'My Will Be Done!': A Study of the Doctrine of Hell

Gustave Doré (1832-1883) "Burning Graves: the Heresiarchs" artwork for Dante's Divine Comedy'My Will Be Done!': A Study of the Doctrine of Hell

'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'
All that are in Hell, choose it.
-- C.S. Lewis [1]

Picture right: Gustave Doré (1832-1883) "Burning Graves: the Heresiarchs" artwork for Dante's Divine Comedy

Perhaps the most painful and difficult Christian teaching of all to study and meditate on is the doctrine of hell. Some people simply deny hell's existence, others pretend that nobody goes there including the demons themselves (Matthew 25:41-46; Revelation 14:9-11; 20:10-15). It's easy to see why all the denial. It is painful to think of the torment those who go there must endure and it's especially agonizing to know that they are there for all eternity -- forever. 

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 for ever and ever by our own free choice (CCC 1033). God predestines no one to go to hell. Going to hell is a willful choice of the individual. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states, 'A WILLFUL [2] turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end' (CCC 1037) is how people choose to condemn themselves to hell. The Catechism (CCC 1056) also warns that hell is not a fairy tale but an unfortunate REALITY stating,

'Following the example of Christ, the Church warns the faithful of the 'sad and lamentable reality of eternal death', also called 'hell'.'

What is hell anyway? Hell is the state of permanent self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed (CCC 1033). Hell is also a place of "unquenchable fire" reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted (CCC 1034).

What Happens When We Die?

Immediately after death, the soul separates from the body; we meet God and at once undergo our own personal judgment called the Particular Judgment. The souls of those who die in a state of grace meaning a personal relationship with God through the work of Jesus, may or may not need to undergo further purification (CCC 1030 and 1 Corinthians 3:11-15) before entering Heaven. The souls of those who do not die in a state of grace, but rather die in a state of perdition or mortal sin descend into hell where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire" (ETERNAL is forever and ever). The primary 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 (CCC 1035). There are other secondary punishments as well which we will discuss later.

At the end of time the General Judgment (sometimes called the Final or 'Last Judgment') occurs and the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. This will be "the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of man's] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment" (John 5:28-29; CCC 1038). In the presence of Christ, who is Truth itself, the truth of each man's relationship with God will be laid bare. The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life (CCC 1039). The Last Judgment will reveal that God's justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by his creatures and that God's love is stronger than death (CCC 1040). The just will reign with Christ for ever, glorified in body and soul, then even the material universe itself will be transformed (CCC 1060).

Everyone Gets Their Body Back At The End of Time

When the resurrection of the body occurs, everyone gets their body back, both the saved and the condemned! This is a fact that many people are woefully unaware of -- even those who every Sunday habitually professes belief in the 'resurrection of the body' during the Creed. The resurrection of the body 'of both the just and the unjust' will precede the Last Judgment (CCC 1038). 

Since at the end of time the person going to hell gets their body back, the people in Hell will suffer BODILY torments eternally as well. That's why Jesus warns people to be on guard against Gehenna (Hell) where BOTH your soul AND YOUR BODY will be lost! (Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:4-5). Jesus often speaks of "Gehenna" of "the unquenchable fire" reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost (CCC 1034). 

The bodies of people going to Heaven are instruments of God's glorification (Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Corinthians 15:40-55) and will be without suffering, without 'aches and pains' and these 'glorified bodies' will be associated with other gifts as well.

Proportionate Gifts For Those in Heaven AND Proportionate Sufferings For Those in Hell

Again at the Last Judgment all men get their bodies back and each man's relationship with God will be laid bare and it is revealed to all even to its furthest consequences, the good each person has done or failed to do (CCC 1039). At this time the saved will enjoy the Blessed or Beatific Vision proportionate to how they lived their lives. In other words people who had a higher degree of holiness attained in their life (through the grace of God), will enjoy Heaven for all eternity more than if they would have attained a lower degree of holiness in their lifetime. St. Therese of Lesieux used the famous analogy that all in Heaven have their own drinking cup completely full. She stated some have a full large drinking mug while others have a full thimble to illustrate this point of proportionate heavenly blessings. 

Likewise, the people who are condemned to hell and rejected God in a more complete fashion, will undergo greater punishments and torments in hell for all eternity than someone who rejected God, but to a lesser extent. The punishment of the damned is proportioned to each one's guilt. There is not equality of pain for those in hell but rather a disparity based on their guilt in this life, or as the council of Lyons and Florence asserted: the souls of the damned are punished with unequal punishments ('poenis tamen disparibus puniendas'). St. Augustine in the 400's A.D. affirmed that justice demands that punishment be proportional to the guilt of a person: 'In their wretchedness the lot of some of the damned will be more tolerable than that of others.' We will look at this in more detail later, including things that our Lord Jesus said about this in the Gospels and St. Paul's reaffirmations of these warnings in Romans 2:5-9, 2 Corinthians 5:10, and elsewhere.

Do Most People Go To Heaven or To Hell?

In St. Luke's Gospel (Luke 13:23), someone asks Jesus, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?"

Jesus replies: 'strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.' Jesus also comments on this in Matthew 7 saying:

'. . . the gate is wide and the way easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to eternal life, and those who find it are few. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.'

We will look at these verses and other related teachings in more detail later in the study.

