Hell and Heaven

Every now and then appear letters in the Catholic press complaining that not enough is said and written about hell these days. Do you miss hearing/reading about hell? Do you wish there were more pages and sermons devoted to hell and, perhaps, heaven, which doesn’t often have a mention either?

What do the complainers want? An eyewitness account? A vivid imagined account? We wonder who would benefit because few people read the Catholic papers and good people go to church.

Are hell-fire sermons an answer, even regular hell-fire Sundays? Then the good people who come to church would have the pleasure of knowing what will happen to the bad people who don’t.

That’s what our love-to-hear-about-hell people want. Threats. They thrive on them. Fear will force people to be good, they say. Love doesn’t work. Preaching God’s love is not so interesting as preaching hell and damnation. A mission priest was approached by some people of a parish a few years ago who told him they did not need to be told about God’s love – they wanted more hell and damnation. He knew he had failed.

Today’s first reading omits three sentences. We wonder why. Here they are:

“War broke out in heaven, when Michael with his angels attacked the dragon. The dragon fought back with his angels, but they were defeated and driven out of heaven. The great dragon, the primaeval serpent, known as the devil or Satan, who had deceived all the world was hurled down to the earth and his angels were hurled down with him.”

‘Lucifer’ occurs only once in the Bible, in the Book of Isaiah. He is the king of Assyria. ‘Lucifer’ has also been a Christian name – we had a Bishop Lucifer of Cagliari (Sardinia, Italy) in the early centuries.

They are the only sentences in the whole of the Bible to talk about a rebellion in heaven and the creation of hell. They appear in the last book of the Bible, the last one to be accepted as part of the Bible some centuries after the Gospel was written.

The Old Testament knows nothing about this hell, only about Sheol “darkness”. The New Testament knew nothing about the battle for some centuries and, suddenly, there it is in the last book admitted to the Bible: just three sentences.

I don’t know what you were taught at school, or what you have imagined, but there are only three sentences. The rest (like these three sentences) is imagination, just like all the vivid detail of today’s reading.

People who don’t believe in heaven certainly won’t believe in hell. They laugh at the whole idea of life after death. People who believe in God’s love find it impossible to believe in hell: “God saw all he had made and it was good” and would never have made the human race to condemn them to eternal pain.

What do you believe?

God bless you,

Fr John

Related Link: Fr John’s Parish Newsletters