I know that the title of this article has probable already triggered quite a few people. These days, saying hell is one of the biggest taboos that most people have, even among Catholics and Christians. It seems as those one of the greatest evils in the mind of modern man is the notion that one should, could, or will be punished for the evil that one has done.
But nonetheless, I want you to consider the question of hell. For the Atheist, rejecting God and his law carries with it the possibility of spending an eternity in torment and punishment. Yes, the Church doesn’t teach that all Atheists automatically go to hell, but the idea is that if an Atheist were to live up to the law independent of the law, that implicitly they have accepted God’s grace.
This teaching can be found in Romans 2:13-16, “For it is not those who hear the law who are just in the sight of God; rather, those who observe the law will be justified. For when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature observe the prescriptions of the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge people’s hidden works through Christ Jesus.”
Let’s be honest, that is not looking good for a majority of those outside the Church because few people acquire the degree of virtue implied by such a theology. In the course of human history, few people ascend to the level of virtue that the scriptures demand, and to be quite honest even among Christians, few fulfill the standard set by scripture and most especially by Jesus himself.
For those who do, it is often a long process of discipline and trial and error. They have to go through many stages of development and training, slowly gaining insight and slowly developing good habits while overcoming bad habits.
That is why forgiveness is such a huge part of the Christian religion.
Before we attain virtue, we fall into vice, and the scripture teaches us a habit of humility and reconciliation by which we recognize that we are a slave to sin.
From what I can tell, most people do not have this attitude. They tend to think very highly of themselves. Even for many Christians, the presume their salvation because they fail to recognize the evil that is sin.
So if you are an Atheist, do you ponder the idea of hell? For the unbeliever, have you ever stopped to wonder if their are consequences for the evil actions you commit? For the Christian, do you take the time to overcome the sin in your life?
Some might say that Christianity developed the idea of hell to motivate people to be good, but that in our contemporary age, we no longer need these outdated superstitions.
But consider this, we have just witnessed a one hundred year period where a few key atheists with an unbridled lust for power, did great evil and for the most part never suffered the consequences for their actions in this world.
When you look at the lives of Hitler, Stalin, Fidel Castro, and a whole host of psychopaths and mass murderers, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be imitated unless you hold that there is some kind of eternal justice for what they have done. Take for example Stalin. He had his fill of the things of this world. He had all the money, power, and other creature comforts that one could hope for. In a sick twisted way, he achieved the heights of fame and power. His name will live forever. If your heart was set only on the things of the flesh, being Stalin or one of his friends might not seem like a bad gig.
Unless there is a hell. If there is a hell, then he is going to regret his lifestyle for all eternity. Why is this so radical in the year 2021?
I think that this truth is so radically simple that if you embrace the consequences of it, you will be a better person. If you understand that one day you will face judgment for your actions, this will motivate you to be a better person, even when you don’t feel positive emotions about the path of virtue.
Most people can be decent to other people when things are easy. Yes, some struggle to such a degree that even in such times they still cannot be decent, but there are many people who are decent and pleasant to be with when nothing is at stake and no sacrifice is required. Few people are good when it’s hard, when times are tough, when it seems as though the easiest way is to lie, steal, and cheat.
I would argue that the people who are able to endure great suffering for the sake of goodness, truth, and beauty are those who have learned the fear of the Lord. They have held before there gaze that any discomfort found in this world is light when compared the torments of the damned.
I know it motivates me.