The Descent Into Cocytus

11 – If Jesus died on the cross and spent three days in hell to pay for the sins of the world, then why would we have to go to hell ourselves and pay for them again? God is then, in essence, being paid for our sins twice. With that said, was Jesus’ sacrifice not worthy enough? If that is the case, why should we care that he died for our sins if his sacrifice means nothing at all?

SacramentsJesus did not go to Hell for three days to pay for the sins of the world*.  His work of paying for the sins of the world was completed by his death on the cross.  On the cross, He who knew no sin was subject to the results of sin.  He who was immortal went to the edge of God-forsakenness and died.  His punishment, his Passion, ended when he “gave up the ghost” and died.  But death could not hold the author of life, and after three days, the God-man rose gloriously from the dead, freeing human nature from the clutches of death and destroying sin forever.  Individuals are freed from death through faith, repentance, and union with Christ in the Sacraments.  Through suffering and the Sacraments of the Church we die with Christ (Baptism), but we are also raised with Christ in his glory (Confirmation / Chrismation).  We are made partakers of the Divine Nature in the Holy Eucharist.  The reason people go to Hell is not to pay for their sins (for this was already done by Christ), but because they do not desire God and have chosen to hate him through their sin.  They are in a state of perpetual selfishness, and have cut themselves off from participation in the Divine Nature.  Though the souls of the damned suffer torture according to the kinds of sins they committed, they are not paying for or being punished for sin.  They are tormented to the degree of hatred they have for God.

12 – If God wants us all to follow and worship him, why didn’t he create us as such? *Your expected answer will be addressed in the next question.

The question does not make sense.  God did create us as such.  We chose not to when we sinned, thus death and suffering.  This has already been addressed.

13 – What good is it for us to have free will if the intention is for us not to use it? Sure, we can use our free will, but we will burn in hell for eternity if we do. Russian roulette, anybody? It sounds like a set-up to me.

prodigal_son_iconThe intention of God is precisely that we use our free will.  We have the freedom to do what we ought.  We have the freedom either to choose God or to not choose God.  Why do you think he allowed the devil to tempt the first parents?  It was so they could truly be said to have made a choice.  The fact that one choice results in glory and the other in pain is irrelevant.  Think of it this way (special thanks to C.S. Lewis for this one): if you buy a car, you are told to put gasoline into the gasoline tank in order to make it run.  If you don’t put gasoline in the tank, the car won’t work.  Are the car companies setting you up by giving you the right to put sawdust in your gas tank?  Of course not.  Similarly, God has given us instructions as to how to be happy.  We can either follow them or not.  If we don’t, we should not feel cheated when we wind up unhappy.

14 – In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, why would God kill Lot’s wife, Sarah, by turning her into a pillar of salt for simply looking in the wrong direction? *Warning of impending sarcasm.* God is a merciful God……….. right.

John_Martin_-_Sodom_and_GomorrahIt shows you how Lot and his family were infected by the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Lot’s wife (who is actually unnamed) still longed for the sin of her city, so when she looked back, she was cut off for it.  Let us remember what mercy is: it is getting what you don’t deserve in the hope that you will do better next time.  God does not have to give anyone mercy, because mercy is only the handmaid of justice, not justice itself.  God had already extended mercy to Lot and his family by saving them from the city’s destruction. They were given mercy and Lot’s wife blew it when she looked back.  Lot and his daughters later fall into drunkenness and incest, also forsaking the mercy God showed them.

15 – What purpose does hell serve? If it is punishment for sinful actions, shouldn’t it be used for correctional purposes? Seeing as though you burn forever, you will never get out of hell to show that you have learned your lesson. Would it make sense to live a faithful Christian life glorifying the Lord and to accidentally sin by saying a curse word the instant you smash your car into the back of a tractor-trailer, thereby being condemned to burn in hell forever?

DanteAndVirgilAs I said, Hell is NOT a punishment for sins.  Though the souls of the damned are punished in Hell for unrepentant sins and suffer according to the gravity of the sins they committed, the primary torture of Hell is the separation from God’s love caused by the hardening of one’s heart and a rejection of the mercy God has showed mankind.  Though in theory, the tortures of Hell could eventually pay for any number of mortal sins, one thing they will never correct is a soul’s unwillingness to be conformed to the image and likeness of God.

*We do say Jesus descended into Hell in the Apostle’s Creed.  By this we do not mean that he went to the place of the damned, but only to the abode of the dead where the souls of the dead went before Heaven was opened.  This is known as the Harrowing of Hell.  The Original Catholic Encyclopedia has an excellent article comparing and contrasting Atonement theories.  Notice the bizarre Protestant doctrine of Penal Substitution is not there.

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