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Professor Tammy Frailly


HUM 220 2W1, Human Values and Meaning
April 8, 2014
Josh Landon
Research Project Results Paper

Christianity teaches that God is all loving and perfectly good in all that He is and all that
He does. It also teaches that some people go to a place of eternal misery called Hell. These two
teachings (that there is a good and loving God and that people go to Hell) seem, at first glance, to
be inconsistent with each other. It does not seem like God would send people to Hell if He loves
them. However, God is said to love everyone with an infinite love.
This paper explores one way in which Hell and God could coherently coexist within a
Christian theological system. In order to accommodate this task within such a short paper,
questions concerning the truth of Christianity, the existence of a good God, or the reality of Hell
will be ignored. Likewise, this is not an attempt to demonstrate the superiority of any particular
conception of the Christian God. There are innumerable concerns about the coherence and
consistency of the Christian doctrine of Hell that cannot possibly be discussed here. The modest
goal of this paper is to articulate one way that God's goodness and love could consistently
interact with the miseries of Hell.
This will be accomplished by considering the nature of love and goodness and then by
thinking about the purpose of human life and what is really best for any given person. These will
ground the closing attempt to articulate a way in which God's loving of people could be
consistent with His having them go to Hell. First, a further clarification of the problem being
answered will be offered.


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The Problem of Hell
The doctrine of Hell has been affirmed too clearly and consistently throughout church
history to be denied as a tenant of Christian belief (Hodge 317; McCord 214; Geisler 387;
Berkhof 791). In traditional (orthodox) Christian theology, all people who ever exist ultimately
dwell in either Heaven or Hell. Hell is a miserable place or state in which one remains for
eternity. The Catholic Catechism explains that "the chief punishment of Hell is eternal
separation from God, in whom alone man can posses the life and happiness for which he was
created and for which he longs." It is a "state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with
God and the blessed" (CCC 292). As such, this location or condition is not a pleasant one. It is a
place of misery and torment. No one should desire it.
Herein lies the problem. If Hell is such a terrible way to exist for eternity, surely anyone
with any decency would do what they could to keep people from entering into this unending
torment. If imperfect humans, with their mistakes and limitations, are decent enough to wish that
no one experience such a wretched eternity, how could an infinitely good God of perfect love
desire that anyone go there? It seems that having someone go to Hell would not be loving at all,
yet an all-loving God with infinite power at His disposal is said to do precisely that.
To clarify, this is not simply a question of whether it is conceivable that an infinitely
powerful and Holy God could send people to Hell. Although it has been contested as well, the
consistency between God's justice and Hell is not in question here. This is not that great of a
problem anyway. On the Christian view, it is easy to see that God might hand sinful men over to
be tormented for eternity as an execution of His justice. Upon offense of God's infinite holiness,
how could sinful wretches expect to receive anything less than the wrath of God? When one
thinks of the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust or the evils of child rape, it seems obvious that God
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must deal with such hideous atrocities. Indeed, if it were said that God did not plan on doing
anything about these evils, ordinary people could not help but feel that an injustice on the
grandest scale had occurred and that God was actually much more cruel than had He simply
made the offenders pay for their monstrous behavior. No one wants a God who will not
somehow set things right in the end. The problem here is not that there appears to be an
inconsistency between God's justice and His sending people to Hell (although such charges have
been addressed elsewhere). The problem is that God is said to be perfectly loving and good and
that everything He does (including having people go to Hell) is actually loving and good of Him.
This seems difficult to accept and make sense of at first, and this is what will be called, from
here on, the problem of Hell.
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The Nature of Love and Goodness
It does not make sense to object to God's consignment of people to Hell based on God's
love if one does not even know what love is. Further, as the Catholic philosopher Eleonore
Stump remarks, "In constructing the problem of Hell, we must be careful to use the same notion
of goodness used by the Christians... otherwise, a contradiction within Christian doctrine cannot
be shown" (Stump, 184). Some things about love and goodness must be correctly understood in
order to make sense of the answer to the problem of Hell offered later in this paper.
The thirteenth-century theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas construed love as a
desire for the good of the beloved (Kreeft 165). This sort of love is not an emotion or feeling,
but a disposition to see the good of the beloved fulfilled. To love is to want what is best for the
person or thing loved. Far from a cold and detached work of the intellect, love also involves the