Authentic Sources of Doctrine To Enrich Our Study

Ecumenical Council quotes before Vatican II, occasionally draw contempt from certain more 'modern' voices. Objections also arise to use of the Roman Catechism, regardless of the fact that it is an official Catholic Church Catechism, and an outgrowth of an official Catholic Ecumenical Council, the 'Council of Trent.' Objectors will raise complaints such as:  . . . 'The Roman Catechism and the Council of Trent is from way back in the 1500s and therefore they are out of date and consequently are not applicable. We need to get with Vatican II and the 'New' Catechism!'

We DO need to get with Vatican II and the 'new Catechism.' People who say, 'we need to get with the new Catechism' can be correct in what they assert, but incorrect in what they deny. The 'New' Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) will be extensively cited in this study. But it's also important to know that the CCC itself cites the Roman Catechism 27 times and the Council of Trent 100 times. When we look at what the CCC really says about the Roman Catechism, the CCC calls it (The Roman Catechism) a work of 'first rank as a summary of Christian teaching' and the Council of Trent is also lauded as initiating 'a remarkable organization of the Church's catechesis' (CCC 9)! The Vatican II documents cite these older sources even more frequently. So it's not an 'either/or' condition here, but rather a 'both/and' situation. Study of older Church documents along with the newer Church documents brings out a fuller understanding of virtually all subjects taught within the Catholic Faith. The Councils prior to Vatican II still hold authority and always will in matters of faith and morals. 

Why Teach About Hell At All If It's So Distressing?

Why even bring up the issue of hell to study if it's so distressing to meditate on? Because Jesus brought it up. Jesus discussed hell frequently in the Gospels perhaps more than He discussed Heaven. 

The Roman Catechism (RC) also teaches us why we should teach about hell. The RC states . . . 

(concerning teachings about hell) 'the truth. . . will, if accepted with faithful dispositions, be most powerful in bridling the evil inclinations of the heart and in withdrawing men from sin. Hence we read in Ecclesiasticus [3] : 'In all thy works remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin.' And indeed there is scarcely anyone so given over to vice as not to be recalled to virtue by the thought that he must one day render an account before an all-just Judge, not only of all his words and actions, but even of his most secret thoughts, and must suffer punishment according to his deserts. On the other hand, the just man will be more and more encouraged to lead a good life. Even though his days be passed in poverty, ignominy and suffering, he must be gladdened exceedingly when he looks forward to that day when, the conflicts of this wretched life being over, he shall be declared victorious in the hearing of all men, and shall be admitted into his heavenly country to be crowned with divine honours that shall never fade.'

There are other reasons to study hell. The Holy Spirit not only inspired the writers of the four Gospels to write about hell, but also writers elsewhere in Sacred Scripture. The Saints likewise taught about hell. Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant writings teach about hell. St. Thomas' Summa, many papal writings, various Catholic mystics, etc. all affirm the reasonableness of bringing up this unpleasant subject of hell, sometimes in great detail.

The Roman Catechism (RC) also warns Priests of their duty to teach about sin among other issues as a means of arousing true contrition from the people. This is because sin 'consigns us to eternal death and to torments unending and most severe.' Listen to the Church's admonition to Priests in the Roman Catechism to teach on these difficult subjects and we will see the disposition of the Church on the salutary nature of teaching people about sin and its effects, especially Hell. Again the RC . . . 

'Means of Arousing True Contrition

To move the faithful to contrition, it will be very useful if pastors point out some method by which each one may excite himself to contrition.

They should all be admonished frequently to examine their consciences, in order to ascertain if they have been faithful in the observance of those things which God and His Church require. Should anyone be conscious of sin, he should immediately accuse himself, humbly solicit pardon from God, and implore time to confess and satisfy for his sins. Above all, let him supplicate the aid of divine grace, in order that he may not relapse into those sins which he now penitently deplores.

Pastors should also take care that the faithful be excited to a supreme hatred of sin, both because its turpitude and baseness are very great and because it brings us the gravest losses and misfortunes. For sin deprives us of the friendship of God, to whom we are indebted for so many invaluable blessings, and from whom we might have expected and received gifts of still higher value; and along with this it consigns us to eternal death and to torments unending and most severe.'

Being A Child of God Is Not Automatic

All men are made in the image and likeness of God. Therefore in a certain sense we have an inconceivable dignity. In this sense, we are all God's children. But in another and fuller sense we are NOT automatically God's children. We are not all that we are supposed to be in this life. As is true of virtually all mankind, we are born children of Adam and Eve and not children of God, at least in the fullest sense. We are born of a fallen nature, original sin, and as Jesus says in John 3:3-5 we must be re-born of water and Spirit. People do not automatically possess the Spirit of God merely by being born! Also if we obtain the gift of 'Divine Sonship' or the gift of being 'children of God,' we can throw away that gift through sin. Some people choose to reject God and are thus 'children of the devil.'

1 JOHN 3:1-10   1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 4 Every one who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 He who commits sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God commits sin; for God's nature abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God. 10 By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother.

JOHN 8:12-13, 21, 23-27, 42-47   12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." 13 The Pharisees then said to him, "You are bearing witness to yourself; your testimony is not true." . . . 21 Again he said to them, "I go away, and you will seek me and die in your sin; where I am going, you cannot come." . . . 23 He said to them, "You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he." 25 They said to him, "Who are you?" Jesus said to them, "Even what I have told you from the beginning. 26 I have much to say about you and much to judge; but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him." 27 They did not understand that he spoke to them of the Father. . . . 42 Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But, because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 He who is of God hears the words of God; the reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God."

