Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Monday, April 14, 2014

A Word to the Elect

Saw a link today at Thinking Anglicans to a post at Modern Church blog. Here's just a bit of the post ...

Hell: the worst theory ever

I have recently received an email warning me of eternal damnation in hell.


How do people who believe in hell cope with it?

1) At the height of medieval Christendom hell was only for a few people round the edges of the world. Most people could assume it was nothing to do with them or anyone else they knew. I think many Christians today take a similar view; they accept the existence of hell because that is what they have been taught, but they do not know much about it and they have never thought that anyone they know might end up there.

2) Some take pleasure in the prospect of criminals or unbelievers being punished in hell. In my experience these people tend to have a black-and-white view of humanity. This fits the belief that hell is something you either don’t get at all or get for eternity. They locate themselves among the people who will not go there – otherwise they would not have gained any pleasure from others going there.

3) Some allow for the possibility that they may be heading for hell themselves. In that tragic period between the 14th and 17th centuries many people spent their lives in terror of what was to come after death. Few do that today, but I suspect that many more would, if they were more consistent about their beliefs. The author of this video gives no direct indication that he may end up there himself, but the very fact that he invests so much in this preaching makes me wonder whether, deep down inside, he fears that what he says to other people may also apply to him.

4) There are some emotionless ones who are committed to believing in hell, but have never felt the significance of it. This must say something about their personalities. Perhaps it is more common among career preachers who have learned the skill of earning their bread and butter by threatening damnation while keeping their personal lives completely separate. Is the author of this video one of these? Possibly, though my guess is that he is a very frightened man ...

I also wonder how people who do believe in hell manage to cope with such a belief. I assume people like Thomas Aquinas, who believed those in heaven enjoy the tortures of the righteously damned, must think they themselves and those they love could never end up there. And some, like CS Lewis, make peace with the concept of hell by changing its traditional nature, asserting that it's self-imposed. But I myself can't find a way to make hell ok.

Some further reading : Seeing Hell: Do the Saints in Heaven Behold the Sufferings of the Damned (And How Do They Respond)

And a poem ...

A Word to the Elect - Anne Bronte

You may rejoice to think yourselves secure;
You may be grateful for the gift divine–
That grace unsought, which made your black hearts pure,
And fits your earth-born souls in Heaven to shine.

But, is it sweet to look around, and view
Thousands excluded from that happiness
Which they deserved, at least, as much as you,–
Their faults not greater, nor their virtues less?
And, wherefore should you love your God the more,
Because to you alone his smiles are given;
Because he chose to pass the many o'er,
And only bring the favoured few to Heaven?

And, wherefore should your hearts more grateful prove,
Because for ALL the Saviour did not die?
Is yours the God of justice and of love?
And are your bosoms warm with charity?

Say, does your heart expand to all mankind?
And, would you ever to your neighbor do–
The weak, the strong, the enlightened, and the blind–
As you would have your neighbor do to you?

And, when you, looking on your fellow-men,
Behold them doomed to endless misery,
How can you talk of joy and rapture then?–
May God withhold such cruel joy from me!

That none deserve eternal bliss I know;
Unmerited the grace in mercy given:

But, none shall sink to everlasting woe,
That have not well deserved the wrath of Heaven.
And, oh! there lives within my heart
A hope, long nursed by me;
(And, should its cheering ray depart,
How dark my soul would be!)

That as in Adam all have died,
In Christ shall all men live;
And ever round his throne abide,
Eternal praise to give.

That even the wicked shall at last
Be fitted for the skies;
And, when their dreadful doom is past,
To life and light arise.

I ask not, how remote the day,
Nor what the sinners' woe,
Before their dross is purged away;
Enough for me, to know

That when the cup of wrath is drained,
The metal purified,
They'll cling to what they once disdained,
And live by Him that died.


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