“If God is love, hell must be impossible”

If God is love, as the New Testament teaches us, hell must be impossible. At the least, it represents a supreme anomaly. In no case can being a Christian imply believing more in hell than in Christ. Being a Christian means, first of all, believing in Christ and, if the question arises, hoping that it will be impossible that there is a hell for men because the love with which we are loved will ultimately be victorious. And yet this love has not extinguished our freedom, for a love bestowed will always have to be also a love received. Neither Christ nor the Spirit nor the Father, no one, can do anything against a freedom that closes itself up so much within itself that the more the love bestowed shows itself to be infinite, the more its refusal makes of itself an absolute. But such a refusal, which is absurdity itself, cannot be regarded as the ultimate word on “ultimate things.”

The Gospel never presents such a refusal to us as a credible possibility that Jesus could be satisfied to accept. For hell is the real absurdity. It is no part of a whole in which it might have a meaningful place but is a true outrage that is not able to be affirmed. It is an act of violence that freedom can inflict upon itself but that is not willed by God and never can be willed. Now, this absurdity nevertheless exists in at least one case: for the one whom Jesus reveals to us as the absolute liar and supreme destroyer of men (Jn 8:44). Apart from that case, hell, this unthinkable and absurd thing, still retains in the Gospel the character of possibility. But that is to be correctly understood: if we speak of a refusal of love, then never of God who would refuse love. There will never be beings unloved by God, since God is absolute love. Should that case exist, then God would have to find himself accused—even if it were only in a single case—of not having truly loved.

Therefore we must read the New Testament, and read it ever anew, in the light of divine love. Certainly there is talk of fire, worm and the second death that excludes one from the kingdom. Christ does not recognize the evildoers, distances them from him. But hell, as refusal of divine love, always exists on one side only: on the side of him who persists in creating it for himself. It is, however, impossible that God himself could cooperate in the slightest way in this aberration, above all, not for the purpose of vindicating the magnificence of his denied love through the triumph of his righteousness, as has, unfortunately, often enough been claimed. Thus, if there is any reaction in God to the existence of hell—and how could there not be such a reaction?—then it is one of pain, not of ratification; God would, so to speak, find a brand burned into his flesh: we can guess that it has the form of the Cross. Our pain in the face of hell would then be only an echo of his own pain. The meaning of the New Testament text is thus surely not “hear of what is to befall you” but rather “Hear of what should in no case befall you.” If Christ speaks to us in the Gospel of the possibility of man’s becoming lost through a refusal of love, then certainly this is not in order that it should happen, but only in order that it should not happen. How could Christ, who has thrown himself against death and sin, impose such a loss, even consent to it, given that he has, after all, done everything to avoid it?

Should, however, God’s love be absolutely refused, then this refusal would amount to the senseless struggle to create a counterworld that would be the opposite of life, and thus a radical decreation of itself.

Gustave Martelet, S.J.

Advertisements
Quote | This entry was posted in Citations. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to “If God is love, hell must be impossible”

  1. Does he mean there is *no hell at all*? If this is his interpretation, then the Bible would be rejected where it teaches a finite, temporal hell for the purging away the evils and wickedness of the unrepentant found in the O.T. and the N.T.

    Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      David, I’m afraid I cannot answer your question. I copied this passage from Balthasar’s book Dare We Hope …, and Martelet’s book has not been translated into English.

      Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      David, within the context of the passage, I conjecture that by “hell,” Martelet is referring precisely to the state of eternal condemnation and estrangement.

      Like

      • Maximus says:

        Hell is indeed an anomaly. “Great is the mystery of godliness”; but there is also a “mystery of iniquity”. This counter-world is summed up in St. John’s description of the apocalyptic beast “that was, is not and is going to destruction”.

        St. Maximus describes the eternal refusal as a person that permeates and imprisons their own person with that which does not exist. I knew that sin was non-existent substantially but it really opened my eyes when St. Nektarios called sin “uncreated”, which Orthodox usually use to refer to the divine energies of grace:

        “Sin, being undesirable by nature, is uncreated; as uncreated, it is something non-existent. However, it receives hypostasis when it is created by unnatural human desire.”

        Like

        • Mike H says:

          I mean, let’s not get caught up in numbers because after all, who can say?