The prevalent attitude that everyone is God's child necessarily and lifelong is a partial truth. Yes it is true in that we are made in the image and likeness of God. Yet Jesus also tells us in St. John's Gospel [4] that we need to be 'born again' or 'born of water and spirit' [5] (Baptism) otherwise we 'cannot enter the kingdom of God' ! [6] But even after we are born again we need to persist in following God. In the verses above we saw people who were not God's children but 'children of the devil' so we know that everyone isn't necessarily a 'child of God.'

A Tale of Two Persons

Let's utilize an example of how the above teaching on hell is realized in a practical manner; let's take two hypothetical people. We will use the pseudonyms Jill Doe and Jack Doe. Jill Doe is a woman who was never in Christ, squandered her Divine inspirations from God to approach Jesus who is truly God and truly man, and wound up in hell for all eternity. She did not know Jack, at least in this earthly life. Jack Doe is a man who was incorporated into Christ, then threw away his salvation resulting in eternal punishment for him as well.

Jill's Life

Let's center on Jill first. Jill had inspirations from God to approach Him but ignored them for the false promises of Satan and sin. Jill had a close Catholic girlfriend who cared about Jill's soul (something a REAL friend always cares about). This friend knew that God didn't owe Jill the grace of repentance, and thought of 2 Timothy 2:25-26 which says 'God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.' Her friend prayed that God would grant Jill the grace of repentance and that Jill would use this grace to her own heavenly advantage. Jill ignored her friend. Jill also ignored God. Jill ignored her inspirations of God's grace that she DID receive to seek after Jesus. Jill soon after, died a surprise sudden death, being struck by a car while crossing a busy street and is now in hell by her own volition. We will look more at Jill's situation later.

Jack's Life

Now for Jack. Jack WAS born of water and spirit (Baptized), and thus incorporated into Christ. Later Jack committed many smaller or venial sins, but as of yet, did not rupture his fellowship with God. As a young teenager Jack loved God, accepted Jesus' Lordship, followed the path of Christ, prayed, and as a Catholic, went to Confession but only occasionally. Later Jack began to ignore the Confessional and ignore his conscience as well. Eventually Jack committed some sins that are termed 'grave sins' but due to his youth and his lukewarm home situation he was somewhat ignorant that he was committing acts that could rupture his relationship with God, although his conscience was bothering him. Jack was 'rejecting conscience' (as CCC 162 calls it). His relationship with God was greatly damaged, but at this point it was not mortally disrupted. Although somewhat ignorant, he knew enough to realize he had an internal self-conviction and he made an effort to hide these sins from his parents, as he knew in his heart these were sins of greater magnitude than his more 'common sins.'

Later he committed sins of even greater severity and compounded his sin by involving someone else with these sins (his girlfriend). He even cried the first time he committed some of these 'grave sins' but very soon his conscience seemed to numb and the same sins that formerly brought tears were now, well, 'fun.' Through sin, he managed to greatly impair his conscience. His sin now became his 'delight' just as it was for Eve in the garden when the forbidden fruit quickly became a 'delight' to her eyes. His conscience just didn't seem to bother him in sin any more (although a holy friend's admonishments of Jack's sin bothered him).

Jack continued to commit acts of grave sin, did these acts willingly, and was now warned in love (a spiritual work of mercy) by a fellow Catholic friend that God put in his life that he was putting his soul in jeopardy. Jack got upset and told his friend (now ex-friend) to 'get out of my life!' Never the less, this actually got Jack to minimally consider what his buddy told him, but it was much more comfortable for Jack just to 'not think about it.' Jack knew in his heart he was carrying out gravely immoral acts, and to make matters worse, was leading someone else into sin too with his grave sins. At this point with Jack's conscience bothering him, and with his friend's warning, he was truly making an informed choice to reject God's law, and thus reject God -- although Jack wouldn't have put it that way. By doing this he preferred to discard God's law not merely in little everyday ways that fallen man often commits, but by severe 'big-time' gravely immoral acts that he knew in his heart of hearts was wrong. After all, that's why he tried to cover it up, and caught himself lying about it more than once to his parents who were reawaking in their own faith, and were now trying hard but in vain to bring Jack to his senses. His girlfriend's relatives actually facilitated Jack's sin (that could be a whole other story on these people and on their terrible fate). His girl 'friend' that he was leading into grave sin also started to lie now trying to cover their sin, something she hadn't done before, following in the footsteps of 'the father of lies.' She didn't seem to care much about Jack's soul, yet she frequently reassured him that she 'loved him.'