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What is commonly referred to as the problem of Hell includes much more than what is up for discussion in
this short paper. However, for convenience' sake, the term will be used in this paper to refer only to the difficulty in
finding compatibility between a good God's infinite love and the miseries of Hell.

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idea of union (Aquinas 35). The lover desires to be with the beloved. In loving, a person wants
to abide in the one he loves and to have the one he loves abide in him. This sort of intimate
union is beautifully illustrated by the union of a man and his wife as they literally become one
flesh in the conjugal marriage act.
For Aquinas, humans are made for God (Aquinas 1-34). They are completed and
perfected in God. In other words, God is what is best for each human. The whole point of
human life is the glory of God, and humans bring glory to God by possessing Him, loving Him,
knowing Him, enjoying Him, and being in union with Him. God completes human nature and
actualizes all that a human is meant to be. One cannot be a good human apart from union with
God and a bad human cannot be in union with God. The greatest and chief good of man is this
union with God.
Although it may be confusing at first, it is useful to know that on Aquinas' philosophy,
being and goodness are "the same in reference, but different in sense" (Stump 187). Being is
simply that which is, like existence. Goodness is being insofar as it is desirable (Aquinas 4-30).
This makes sense when one begins thinking of what makes a thing good. Things are good to the
extent that they conform to their nature. If a thing actualizes the capacities of its nature, it is a
good thing, because it has all the being prescribed by its own nature. If it is a bad thing, some
aspect or capacity of its nature has not been realized, making it a poor (bad) instance of that
thing. It fails to fulfill its nature, as there is not being where their ought to be. Being the sort of
thing that it is, it is supposed to posses certain qualities. In failing to rightly posses the qualities
prescribed by its nature, it fails to be a good particular thing of its kind.
So things are bad insofar as the various capacities of their nature fail to become real. In
that sense, there is a lack of being and that is what we call evil. This is why Aquinas, and most
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classical Christians, defined evil as a lack of good (Aquinas 1-33). Evil, like a hole, cannot exist
by itself, but is always dependent on a good thing for its existence. It is the corruption of a good
thing. It is when a thing's nature is not fulfilled or completed; when there is something missing.
Therefore, when something lacks some of the good of its nature, it is bad. Being is always better
than non-being, since nothing has no value (there is no thing to be valuable). To modify a
popular epigram, it is better to be rather than not to be, even if your being is corrupted and not as
full of being as it is supposed to be.
What this means for humans is that there are certain qualities prescribed by human nature
that must be realized in each particular person for them to be a good instance of humanity.
These qualities are what it means to be human and what makes one human. To whatever extent
a person has realized these capacities, he is good. To the extent that some of his nature has not
been actualized, he is bad and evil. For example, if part of what it means to be human is to be
rational, but a person acts in ways that are contrary to reason, then he is not a good person,
because he is not acting in accordance with his nature (Stump 189).
Aquinas though that human nature could only be fulfilled, completed, and perfected by
God (Aquinas 1-41). This is because of Aquinas' understanding of God's goodness. It is not
simply that God has the quality of goodness (i.e., He has goodness or He is good). Rather, God
is goodness itself. The great infinite being of classical theism, He is infinite goodness. God is
the source of all good things and nothing has being apart from His creative power wherein He
makes new good things out of the infinite power and wisdom of His own eternal self. He is not
His creation and His creation is not Him. Creatures have a limited, contingent, temporal
existence. He is infinite existence (Geisler 359). It is only in this unlimited goodness of God
that human nature can be completed and all the capacities of what it means to be human can be
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actualized. This is what humans were made for. This is why they exist; to know and love God
in such a way that His goodness actualizes and fulfills all the goods of human nature, making
them finally and fully human (which also makes them eternally happy and joyful).

