Is Anybody There…In Hell That Is?

lake of fire Does God Punish Eternally?

Father Dwight Longenecker-Someone once asked the famous mystic Padre Pio, what he thought of modern people who didn’t believe in hell. His terse reply was, “They will believe in hell when they get there.”

Is It Possible To Believe In Hell?

Is it possible to believe in hell? Surely, when faced with Auschwitz, Hiroshima, the Gulag and the killing fields, the question should be, “Is it possible not to believe in hell?” I don’t simply refer to the fact that concentration camps were a kind of hell on earth. Instead I wonder how one can deny the existence of a place of severe punishment when faced with Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin and African soldiers who chop off little girls hands for fun. When faced with such monsters can we really cry with a good conscience, “God would not send anyone to burn forever in the fires of everlasting torment!” After a century that has witnessed more genocide, religious martyrdom and brutality to children than ever before in human history, can we really dismiss the only punishment left for the dictators, abortionists, terrorist bombers and genocidal maniacs who have got away with their crimes? If it were true that there is no hell I, for one, would be howling with rage at the insanity and unfairness of it all. Yet those who deny the existence of hell calmly assume that their denial shows how enlightened and humane (and therefore fair) they are.

These are good people. They dismiss the possibility of hell not because they deny the wickedness of human beings, but because they affirm the goodness of God. They believe in a God who is so very good that he would not send anyone to hell. It would certainly be nice if there were a heaven but not a hell. But can you believe in one without the other? What I mean is, how can someone believe in heaven, which must after all, be a place of goodness, (and if goodness, then justice) while denying the fact of hell which makes justice possible? Therefore it seems to me, that if you believe in heaven you must also believe in hell. Hell is somehow written into the constitution of heaven.

Nevertheless, good-hearted people insist that a good God would not possibly send anyone to be tormented in hell for all eternity. This is a laudable sentiment, but I worry that that’s all it is: a sentiment. Nevertheless, the conviction that God would could not send anyone to hell is a feeling I myself incline to—especially after a warm day in May followed by a very good dinner with four glasses of claret. Furthermore, at that moment I am not usually thinking about Pol Pot or Stalin. I am thinking that God would not send an ordinary, decent fellow like myself to hell.

Can Ordinary, “Nice” People Go To Hell?

But this is exactly the point where the possibility of hell is meant to knock me down and shake me up. We are told that the road to hell is a wide smooth, downhill highway, while the road to heaven is a narrow and hard mountainous climb. What if hell were populated with hordes of overweight complacent people just like me who never really did anything magnificently evil, but also never bothered to do anything spectacularly good? Why should we imagine that heaven is reserved for the mediocre?

When I look at it this way I have the dreadful suspicion that perhaps those who deny hell because God is too good to send anyone there are really proposing that God is too good to send them there. It is ironic that people who believe in heaven are sometimes blamed for wishful thinking. Isn’t it that more likely true of those who disbelieve in hell? I say this because the person who disbelieves in hell doesn’t really believe in heaven either. He believes in oblivion. He desperately hopes that he will cease to exist after death. In other words he hopes he will get away with it after all, and this, it seems to me, is real wishful thinking.

Does The Prospect Of Eternal Punishment Make God Seem Angry And Vengeful?

Others protest that the concept of eternal punishment makes God out to be an angry, short-tempered disciplinarian of the worst sort. But is God such a nice middle class English gentleman that he would not be angry enough to send anyone to hell?

What if God were more like a passionate and hot-tempered Mediterranean papa?  That is not to say that God is petulant and petty. He isn’t angry with wickedness the same way our fifteen-year old is angry, so he refuses to tidy his room. God does not slam the door and stamp his foot. Neither is God angry the way we are when we don’t get our way. He does not sulk, dish the ice and then pretend nothing is wrong.  If God is angry with the wicked it is not because he is an arbitrary and babyish tyrant who loses his temper when is disobeyed.

God’s Just Anger Is Not The Anger Of Spoiled Teenager!

What if, instead, God’s anger is the sort we feel when we hear of a young boy being abducted, raped, killed and chucked into a ditch? What if God’s anger is the sort of anger and revulsion you feel when you see a young African woman whose hands have been cut off by rampaging soldiers, and who cannot cuddle the child those same soldiers gave her when they raped her? What if God’s anger is the disgust you feel when you hear of a dowager who leaves her vast estate to her poodles, in a world of starving children? When you hear such news don’t you respond with an element of rage as well as disbelief, horror and grief? Aren’t you righteous to do so? Perhaps God is angry at the wicked in the same way. He sees the everlasting beauty of goodness, the vibrant potential of each human being and the stunning radiance of his creation and when it is soiled, trampled, raped and chucked into a ditch by humanity’s folly, greed, stupidity and violence he is full of fury, frustration, sorrow and compassion.

