The Heresy of Annihilationism: Why is Hell Forever? Why Only God Himself can make up for Our Sins

In regards to the release of the new Star Wars "sequel," I must admit that since my profound reversion to Catholicism in the mid to early nineties, I don't take much interest in science fiction or fantasy as I have had at previous times in my life. I now much prefer brainless humor like Spaceballs Mr. BeanDumb and Dumber, or good touching drama. I despise action films–"action for the sake of action”--like James Bond or Die Hard, because they usually don't do anything for the soul. They only appeal to base instincts and fears. There is usually no spiritual benefit from action films, just dozens of escaping-death-by-inches episodes and plenty of quick-witted sarcasm.

However, I am still drawn to the Star Wars epic for its incredible dramatic element. That is, what appeals to me in Star Wars is not so much the technological special effects, ray gun and spaceship scenes as much as the drama. Specifically, Star Wars is atypical of most films today because, in the ultimate saga, we have a man (Darth Vader, or Anakin Skywalker) who starts out good, becomes an evil monstrosity, but in the end is redeemed by his son. This is unlike most modern good vs. evil films, where the bad guy is just plain bad, unchangeably evil, and so we should just kill him and send him to Hell where he evidently belongs.

There are different approaches that people can take to Hell. On the right, we have hard-hearted individuals who have no problem with it because their attitude is, bad people are just plain bad and should just go to Hell. They shouldn't be given a chance to be forgiven. They see being "born again" as a cop out. If you've been bad, you can't just say I'm gonna turn around. It's too late, what you've done is done, and you're going to Hell whether you like it or not.

On the other hand, severely left-minded individuals will usually object to Hell altogether. They will say that everybody should eventually get to heaven and that a loving God would never send anyone to Hell.

So on the right, we have hard-headed individuals with hard hearts, and on the left, we have soft-hearted individuals with soft heads. Authentic Catholicism is neither on the right or the left but in the center. It has the hard head of the right and the soft heart of the left.

The problem with the right position is that there is no room for mercy. But alas, without the Christian solution, we might just conclude it couldn't be any other way. This is because what the right-positioned person is right about is that serious sin can never be atoned for by the one who has committed it, except by everlasting punishment. The person has an infinite debt. Take the following example:

Some time ago, I was reading an article about teenage girls who had lost their virginity and were regretting it. One of the girls told her story. She was at a party and was alone in one of the upstairs bedrooms, depressed that she was still a virgin. Well, in comes Paul, a guy she knows from school. He proceeds to get on top of her and have sex with her. The girl explains that she was so tired and depressed of being a virgin that she decided to just allow him to proceed. As the event unfolded, she began to hurt physically very bad from it and tried to tell him to stop, but he didn't seem to care. He just continued, ignoring her. Once he had finished, he just got up and left.

Later, she learned that she was just one of several pit stops. Paul had been going from girl to girl that night, looking to shed the virginity of as many girls as he could. He was just out to "prove his manhood" and get some pleasure.

Now most people in this apostate culture in which we live think that it makes sense to go to Hell for things like killing or stealing, but they find it ridiculous to say that you could go to Hell for sexual sins. Nevertheless, the reality of this situation is that this Paul had, most likely, incurred an infinite debt that night because he evidently regarded these priceless creatures as mere ends to prove his power and use them for gratification. God creates every human person for the potential of everlasting love, to exist for all eternity in a state of total love, being loved by God and the saints and loving them back forever without end, and it is for this reason that every human person's worth is immeasurable. And so if you decide to regard any such creature merely as some finite means to some selfish end, you commit an infinite insult and thereby acquire an infinite debt.

And so the person on the right correctly understands that the person guilty of serious sin has no way of paying the debt except by suffering without end. Therefore, even if God said, I'll forgive you, who will pay the infinite debt? If the person must, then he has to go to Hell anyway, and the mercy is impractical.

However, the good news of the Gospel is that God's love does not know any bounds, and hence His desire to have mercy knows no bounds. And the unbelievable news of the Gospel is that God has found a way to forgive serious sin and still balance the scales with justice: He pays the debt Himself ! How? By becoming a man and suffering for us as a man. He creates a human body and soul and fully unites His Divine Essence with it, so that the tortures, both physical and psychological, done to Him on the cross are actually being done to Him, the infinite God, and hence have infinite worth. And so since Christ's death on the cross has infinite merit, it atones for any number of serious sins (because infinity plus any number of infinities is still just infinity), and of course, it also atones for any number of minor sins (sins that only merit temporal punishment).

But of course, I don't think anyone would ever believe this, much less think it's possible, unless something like a man rose from the dead. The Catholic Church does not expect men to blindly believe in God or miracles. If a person wants hard-headed reasons to believe, they are there: the God of monotheism and the existence of the human soul can be proved from reason alone, and history and logic show the only plausible explanation for the beginnings of the Catholic Church are that the historical person Jesus Christ did in fact rise from the dead.

One cannot object to Catholicism on objective grounds, only subjective: like "I'm scandalized." Neither pedophile priests nor merciless inquisitors disprove the ultimate true and loving foundations of the Catholic Church, any more than the fact that there are some bad cops must mean the entire police system is corrupt. The first thirty popes were martyrs. One does not go to a horribly torturous death in witness to good and beautiful truths if one's ultimate motives are really to selfishly gain power and pleasure or mercilessly manipulate people with fear and domination.

While we are at it, we should note this theology of "infinite insult" will be quite useful in dialoguing with Jehovah's Witnesses or Seventh-Day-Adventists, who do not believe in everlasting punishment for the damned. Indeed, JW's are consistent in not only believing that Hell is not eternal but also that Jesus is not God, for, certainly, if our sin does not have infinite consequences, then neither would our Redemption need to be accomplished directly by God HimselfBut, it stands that if you choose to prefer some finite, created good to the Infinite, Uncreated Good of God Himself (which is essentially what you are doing in a mortal sin), then you are necessarily implying that you believe the inferior good is superior. Hence, this is insulting to an infinite degree, since the gap between the two goods is infinite. But how do make up for an infinite insult? Essentially, you can't, and so, if you don't repent, you must suffer endlessly, never fully atoning for it.

Finally, as far as the left goes, they would say it's unfair and merciless of God to limit our chance for mercy. Why can't he wait forever for repentance? Why not always give another chance? Because that works out practically to indifference . If God will wait indefinitely for repentance, then it basically equals: "Well, it doesn't really matter whether you obey or not, whether you'll love me in the end or not. It's OK. Either way I'm OK with that." But God cannot be that way because God is Love itself. Love, by definition, means that you care about the fidelity of the other person. Consider the absurdity of a marriage in which the spouses technically do not care if the other cheats. Could we call that love? Or, analogously, suppose that God had created us as demigods, possessing varying degrees of strength, capable of experiencing physical pain, but immortal. Then, consider the absurdity it would mean if Hitler happened to be a stronger god and was detaining the lesser strong Jews in ovens, where they burned perpetually in torment while Hitler lived in luxury eating turkey and mashed-potato dinners all day. The Jews would cry out for relief, but God would shrug His shoulders and say, I'm sorry, I have to wait indefinitely for Hitler to repent! And so it works out that if love is to matter, if we are to matter, then there must come a day when our time for mercy ends and we meet with either mercy or justice.

We would do well to prepare for that day. Therefore, pray for the grace of graces: final perseverance.

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