In the Western Church, the default position on our eternal existence after this life is that we either wind up in heaven (after a brief stop in Purgatory for Catholics – and Protestants who are stunned and surprised to find out that there is such a place), or we wind up in a state of Eternal Conscious Torment (hereafter referred to as ECT).
I have questions that keep vexing my mind and spirit. These questions are based on the assumption that ECT is true. Working from the assumption that ECT is true, I desire someone in the Roman Catholic church, since they call themselves “THE Church” and therefore assume to themselves the title of “pillar and ground of truth,” to give me an answer for the following nettlesome questions from their in their storehouse of doctrinal and intellectual infallibility.
- If ECT is true, and the decisions we make in this life determine our final destiny, then why would God allow Satan to tempt, trick, and torment us into making decisions which will result in an eternity of shrieking pain? Surely we have enough within ourselves which is capable of taking us away from the Lord without having an additional enemy who is immensely more clever than we to trick us into perdition?
2. If the wicked one was defeated at the Cross, then by what power does he have the authority to wage warfare against human beings? My understanding of the Cross is that it has defeated Satan and stripped him of all his usurped rulership over Creation. How then is he allowed to prowl around and attack mankind, and for what possible purpose? If Satan is a defeated foe, then to allow him any access to us at all, with the ultimate end of us suffering forever, is an act of malignity of the highest order.
3. If God desires the salvation of all (1 Tim 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9) , then why would He allow the wicked one to enact warfare against us, knowing that if we fall, we damn ourselves forever? (Remember, I am asking these questions under the assumption that ECT is true.) If it is my desire that my son live a virtuous life, I am not going to introduce him to the local hooker in town, and if she shows up on my porch looking specifically for my son, I will chase her down the street with an axe handle. Is God any less Father to us than the best of earthly fathers?
4. If the Roman church is the true church, which is described in 1 Tim. 3: 15 as the “pillar and ground of truth,” then the Roman church can never teach error. This is what Roman Catholics tell me all the time in their defense of “Holy Mother the Church” – that She cannot err in all matters doctrinal and moral. Therefore, if the Roman church is the Church and cannot err, then how did this infallible body interpret the Greek word “aionios,” which means “age-long” or “age-during” to be eternal and not catch and correct that error? How does an infallible interpretive body place an erroneous interpretation on Scripture? And this is not the only place either. The old Douay-Rheims Bible had a terrible interpretation of Mark 1: 4 in which that version says:
“John was in the desert baptizing, and preaching the baptism of penance, unto remission of sins.”
No, that’s not what the Greek says AT ALL!!! The Greek word is μετάνοια (metanoia) and it carries the meaning of “a change of mind, as it appears to one who repents, of a purpose he has formed or of something he has done” To repent is therefore a change in the very inner ontological being of the person, so that the things which you approved of, participated in, or loved (especially as sins in the religious context) you now disagree with, despise, and shun their doing.
Penance, on the other hand, is defined as “voluntary self-punishment inflicted as an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong.”
These two meanings are as different as day and night, and show the difference between Eastern thought, which is focused on the ontological change in a person made by a radical transformation of thought leading to a changed life, and Western thought, which is consumed with the breaking of law and making payments or suffering punishments therein. This is why when you go to a Melkite or other Eastern Christian priest and confess, you will not receive a penance to perform. I remember confessing to a Melkite priest once, and at the end, when he realized that I was hanging around waiting for my penance, he said graciously and in a somewhat joking manner, “You are forgiven. Beat it!”
5. If truth is the sole criteria by which one inherits eternal life, then why would God allow a heretic a second breath after his first heretical pronouncement? If you read the writings of the Early Fathers, they had an extreme animus against heresies, considering them to be “soul-damning,” or in other words, a quick descent into ECT. If this is true, then why would a heretic be allowed to put out ideas that would separate us from God forever, especially in light of those verses which state that God desires that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the true God?
