by Arthur Policarpio
How do we know that hell really exists?
The answer is simple. Because Jesus said so! There can be no higher authority in this subject matter than Jesus Himself. Philosophers can argue, theologians can question, ordinary Catholics can doubt, but in the end, the most important "opinion" in this debate is the opinion of the Son of God Himself. In numerous instances in the Bible, Jesus explicitly mentions the existence of this place of suffering:
"... Whoever humiliates his brother deserves to be thrown into the fire of hell." (Matthew 5:22).
"Just as the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire so will it be at the end of time. The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will weed out of His kingdom all that is scandalous and all who do evil. And these will be thrown in the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the just will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matthew 13:40- 43).
Since Jesus is the Son of God, then this place of eternal torment must really exist, for if it doesn't not exist, then Jesus is a liar. If Jesus is a liar, then the whole foundation of our Christian faith collapses. The whole reason for believing in Christianity collapses.
But the fact is that Jesus is truly the Son of God. He proved this with His works, with his miracles. But most importantly, He proved this by His Resurrection. Since only God can conquer death, the Resurrection proves that Jesus is truly the Son of God. Since the Son of God, Truth Himself, said that there is hell, then hell must really exist.
The reality of human free will also proves the existence of the place of eternal torment. God, in His infinite love, created us in His own image and likeness, and as such, created us with free will. We are free to choose. We are not robots or computer programs pre-ordained to act out a life script that has already been written by God. We can choose to eat what we want. We can choose to be healthy or be unhealthy. We can choose to live or we can choose to take away our own lives. We can choose to accept God or to reject Him.
That is the mystery of free will. God, in His love, created us with complete freedom, even the freedom to reject Him, our own Maker! Hell, therefore, is really more a state of being, than a "place" we go to. It is the state of complete denial of God. Every day, we either reject God or accept Him, in some way. Sin, at its very essence, is the denial of God. A life of sin is a life of denial of God. At death, souls who refuse to accept God's mercy, who refuse to accept God's love, necessarily are condemned to the lakes of gehenna. Hell is a state of ultimate, complete denial of God, the culmination of a life lived out in denial of God.
Hell, therefore, necessarily exists, for if it did not exist, then we are not free. If there is only a heaven, then there is really no choice for us but to choose heaven. There is no option but to choose heaven, to accept God. But the fact is that we are free. Freedom and the existence of a place of "deniers of God" go hand-in-hand. To be free means to have the option to deny our Maker, hence, the necessity of a "place", a state-of-being for those who choose to deny God.
How can a God of love create an eternal "torture chamber" that would punish His own created children with the most unimaginable pains and horrors?
In God's original design, there was no hell. If we remember correctly, God and all of His angels "lived" in heaven. The place of eternal torment did not exist - until Lucifer defied God and essentially told God, "better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven."
God created a perfect world! Lucifer had the choice to stay in heaven, but he chose to stay in a world where he could rule. He chose to defy God. In the same way, all of us can choose to go to heaven. That is the key misconception of most people with regard to this place of torment. Many people mistakenly conjure the image of God in all His wrath throwing down people into the eternal, unquenchable flames.
God does not want to punish us. Hell, more accurately, is a consequence of choice. It is the choice of people who, like Lucifer, defy God, freely and willingly refusing His grace until the end.
This place of torment is a consequence of sin. We are free to defy God. People who defy God voluntarily reject the eternal happiness of heaven. People who go to hell are people who choose to go there, because of sin, because of their defiance of God until the end of their lives.
Since He is all-knowing, He could have foreseen, from eternity, that millions of souls would go to hell. Why then, did He have to create a hell? Why not just a world where there is no hell, when everyone will be saved?
This is, admittedly, a very difficult and delicate question to answer. Indeed, why create human beings with free will? Why create beings who, because of the freedom they possess, may willingly choose death over life, eternal punishment over eternal happiness, denial of God over acceptance of God? Why "risk" creating a Hitler, who will murder millions of Jews? Why risk creating a Stalin who will lead a world superpower in seducing millions of innocent souls to embracing the ultimate Communist Lie: that there is no God, that there is no life beyond this world?
Why create you and me, knowing fully well that there is a "risk" that, with all our imperfections, we risk condemning ourselves to eternal damnation? Why throw us into the Colisseum of Life, where we risk being devoured and torn to pieces by the legions of devils that prowl about us, that seek to bring us down to damnation and death? Why did God create us, in the first place?
A good analogy for this would be the decision of parents to conceive of a child. Why conceive a child? Technically, parents do not really "need" a child: there are many childless parents who are just as happy as parents with children, and many single men and women with no children who are also just as happy. But why conceive a child? Because of love. A child is born because of conceived love, out of love.
In the same way, God created us out of an outpouring of love. He did not need to create us. He is God, and He does not need us to make Him better, or "more perfect'', for He is already perfect unto Himself. He created us out of love, out of a desire to share the beauty of life, the wonder of existence, with us.
Parents know fully well that in conceiving a child, there is always the risk that their child may not turn out according to what they envision him or her to be. The child, one day, can become a drug addict. The child can become a murderer. The child can become mentality unstable, to the point that he or she will leave his parents, or even harm his parents.
There are so many things that can go wrong with the life of the child. And yet, parents still decide to "give life'' to the child. Parents, in conceiving the child, necessarily give freedom to the child: the freedom to choose his or her own path, the freedom to even stray from the good path. Giving the child the freedom to choose his or her path, to take hold of his or her own life when he or she has reached the age of reason, is an act of love on the part of parents.
It is, in fact, one of the highest forms of love, for the freedom is given with the pain and anguish of knowing fully well the possibility of abusing that freedom. In the same way, God knows fully well that human beings can abuse the God-given freedom given to them. They can, in fact, choose to reject God. But God, out of love, still gives us that freedom, for without freedom, our life has no value, no meaning.
Imagine a life where we are not free to decide what we want to do! It is like living in one big prison, we cannot do anything outside the bounds of our prison cell that is life. The essence of being "alive" is to be free! To exist means to have a life of our own, a life that we, and no one else, control and own!
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