Fear Whom ?

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Fear is  natural to humans – there is nothing wrong in it.  Some are afraid of death, some are afraid of poverty. Some are afraid of  persecution, insult, isolation and deprivation. Some are afraid of loss of reputation and yet some others are afraid of losing their money.  Some are afraid of their enemies. Snakes, wild animals, darkness, heights, depths are all causes of fear. If we are prone to  fear, we could  find something to fear in everything  we see.

But  our Lord  has said:  ‘Fear not’. He has repeated these two words  not once or twice. We can see this  assurance three hundred and  sixty six times in the Bible. So, that is enough for one full year. It doesn’t mean that we are   not to  fear anybody or anything.  Whom should we really fear? Or in other words, whom should we not fear? Jesus Christ has given a plain  answer: ‘Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him, who can destroy both soul and  body in hell’ (Mathew 10:28).

In fact, all those fears we narrated earlier  stem from the  the one who kill the  body.  If you are afraid of the guy who  can kill your body, then you will start fearing anything and everything.  Your only remedy is to stop fearing the one who can kill your body. Instead fear the one who  can destroy both soul and body in hell. We call him God. We need to fear Him and Him alone.

But hell….. !  Does it  really exist?  Isn’t it something symbolic? Is our  God so cruel to send  someone to an unending  period of torment? These and many other similar questions  have  haunted  mankind for centuries. Philosophy and science have failed to give us a  definite answer. But the Word of God gives the  perfect answer to all our  queries  regarding hell. 

Hell is a reality. Eternal  punishment is real. Torments in  hell are real. It is a  place from where  nobody ever  returns. Once in hell, always in hell. The good news is that  we can escape it. Hell is  the work of  devil.  If it is the  work of   the devil, then take comfort in what  God says; ‘The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of  the devil’ (1 John 3:8). This is why Paul instructs the Romans so  emphatically; ‘There is  therefore now no  condemnation for those  who are in Christ Jesus’ ( Rom. 8:1). The one and only sure shot way to  escape the  condemnation of  eternal fire is to be united with  Jesus Christ. As Christians we know it. It has been part of  our elementary catechism.

Then how come this doubt about the reality of hell? Especially so  at this eleventh hour when  we are  looking  forward to the  great harvest and the separation of  chaff from   wheat! To get an answer we should  go to the  gospel of Mathew.  There, we see Jesus teaching his disciples  about the nature of   the kingdom of heaven.  ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared  to someone who sowed  good seed  in his field; but while everybody was  asleep, an enemy  came and sowed weeds among  the wheat, and then went away.  So when the  plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well’ (Mathew 13: 24-26). Jesus Christ had sowed only one thing; the  good seed  of the gospel. He expects it to bear fruit  thirty- fold, sixty- fold and hundred- fold.  Gospel is very clear in its teaching about  heaven, hell and  the eternal destiny that awaits everyone. Mathew tells us about  the great judgement in detail. When he will sit on the throne  of his glory, he will separate people from one another. He will reward the  righteous with these words; ‘Come, you that are blessed by  my Father, inherit the  kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’ (Mat.25:34). That is fine. We are too happy to be placed at his right side  in expectation of the  imminent entry into the kingdom of heaven. 

But the Bible says about another unfortunate lot who are condemned  as accursed. To them  the Son of Man says; ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into  the eternal fire  prepared for  the devil and his angels’ (Mat. 25:41). If we believe that  heaven is  real,  then hell is  equally real. In the parable of  the rich man and Lazarus,  Abraham tells  the rich man; ‘Child, remember that during  your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus  in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and  us a great a  chasm has been fixed, so that those  who might want to pass  from here   to you cannot do so, and no one  can cross from there to us’ ( Luke 16: 25-26). This conversation took place when the rich man was  undergoing   torment in Hades. Two things follow from this   parable; first is that   it is a place of great torments, where  the inmates will  long  for a  drop of water to  cool their tongue. It is a place  where there would not be any respite from torment and pain. It is the unending nature  of  the torment that  makes  hell a place to be afraid of. Second is that  there is no chance of  escaping from there. To add to their pain they are fully aware of  their pathetic condition as also  the eternal bliss to which the righteous had entered.  If you believe Jesus Christ, then heaven is real  and of course hell too.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church   defines hell thus: ‘To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.” What follows from this definition is that hell is not  thrust upon  anybody.  It is the natural consequence of a  decision  taken by man in his free will. He cannot blame anybody for that decision. Our God will be the last person  enjoying in  sending somebody to  hell, because  our God is love. But if someone is adamant in denying  his communion with  God,  how can God help him? The scripture says that hell is real.  Jesus has  on many occasions warned us about hell.  The last book of Bible describes  hell   as a lake that burns with fire and sulfur. ‘But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolators, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that  burns with  fire and sulfur, which is the second death’ (Rev.21:8).

Let us return to our  question.  How did it  happen that many people, Christians and Catholics included, do not believe in the reality of hell? This false teaching is a weed sowed by the enemy, devil.  And what is his  harvest? It is nothing but  chaff, because all wheat goes to the eternal barns of  Jesus Christ. Be counted with  wheat, not chaff. Let those who think that  hell doesn’t exist, have a thorough introspection.  Somewhere in the past  they will see  instances when the devil  infiltrated  their minds with the  falsity that hell never existed.  It may be through reading books or  listening talks or subscribing to certain philosophies.