Perhaps the most dangerous, arrogant, and hubris-filled words in the universe are, “Well, if I were God…..” They are probably the same words muttered in some corner of heaven by the Light Bearer before he was caught and cast down to become the enemy of our souls and the bearer of darkness. Yet they hang around the corner of my mind whispering to me: “If I was God…..I would hit a heretic with lightening before I would let him deceive one of my children whom I want saved.” Do I lie and act like I am a person who is just filled with faith and trust in God regardless of all that is bothering me, or do I make this public pronouncement and wait for the fiery condemnations of fellow Christians to log in my com box?
6. Why is it that all the visions which are experienced by seers in the Roman Catholic Church have to do with ECT? It seems that the great majority of the visions are replete with dire warnings that the whole world is going into eternal fire, that only a handful are going to escape (which makes me wonder why people would bother when faced with such an unencouraging message), and that the torments are beyond just mere punishment, but seem to indicate an absolute delight in finding ways to make souls as miserable as possible forever. Traditional Roman Catholic blogs and websites have a peculiar fondness for pictures such as the one posted at the beginning of this musing. In them, I fail to see the sorrowful heart of God over the devastation of sin as much as I see a sheer delight in the wicked “getting theirs.” Christ wept over sinners. We seem to delight in them getting as much hell as they can.
7. If ECT is true, why are you, dear Roman Catholic reader, not out right now – right at this very second! – doing what the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons do so well – knocking on as many doors as you can and pleading with people to save themselves from never-ending pain? In fact, why are there so few sermons in the Roman church about this? Jonathan Edwards may have been nuts, but at least his behavior was consistent with his belief system. You can’t even say that for the Romans, who are the ones who got this whole mess promoted and off the ground in the Medieval Ages with the writings of Anselm of Canterbury. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that hell and its torments are eternal, but apparently not many people are concerned about this – not even bishops and priests. There is a strange silence about this doctrine which, if ECT is true, certainly appears to come from a spirit most uncaring about our fellow travelers in this journey of life.
Could it be that you don’t care about your fellow man and his soul? If not, then the very fires in which you claim to believe may become your permanent home, according to Catholic teaching, which stresses that how we treat our fellow man is how God will treat us. You better hope that ECT is not true.
8. Why is the Roman church now backtracking on limbo and the fate of those who have never heard of Christ? Could it be that they have come to realize just how unfair – and therefore a smear on His character – it appears to people to say that unbaptized infants are denied heaven when it is of no fault of their own? How unfair it appears that the millions (billions?) who ever lived and never heard of Christ are not only denied heaven, but are tormented to some degree.
But here’s the rub – the Roman church taught all of this as true at one time, and if the Roman church is infallible, they cannot just change the truth to suit modern tastes. On the other hand, if the Roman church is not so infallible, then perhaps they have messed up in believing Anselm’s little nightmare as well. David Bentley Hart refers to this line of thinking, as espoused in Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s work, Life Everlasting, as “Catholics in the Hands of a Psychotic God.” I rather like that description.
9. Does anyone ever stop to ask, when confronted with the claims of the Roman church regarding the nature and duration of hell – the nature being anything as horribly painful and wretchedly grotesque as you can imagine, and the duration being “You have pissed me off and I am going to fry you forever!” – whether a God with that kind of character would be someone with whom they would want to spend forever? I mean, is it possible that God might even turn on you one day and decide that frying you would be a positive experience?
10. What is the purpose of ECT? What possible good does it fulfill in God’s universe? Is there an accomplishment of the end which the Bible states is the will and desire of God, the salvation of all mankind, of every person who ever lived? To what end is it to maintain sinners forever in a state of rebellion, hatred, and animosity against God, which would be for God to, in a real sense, to keep sin alive forever, when the Bible says that it is a defeated foe and will come to an end?
Come on, all you Roman Catholics and Protestants who believe in ECT and a God who delights in tormenting the wicked so that He can feel good, let’s have an answer, shall we?
I cannot deny that the Bible speaks about the Lord’s anger, but does that anger really last forever? Is He implacable and unable to forgive? Or is it we who in the deepest part of our black little hearts, would gladly take our enemies and slow roast them forever, cackling in glee over their screams of torment?
I certainly don’t ascribe that kind of behavior to a God of whom it is said is love.