Are There People in Hell?


The question may have caught your attention.  It did mine.  I was at mass the other day where the preacher proclaimed that there wasn’t anyone in hell because God’s mercy was so great.  I began pondering this question seriously, does God’s mercy preclude the existence of a hell?  How could we possibly find out?

As always, I think a good place to begin is with the scriptures.  Daniel (12:2) states that those who are asleep will arise, some to everlasting life, others to everlasting torment. Jesus himself states that whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; and whoever does not obey the Son will have the wrath of God on them (John 3:36).  Revelation 21:8 states that the cowardly, faithless, detestable, murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars will have as their portion the second death of fire and sulfur.

All in all, there are numerous references in scripture pointing to some sort of punishment, hell or fire, to those who take the wide path that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13).

What are we to do?  Pope Benedict rightly points out that any explanation of scripture which denies the data, is ultimately no explanation at all (Behold the Pierced One). 

Perhaps the truth is that God is not only love, but he is also complete justice.  That in spite of the fact that he lavishes his love and his grace on us, we can still turn away from his will.  In turning away from his will, we may fall under guise of the evil spirit and slowly move from bad to worse  (see the seventh rule in the 2nd week rules for discernment).

Of course, God saves the repentant thief at the end who asks forgiveness.  But then what of the other thief?  What about the thief who doesn’t repent, who hardens his heart against God, and continues to mock Jesus until the better end?  If he didn’t repent, then he is probably in hell.

But this conclusion and this insignificant blog post sounds offensive.  How can you say people are going to hell?  Sometimes political correctness is simply not correct.  Yes, it is good to love, and not hurt people, but our love must I think be rooted in truth.  Right now it seems that scripturally speaking, if one lives their entire life without God, then it seems that that is what he or she will get in the hereafter.

Raj Vijayakumar is currently residing in Toronto and working as an assistant for L’Arche Canada.

  • Peter Bisson, SJ
    Posted at 11:11h, 21 September Reply

    Thank you Raj!

  • Vince Filo-Carroll
    Posted at 16:20h, 25 September Reply

    Fascinating discussion. Even in the updated version of the Creed we recite that Jesus descended (for two days) into hell after the Crucifixion. I was frequently taught that no one can forgive like God can. So I agree with Raj and at the same time I am reflecting on the challenge of free will and belief and the impact of one’s actions over a lifetime.

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