This committing of grave sin with full consent of the will, and an informed conscience, Jack knew was called 'mortal sin.' [7] By rejecting God's law, Jack was ultimately rejecting God Himself. Jack was, by his sin, in effect telling God to 'get out of my life.' Jack would later die physically as we all do, but he was now spiritually dead through mortal sin. God sent many graces to Jack to try to bring him back. Yes God could conceivably force Jack to come back, but then it wouldn't be Jack's choice to love God. It would be more like God holding a little puppet and God manipulating the puppet to say 'I love you God.' God knew that this wouldn't be true love, and wouldn't really be from Jack. True freedom and true love involve many things including the choice to do what is right. Jack knew that freedom isn't doing anything your sinful nature wants under any circumstances -- no, that's usually licentiousness. Jack knew that he was a rational being that can make choices to do the right thing. True freedom calls us to do this. God wanted Jack's love to be Jack's choice, certainly prompted by God's grace, but still of Jack's own volition or free-will. Jack's buddy was caring and prayed diligently for Jack, but remained firm and convicting as well, acting as a sort of 'back up conscience.' 

Jack tried not to think about his spiritual situation, and he avoided his buddy like the plague. Jack even thought he'd just wait until he had enough 'pleasure' and then he'd come home to Christ. But if sin was so pleasurable as it initially seemed, then why was Jack now so miserable. His arguing with his girlfriend greatly increased. The time they spent together was much more in amount, they were together almost all the time, but their time spent together was certainly more 'ME' focused and less 'US' or 'YOU' focused and certainly never 'God' focused. Much arguing ensued. They actually did go to church together often but even this served as scandal too for those who knew them further compounding his guilt. Sacrilegious reception of Holy Communion was usually a weekly occurrence and this also greatly increased his guilt. Jack and his girlfriend virtually never prayed together. Meal prayers before occasional weekend dinners with Jack's folk's and trendy greeting card company 'prayer-book' cards that are still in a box in the attic was pretty close to the extent of their prayer life together. They never conscientiously sought the will of God in their relationship, and they actively went out of their way to reject it.

Jack never would have guessed that the truck that day wouldn't see him along the road. Why he wasn't even going that fast and it was a clear day! How could that truck turn in front of me, he thought while slamming on the brakes. But it was too late. Jack had something happen to him that was a result of sin in the world -- death. Jack's soul now separated from his body. Jack was dead as a result of the accident. Jack knew that as a result of sin in the world that everyone sooner or later undergoes this horrible separation of soul and body called death. After all, didn't St. Paul remind us in Romans that the wages of sin is death? Jack knew that he'd be face to face with God sooner or later; he just didn't expect death so soon in the prime of his youth. Death came like a 'thief in the night,' totally surprising him.

Jack's Afterlife

At the time of their death, both Jack and Jill underwent what is called the 'Particular Judgment.' That is when at the time of your physical death, you are immediately brought before God and judged regarding all your thoughts, words, and deeds. God's righteous judgment was passed. Jack who had long ago threw away the justifying grace of God (after-all, Jack discarded his relationship with God willingly during his lifetime -- nobody forced him and nobody could have forced him to do this), chose the same thing ALL people who go before God in this state choose. Jack chose to condemn himself to eternal separation from God and from the heavenly hosts. Jack sadly, chose hell long ago, reasserted his preference for hell often, and reaffirmed his choice for hell for a final time for all eternity on that dreadful day of judgment as all people who are not in a state of grace do when they die. Jack squandered a lifetime of 'spiritual appeals' God sent to him to repent and come back to Him.

Jack was in great torment in hell. So was Jill. Jack's torment was worse though. To whom much is given, much is REQUIRED (and Jack was given much). Jack forfeited more graces in his lifetime than Jill, and consequently his suffering in hell was far worse than Jill's (although Jill's suffering in hell was indescribably more terrible than she ever could have imagined). Both Jack and Jill knew there was no appeal. They didn't even want an appeal. They knew they would be here forever and ever and ever. . . 

Now years later (at least in earthly standards as in hell they are out of the realm of time as people on earth know it), at the end of time Jack was called by name in front of God. All the people from all time were there this time. All the angels were there too -- both the good angels and the fallen angels or demons. God revealed not only everything Jack had thought, said, and done throughout his life (as He did at the particular judgment), but now God also showed Jack all the consequences of all his thoughts words and deeds for the rest of time to Jack -- a sort of 'ripple effect.' But God showed this not merely to Jack himself, but to ALL assembled. All Jack's thoughts and actions AND their effects even to their furthest consequences for the rest of time were seen by all for what they were. Jack could see everyone else's thoughts and deeds for all time too, and all the effects and furthest consequences of those thoughts and deeds of others. Jack realized immediately who was in a state of grace and who was not in a state of grace although he had no idea how he knew or how he could discern things regarding all these people for all time and the effects of their actions simultaneously. 

Jack recalls seeing so few people who were in a state of friendship with God or a 'state of grace.' Every last one of these people in a state of grace chose Heaven. Every last person NOT in a state of grace chose hell for themselves. He was absolutely astonished at how SO MANY people choose hell and how so few were in a state of grace! He recalled the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:13-15 that he once heard read from a church pulpit but glossed over by a very gifted but lukewarm man and never preached on: 'The gate is wide and the way easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to eternal life, and those who find it are few.' This perfect justice all made sense.

