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God’s Not Mean so Hell’s Not Possible

God’s Not Mean So Hell’s Not Possible


DuccioTheTemptationOnTheMountI had a conversation recently with a good and intelligent person who began by saying he didn’t believe in hell or the devil. The upshot of it was this: that God is good and forgiving and would never condemn anyone to unending suffering. He just wouldn’t do that. That would be mean and God can’t be mean.

What he expressed, on one hand, was actually a beautiful statement of faith in God’s goodness. God certainly does not want any of His children to go to hell. That would never be His choice. But for those who wind up in hell, His choice is not really their highest priority, is it? Their problem is it’s their choice that comes first and always. If indeed their whole life has been spent putting their will above His (and in all likelihood anyone else’s) why in that moment, when they stand before Him in judgment, would they change that? For those who cannot abide anyone thwarting their will, heaven would actually be more of a hell for them than hell would be. Even God’s justice is a manifestation of His mercy.

God’s love and heaven don’t make sense without also believing in the reality and possibility of hell. It’s about freedom to choose Him and to choose love or not. When you contemplate heaven (and I hope you do from time to time) do you imagine having everything your way? If so, you may want to rethink things. It won’t be about you but about God and His glory. And, if you can get on board with that even a little here, then God can fan the flame of that desire into a fire unto eternal life.

MirrorOfAngelPrayingByDylanCuddy3-10-16Most of us have a more vague idea of heaven…of being reunited with loved ones, with being at peace, and being happy in a place of beauty and awe. But do we ever stop to think about how we will act and react to others there? Will there be a difference from how we may act and react here? Please God, I hope so.

There’s a saying that sin is its own punishment. Very true. The Church teaches us right from wrong for our good and our protection. Holy Mother Church, like any good mother, wants to help her children avoid falling into snares that will hurt or destroy them. If a parent warns a child against using heroin, it’s not because they’re trying to spoil their fun, but because they know there’s a good chance they will die from such an addiction…and hurt others as well in the process.

Believing in hell, far from negating God’s goodness, illustrates it. If, in order to live in peace eternally, only one Will can hold sway, aligning ourselves with that Will is the obvious option. Introducing even one strong will to stand against that would open the floodgates of hell – making heaven impossible. Just look at our society these days as more and more people disconnect from God and His Church and live according to their free will, demanding that their needs and desires be met at all costs. We all know people like that…those who demand happiness on their own terms and make everyone around them miserable. We see it all the time, those that will stop at nothing, destroying anyone who gets in the way of their ambitions. Should we believe that at the moment of death that magically changes, that we lose our personalities and our free will and become robots in heaven, toeing the line, and making no waves? Wouldn’t that mean we cease to be who we are? Wouldn’t that mean eternal death?

FallenAngelsInHellJohnMartin002As more and more people separate themselves from God and turn the moral order upside down, we are seeing an ever-degenerating picture on Earth and a foreshadowing of what will be as that behavior becomes magnified over eternity. We are literally seeing a hell on Earth. Just look at what’s going on with ISIS in the Middle East. Now, of course, anyone can turn from this behavior (and some do) but many do not. At death these choices become permanent. A good and just God will not only not force goodness on those so vehemently opposed to it, but He certainly wouldn’t subject their depraved wills on others for all eternity. That simply makes no sense. Either God takes away our free will (that which makes us human) and lets everyone into heaven, regardless of their behavior and desire to be there, hence we cease to actually be who we are, or respecting our free will He allows us to choose hell and protects those who do choose goodness from more of the misery this Earth has provided.

Ironic, isn’t it? Believing in hell makes heaven possible and not believing in hell makes heaven impossible. Which way would you have it?


Art: Temptation on the Mount, Duccio di Buoninsegna, between 1308 and 1311, PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Mirror of Praying Angel Statue, Dylan Cuddy, The Mercy Run, March 10, 2016, all rights reserved, used with permission. Fallen angels in Hell, John Martin, circa 1841, PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less, PD-Worldwide, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Allison Ricciardi

Allison Ricciardi is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in New York. In 2001 she founded in response to a growing demand for counseling that is faithful to the Magisterium and includes prayer and spirituality. She is also Founder and Director of The Raphael Remedy, which offers counseling and life coaching from a Catholic perspective. Allison's core belief is that God has a great plan for each of His children...and that by combining sound psychology with solid faith, clients can find real healing and lasting happiness. Visit Allison's blog at

