Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Will Everyone Go to Heaven? Part II

Studio 54 c. 1978
I think part of our contemporary struggle with the doctrines of heaven and hell is that we have an inadequate idea of what each place is like.

Most Americans probably think of heaven as like a Disney World in the sky, guarded by gates and either St. Peter, or Jesus, or some angels as gate-keepers. You can get into the eternal amusement park if you've done more "good" than "bad" in your life.

Hell, on the other hand, is like a Nazi concentration camp run by demons as camp guards, and you go there if you've been "really bad."

And then the argument goes, "How can a good God send anyone to such a terrible place as hell?  Since God is good and compassionate and forgiving, wouldn't he let everyone into  his eternal Disney World?"

Framed this way, no one can understand why anyone would prefer hell to heaven.

However, for me personally, I have no problem understanding why people would actually choose hell over heaven, because I see people doing it all the time.  Hell is not-God, and Heaven is God.  Every time you sin, you are choosing not-God, which is Hell.  And usually, the not-God you are choosing is yourself.  Sin is fundamentally selfishness.  It is the choice of self over God.  Hell and Sin are fundamentally the same thing, except Hell is permanent.  God is perfectly self-giving, which is why he is love, because love by its nature is diffusive: it gives itself away to the Other.  Love is self-gift.

I don't tend to think of the heaven-hell choice as something so obvious to the senses as Disney World vs. Auschwitz.  I tend to see as something more like a banquet with Jesus and the saints vs. Studio 54.  In case you are not familiar, Studio 54 was a notorious night club in Manhattan which had its heyday in the late 1970's.  It was best known for its continual, unrelenting, outlandish hedonism of every sort: drugs, music, alcohol, sex, all the time.

To me, Studio 54 is pure hell.  There is and was no actual love there.  You look at the historic photos of the celebrities that frequented it and the faces are just empty even when smiling.  Everyone at the place was only seeking their own pleasure.  There was no self-giving, no fidelity, no self-sacrifice, no "long term commitment," no spousal love, no familial loyalty, none of those attributes that reflect God's nature.  It would be hell to be stuck in Studio 54 for eternity. But not everyone realizes that.

Many people, upon their death, if faced with a choice between Studio 54 and, say, a banquet with Theresa of Calcutta, Damien of Molokai, Maximillian Kolbe, and Jesus in attendance, would quickly choose Studio 54. The whole absolute-self-giving thing does not appeal to them, and being around people who buy into that schtick makes them uncomfortable.  Thus the Catechism describes hell as the "definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed" (§1033).  To actually choose heaven, our tastes and desires need to be converted and formed.  

to be continued

I'm leading a pilgrimage to Israel in June 16-24, 2020, themed on my forthcoming book Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls: Revealing the Jewish Roots of Christianity.  If you'd like to come, all the details and registration are here:

No comments: