Of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven
1. The consequences of God being Love
What can we say about God? John tells us that God is
another way to put it is that God is
and a third is that God is «slow to
«merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in
The fundamental point is that
God is the Absolute Lover.
Absolute Love reveals all as
the Lover partakes of the whole of the other's life. There are
no secrets to this Absolute Lover. So all that was thought or
done, in secret as well as in public, is known by God and so
revealed to all He loves as they are one with Him. Again, Perfect
Love manages to know the loved one perfectly, even as He holds
no grudges about the sins or failings of the beloved. This Lover
shares all, so all is known to all. This is why God is said to
be Light: that which makes everything known. This is why people
who do not love want to hide in the darkness, where, they hope,
they and their lives are kept hidden.
A lover feels for
the beloved. If the beloved is happy, her lover is happy with
her; if the beloved is sad, her lover is sad with her. If the
beloved is in pain and agony, the Lover, perfectly identified
with His beloved, feels her pain and her agony. It becomes His
pain, His agony.
2. Human reactions to God as
everyone's Lover and Light
At our death we live the
Meeting of that God who is Infinite Love and as such makes
everything known, all our acts and thoughts, all those of all the others,
His sufferings in everyone who suffered, His joy in everyone who
rejoiced. God wants us with Him in His Love and Light. He wants
us to partake of His love, rejoice in His love for all and sundry.
He wants us to be happy with Him, to love everyone with Him.
He wants us to rejoice in His love of us, love that is not at
all thwarted by our acts or thoughts against His Humans or
But how will we react once placed in that
situation? To start with, how will we react to everyone knowing
us exactly as we are, knowing exactly all we did and did not do?
We can recoil, refuse to be known by the Lover as we do not
want to be known for what we are. But as the Lover by His very
Nature of Lover cannot but reveal us as we really are, and so
uncover our sinfulness, we can experience shame, anger and hatred
at being discovered and exposed for all to see. In which case
this experience where everyone of our failings is constantly
in full public view will be a living Hell. For us, the living
with this reality of God's presence will be a terrible judgement.
Not only are we naked to all and sundry; we also find
that all the bad things we have done have been done to God as
the Other's Lover, and all the good as well. He knows everything
because He was in the Other in her need. If all our life we
have been demanding justice and revenge for the bad things that
others have done to us, we will feel that He will want to
punish us for all the wrongs it turns out we have done to Him
as the other's Lover. We will not believe Him when He says He
loves us anyway; we will constantly be expecting to be terribly
punished even though no punishment is forthcoming. We will live
a self inflicted torment because of what we wrongly anticipate.
Of course, we can accept to be exposed for the rotten persons
we really are, and humble ourselves in front of all. More: we
can actually rejoice with everyone that God is so great that He
loves us in all our rottenness! But the pitfalls are not over yet.
Not only are we exposed in such a fashion but everyone
else as well as God's love is for all. We might recoil at God's
love for our enemies or for the people we loathe. We might call
God's love into judgement. How can He love such a person? Our
hatred or loathing for that person will make it Hell for us to
live with this constant realization that God loves with an
infinite love the other notwithstanding her sinful behaviour.
If we are not able to forgive her, we will be incapable of
forgiving God for «siding with her»; so we will rage forever
against Him and her. We will be judging God and finding Him
in the wrong, just like the devil does.
Let us assume
that we can accept that God loves these terrible people as
well as us. They are now always present to us in God's presence;
hating them will make this experience Hell for us. We have to
love them just as anyone else. It is one thing to accept that God
is so love-crazy as to love these terrible people; it is quite
another to have to do likewise. But God as Love wants all to be
one in Him. So we have to be ready to rejoice with them, to be
part of their joy of being loved by God.
We also have
to accept that God loves equally each and everyone; that He has
no favorites. We have lived a better life than someone else: we
deserve a better reward, our justice says. But God says: My
Love is the same for all; as Absolute Love, I cannot but love
everyone equally, whether they live Hell or not because of it.
If we cannot accept this, this state of affairs will be our
Hell and we will rage forever against God's perceived
It should be clear that this scheme's
requires of us what Jesus demanded of us in the two previous
Chapters. It does seem so far that this scheme has definite
To go back to it, things are not always black
or white; in fact, they rarely are. We might need to swallow
our pride, but manage to do so painfully with the help of others.
We might be able to forgive others after a very arduous process
of change. We might accept to let go of our notions of justice
after overcoming agonizing difficulties. This painful change
of self, required for full acceptance of this Reality, God's
Reality, God's Kingdom, would necessarily be transitional.
This painful transition is what the Roman Catholic Church
Heaven is, of course, the total
acceptance of God's reality, of God's Kingdom: not only
accepting God's absolute love for everyone of His creatures,
however sinful and blemished, but rejoicing in it with everyone
else, as one body. And sharing that Love with all equally
because He Is so.