Most people Jack expected to be going to hell during his lifetime did go to hell but he was surprised to see a few that were not going to hell at all but rather going to Heaven! These people, by accepting the grace of God repented, went to Confession and were back in a state of grace before they died. Every situation was unique. Also, some people Jack expected to go to Heaven were on their way to hell. One was the very gifted but lukewarm man who refused to preach on the path that leads to eternal destruction. He was even in more trouble than Jack. The very gifted lukewarm man when he preached, seemed to assure his hearers that everyone was going to go to heaven although he stopped short of actually saying this. Jack now knew that the very gifted lukewarm man assured everyone at Jack's funeral (shortly after Jack died) that 'Jack was now in Heaven' and that anyone who disagreed with this assertion was somehow 'judgmental' and 'rigid.' Oh how wrong the very gifted lukewarm man was refusing to preach about hell! Come to think about it, the very gifted lukewarm man never preached on Heaven either. He didn't preach about the gifts that the saved Heavenly people's bodies receive such as impassibility, brightness, agility, and subtility. Why? THIS wouldn't have been a 'hard message' such as preaching about hell would have been for him. Apparently the very gifted lukewarm man also listened to the demons. Jack wasn't even aware that he was going to get his body back at the end of time, much less the possibility of all these Heavenly gifts. 

Heading in the CCC just before CCC 185 (quoting The Apostles Creed):

. . . I believe in the Holy Spirit, 
the holy catholic Church, 
the communion of saints, 
the forgiveness of sins, 
the resurrection of the body, 
and the life everlasting. 

Heading in the CCC just before CCC 185 (quoting The Nicene Creed):

. . . We acknowledge one 
baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.

EVERY human person had his body back! Jack saw Jesus render perfect judgment upon all. Jack knew that this situation was called the 'General Judgment.' Jack already knew he irrevocably chose and was consigned to hell. It was fearful when he heard the Lord Jesus say, 'Depart from me you accursed!' Jack tumbled headlong into hell for all eternity, body and soul. 

The worst pain was that of separation from God, but the pain of his resurrected body that he now had back was intense also. It was pain beyond words of description both for his soul and now his body too. Jack knew that his pains were worse than some of the other people in hell's pains were, but he likewise knew that his pains were 'easier' than some of the other peoples pains in hell were too. He somehow knew his pain was perfectly commensurate or proportionate to his sin and their effects. 

Now and for all eternity Jack was always in the company of demons who hated and constantly tormented him. Jack now had no grace to love God and ever since he died, he cursed God frequently as he often did while he was on earth (before dying), only much more now. What was especially difficult was that Jack knew there would be no appeal at this point, but he really didn't want an appeal. He rejected a lifetime of appeals from God and listened to his 'friends' the demons although at the time he didn't realize how much they hovered over him constantly urging and tempting him to sin, especially on his deathbed immediately after the accident but before he died. During Jack's lifetime, the demons also used others around him to tempt him to sin, and they used Jack himself to tempt others to sin as well. He now realized it all. 

Jack never realized on earth how much the demons hated him. Actually, he was blissfully unaware of the demons presence while on earth, but not ignorant of their temptations, which he often gave in to. But Jack certainly was aware of their presence now. Jack also now knew the demons were no 'friends' of his. They hated Jack and Jack hated them too. Jack's girlfriend eventually repented and came back to God. She was now in Heaven. Jack hated her as well. Jack even hated himself. He somehow realized this situation of incredible pain would inescapably last forever and ever, and ever, and ever, and ever. . . . . . . .

Jack ignored his buddy who tried to convert him. Jack thought 'Warning me about Hell! How superstitious of him to caution me about that.' But if it was merely superstition, why was Jack so convicted. And why try so hard to avoid his buddy afterward. And why didn't Jack treat other people who were really superstitious, who believe horoscopes etc. like he now did his buddy? They told Jack his 'fortune' sometimes good and sometimes bad, but Jack never 'ditched' them like he ditched his true friend.

Jill's Afterlife

When she died, Jill also underwent her Particular Judgment. Then General Judgment occurred, and after getting her body back she was consigned to hell also. Her pain was incredible. Beyond description, but was not as bad as Jack's. She remembered some Christians saying, 'To whom much is given much is REQUIRED' when she was on earth. Jill knew the people given more gifts such as Jack, and squandered more had a bigger account to pay. She had heard Christians talk of Jesus' warning about how we must pay an account for even the slightest wrong word we utter (Matthew 12:36) and now knew for certain that people with bigger accounts had a bigger price to pay. Jill too rejected a lifetime of appeals from God to approach Jesus. This is an eternal situation that she freely chose and now with grace withdrawn, she cursed herself, all those around her, and God too as she had no love in her. 

Both Jack and Jill died unexpectedly at an hour they did not expect. Jill's pains were less than Jack's if you could call them 'less' in any sense of the word. Jack' pains were more severe. Both their pains were indescribably and unspeakably terrible. Jack and Jill knew deep down in their conscience while on earth that they must be ready at all times for God's righteous judgment.

LUKE 12:40, 44-48   40 You also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour..... 44 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 45 But if that servant says to himself, 'My master is delayed in coming,' and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the unfaithful. 47 And that servant who knew his master's will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. 48 But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.

Nobody DESERVES To Go To Heaven

Many people think; 'Well if anybody deserves to go to heaven, this guy does.'

But remember, NOBODY DESERVES to go to Heaven. We don't deserve salvation. God gives us the gift of grace. Through this grace He gives us supernatural faith, hope, and charity which are graces as well. That's WHY they are called supernatural faith hope and charity, because they come as gifts from God.

God graces us with faith so we can believe in Him. He gives us hope so we can hope in Him. He works IN US so that our works can be counted as true charity, fruitful and necessary (we could never work enough on our own to 'earn' Heaven). We don't deserve to go to Heaven. God's gift of justification is just that -- a gift.

