Hell Exists But Is Emptied

Thanks to Alan for sending this video to me. It's a nice theological discussion from 2011 in the midst of the Love Wins debate giving a Catholic perspective on hell and universalism:

I think many readers would land where Fr. Barron lands, universal salvation as a "reasonable hope."

For my part, as regular readers know, my issues swirl around the issue of human freedom. Specifically, I don't think it is psychologically or theologically realistic to believe that a finite human will could resist the infinite love of God for all eternity. Because of this I'm a bit more sanguine about the prospects of hell eventually being emptied.

Hell exists. And will be "crowded" for a season. But hell is eventually emptied. Not forcibly emptied, but emptied because of God's infinite patience.

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27 thoughts on “Hell Exists But Is Emptied”

  1. Thanks for this, Richard. Is there anything riding on your last claim, that hell won't be emptied "forcibly," but rather by "God's infinite patience"? If your position is that finite human wills cannot resist the infinite love (will?) of God for all eternity, that sounds like irresistible grace, which sounds rather "forcible"—given a certain sense of that word. Why not just say it *is* forcible, in the sense of God's triumphant, omnipotent love finally conquering even our sinful, self-destructive resistance to love? Christ's harrowing of hell seems like a lovely image for the nature of such "force."

    Put differently: If you *are* meaning to deny something by this claim, it isn't clear to me what that is, or why you'd want to deny it. If it's maintaining some kind of fairness—i.e., God isn't forcing us to do something against our wills—that doesn't seem adequate, since what's fair about a test of wills for all eternity, one finite, one infinite? I don't think we should care about preserving that kind of fairness, or a simulacrum of it. Let's just say that God's love isn't fair: It's going to work for our benefit regardless of how stupid and self-denying we become. Peaceably, of course, but not fairly, in the sense of a fair fight. Our attempts to "lose" will inevitably lose out to God's unconquerable love. And that's very good news indeed.

  2. Your question is even more interesting in light of Mathew 25... in today's parlance, the ones Jesus doesn't recognize are the "Evangelical" in that population; they were centered on dogma and signs rather than reality.

  3. I like the insight that you're developing here, I'm writing this in hopes of adding to its development- not negate it.

    What happens when we think of force as it happens in gravity? A body in contact of that force can't help but be gravitational. Love as a force, seems to act differently....

  4. the idea of heaven being a "party" to which everyone is invited, is exactly a metaphor that Rob Bell put forward in LOVE WINS.

  5. Sorry I can't give a longer response as I'm in class all day. But a quick note before my next class starts.

    I don't think I disagree with you on this. Much of my throat-clearing about the contrast between "force" and "patience" is dealing with a common objection about UR. So I'm skirmishing in that direction. You're coming at it from another direction or, at least, aren't expressing the sorts of worries I'm trying to address. So the "interface" between my word choices and the theology you're expressing is more awkward and isn't as clean.

    That is to say, in discussions of UR many object to it because God, it seems, would have to use "force." And by force they have something rather narrow and violent in mind. That's the "force" I'm talking about. But, as you note, if we had a richer theology of "force" than these sorts of worries don't emerge.

  6. That makes sense, and is what I suspected. Sounds like we're on the same page! Thanks for the clarification.

  7. Is it fair to say that the reasoning here approaches that of Galatians 5 where Paul describes the fruits of the Spirit and their effect? Except, instead of "fruits of the Spirit" we might have "God's approach to those who oppose him involves love, joy, peace, patience [etc] and instead of "Against such things there is no law," we might have "Against such things there is no ultimate resistance?" (i.e., none remains possible).

    I like this idea of God's patience ultimately winning. It reminds me, among other things, of the parable of the vineyard, where all get the same wages, despite when they started working. (I'm sure others more familiar with the concept of universal reconciliation have covered that already). I wonder, assuming it is as portrayed above, as souls abandon hell to submit to

  8. I would hazard the guess that Richard would avoid categorizing people in that particular fashion, preferring the Pauline horizontal cut across identities rather than between them, but I think your point is well made. In fact it brings up another question in my mind. If Jesus identifies how you treat your neighbor as an important criteria, if not THE criteria, then (a) does orthodoxy play any role? i.e. can an atheist who demonstrates true neighbor love while denying Christianity bypass the whole fiery furnace? and (b) how does one show neighbor love while in 'hell'? Part (b) is probably unanswerable, but it is intriguing.

  9. Thought it was funny that this on-topic Strange Brew comic http://www.gocomics.com/strangebrew/2015/04/14 appeared 2 or 3 spots in my blogroll past your post.

    I think that the more people you know who are in need of hell being a stopping place instead of an end result, the more you find it reasonable. Not because of wishful thinking, but because of meaningful insight into what God's love and mercy would mean for these people.

  10. I can't seem to wrap my mind around the idea that someone would choose to be unhappy and lonely if they knew that there was a chance to be truly loved and accepted.

  11. One question has always bugged me in any discussion re a person choosing to refuse God's grace and remain in hell....why would they? IF hell is the unpleasant place it is made out to be, and IF heaven is the nice place it is made out to be, and IF the hell-dweller has the continual opportunity to jump ship....why wouldn't they?

    For hell to remain the preferred option for those, it must be at least as attractive as heaven. In fact nothing like the eternal torment hell-hole it is reputed to be.

