God Does Not Throw Us Away

God Does Not Throw Us Away April 24, 2020

No photographer mentioned: Repair Work on Clothing /pxfuel

Hans Urs von Balthasar suggests that the way many of us treat the concept of hell is to use it as a weapon to condemn others. We warn people who do things we do not like that they risk going to hell, but we rarely consider the possibility for ourselves:

But woe is me if, looking back, I see how others, who were not so lucky as I, are sinking beneath the waves; if, that is, I objectify hell and turn it into a theological-scientific “object” and begin to ponder on how many perish in this hell and how many escape it. For at that moment everything is transformed; hell is no longer something there is ever mine but rather something that befalls “the others”, while I, praise God, have escaped it. [1]

While each of us might have different reasons why we think we will not face the possibility of hell, there remains a consistent pattern behind all such explanations. We excuse what we do, thinking we are not as bad as others.

Of course, hell is a real possibility, but as Balthasar points out, it is a possibility we make for ourselves. Indeed, hell must be understood as something which we create for ourselves. God does not want anyone to be damned. That’s the whole point of the incarnation. God loves the world and does not desire that anyone should perish. Those who use the threat of hell as a punishment for others, wishing hell for others, have misunderstood hell and, by their lack of charity, risk creating for themselves their own private hell.

We must seek for and hope for the salvation of all. That is what God himself desires. He will not force anyone to be saved, which is why in the eschatological judgment, Balthasar suggests people might deny his mercy and condemn themselves. But even when he judges someone, God is offering the person being judged his mercy. He is willing to restore what sin and egotism have destroyed, which is also why we can hope that all will be saved. For God works and acts out of love, not condemnation. Why would God destroy what he created, when he can restore it and make it better than before?  This is what Abba Mius understood as he explained to a soldier why God does not seek the perdition of anyone:

A soldier asked Abba Mius if God accepted repentance. After the old man had taught him many things he said, ‘Tell me, my dear, if your cloak is torn, do you throw it away?’ He replied, ‘No, I mend it and use it again.’ The old man said to him, ‘If you are so careful about your cloak, will not God be equally careful about His creature?’[2]

When we objectify hell, making it impersonal, we misunderstand what it is. Hell is subjectively established. We create our own hell. Our sins create their own consequences. We suffer as a result of our own ill will. Hell is the consequence not just of any exercise of the will, but the ultimate self-objectification of the will which denies God’s mercy. The unforgiveable sin, blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, is unforgiveable only because a person denies the Holy Spirit in their lives and the purification and sanctification which the Spirit wishes to give to them. When someone accepts that grace, then the Holy Spirit comes and makes the person whole. No sin is left in a person once they accept the Spirit in their life, and so there is nothing left in them which is unforgiven; but those who deny the Spirit deny such forgiveness and so remain unforgiven, not because God is unwilling to forgive but because they are unwilling to be forgiven.

Objectifying hell ignores free will. God, however, gave us our freedom, and works not only to preserve it, but to make it greater. This is why hell must never be treated as a foregone conclusion for anyone. To do so is to treat hell as necessity. Hell is never necessary. Through the incarnation, God shows his love to his creation. Thanks to his death and resurrection, we can meet with him in our death, and when we do, we will see him offering us his mercy and grace. He is willing to make us whole. He does not want to discard anything which he has created. But he does not force us to accept his mercy. His judgment and condemnation are not to be understood as threats which he uses to force us to love him; rather they are to be understood as what comes out of his analytical examination of what we make for and of ourselves with our free will. Will we deny him forever? Will anyone deny him for all eternity? To answer such a question with a necessary yes is to deny free will; to necessarily say no, also, is to deny free will.  We can hope that the answer is no. We can even think there are good reasons why the answer will be no. Nonetheless, we cannot say no with full assurance unless we deny the will in some fashion or another.

God is love, and in that love, God loves us. He created us out of his love, and he is willing to save us – and make us better – because of that love. The reason why we need saving is because of our failure to love.  Such failure to love is the ultimate denial of God. Why we have willed such a denial is a mystery, but it is that mystery which suggests why we cannot know if all will be saved. But we also know what God is like. He doesn’t want to discard us. In his love for us, he has set about making sure we do not have to be lost. Whatever we have done, whatever sin we have done which causes our own suffering, indeed, which corrupts us, making us less than what we can and should be, does not have to be permanent. The goodness of God is that he is willing to help us despite all that we have done to harm ourselves. He awaits our response. He does not force us to be healed. And it is in this patience, in this great love, we have reasons to hope that all will be saved. For we know he does not want to throw away anything which he has created. He takes more care of us than we do with our own goods, and we know how hard it is for us to throw away the things which we own. God is not willing to throw us away. That is the message at the heart of the Gospel. Those who are quick to threaten hell to others have yet to truly understand God and the good news which Jesus preached, the good news which says God loves us despite whatever we have ever done.


[1] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Dare We Have “That All Men Be Saved?” with a Short Discourse on Hell. Trans. David Kipp and Lothar Krauth (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), 190.

[2] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 150 [Mius 3].

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