Many saints  and seers were given the opportunity to  have  a vision of  hell. Of them, St Faustina’s visions are  worth mentioning.  According to her, hell is a place of  severe persecution,  pain and torment. First and foremost is the despair of having lost  the God forever. Second, they suffer  from  the feeling of guilt. Third, they know that this state will never change. Fourth, the fire of the hell is such that  it does not consume  the  victim but pierces   his soul and torment it. Since it originates from the wrath of  God, it is unbearably painful.  Next comes the  darkness and nauseating stench. Though it is dark over there, the souls can see  the state of other souls. Their sins  as well as the  sins of  others  are   displayed before them. Next  is the terrible despair, hatred to God,  blasphemous utterances and  cursing words echoing everywhere. In addition there are particular punishments for each individual according to the gravity of   their sins.  St Faustina tells us that  those parts of the body used for  committing  sins will be tormented  for ever  as punishment.  She concludes that the purpose of writing these  in detail is  to give testimony  to its reality so that  nobody  should  deny it.

In her own words, what she was allowed to see was only a pale image of hell. We could  imagine how terrible its actual sight will be. One thing  which she writes for our  benefit is  that  most of the  souls she saw there were of men who  denied the  existence of hell!  Understand that  hell does exist. Do not be fooled by the false prophets who proclaim that everybody will  go to heaven. Do not be gullible to believe that  while  good souls go to heaven, bad souls simply vanish  or cease to exist. Please do not  spend your time and energy in  studying about  hell. It is of no use. Instead we better use that time and efforts to  save ourselves from the eternal torments of  that damned place.

While going through this article, naturally a doubt will arise in the minds of many. What is the need of  telling so much about hell? We are  on a pilgrimage to  heaven. Why  should we unnecessarily bother ourselves with the thought of  hell? Isn’t it enough to preach  about  the good  things  in the gospel  of which heaven is the most important?

I would explain it this way. If you are a doctor and suppose a patient who is in urgent need of  a surgery  is brought to you. Will you not  tell the  patient  about the need of the surgery? Or will you  leave him to die without   performing the surgery?  Surgery is always painful, but it is for a future good. In the same way  hearing   about hell is painful for some, but it is for  saving his  soul from eternal  punishment. Jesus never shied away from telling about hell. He didn’t mince words  while  describing the  darkness and unquenchable fire of the  eternal prison. He warned us that it is a place made horrible with  weeping  and  gnashing of  teeth in terrible pain and despair!

St Ignatius of Loyola  used to  say that  the best  gospel preaching is  the one about  hell. Talks about  virtues, Divine love, Divine mercy, eternal bliss and the like  will not  pierce the  hardened hearts of sinners. But a passing remark about hell where they should go  after death, would  convert many of them. It was his experience. St Therese of  Avila used to tell  her sister nuns to  visit  hell in spirit even while they were alive  so as to avoid going there after death!

Nowadays we hear a lot about Divine Mercy.  How can a  merciful God send somebody to  hell for all eternity? The answer lies in the  very nature of  hell. God never sends anybody to hell. It is the  voluntary decision of each individual to  reject God and thereby selecting hell  as his eternal destiny. Mercy is excluded from hell.  In other words, those who are thrown into  the hell cannot repent, nor is there any use of them repenting. Unlike the prayers for the souls in purgatory, our prayers or intercession from  saints are of no avail to them.  Certain people believe that there is nothing like hell and the  souls of ‘bad’ people cease to exist or  simply disappear. If we buy this argument, it  means that there is an end to the torments  of hell, which is  against what the scripture teaches us. St Gregory describes  it  in these words; ‘It is an unending death. Before it comes to an end, it will commence  again. As for its end, it never ends’.

St Augustine says; ‘We cannot say that  the soul has a ‘life’ in hell.  Because  that soul cannot in anyway participate  in the light of Divine life. There the body is  subjected to all kinds of  torments. So  this ‘second death’ is  more cruel than the  first. It is  without end’.  In ‘Divine Comedy’ Dante wrote about  the gate of this place where it was  inscribed:

“Through me the way is to the city dolent; 

Through me the way is to eternal dole; 

Through me the way among the people lost. 

All hope abandon, ye who enter in!”

It is  a place  where  all hopes are abandoned. Then another question arises. Where is this place located? Frankly, nobody knows. Many theologians like Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas and Swaras have expressed their personal opinions  in this regard. Some  postulate that hell is located  at the innermost  parts of  earth. We don’t know it  nor does the Church  teaches us   anything about its location. It is wise to follow  what  St John Chrysostam said; “It is immaterial to know the location of  hell. What is important is   a firm decision  that we will never   fall into it  one day’.

Anybody who denies the existence of  devil is, no doubt, an agent of devil. Similarly anybody who  denies the reality of   hell, is certainly an agent of hell.  Blessed are those who flee from such false teachings. What all we need to know about hell is written in  the Scripture. There is nothing to  be added to it nor anything to be  removed from it. Hell is a place of eternal  torment.  We do not  know how horrible it is. But God knows it. This is the reason  why the Son of God offered his very life for our  salvation. He didn’t want any  of his sheep to be lost. ‘When I was with them, I protected them in your name that  you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except  the  one destined to be lost so that the scripture might be fulfilled ( John 17:12). Because  he  knew what awaits  a man  in hell, Jesus washed  the   feet of even the  one destined to be lost and gave him the  bread of life as  a last attempt to  redeem him. But he had already made up his mind to  eternally separate him from God. It is this pain of losing a human soul that made  Jesus to say: “It would have been better for that one  not to have been born” (Mathew 26:25).

Our Saviour is ever ready to  redeem us  irrespective of  the gravity of our sins. But he needs our ‘Yes’. Time is running out and the  path to  hell is  getting  broader every day.  Say ‘Yes’ right now  and return to  Jesus Christ. He will place us firmly  in the   narrow  path to  eternal bliss. Remember that most of the inmates  of hell never believed that there is a place called  hell. 

Let me conclude by  reminding all of our duty to pray for those who travel the fast track to perdition without looking at  the Lord, who  is waiting  for them till the very last moment. It is an act of mercy for which  God will reward us.

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