CCC 1996 Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor , the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.

CCC 162 Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man. We can lose this priceless gift, as St. Paul indicated to St. Timothy: "Wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith." To live, grow and persevere in the faith until the end we must nourish it with the word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith; it must be "working through charity," abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the Church.

CCC 367 . . . man is ordered to a supernatural end and that his soul can gratuitously be raised beyond all it deserves to communion with God.

Many other places in the CCC and within Sacred Scripture teach the same thing. As stated above, God's gift of justification is just that -- a gift. Nobody can take it away. Nobody can snatch you out of God's hand. Although others can kill the body, they cannot kill the soul. But we can choose to reject this gift. Thus 'we can lose this priceless gift' as the CCC 162, states above.

Some People Wrongly Think That Once You Are A Christian, You Cannot Choose To Cease Being a Christian, Thus Throwing Away Your Salvation!

Some people wrongly think that once you are a Christian, you absolutely cannot possibly choose to throw away your salvation. It would be beyond the purpose of this study to go into much detail on this issue. Suffice it to say that there is not one ancient Church Father who taught this, and absolutely no Bible verses that teach this either. There are some verses that are misappropriated that taken superficially seem to say this, but upon closer examination they don't teach, 'once saved, always saved.' There are many emotional appeals by people who believe in this heresy. There is also reference to an inheritance that will never perish which is true. But just because the inheritance doesn't perish, doesn't mean that you will choose to accept that inheritance. This imperishable inheritance is Jesus Himself (and Heaven), but people can and DO reject Jesus.

The first lie in recorded history was based on Satan telling Adam and Eve (who had a saving relationship with God) that they 'will not die.' They disobeyed and of course they died. The people who believe this heresy will say things such as (quoting Romans 8:1) 'there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.' But we are not talking about those who ARE in Christ Jesus. We are talking about those who WERE in Christ Jesus, rejected Jesus, and are NO LONGER in Christ!

They will say things such as 'You can't reject Christ once you know Him. Knowing someone in Biblical terms is intimate and they will not reject Jesus.' Knowing someone in Biblical terms IS an intimate relationship. But look what Scripture [8] says about some who knew Jesus!

2 PETER 2:20-21   20 If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end then they were at the beginning. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.

They will conveniently ignore verses such as these. You can see 'Jill' in this verse as being the one who never knew Christ. You can also see 'Jack' as the one who knew 'our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ' and later rejected Him becoming 'entangled' in 'the corruption of the world' and 'overcome' can't you?

It is a bad situation for Jill. It was a worse situation for Jack and people like Jack. It would have been better for the Jacks of this world 'never to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.' 

Catholics affirm an assurance of salvation but it's a moral assurance (CCC 1020, 2628, 2592; cf. 1 John 5:13) of salvation for God's elect that includes God working in and through us as Scripture asserts. If we by the grace of God are faithful to God, we can be assured that we will go to Heaven. If we fall, we can repent, confess our sins, then remain faithful and again be assured of a Heavenly destiny.

That's WHY 2 Peter 1:5-11 says what it does . . . 

2 PETER 1:5-11   5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. 10 Therefore, my brother, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The Jacks and Jills of this world are often told by their false religious leaders that they cannot reject the grace of the Holy Spirit. That grace is irresistible. That we don't have a free will to mysteriously go hand in hand with God's plan. Predestination is a great mystery. Their leaders sometimes re-define predestination to actually mean pre-determinism or 'determinism' (kind of a 'Divine puppet-show') rather than true predestination. Catholics affirm a true 'Predestination' but deny a phony re-defining of predestination. As the CCC 600 teaches: 

CCC 600 To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of "predestination," he includes in it each person's free response to his grace. . . 

False teachers deny free will and attempt to re-define predestination.

Catholics affirm a true definition of Predestination AND affirm Free Will!

How Predestination AND free will can coexist is a great mystery (their counterfeit definition of predestination is a great mystery too -- it's just a false 'great mystery'). As far as grace being irresistible, recall St. Stephen at his martyrdom (Acts 7). St. Luke writing the Book of Acts directly contradicts this tradition of men that nullifies what God has taught us. The doctrine of 'irresistible grace' is a false doctrine that contradicts truth. 

They also end up blaming God for their sin (God didn't send me the grace so I HAD to commit these sins. If God had sent me the grace to be good, I wouldn't have sinned because I couldn't choose to resist God's grace. Therefore ultimately it's God's fault that I'm sinning.). Adam after his fall in the garden tried blaming God for his sin too. Adam basically complained in the garden that 'the woman that YOU SENT me gave me the forbidden fruit'. But this blaming God for our sin doesn't take away the objective fact that our sin IS NOT God's doing. It's OUR DOING!

ACTS 7:51-53   51 You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it. 

Notice you CAN resist the Holy Spirit. Once saved always saved? Notice Christ's admonition about unforgiveness in St. Matthews Gospel on the postscript from Jesus teaching about the Our Father prayer. And also notice what kind of people Jesus is addressing here. People who have the devil as their father? No! People who have God as their Father!

MATTHEW 6:14-15   14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 
15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Jesus is addressing people who have God as 'your Father,' and if they don't forgive sins against them, will not be forgiven their sins! 