Does that mean God would cast someone down into hell to be tortured forever? Perhaps this too, can be seen the other way around. Is God too good to send someone to hell? It could be that God is so good that he actually gives everyone exactly what he or she wants. If we have spent our whole lives pursuing love, goodness, beauty and truth, then after death we may get exactly what we always wanted and find ourselves in a land where love, goodness, beauty and truth are as natural and abundant as light. On the other hand, if our whole lives are spent in an insane flight from all that is good, beautiful and true, then perhaps God in his goodness will also give us exactly what we always wanted; and that would be existence in a madhouse with no exit where love, beauty, goodness and truth were unknown: an existence in the outer darkness with gibbering maniacs like ourselves.

Life pans out, and despite our greatest efforts, we almost always end up getting what we really want. In fact, this sort of justice is built into the system. We will get what we want just as naturally and certainly as an acorn becomes an oak tree. Giving people what they really want is natural justice. To do otherwise would be cruel. We think everyone ought to go to heaven, but can we imagine that a person who hated God, goodness, truth and beauty all his life would actually enjoy heaven? If they could visit that place of eternal beauty and laughter they would howl with serious terror and run with all their might in the other direction. We know this is true because there are people in this life who hate truth, beauty, and goodness and do everything in their power to flee from the light.

Is Hell An Actual Place?

Is hell a real place? Now this is where the topic really starts to interest me. I find it interesting because down through the ages human beings from every culture and time have recorded fascinating stories about their visits to hell. I wish I could recount them all because they are far more fun and interesting than philosophical speculation on the topic.  Here is one story: The philosopher A.J.Ayer (who was a noted rationalist and atheist) choked on a piece of smoked salmon and “died.” His heart stopped for four minutes before he was revived. Once he came back he recounted his experience. His biographer writes, “He had been confronted by a bright red light, painful even when he turned away from it, which he understood to be responsible for the government of the universe…. Ayer became more and more desperate…when he regained consciousness he spoke about crossing a river—presumably the river Styx—which he claimed to have crossed.” In subsequent interviews Ayer admitted that the experience had made him feel “wobbly”, but he soon reverted to type and labeled himself as a “born again atheist.”

Witches, exorcists and mediums tell us how they have summoned or wrestled against the inhabitants of hell. The famous sixteenth century magician John Dee summoned a demon and described him thus, “He appeared in his red apparell: & he opened his Clothes & there did issue, mighty & most terrible gastly Flames of Fire out of his sides: which no mortall eye could abide to looke upon any long while. And in the marvelous raging Fire, the word BRORGES did appeare tossed to and from in the fiery flames.”

The visionaries at Fatima were given glimpses of demons and hell as well. One of them described the sight,

The rays of light seemed to penetrate the earth, and we saw, as it were, a sea of fire. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke, now falling back on every side like sparks in huge fires, without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair…the demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black and transparent like burning coals.

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10 comments to Is Anybody There…In Hell That Is?

  • If there is no hell I might as well go out and sin as much as I want because I am going to heaven anyway.Thanks to my Catholic upbringing I know the difference and thank God for the gift of faith,Our Holy Mother Mary,all Angels and Saints Holy Mass the Sacraments and the grace to know right from wrong

  • Excellent post! Thank you, Father. We all need to ponder what you wrote. I will definitely link to it. If there isn’t a hell, then why did Jesus have to die…to save us from what? Apparently, he thought enough about “saving us” to allow Himself to be tortured, and to die a horrible death.

    I agree with you that we get what we really want…and people who don’t want to get to know God or to love Him in this life would probably be miserable in Heaven.

    Bless you, Father. You are so much fun to read..while stil having great substance.

    Holy Advent and Blessed Christmas to you…..

  • TG

    Great article. I read that a priest told Blessed John Paul II that an exorcist told him that if he could talk to him, he’d tell him that many priests and bishops no longer believe in hell. Our Holy Father said – whoever doesn’t believe in hell doesn’t believe in the Gospel. I don’t see how anyone cannot believe in Hell when our Lord spoke about hell many times. He said not everything that says “Lord, Lord” will enter into heaven. When people say that we don’t know of anyone in hell, I can’t help but think Jesus said about Judas – it would be better if he had not been born. Wouldn’t that mean he’s in hell? He would never say that about someone in Purgatory, who is saved. I keep the last 4 things at arms’ length always before me. It has change my life.