  12. I thought the same thing. I'm not sure that Bell is being represented accurately. Fr Barron's views actually seem right in line with Bell's the way I read him.

    It's been awhile since I read Love Wins, but Bell's argument seemed to be that God loves all (not just all kinds) and that this doesn't change post-mortem. That God's pursuit never stops. For many, that unending pursuit necessitates eventual universal reconciliation - but is that the case with Bell?

    Re: the Lewis "doors locked on the inside" metaphor that was referenced, are the doors TRULY ONLY locked on the inside or not? Can they actually be "opened"? Often when I hear this metaphor employed the answer is actually NO, they're locked permanently - or something to the effect of "yes they're open but people won't want out". Both reduce the Lewis metaphor into misleading and somewhat dishonest rhetoric that seems designed to make God not look so bad, but are ultimately not representative of the held belief that either the doors are effectively locked by God from the "outside" or that God refuses to recognize any type of "repentance"/has ontologically removed the possibility of it.

    But if the "doors are locked on the inside and only on the inside" is truly held, I don't see how one could not be a universalist (or add "strongly hopeful" to show respect for "free will").

  13. If one's suffering is never processed & transformed into empathy is ones's pain ever w one turning life into quest of seeking to find a series of victims? I think this is what the consuming activity of hell is. I think this is what hell is.

  14. That's consistent with St. Isaac the Syrian, who can best be described as incredulous at the thought that any human could stand forever in the unveiled love of God and remain unmoved. Similar for St. Gregory of Nyssa. That "hope" or belief runs deeply through Christianity. Is it a question we can definitively answer? Not really. But I haven't seen any alternative that doesn't ultimately describe a God I would never worship. So I see no reason to believe anything different.

  15. If we presume that all will face the same unveiled love of God (rather than a God who loves some and tortures others), then the question becomes how we will experience the consuming fire of God. Comfort and warmth? Or inescapable torment? Remember, it's a love that drives out darkness and exposes all. And when the veil is lifted, there will be nowhere to go to escape God.

    I have no doubt that an atheist can love better than some of us and be more formed in Christ than many Christians. Faced with the form of 'Christianity' many experience through childhood, atheism might be the most reasonable response. As far as b goes, it's not something that can be answered specifically, but there's no sense I can find in Christianity that things ever become static or unchanging. Even in the vision near the end of the Apocalypse, we see that the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. I can't say how love might be expressed, but I'm sure it can be.

  16. There's still the dance around the issue of hell with niceties like, hell is just a metaphor for the loneliness someone will experience for rejecting the divine love. I think a lot of people are uncomfortable with being honest about how cruel the traditional teaching of hell is. TORMENT for ETERNITY!!!
    I believe it's metaphorical, but for reasons that are different when the history of the words translated as "hell" and "eternity" are explained. I also believe that all creation is/will be reconciled back to God the Father through Jesus Christ.

  17. Hell is very very real.
    Just turn on your TV set and you will see hell on a 24/7 basis, both via the in your face awfulness being dramatized in the daily "news" and in most if not all of the "entertainment" programs too.
    24/7 violence and dramatized nastiness.

    And isnt most, if not all of history a dramatization of people trapped in hell? Including all of the never-ending horrors of religious history, especially the post and counter Reformation Catholic versus Protestant wars that were fort all over Europe for endless decades.

  18. I'm of the opinion that we have been lied to about who we are. We believe the lie because religion perpetuates the lie.

  19. My guess would be it would be for the same reasons people do in the here and now. For me personally when I make a hellish choice its usually because I arrogantly believe myself smarter than God and better off without Him.

  20. i think religion is a fascet of the total lie perpetuated by institutionalized lies.

  21. Thanks for posting Fr Barron, Richard. I'm not a Catholic but I think more non-Catholics should listen to his stuff. He's a great communicator and does excellent movie reviews and analyses.

  22. What I like about “Young’s Literal Translation” is that presents Matthew 25:46 as follows –

    “And these shall go away to punishment age-during, but the righteous to life age-during.”

    A lot of people are very uncomfortable with translating [Hebrew olam] “aión” - the Koine Greek as ‘age’ or “age-like” and would rather have it mean ‘everlasting’ or ‘eternal’ because it fits nicely into their scriptural matrix
    of Divine vindictive retribution. It also employs the present continuous tense for most verbs thereby making it more dynamic and contextually robust, as well as being closer to the original Hebrew and Greek texts.

    Hell may be “Real” but is it ‘eternal conscious
    torment’? One opinion is as follows –

    “The form of "aion" in Matthew 25:46 is an adjective. An adjective is a form of a word indicating possession or pertaining to. For example, hourly pertains to "an hour." Clearly, when one studies Olam and aion, it makes much more sense that it is an indeterminate period of time rather than eternity. Mistranslation of "olam" as "forever" and"everlasting" in the Old Testament has given us contradictions in our modern Bibles.”

    This is just a hermeneutical opinion for consideration, not an etched in stone eschatological dictum that I am attempting to foist off onto anyone. “Universalism Reconciliation” does involve severe and painful punishment for the unrepentant after the General Resurrection, but it is more of a trail through the fire [all consuming fire of God] that then purges the body and soul of the individual; freeing it from all its rebellious and blasphemous ways. This is for “an age” - as long as it takes; not an “everlasting unending period of time” God’s LOVE is so potent and unassailable, that it is ultimately inescapable.

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