Our death is a passage from the
present world into Reality (Truth). Reality means finding
out Who God Is and what everyone did, thought, omitted to do,
and so on. This Reality illumines all that has been and is,
as well as God's absolute, unconditional, unchanging and
unflinching Love for all, sinners and saints. We can either
accept His love for us and all others or we can rebel and rage.
Our world order prepares us for the latter; Jesus' message,
for the former.
The Septuagint, as any text for that matter,
can be interpreted in such a way that we will rebel and rage
against God's Love if it is for all and
sundry.6 Jesus' message
more clearly than any other message found in the Bible teaches
us not to rebel and rage but to love and act like God acts by
His very nature.
3. Jesus' urgent message: the
reality of Hell
We have seen that the fact that
God loves everyone the same irrespective of their sinfulness
and baseness has different results on different people; for
some, this is Hell, for others, it is Heaven, and for a third
group, Purgatory: something that takes great effort to accept.
The same can be said of the complete history of one's life been
seen by all for what it really is and the fact of seeing others'
histories as they really are, by the loving but absolutely
revealing glare of God.The various people's reactions will thus
be as varied as there are people. So each will experience this
according to her uniqueness. No two people will experience God
in the same way, though each will experience the same Reality
and thus the same Love and Light.
That God loves and
wants every sinner to be saved is one thing. That all will accept
the Reality of His Love and Truth due to His Light is far from
obvious. But it is not God who refuses to give His Loving
Presence to all; it is them that find it Hell because they
cannot accept it. In this scheme, Hell exists; this is no
wishy-washy scheme where all are saved regardless of what
they have done so it does not matter what kind of life you
live as God will give you a ticket to the Show anyway as
He is such a sugar-daddy.
Jesus came to save sinners.
He came to tell us what we need to do to be saved. For Him,
there was great urgency: God wants everyone to find His
Presence a joyful and liberating experience; not Hell. And
too many do not see how to get ready for this Meeting. That
is why He came and gave us an exemple of the life we should
In this scheme, God does not judge; He only
forgives. It is humans who judge, it is them that condemn.
God is Love, but some humans hate.
4. What I had
learned as a child
With this I have produced a
scheme that makes a certain sense of the normal concepts of
Hell, Heaven and Purgatory, but from a radically different
perspective than the usual one. All is based on the Reality
of God's Nature, that is, Love. This scheme should be able
to «explain» why this or that behaviour will bring us closer
or farther from the Kingdom.
This is not what I
learned as a Montreal-born Roman Catholic child in the 1950s.
In that scheme there are laws that have to be followed; if
they are not followed while knowing about them (which you
were supposed to), you sinned. The sin could be of small or
large consequences. Small consequences meant the pain of
Purgatory; large consequences meant Hell, everlasting pain.
You could, of course, have your offenses remitted by
confession and absolution as the only thing that counted
was the state of your slate at the moment of death: an
unconfessed and unabsolved mortal sin sent you straight
to Hell; otherwise, you most probably ended in Purgatory
except if you had been very very good. The more you gave
yourself to God, the better was going to be your place in
Heaven. This is why we must strive to be as good as possible
so as to get to the best possible
in Heaven (and avoid
as much as possible the pain of Purgatory).
and observances found in that scheme come from the Bible and
its interpretation by the Church. These govern good behaviour.
Just as you have to be a good citizen in your country, you
have to be a good citizen in the Kingdom.
would say that the traditional scheme mixes the concept of
God being loving with that of being just. Just in the sense
that sentence is passed: the gravity of the sin decides
the gravity of the penalty; even in Hell, not all pain is
equal.8 Love prevails as sins can be
forgiven through absolution; but justice is applied to what
was not forgiven through absolution (and to some remnant).
I believe that the traditional scheme evolved from the
Gospels buttressed by two traditions: the Jewish and the Roman.
The Septuagint contains lots of Laws and Ordinances to be
followed. Penalties are clearly given. Romans laws were
elaborate and their codification took place at certain
times in the history of the Empire. So the Roman Catholic
Church, established as a «spiritual» copy of the temporal
Imperial Government, produced its own set of laws and penalties.
To this day there are volumes of Canon laws, enough to bewilder
The Roman Catholic Church's position on these
matters is, obviously, based on Scripture as a whole while mine is based
on the Gospels alone. This is why I needed to show in my essay
Christians and Scripture that these and these alone
are the Christian core texts.
5. Is Hell
without God's condemnation according to the Gospels?
Why do I want to change the traditional scheme? I
made clear at the very beginning of this book that I want
to do away with this concept of God as the One who judges
and who casts in Hell those that have been found wanting.
