Thursday, September 19, 2013

Does hell exist?

Read I Timothy 2:1-7

One of my theology teachers once asked me during an oral exam: “Does God want everyone to be saved? Or does God want some to be saved and some to be damned?” I spontaneously responded: “God wants everyone to be saved.” He then asked: “Is that in the Bible?” I said that I thought it was. “Where?” he asked.

So I proceeded to speak of the promise of salvation made to Adam and Eve, and argued that since Adam and Eve represented all of humanity, then that promise is for all people. And what God promises is God’s will. My teacher said: “There’s a clearer answer than that.”

So I spoke about the fact that, in Abraham, all nations are blessed. And since all nations includes all people, then all people fall under God’s blessing. So God must want all people to be saved. My teacher said: “There’s a clearer answer than that.”

So I described the evolution in the thought of the prophets who, over the centuries, moved towards a universalist perspective in their understanding of God, culminating with the prophet Isaiah who saw Israël as being sent to the nations so that the nations would be converted. So God must want all people to be converted and be saved. My teacher said: “There’s a clearer answer than that.”

So I recalled Christ’s words on the night before he died, when he said a blessing over the cup, announcing that his death would seal a new covenant in which his blood would be poured for the forgiveness of the sins “of the multitude”, which is a semitic expression meaning “of all.” So Jesus’ death on the cross was for all people, and God therefore wants all people to be saved. And my teacher said: “There’a a clearer answer than that.”

And I finally gave in, admitted my ignorance, and asked him “Where?” And he pointed to the text we are reading today, 1 Timothy 2:3: “God our Saviour desires everyone to be saved.” And I agreed, there couldn’t be an answer much clearer than that!

So it is not part of God’s plan that anyone be damned. Hell is not part of God’s plan. Hell is a human invention, a consequence of people’s refusal to accept God’s plan of salvation for them. We start creating hells around us when we turn away from God, when we close in on our own petty lives in selfishness and pride. We start preparing for ourselves an everlasting hell when we choose this turning away, this closing in, as our ultimate way of being. And this everlasting hell is pure loneliness, ultimate aloneness.

This is not God’s will for us. It is not God’s will for any of us. And, deep down, it is not our will for ourselves. So let us open ourselves to God’s will, now, today, and for always. For God wants nothing less than each man’s and each woman’s happiness, both now and for eternity.

Holy Cross Fathers' Retreat, Lac Simon