Jesus in John 15 is addressing people who are 'already clean.' But what does he tell them? Does He tell these people who are 'already clean' that they are infallibly certain of remaining 'in Him'? No!

JOHN 15:3-5   3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

Why would Jesus be telling us to REMAIN in him if we can't lose Him by our choice? How can we REMAIN 'in Jesus' if we were NEVER 'in Jesus' in the first place (as the OSAS teachers try to assert)! Because he's telling this to people who ARE IN JESUS.' 

JOHN 15:6   6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

Notice you can choose not to remain in Him (Jesus). Does this sound like once saved, always saved? No! Do not be deceived!

1 CORINTHIANS 6:9-11   9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

People CAN be 'blotted out of the book of life' as is explained to Moses on Mount Sinai, and reaffirmed in Psalm 69 as well.

EXODUS 32:33  The Lord replied to Moses, 'Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book.'

Psalm 69 says the same thing. Psalm 69 talks about how various people are betraying the King. The betrayals on a superficial level have to do with betraying King David, but on a deeper level have to do with betraying the real King par excellence, King Jesus.

PSALM 69:8, 21-28   8 I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother's sons; . . . 21 They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst. 22 May the table set before them become a snare; may it become retribution and a trap. 23 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever. 24 Pour out your wrath on them; let your fierce anger overtake them. 25 May their place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in their tents. 26 For they persecute those you wound and talk about the pain of those you hurt. 27 Charge them with crime upon crime; do not let them share in your salvation. 28 May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous.

Notice people CAN be blotted out of the book of life! Once-saved-always-saved or 'OSAS' (and its variations which we will not get into here) is a false doctrine, a heresy. Now let's take another look at Jack. Let's see how things could have been for Jack with a different perspective. We will see what can happen to change that course.

How It Could Have Been For Jack In Life And Afterlife

Jack WAS born of water and spirit (Baptized), and was incorporated into Christ. Later Jack committed many smaller or venial sins, but as of yet, did not rupture his fellowship with God. As a young man Jack tried to love God, follow the path of Christ, and pray. Eventually Jack committed some sins that are termed 'grave sins' but due to his youth and his lukewarm home situation he was ignorant that he was committing acts that could rupture his relationship with God, although his conscience was bothering him. . . . Now with Jack getting older, his conscience continued bothering him, and with his friend's warning, he was truly making an informed choice to reject God's law. Jack was living in a state of mortal sin. By doing this he preferred to discard God. He was in effect telling God to get out of his life. God sent many graces to Jack to try to bring him back.

Jack by the grace of God and the witness of his holy friend decided he better get his life straightened around. Jack finally accepted God's grace that was sent to him time and time again. God worked within Jack's friend. Jack amended his life (again by the grace of God). Jack repented for his sins and went to confession for the first time in years. The faithful prayers of Jack's friend afforded many graces.

Jack had something happen to him that was a result of sin in the world. Jack died in that accident. Jack's soul now separated from his body. 

At the time of his death, Jack underwent what is called 'the Particular Judgment.' Jack was in a state of grace and knew that although he didn't deserve Heaven, he wanted to spend eternity with God anyway. After all, that's WHY he repented of his sins in the first place.

Jack was not yet entirely purified due to the sins he committed, some of these sins being pretty extreme. Jack also knew as Revelation 21:27 says that nothing unclean can enter the New Jerusalem (Heaven). Jack also knew that everybody both the justified and the condemned must pay an account for every wrong word they utter. How much more for his wrong actions!

MATTHEW 12:35-37   35 The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

We could never pay a FULL account for our sins. Jesus died to pay this account. But we still DO pay an account for our sins. Jesus says so. That's why although Moses was forgiven, he still had to pay an account. He couldn't enter the Promised Land. That's why King David when he murdered his friend Uriah the Hittite, took Uriah's wife for his own, and later repented was forgiven. But God told him because of his sin; his first-born son must die (and he did). Also because of his sin, he would not be allowed to build the Temple. And of course he wasn't allowed this privilege. An account MUST be paid in this life or in the life to come both for the justified and for the condemned. He had many works that were good but also some that were not good. A perfectly just God would and does demand atonement or payment for these sins. The day of the Lord (the Judgment Day) is when all these accounts are settled.

1 CORINTHIANS 3:13-15  13 each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

After Jack's death, his cleansing process was painful -- a type of 'fire,' but he knew it would not last forever. Some people had more cleansing needed and some very little. Some even paid their account in their earthly lives and went straight to Heaven. Jack's sufferings were still terrible here in Purgatory but his joy was more than he ever had in his earthly life as well. 

Jack eventually came fully cleansed to the 'General Judgment'. He couldn't wait to get his body back. A body he knew would be glorified and all the gifts that come along with this situation! Jack couldn't wait to enter into Heavenly glory. Thanks be to God! 

Distinguishing the Death of the Body and the Death of the Soul

It is important to distinguish death of the body, or physical death, which we all undergo, from death of the soul, which we don't all undergo. False teachers often take one and apply it to the other or deny the other altogether. Don't be bamboozled by these tactics.

Fortunately Jesus in St. Matthew's Gospel discusses the context of both a physical and a spiritual death. Meditating on this can help avoid confusion.