I made clear that I find this whole idea of God totally
repulsive even if based on a certain idea of justice. I
want to maintain that God does not judge but just loves.
As I have shown, this does not entail that all live Heaven
though everyone comes face to face with the Living God.
It is this vision that some cannot stand and that others embrace.
Though all are faced with the same Reality; only some
can rejoice in it.
This is why I had to show
in my above mentioned essay that the
Septuagint has to be interpreted by a Christian only in the light of
the Gospels as it
can, by itself, easily be used to refute my position. As far as I am
concerned, the non-Gospel books that complete the New
Testament as well as the Septuagint have to be interpreted
within the context of the sayings and life of Jesus, the
Expression of God. Although these texts are Christian texts,
they cannot be seen as providing a better understanding of
Jesus' message than that found in the reports of people who
actually heard Him talk and actually lived with Him.
I think it is fair to say that the theory I have
developped in this Chapter is consistent with the examination
of the Gospels found in my two previous Chapters. This is not
sufficient though to conclude that it is valid as my principle
of coherence demands that I be able to come up, for every Gospel
text, with a valid interpretation that does not contradict
the position I have just laid out, remembering
that a Gospel interpretation
can be valid only if it does not
create any contradictions between the
various parts of all four Gospels among themselves. I thus
have much work to do.
I have been trying to make very
clear that my scheme is based on some assumptions that some
might not want to accept. On the other hand, I consider that
the principle of coherence is required of anyone who considers
that the Gospel texts are truthful: indeed, if they are
truthful, how can they contradict each other on any point of
My scheme has one advantage: all
can be deduced from Who God Is according to Jesus. There is
no need to bring in anything else. Its simplicity satisfies
I must be able to «explain» any
text from the Gospels that seems to support, in any way, shape
or form, the premiss that God judges. Some surely will say
that it is quite easy. Again, the problem is that of coherence.
How can we have a God who condemns and loves at the same time?
That God does not condemn anyone because He loves absolutely
everyone is easy to understand; that He forgoes His love to those
He condemns after trying everything to save them is only possible
if God's love is conditional, something that I consider totally
contrary to His nature. That it is the individual human who
condemns or welcomes God's ways is much easier to accept. It
fits with what we have found so far.
6. How can I
validate my position?
My principle of coherence
is a huge problem. Indeed, I cannot accept that my theory is
right just from what I have examined so far. I have to check
that the whole of the Gospels can be read in a way compatible
with my theory. So although I have examined previously some of
the relevant excerpts concerning God Father in His relationship
with humans, I have not examined all of them. Although I have
examined some of the excerpts concerning human behaviour, I have
not examined all of them.
I will devote my next Chapter
to what Jesus says about Forgiveness, Chapter 7 to Jesus'
Parables on Heaven and Hell, leaving to Chapter 8 the Parables'
about God's perceived unfairness. By the time I tackle Chapter
9, I will have examined all the parables concerning the afterlife
as well as all Jesus' sayings and deeds on the subject of
forgiveness, checking as I go along if they can be understood
in a way consistent with my theory.
Jesus has also said
quite a few things about how humans must live their lives. I
will examine Jesus' Parables on the subject in Chapter 9
and in Chapter 10, what must be done according to Jesus' other
sayings on the subject
I will by then have examined
all that Jesus has said about how we are to live and checked
if they are consistent with my theory. But this is not enough.
Can I find incidents, deeds or sayings of Jesus that are not
coherent with my theory? After all, Jesus did some rather odd
things. Can I make sense of them in such a way that they do
not contradict my theory? I will examine in my Chapter 11 Jesus'
oddities and in my Chapter 12 some of the problems my theory
As I will not have done by then an
absolutely exhaustive check of the whole of the Gospels, I
will still not be able to satisfy perfectly my principle
but will at least have come a long way towards it. Perhaps
I will even have satisfied some of my readers that this is
worth of consideration.
1 «He that loveth not knoweth not God;
for God is love.»
2 «That ye may be the children of
your Father which is
in heaven» (Matthew 5:45)
3 «The LORD is merciful
and gracious, slow to anger,
and plenteous in mercy.» (Psalm 103:8)
4 «And the LORD passed by
before him, and proclaimed,
The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering,
and abundant in goodness and truth» (Exodus 34:6)
5 as is clearly shown in Dante's
Purgatorio, the purging
of our wrong attitudes and ways
6 Though this is far from being
the case for so many as can be shown by the wonderful lives
of so many all-compassionate religious Jews throughout the
7 It is very interesting
to note how all the great Roman
Catholic saints saw their wickedness as equivalent to that of
the great sinners; for them, there was no difference between
their lives and that of anybody else. Awareness of God's love
for a mere human is a great equalizer.
8 this is taken by Dante in quite
a wonderful fashion
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Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, June 6th, 2004
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