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The Hell of It. A Short Teaching on Hell

I had never quite thought about hell in the terms put forth here. Please don't answer unless you read the article, the question won't make sense if you don't. Why do you think the concept of hell has been so watered down?
By Msgr Charles Pope
I have written here before on the reality of Hell, as revealed in Scripture. And though many dismiss Hell as either non-existent or a very remote possibility, no Biblical figure spoke more of Hell than Jesus, who also taught that “many” go there. It is a sober and straight-forward teaching of Scripture that there is a Hell and that many mysteriously choose to live apart from God and the values of God’s Kingdom.

Yet, while fully asserting all this, I do wonder why the teaching on Hell is so unambiguously “hellish” and why the focus of the Lord’s teaching is almost entirely on physical torments. There is very little subtlety in what the Lord teaches. Hell is described as a fiery furnace (e.g. Matt 13:42), an outer darkness (e.g. Mt 8:12), where there is wailing and grinding of teeth (e.g. Mt 13:42), where the worm dies not, and the fire is never quenched (e.g. Mark 9:48; Matt 25:41, inter al).

Let me be clear, the Lord is the Master teacher, and for reasons of his own he seems to have decided that speaking of Hell in more subtle terms was unnecessary. Yet we live in times when even many believers, consider the teaching on Hell as set forth in the scriptures to be cartoonishly excessive and hardly worthy of a God who is Love.

Thus many of us, pastors and teachers, who seek to reestablish the teaching on hell as both reasonable and necessary (in light of human freedom and our capacity to choose for or against God and his Kingdom values), also look for other ways to teach on Hell. We use these methods out of no disrespect for Scripture and our Master teacher Jesus. But these are “dainty” times and even many believers are easily offended and lack the spiritual strength and courage necessary to hear Jesus’ undiluted words and accept their straight-forward admonition. Both believers and unbelievers, just get stuck on the images and miss the teaching.

To my mind, no modern metaphor for Hell is better than the “Golf story” told by the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. It is remarkable for its subtle yet clear teaching that the heart of Hell is ultimately to be lacking in the “one thing necessary.” It is from his book, Three to Get Married. Sheen repeats the following joke in his Book:

There is not a golfer in America who has not heard the story, which is theologically sound, about the golfer who went to hell and asked to play golf. The Devil showed him a 36-hole course with a beautiful clubhouse, long fairways, perfectly placed hazards, rolling hills, and velvety greens. Next the Devil gave him a set of clubs so well balanced that the golfer felt he had been swinging them all his life. Out to the first tee they stepped, ready for a game. The golfer said: “What a course! Give me the ball.” The Devil answered: “Sorry….we have no golf balls. That’s the hell of it!” (Three to Get Married, Kindle Edition, Loc. 851-57).

Wow! Ouch! That IS the hell of it! To have all that, and lack the one thing necessary! Nothing else really works, or matters much, without the one thing necessary. In the joke, everything is in place and wonderfully set forth on the golf course, except the one thing necessary, the ball! The golf course becomes a golf curse.

In my last parish I lived in a rectory with a long hall. I used to putt a golf ball up and down the hall. I had an executive putt-putt set with obstacles, and golf goals with automatic returns, etc. But in the end, all I really needed was a ball to have fun. I didn’t even need a club, I could use a long umbrella if I had to, or even just kick the ball. My cat would also love to chase the ball up the hall and pounce. But all the other gizmos and gadgets I had meant nothing without the ball, they were useless. Without the ball even the cat wouldn’t show up.

The heart of Heaven is to be with God. Scripture says, Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these other things will be added unto you. (Matt 6:33)

The heart of Hell is to lack God, to lack the one thing necessary. God is the sine qua non, the absolute requirement for every other joy or pleasure to make any sense or be operative. The heart of Hell is to have rejected God permanently, and to discover that the absolute and final rejection of Him is to experience the withdrawal of every other pleasure. Only in God will my soul be at rest! (Ps 62:5)

Answer Question

Asked by adnilm at 2:05 PM on Jul. 30, 2012 in Religion & Beliefs

Level 40 (118,866 Credits)
Answers (11)
  • In fact, like the golf course in Hell, those pleasures look at the denizens of Hell and mock them, make the suffering more intense. Because, though the pleasures are near at hand, they may as well be ten thousand miles away. They are useless and their nearness only intensifies the pain and the frustration. This is possibly worse than any hell-fire and may well explain the wailing and grinding of teeth by the hell-bound described in Scripture.

    In life, don’t miss the one thing necessary, which is not a thing at all, but is God himself. The Father, in the prodigal son parable came out and begged his second son to enter the feast and celebrate with him. The Heavenly Father does the same now….What is your answer?

    Comment by adnilm (original poster) at 2:06 PM on Jul. 30, 2012

  • So, what's the question? did I miss it somehow?

    Answer by charlotsomtimes at 2:09 PM on Jul. 30, 2012

  • Apparently, you did
    Why do you think the concept of hell has been so watered down?

    Comment by adnilm (original poster) at 2:10 PM on Jul. 30, 2012

  • Oh- sorry I posted when you did apparently, and my answer is...I still don't believe in a God...OR Hell

    Answer by charlotsomtimes at 2:11 PM on Jul. 30, 2012

  • Is the concept watered down? do you think it is?
    I mean what is the history of this whole idea of Hell...

    When I was growing up- it most certainly was not "watered down" - go visit a Pentecostal church and see how much they mellow it out

    Answer by charlotsomtimes at 2:15 PM on Jul. 30, 2012

  • Amen

    Answer by Dardenella at 2:51 PM on Jul. 30, 2012

  • I have a real problem with anyone who tries to instill fear, like that, in order to get followers to "behave." I get that, in very simplified terms, it's all about you go to hell if you ignore God and doing right, and you go to heaven if you follow God and do what you should. But it makes more sense to me to convince someone to do right by telling them how wonderful it will make them feel, and what rewards they will get by doing those things, rather than threatening them with eternal damnation or being on fire forever. It's kind of like teaching a kid right from wrong. Yes, we could tell them all about the horrible things that will happen if they don't behave, but it's usually more effective to tell them all the great things that will happen if they behave.

    Answer by wendythewriter at 4:17 PM on Jul. 30, 2012

  • Jesus was teaching us about a spiritual reality He felt was important. We might ask how a God of love could neglect to tell us such important information. I am glad for the sobering warnings.

    Answer by Iamgr8teful at 9:56 PM on Jul. 30, 2012

  • I have a real problem with anyone who tries to instill fear, like that, in order to get followers to "behave." I get that, in very simplified terms, it's all about you go to hell if you ignore God and doing right, and you go to heaven if you follow God and do what you should
    Well I don't take it so much feeling fear, as facing the reality of what follows. I don't walk in fear, not even a little bit. Now, because you see one post on hell, you feel like that's all that's being preached. Look at all the posts that have been posted here, they aren't about being afraid of hell. Simply because, we aren't.

    Comment by adnilm (original poster) at 8:01 AM on Jul. 31, 2012

  • honestly, the golf analogy is pretty watered down imo. ive heard far more hell warnings that actually scared me, made hell sound like the worst possible thing, but the paradise missing a crucial element, not so much. also, all the article says is one needs a belief in God...sounds pretty inclusive compared to the "only Christians like us" mentality i saw/heard growing up.

    Answer by okmanders at 1:22 PM on Jul. 31, 2012

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