sin, he’s in hell.

However, neither you nor I know that he or anyone else has ever died in mortal sin. Gould’s failure to “ask Jesus Christ into his heart as personal Lord and Savior” in a way recognizable to your average Protestant (and his failure to be baptized) is no infallible index in determining whether or not he was open in some mysterious way to the working of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ. If he was open to the Holy Spirit in some way, then I am confident Jesus will accept any toehold and my task is to pray in hope, not to tell Jesus that Gould did not say the magic words and is therefore out of luck. So I pray in hope, not knowledge, for Gould’s eternal happiness.

If you’ve not done it, I recommend a reading of C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle. Pay particular attention to the character of Emeth. Not everybody who looks like an enemy of Aslan is a true enemy. Many who say “Lord, Lord” will be condemned. But I also suspect that some who say “I do not believe” will discover to their surprise that they did. For more detail on my thoughts here, see my essay on “Eupocrisy“. Bottom line: Just to be on the safe side, I pray for ‘em all. I’d rather be told on That Day that I prayed for an enemy than discover I condemned a friend to hell presumptuously.