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  • Jeanette

    St. Maria Faustina Kowalska’s Diary – Divine Mercy in My Soul #1698

    ….”God’s mercy sometimes touches the sinner at the last moment in a wondrous and mysterious way. Outwardly, it seems as if everything were lost, but it is not so. The soul, illumined by a ray of God’s powerful final grace, turns to God in the last moment with such a power of love that, in an instant, it receives from God forgiveness of sin and punishment, while outwardly it shows no sign either of repentance or of contrition, because souls (at that stage) no longer react to external things. Oh, how beyond comprehension is God’s mercy! But—horror!—there are also souls who voluntarily and consciously reject and scorn this grace! Although a person is at the point of death, the merciful God gives the soul that interior vivid moment, so that if the soul is willing, it has the possibility of returning to God. but sometimes, the obduracy in souls is so great that consciously they choose hell; they (thus) make useless all the prayers that other souls offer to God for them and even the efforts of God Himself…..”

    • LizEst

      …but those prayers are never wasted. God can apply them to others for whom no one prays, or to those that most need them.

      Thanks for this quote from St. Faustina’s Diary. God bless you, Jeanette.

      • Jeanette

        So true! My sister fairly recently asked me if I thought that she had said enough rosaries for our mother who had been deceased four years. I replied that we should keep praying for her because none of our prayers are wasted…if she no longer needs them, the Good Lord would apply them to someone else. Such is the mercy of God! God bless you too Liz!

        • LizEst

          Plus, we have an obligation to pray for those who have died, and especially our parents and family members! … and how long does it take to include their name in our prayers?!! My mother, God rest her soul, never stopped praying for her relatives, including her father (my grandfather who I never met) who died in the 1940s. She prayed seventy plus years for him…and, from all accounts, he was a good and holy man (composed prayers, led his family in the rosary and other devotions, always stopped in to pay a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, etc, etc).

      • allisonricciardi

        Amen to tha! Never stop praying!

    • allisonricciardi

      Thank you for sharing that Jeannette. Jesus’ messages to Sr. Faustina teach us so much and give such great hope…oh, that the world would understand!

  • This is so good, Allison! To describe Hell in terms of God’s mercy–it’s just what our world needs to hear. No one wants to meet unrepentant ISIS members in Heaven.

    • allisonricciardi

      Connie- thank you. I love your writing so I greatly appreciate your opinion. Mercy is everything!

  • DianeVa

    Thank you Allison for this beautiful reflection on Hell and God’s mercy and justice. God gives us free will throughout our life and into our final hour of judgment. I pray many will read this and reflect on their own understanding of the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell. I know my own understanding was woefully ignorant until I made the decision to become a disciple of Christ. Prayer is indeed the instrument of choice to melt the ice of our frozen wills.

    • allisonricciardi

      Hi Diane. Thanks for your comment. God is always and above all Merciful so we need to see all things in that light. Yes, prayer is key! God bless you.

  • I sympathize with your sentiments, Lucien. No one likes to think of people suffering for eternity. However, there are a few problems with what you say. First, the Church has always taught that Hell is real and Jesus Himself spoke of Hell several times. Second, the human soul by nature cannot cease to exist, because it is spiritual, not physical. It is eternal by its very nature. In order to avoid eternal life, we’d have to be animals without the use of reason. Third, you are thinking of Hell too much in terms of punishment, rather than a direct result of someone’s choices. If the soul is eternal, and if a particular soul chooses not to submit to God, what then? There must be some option other than Heaven. Finally, to reject God is ultimately to reject everything that is good. It is to make oneself into a god, and as Allison said so well, that means making life a Hell for all those around you. And ultimately for yourself as well.

  • allisonricciardi

    I can certainly appreciate your sentiments…eternal punishment does seem out of character for a loving God. However, Jesus taught very clearly that there is a hell. Read “The Great Divorce” by CS Lewis. He really helps us to understand the reality of hell and how it’s our choice, not God’s. We should always though keep imploring God’s mercy for sinners. Prayer and sacrifices are powerful, especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Mary said at Fatima that many souls go to hell because there is no one to offer sacrifices for them….which means offering sacrifices does
    save souls. God bless you.

    • Michael Lee Cornwell

      Hi Ali,
      Well said ! I see you are a C.S. Lewis fan. Me also especially “The Screw Tape Letters”, the art of temptation.

      If I may hopefully I can shed some light on this as to how God could create such a place as hell.
      Hell is basically a real place of existence without God’s Presence, in other words no Love only dispare! God does ” not” send souls to hell …..souls send themselves because they reject God’s Love and forgiveness !

      Before I go any further, a few things about me.
      I am a 70 year old Roman Irish Catholic, with a BA in Theology, in the Catholic Tradition from Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, Ohio.
      My favorite theologian is St. Thomas Aquinas.