          But calling a permanent and perpetual self-imprisonment and torturous loss of all that is good for billions of people (there are over 7 billion people on earth right now after all) to an “anomaly” – a statistical rarity, an exception or peculiarity – (not to mention it’s essential permanence rather than a reversion to what is “normal”) seems a bit of a contradiction in terms, wouldn’t you say?

          The “anomalous” hell of your description seems more like a virtual certainty (unless you see hope for some alternative); a permanent, non-tragic, divinely permitted/sanctioned and (ultimately) divinely accepted and sustained final “destination” within the created order (ex nihilo) in perfect harmony with the Gospel.

          Like

          • Maximus says:

            Mike H,

            I’m not getting caught up in numbers at all. Who knows such things? Christ Himself actually did speak in such manner:

            “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭7:13-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

            I used the word “anomaly” because the author of the article used it; and that’s why I put it in quotes. Damnation shouldn’t be so, especially when the truth and love will be revealed. St. Chrysostom said that we shouldn’t try to define Gehenna, we just need to know that it’s worse than our concepts used to describe it and make haste to avoid it. As far as statistics, that’s God’s business.

            Like

          • Mike H says:

            Maximus,

            Although “anomaly” is the term from the original post, when I read in your comment that “Hell is indeed an anomaly” I inferred that you had taken it as useful within your own conception, regardless of the original usage. That’s fine, and I don’t wish to merely nitpick about words. But “anomaly” is a term with meaning and substance. I’ve not heard it used within the context of this particular topic before.

            “Hell is anomaly”. Aside from my being unable to see how “hell as unending and irrevocable anomaly” makes sense other than as tragedy, the “eternal existence and virtual certainty of anomaly” actually seems a rather apt way to describe the position you’re defending.

            Indeed, I’m not caught up in the numbers. But I also see no need to avoid talking about the implicit (or quite explicit in the case of your Matthew reference) inferences, particularly when “anomaly” provides the relevant context. No need for it to stay in the shadows, right?

            I don’t wish to start doing dueling scriptures. If Jesus’ words regarding the narrow gate are synonymous with an eschatological “free eternal and irrevocable refusal imprisoning a person within that which does not exist” then that is one thing. It is not at all self-evident that that is the case.

            Like

        • Connie says:

          Maximus, about that “narrow gate” verse you quote to back up the claim that Jesus was talking numbers: From what I’ve read, the verb in that verse is present not future tense. It does not say, few *will ever* find that gate. It says few *are finding* it. I see that verse as a wonderful depiction of what our journey is. Indeed, we know experientially what that wide and easy path is that leads to destruction because we all have traversed it, some persisting beyond death. Jesus is the door. Every person has to enter that narrow gate. There is no reason to assume this verse is talking about an eternal hell, or ultimate numbers.

          Liked by 2 people

  2. Edward De Vita says:

    David,
    Since Martelet was a Catholic, he would have believed in the doctrine of purgatory. In essence, his hope would be that none would suffer eternal punishment. This would not, however, preclude the possibility of suffering the temporal “punishment” required for purification from sin and its effects.

    Like

  3. aniana says:

    It seems to me…Heaven is real. Hell exists.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      aniana, I suspect anyone with an ounce of self-awareness believes that there is a hell. We experience it in our souls. We experience it is unending and overpowering. And we know we cannot deliver ourselves from its captivity. Such is the power of egoism and sin, the power of darkness and self-destructiveness. From the perspective of the self-damned, hell is “eternal.”

      But is it eternal from the perspective of the Christ who has destroyed death in his death and resurrection? Is the omnipotent Love of God truly impotent before the self-damnation of humanity? That, I think, is the real question.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Fariba says:

    I honestly find more evidence for purgatory in the Scriptures than Hell

    Like

  5. “Contingency”

    Christian Wiman in his book “My Bright Abyss” talks about how ‘Contingency’ is interwoven into our belief and how even into smallest subatomic particle of our existence, there is an inherent ‘uncertainty’ involved in our faith – faith in the restoring power of The Cross and the immeasurable love God has for us in that act. The acknowledgement of that “uncertainty principle” if you will, could be synonymous with the belief that there may be an ‘Eternal Hell’.

    He states –

    “There’s no release from reality, no “outside” or “beyond” from which some transforming touch might come. But what a relief it can be to befriend contingency, to meet God right here in the havoc of chance, to feel enduring love like a stroke of pure luck.”

