If we are given a hardship or some suffering comes our way it can be perceived as God’s judgement, but it can also be perceived as his mercy because as we offer up that hardship and are strengthened by the suffering it becomes for us a morsel of his mercy–even though it is (as C.S.Lewis said) a “severe mercy.” This is a reminder that for the saved everything in their life will one day be seen as part of the mystery of mercy, while for the damned everything (even the good things) will be seen to be part of God’s judgement. The saved will gather up even the horrors into their path of salvation. The damned will be blamed even for their goodness if it is goodness without God.
This leads me to the subject of Hell–on which many Patheosi fingers have been tapping this week. Is it possible that Hell is also part of God’s mercy? In The Great Divorce
C.S.Lewis suggests that the damned, who make a day trip to the lower reaches of heaven, don’t like it there. They are frightened or they loathe the place. Most of them decide they’d rather go back to hell. If his speculative work indicates a deeper truth, then the judgement of hell is not so much that God sends the damned there, but that they prefer it to heaven. Those who, their whole life have hated truth, beauty and goodness, when faced with pure truth, beauty and goodness, will run in horror from such a torment.
This makes great sense to me, and therefore draws me to stand on my head and say that Hell, rather than being the cruel, arbitrary punishment meted out by a vengeful God, is actually a dimension of his mercy. He will not force anyone into heaven. Indeed, for the damned heaven would be more of a torment than hell. Therefore just as purgatory affirms God’s justice and his mercy together, so Hell confirms the mysterious duality of God’s justice and mercy together.
Of course this mystery is seen most profoundly in the cross. There God’s justice and mercy are met in one single action of sacrifice. So too, in all things mercy and judgement are working their way through the fabric of the cosmos at once brining balance and reconciliation and redemption to the whole created order.