  • Br. Christopher Sale

    Today I had a disturbing conversation with a young
    visiting priest at the Cathedral. After talking about many
    subjects including hell and he had the nerve to tell me that my ministry would
    be much more effective if I would put the teachings of the church
    on the back burner, especially while working in a liberal Archdiocese like L.A.
    And we wonder why we have a crisis in our church. I’ll refrain from
    telling you what I told him. Oh how difficult it is to be obedient to the
    disobedient. I do we have to?

  • Thank you for this post. It is timely. Souls are being lost because so few in the Church will tell the truth. After several years under a lukewarm priest whose message was lukewarm, I thank God that my parish now has a priest who preaches the Gospel, including the last things. He preached about hell this past Sunday & I hope he does so again soon. Every ear was strained to hear what he had to say though it wasn’t nice. We didn’t care, it was true.

    We must pray for our priests, fervently & many times each day. ( is one of several apostolates that arranges for laypersons to adopt a priest. We commit to pray for the adopted priest(s) & for all priests each day. Participating has helped remind me to pray for the Holy Father, bishops, priests & religious regularly. May God renew His Church & His priests today. Like Diane, I think we need fervent priests who proclaim the Gospel now.

  • Br. Christopher Sale

    Well said Diane, We need to pray for all priest. Far too many have wandered off the path of the Gospel. They must revert back to the Gospel in order to solve the many social issues they talk about. Everything in our lives must be aligned with the Gospel. When a priest insist on using homegrown theology to solve social issues they are going against the grain of the teachings of the church. I sometimes think an extra vow should be added in the ordination of a priest. And that vow should be to place their entire vocation into the salvation of souls.
    The crisis in our church is a crisis that is perpetuated by priest who fail to follow the teachings of our faith.Let us pray each day for these priest.

  • Diane

    I as a Catholic would like to hear the “Truth” about sin, hell and everything in between. I want priests to get to the point tell us like it is. I have been told that I leave no room for misinterpretation that is what I want to hear in homilies too, give me the black and white not the gray.
    How about some Catechesis? Something most my age and younger have not had or had little of, or it was so watered down by Protestantism is isn’t even funny.
    I have to say the priests that I have come in contact with lately are trying to do the best that they can but slowly, I don’t think we have time for that now. I think too many souls could be saved if we only had the courage to just say it like it is and say it NOW.
    Pray for priests all of them the good the bad the luke warm, the beaten down priests pray for them all with all your hearts. They are the ones who bring us our Lord everyday, lift them up fill them up if they are empty. Let them know how you feel about GOD and them. But most of all PRAY pray for them pray for our Church just pray and let GOD distribute the prayers where they need to go.
    “Nothing emboldens the wicked so greatly as the lack of courage on the part of the good.” – Pope Leo XIII (Sapientae Christianae, No. 14, encyclical, 1890)
    God Bless and Merry Christmas
    St. Michael protect and defend us.
    St. Jude and St. Benedict pray for us.

  • Br. Christopher Sale

    I always like the story Bishop Sheen told. He said a man once told him he doesn’t believe in hell. Bishop Sheen said you will when you get there.
    I agree though. Hell is rarely brought up in sermons. Most sermons at my parish are about the church needing more money.
    And when the pastor is not asking for more money he’s braging
    about “his” accomplishments. I have notice that attendance has gone way down on his Sunday mass. This is why so many Catholics are leaving.The priest mission should always be about the salvation of souls, not the collection basket. God will provide.

  • Great word Father! As a priest myself I was once approached by a person after a homily I gave at a new assignment on this very subject. He told me that we don’t talk about that here in this community. I told him that the party was over because I plan to talk about it now and in the future.

    I believe it is possibly a sin against the virtue of charity not to discuss in church. People need to know the truth of the FULL GOSPEL……

  • lisag

    Hell is not a place to wish anyone or assume certain people will be there. Haven’t saints said that you will be surprised who is in heaven and who is in hell. I have to believe that Our Lord will save those who call out to Him for mercy with true contrition. I pray for sinners to open their hearts. The question has been asked, “Did Jesus come just so we will be nice?” He said he will spit out the lukewarm.

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