We live at a time of theoretical and practical atheism that alternates with a sugary and sentimental religiosity. At times they merge. Both atheism and sentimental religiosity contribute to the fall of morality and the rise of chaos in society.
For atheists, God does not exist. For religious sentimentalists, He does not punish. Therefore, for both of them there is no such thing as a supreme Judge of our actions, Who rewards or punishes according to our merits or the lack thereof.
Now then, the basis and mainstay of morality is the Law of God known through Revelation or through the natural law inscribed in our hearts.
However, a law that does not carry a sanction when transgressed is not a real law. It would only be a guidance, a suggestion we can follow or not as we choose. As a result, the moral law without sanctions does not make sense and the very notion of morality crumbles.
Hence, there is the need for a punishment so the moral law is enforced in a way that keeps people’s moral sense alive. Without this, society falls apart.
On the other hand, by breaking a law one offends its author. In this case, God Himself is offended, and that is sin by definition.
Sin brings with it a punishment on this earth. This punishment has a remedial nature since it is a way to reawaken man’s sense of good and evil and open his soul to grace. It is a merciful punishment.
However, when the final moment arrives and death prevents any possibility of turning back, if man rejects the last grace and dies in the state of enmity and revolt against God, his eternal destiny is sealed. He is condemned to Hell forever. Mercy gives way to Divine Justice, which placates the offended Divine Majesty.
These truths, confirmed by Scripture,1 are hard to understand for modern man, who has almost completely lost the notion of justice.
If God were not just, He would not be perfect and therefore would not be God. Accordingly, the prophet David exclaims: “The Lord is just, and hath loved justice (Psalm 10:7).” For this reason, He cannot allow any offense against His Divine Majesty to go unpunished.
However, one could ask: is God not merciful? Does He not desire that sinners convert and are saved? (cf. Ezech. 33:11).
The answer is yes, and that is why Our Lord Jesus Christ suffered His most painful Passion and death. That is why He founded His Church and established the sacraments to communicate His grace to us, and especially the sacrament of confession to forgive our sins, when we are repentant and resolve to no longer commit them.
Because of His mercy, God is also patient as He waits for our conversion: “The Lord is compassionate and merciful: long-suffering and plenteous in mercy (Psalm 103:8).”
However, mercy cannot be thought of as annihilating justice, as if God did not care about being offended, like some Buda insensitive to our works, “To say that God cannot suffer is one thing, but to say that God is indifferent to evil is something else altogether. God’s answer to evil is not suffering but wrath, that is, opposition to evil.”2
The wrath of divine justice is manifested in the existence of hell. The poet Dante Alighieri, in his Chant III, aptly placed the saying on the gate of that terrible place:
Justice the founder of my fabric moved
To rear me was the task of Power divine
Supremest Wisdom, and primeval Love
Yet, as said above, once the idea of an eternal punishment and the existence of Hell are eliminated, reverence for the Divine Law is destroyed and people fall into complete amorality. The end result is that men turn into ferocious beasts, giving free rein to all their whims, ambitions and rage.
Thus, life in society deteriorates, giving meaning to the otherwise absurd phrase by the French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, “hell is other people,” as the world then turns into a hell.
- The Catholic Encyclopedia reads: “The Holy Bible is quite explicit in teaching the eternity of the pains of hell. The torments of the damned shall last forever and ever (Apoc. 14:11; 19:3; 20:10). They are everlasting just as are the joys of heaven (Matt. 25:46). Of Judas Christ says: “it were better for him, if that man had not been born” (Matt. 26:24). But this would not have been true if Judas was ever to be released from hell and admitted to eternal happiness. Again, God says of the damned: “Their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched” (Isa. 66:24; Mark 9:43, 45, 47). The fire of hell is repeatedly called eternal and unquenchable. The wrath of God abideth on the damned (John 3:36); they are vessels of Divine wrath (Rom. 9:22); they shall not possess the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:10; Gal. 5:21), etc.” Hell, at http://newadvent.org/cathen/07207a.htm.
- Dieu est-il impassible?, http://theopedie.com/Dieu-est-il-impassible.html, retrieved 5/2/15.