    I am unabashedly in love with the idea of “Apocatastasis” and firmly cling to the hope of the universal reconciliation of all things. But it is not a blind infatuation. I realize that it is intertwined within the structure of my belief, which necessarily must have a healthy measure of spiritual ‘uncertainty’. It’s one of the required accoutrements of our journey, to jettison the element of contingency, would be to make ‘faith’ our servant and then to attempt to dispense the fruit of the ‘Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’, as we see fit, to whom we feel is therefore worthy. In other words – “Here, let me decide your ‘gnomic will’ for you because well, after all, it’s limited to the polemic options I’ve presented”. ‘Absolute certitude’ is a kind of fascist thinking at best and leads to the subjugation of theological perspectives and the spiritual personhood of others. Warnings of eternal punishment don’t work like that; they may be literal actualities in this life for some, or future metaphorical warnings for others, but there is an inbuilt ‘contingency’ in the parables of Jesus that we should take into account whenever reflecting on their deepest and most poignant meaning(s).

    As Thomas wanted physical, corporal, phenomenological evidence of Jesus’s resurrection, (and got it) then, I too would like the same for ‘Infernalist’ construals where the eternal damnation of the unsaved is as certain as his bodily resurrection was – thank you very much! Jesus never said post-resurrection, “Now my chosen 12 – 1 and others, let me show you where those who don’t believe that I am standing right here in front of you are going to go for all eternity – I.e. – “Let’s make a quick trip to ‘The Lake of Fire’ to freak you out and sear into your consciousness the punishment of the unrepentant!” No, his post-Resurrectional dialog was not constantly filled with apocalyptic warnings of hellfire and brimstone. If it were so, Peter would have given copious amounts of his time and energy to propagating this particular agenda – there are warnings of course but he is not inordinately fixated on the sadistic judgment of the those rejecting the message.

    The debate can and should to some degree, rage on about the correct interpretations of “olam”, “aidios” and “aionios”, but “Hell” nevertheless is as much subject to the dynamic of contingency, as salvation is to the dynamic of faith. “He who has the Son has life, he who does not have the Son of God, does not have life.” Fine, period, full stop! Now, the all too human exercise in this life of judgmentally determining exactly who that’s going to be and how that should play itself out, is synonymous with making dogmatic pronouncements from the ‘Bema Seat’ in order to propagate fear and then use it as leveraging tool normally for political, social and economic advantages. The idea that the ‘warning of hell-fire’ is an act of love in and of itself, does not hold water or redemptive value – How does that reflect Paul’s description of “Love” in 1 Cor 13 ? The Spirit must move in the heart, not from my condemnatory pontifications. I am no ones judge and resolutely refuse to be so! I’m not suggesting that warnings of judgment in the NT are simply vacant threats but rather, are necessary corralling strategies for stubborn free-willed creatures unfortunately now destined to imprison themselves in their own current feculent metaphysical state. I claim no special sacerdotal knowledge other than my own life experience and communication with others – I am a scriptural neophyte and a dilettante at best but know enough to begin to see the sky clearly through the fog of disappointment and suffering.

    Maximus quotes –

    “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭7:13-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

    But does ‘destruction’ here mean “eternal destruction” without ever the possibility of redemption (?) Commencing our ‘eternal life’ [in this present flesh] is a wonderful and beautiful thing and there truly are ‘few’ that find the inner peace and contentment that should accompany the living knowledge of our salvation, but our life here in this world will not be without ‘tribulation’, “Believer” of otherwise.

    Yet, while God is not in time but rather holds time in Himself, the astrogeophysical time-sequence, as is the corporal form of our existence of and in ‘this’ world, is not only a reality for God in The Incarnation, but in the person of his Spirit as well, who now dwells in us. He is infinitely distant in his holiness but simultaneously infinitely close in his love for us. When we experience our humanity more as a curse, than a gift, we often look to cast aspersions on others or circumstance in an attempt to resolve our own guilt – we are often ignorant victims on a “Titanic” cruse ship of life; we will hit random bergs (and turds) sooner or later that may rip us and sink us physically but they cannot defeat us spiritually – we will eventually overcome, as he overcame the world!

    Liked by 2 people

Comments are closed.