In past articles, I wrote about hell and purgatory. In this article, I focus on one aspect of hell often overlooked—those who go to hell choose it freely. Furthermore, not only do they choose hell freely, if offered the opportunity to leave, they would choose to remain in hell. Now, some may recoil at this fact, but a fact it is. Appealing to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) and other sources, I lay out my case why all who go to hell go there freely—and stay there.
What is Hell? (Recap)
Hell is place where those who reject God reside for eternity. The CCC calls this state an eternal separation from God.
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.
Of course, those in hell do suffer and they suffer eternally. In hell, God removes the mortal veil protecting humans from the full experience of His presence (a veil atheists mistake for nonexistence). In Hell, one sees the full truth about themselves.
The Choice of Hell
Moreover, those in hell willfully and continually reject God’s love and therefore experience the pain and suffering of this choice eternally.
1033 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.”
The key phrases in paragraph 1033 are “free choice” and “definitive self-exclusion.” Those in hell remain separated by free choice and definitive self-exclusion. Again, they remain, meaning they continually freely choose to exclude themselves from communion with God. As in life, those in hell reject God, except that in hell, they experience the immediate consequences of this choice.
The Choice of Self
The question that immediately comes up after this claim is why? Why, knowing hell is real and such painful suffering, would someone remain in hell willingly and forever? In short, as in life, those in hell choose the self over God and others. To ultimately choose the self over God and others means that those in hell view heaven as more a hell than hell itself. According to the CCC, heaven exists for those who love God and others.
1027 This mystery of blessed communion with God and all who are in Christ is beyond all understanding and description. Scripture speaks of it in images: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father’s house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise: “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
Therefore, if someone does not desire to live in “the Father’s house,” God honors that choice. In my opinion, if this same person changed their mind, God would welcome them. The problem is that those in hell refuse to change their minds. They want to stay in hell and God gives them what they want.
Hell Remains Because Humans Remain
Englishmen C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton understood the eternal reality of hell’s existence very well. They stated:
All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice, there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek, find. Those who knock, it is opened. C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce.
Hell is God’s great compliment to the reality of human freedom and the dignity of human choice. G.K. Chesterton.
If one draws out the logical conclusion of hell’s existence as understood by Lewis and Chesterton, hell remains in existence eternally because of the eternal nature of humans. Therefore, if humans choose to leave hell, hell ceases to exist. No one chooses to leave hell, so hell remains.
Not About Worship, Force, or Fear
At this point, some readers will accuse of me imploring religious “scare tactics.” They will claim that “no, God throws those who refuse to worship Him in hell; they do not choose to go there freely.” As if God were a petulant narcissistic child. Worship, as understood by Christians, means to properly understand one’s relationship to God reflected in gratitude. God does not force gratitude. Nor does God force someone to accept His gift of salvation or heaven. Some fear is healthy, and fearing eternal suffering is also logical. But God knows our hearts. Fearing hell does not guarantee heaven. The fear of the Lord IS the beginning of wisdom, not wisdom’s end.
Who Chooses Heaven?
The answer to this question is simple. Those who choose heaven do so because they want to go there. They love God above all things and desire to exist in His presence forever. Again, the CCC states:
1026 By his death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has “opened” heaven to us. The life of the blessed consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ. He makes partners in his heavenly glorification those who have believed in him and remained faithful to his will. Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ.
In Jesus Christ, God opened heaven’s doors to all who believe in Him and remain faithful to His will. To quote C.S. Lewis once again from The Great Divorce:
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”
As those in hell remain there by choice, so too do those in heaven. Those in heaven freely chose heaven and freely choose to remain in heaven.
In conclusion, in this article I show that who go to hell do so freely and remain in hell freely. To them, heaven appears a far worse fate than hell, as heaven is about love of God and others. Conversely, hell is about the self and the love of self. Those in hell never go to heaven because the love of self does not exist in heaven. At the end of our lives, we go where our hearts direct us. If our hearts direct us towards heaven, we go there (sometimes after some refinement in Purgatory). If they direct us towards hell, sadly we go there.
May your heart lead you towards heaven.
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