MATTHEW 10:28  And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Physical Death

When we die physically, our spiritual soul and body separate. That's what some of the older Scriptural translations mean when they refer to 'giving up the ghost.'

 CCC 1005 To rise with Christ, we must die with Christ: we must "be away from the body and at home with the Lord." In that "departure" which is death the soul is separated from the body. It will be reunited with the body on the day of resurrection of the dead. 

CCC 1018 As a consequence of original sin, man must suffer "bodily death, from which man would have been immune had he not sinned" (Vatican II GS § 18). 

CCC 1016 By death the soul is separated from the body, but in the resurrection God will give incorruptible life to our body, transformed by reunion with our soul. Just as Christ is risen and lives for ever, so all of us will rise at the last day.

CCC 1013 Death is the end of man's earthly pilgrimage, of the time of grace and mercy which God offers him so as to work out his earthly life in keeping with the divine plan, and to decide his ultimate destiny. When "the single course of our earthly life" is completed, we shall not return to other earthly lives: "It is appointed for men to die once." There is no "reincarnation" after death. 

CCC 1014 The Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of our death. In the ancient litany of the saints, for instance, she has us pray: "From a sudden and unforeseen death, deliver us, O Lord"; to ask the Mother of God to intercede for us "at the hour of our death" in the Hail Mary; and to entrust ourselves to St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death.

Every action of yours, every thought, should be those of one who expects to die before the day is out. Death would have no great terrors for you if you had a quiet conscience. . . . Then why not keep clear of sin instead of running away from death? If you aren't fit to face death today, it's very unlikely you will be tomorrow. . . (St. Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ 1,23,1)

Praised are you, my Lord, for our sister bodily Death, 
from whom no living man can escape. 
Woe on those who will die in mortal sin! 
Blessed are they who will be found 
in your most holy will, 
for the second death will not harm them. (St. Francis of Assisi, Canticle of the Creatures)

Physical death represents death of our bodies. Essentially every person will experience a physical death or death of their body. Physical death is so obvious, that we'll just look at but a couple of passages describing it.

LUKE 16:19-21   19 There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, 21 who desired to be fed with whatever fell from the rich man's table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom.

HEBREWS 9:27 And just as it is appointed for men to die once and after that comes judgment . . . 

Spiritual Death

There is also a spiritual death, the death of a special covenantal relationship with God. The Saints have warned us this is worse than physical death (that certainly makes sense). This is called 'mortal sin.' Prayer in and of itself does NOT get you back in a Covenant-Relationship with God ('I do not say that one is to pray for that')! That sin must be REPENTED of first, to restore Covenant union with God. Unless mortal sin is repented of, it will eventually result in hell at the time of physical death. If we die in this state of unrepented mortal sin, we go to hell for all eternity. Part of our repentance involves Confession.

1 JOHN 5:16-17   16 If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.


[1] C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce, chapter 9. 

[2] All capitals mine here for emphasis. As we proceed, we will utilize the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition for Biblical reference unless otherwise stated. We will use a variety of other sources for this review as well including English translations of official Catholic Church catechetical documents including the Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] and the Roman Catechism (RC), also called the Catechism of the Council of Trent. We will also employ an assortment of historical quotes, and official Catholic Church Council statements. Any bold, underlining, or ALL CAPITAL LETTERS of Sacred Scripture, Catechetical documents, historical quotes, Church Councils, or other official Church statements, will be mine for highlighting purposes unless stated otherwise.

[3] Sirach 7:36. Incidentally, the book of Sirach is also called the book of Ecclesiasticus (not to be confused with the Book of Ecclesiasties). Sometimes the book of Sirach is wrongly denied Canonicity. This book was affirmed as Scripture at the Councils of Hippo and Carthage in 393 and 397 A.D. respectively amidst widespread confusion of the early Church about what was and what was not inspired Scripture regarding both the Old AND New Testaments. Some wrongly assert that the Council of Trent, at the time of the 'Protestant Reformation' was the first General Council to affirm Sirach as inspired Scripture (and several other Old Testament books), but a look at the General Council of Florence from over 100 years before the 'Protestant Reformation' not only shows that to be false, but the Council of Florence just matter-of-factly affirms Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) as inspired Scripture without any need to defend this assertion. A fuller discussion of the Canonicity of Scripture is beyond the scope of this study.

[4] St. John's Gospel is not to be confused with St. John's 3 Epistles toward the back of the New Testament.

[5] For more details on Baptism, please see 'Born Again: Baptism in the Early Fathers' where the ancient Church Fathers go into the Scriptural passages and show why this is so. Yes there are possible exceptions such as Old Testament individuals before Jesus gave us His supreme gift of Himself on Calvary, but to get into those exceptions would be beyond the scope of this study. If Jesus calls us as New Covenant people to be born of water and spirit, and He does, then we need to make every effort to follow His commands and urge others to do so as well.

[6] John 3:3,5,7 shows "born again" = "born of water and Spirit."

[7] CCC 1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: "Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent."

[8] Since many of the people who teach once saved always saved, also use the Protestant NIV bible, we will use this version for the verses in this portion as well to show that the Bible, no matter which translation you are using DOES NOT TEACH ONCE SAVED ALWAYS SAVED! Again, bold print etc. mine for emphasis.

by Jay

Back to Apologetics Articles

Back to Home Page

About | Apologetics | Philosophy | Spirituality | Books | Audio | Links