      Now, when God created the angels, according to St. Thomas’s Theology of the Angels, found in his Summa Theological writings, He did so all at once, that is all the angels at the same time !

      Now St. Thomas says, ” We can know about God but only God knows Himself”!
      That being said, the angels knew that God created them and they could never be His equal. Now, At the moment they are created, they are given “absolute knowledge” about God, each to a different degree. They didn’t “learn things…..they ” knew”!
      They were given the same choice as us, accepting and serving God or not.
      The difference between them and us is they had a one time choice because of “what they knew about God.
      We, are given more than one chance to receive God’s Mercy and forgiveness, and all we have to do is ask Him.
      Why, because we don’t have the knowledge of the angels.

      As for Lucifer’s choice, it was pride. A mystery when you consider ” he knew” he could never become equal to God.

      So, God respected his choice and gave Lucifer a place of existence without God’s Love !

      I hope that is helpful !

      The Prayer Warrior

      • LizEst

        Hi Michael Lee Cornwell — Thanks for your comments. Since you are beginning to post on our site, if you have not done so, kindly please familiarize yourself with our posting guidelines found in our Frequently Asked Questions here: Thanks so much… and God bless you!

        • Michael Lee Cornwell

          .Thank you for your attention to the rules!
          I agree with them.All content should be vited by qualified personnel so that the Faith may be presented as curately as possible according to the teachings of Holy Mother Church.
          I am sorry for the length of the reply

          God Bless you,

          The Prayer Warrior

  • JKA

    I understand that hell must exist. But what I cannot get my head around is how one could reject God once they are in His presence. Not that I doubt it happens. I just can’t fathom it. People often reject a false God – their (incorrect) intellectual interpretation of what they think God to be. But once one meets Him, how is it possible to reject Him? I know it happened to Jesus but I can’t understand what goes on inside someone to make that happen. If they “lack the eyes of faith” and don’t recognize Him, are they to blame? But surely upon death it must become clear. Any explanations?

    • JKA, By the time we each stand before God in the after life, our choice will have been made. It’s a time of judgment. We don’t get a second chance to choose the One we’ve already rejected. The sinner’s suddenly changing at that moment and submitting to God is just as impossible as the saint’s suddenly changing and rejecting Him. Just as the angels can no longer fall from grace, we have a limited in period in which we must make our choice. Then it becomes permanent.

    • allisonricciardi

      I think we just need to look at Lucifer and the fallen angels for an explanation. They most certainly saw God clearly, unencumbered by original sin or mental illness and rejected Him out of pride. Sadly we have the same ability.

      • Jo Flemings

        I was thinking about this today- I think God invited/commanded/revealed to Lucifer His intentions in concert with the purpose for which He had created him, but Lucifer did not have ALL knowledge- he had that which God infused into him at His creation and that which was presented to him and with which he made a choice to rebel. Lucifer was the most brilliant and most beautiful, the most intelligent of all the angels- and God regarded him so- because that is how God is. He regards His creatures with the dignity He intends them to possess- He presented whatever He chose to according to the order of creation in that scenario, this was presented to Satan and the other angels as well, and with every possible option to freely respond in concert with the purpose for which God created them, 1/3 of them rebelled.

        I think it is possible that what God asked of them required a response of some kind that they rejected in favor of another option, and this became their judgement. This is all very speculative on my part- I don’t know of a source of much revelation on hell.

  • Jo Flemings

    I think that once we break the bonds of time and space and enter into eternity our disposition does not change and this is why our state of soul at death is our ultimate state, as we understand it. I guess because sin is inherent in the body it can only be overcome or extinguished in the body-soul affected/effected by it.

    Hell was not made by God, it is ‘made’ by those who rebel against God, and I think it is nonspace of anti-everything. I think it is infinitesimally small, because the soul that convolutes in on itself in the ultimate selfishness is like an imploding particle with no critical mass. There is no relationship/community except in a type of twisted correlation, that, like repellant magnetic ends has an effect on people of similar condemnation- although, I also think there is little similarity in hell, as well. There is no cohesion or fraternity in hell. It is as if each individual damned soul is its own teeny anit-verse, full up with the nothing of its dominant fault- very strange to contemplate.

    I did one time have a long talk with the Lord about how He can be triumphant when anyone can choose hell. It seemed to me that even one opting for hell trumped all of heaven. The solution that I came to, and I think it is a mystery that is impossible to fathom in many ways, is that God, who is Perfection Himself, God who is All-Love, triumphs because He is.

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