The Role of the Human Will in experiencing Heaven
Such knowing and loving of God is what is called Heaven. It is a state of spiritual union
with God. The fulfillment, joy, and climax of human life is this union with God. All who attain
such union are ultimately, unimaginably, and everlastingly happy. It is the only thing that will
truly fulfill the human heart and put to rest the human will (CCC 1-22).
However, there is a catch. Such a loving trust in and enjoyment of God must be freely
chosen (CCC 1-22; 289-294; Geisler 350-450). The funny thing about love is that it cannot be
forced. Just as it is absurd to think that a man could make a woman love him by violently
shaking her and demanding that she love him, so it is impossible that God could force people
into this union with Him. He has made all humans to enjoy His limitless goodness and love for
eternity, but He will let them reject Him if they so choose. The unending bliss of Heaven simply
cannot be realized apart from an individual's free self-surrender to God. It is not as though God
arbitrarily set it up this way. There simply is no other way it could be. As the creator and end of
the universe, God is the ultimate, perfecting good for all people and it is necessary to will God's
goodness in order to have that good.
What this means is that some may very well choose to reject God in favor of temporal
finite goods, like wealth or power. Christians generally agree that God will make a person good
if the person lets Him. God will fulfill their nature and make them into the sorts of people who
freely love and enjoy God. However, if the person rejects God altogether, there is nothing more
God can do. He has already offered to make them good, but they will not have it. He cannot
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force it on them, for part of them being good involves them freely willing the good and one
cannot be forced to freely will something. Popular Christian writer C. S. Lewis put it well:
If the happiness of a creature lies in self-surrender, no one can make that surrender but
himself (though many can help him to make it) and he may refuse. I would pay any price
to be able to say truthfully "all will be saved." But my reason retorts "with their will or
without it?" If I say "without their will" I at once perceive a contradiction; how can the
supreme voluntary act of self-surrender be involuntary? If I say "with their will," my
reason replies "how, if they will not give in?"
(416)

The Love of God in Hell
Those who will not to be saved and experience union with God will be allowed to remain
in their rejection forever. That state of eternal rejection is what Hell is. Eventually, if one
continues to reject God, then there comes a point when God cannot fulfill a person's nature,
make them good, and bring them into joyful union with Himself. This is because to do so
involves them freely willing to do something they will not do (surrender to God). Thus, the
person at such a point has effectively cut himself off from the happiness and fulfillment of union
with God and has finalized his preference for getting his own way. This person will never have
the goodness of God, so he will always be, in some sense, miserable. He has chosen to imprison
himself in his own wretchedness and refuses to be saved from it. The vanity and evil of his own
soul will remain unchanged and unsanctified forever. That is Hell.
Since living for eternity in rejection of God sounds so miserable, one might wonder, if
God could be so kind as to annihilate the damned so that the miserable wretches do not have to
live with themselves forever. However, as we have already established, God loves the person
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who rejects Him, which means that He wills his good. But being is good. So, in loving the
person, God would never annihilate him, since to do so would involve the destruction of being,
rather than the promotion of it (Stump 196-197).
But He cannot fulfill it either because the person is not willing. So God confines him to a
place where he can no longer harm the innocent. By keeping the damned from doing further
evil, God prevents their further disintegration and the further loss of goodness and being. He
can't increase or fulfill their goodness, but by putting restraints on the evil they can do, He
maximizes their being by keeping them from additional decay. This is the most loving thing
God can do for them (Stump 197-198). And this is Hell.

Conclusion
In loving His human creatures, God wills their good. They are good when their natures
are fulfilled and completed. This can happen only when they are lovingly and willingly united to
Him. God draws all creatures as close to Himself as they will allow, for He does what is best for
them and He Himself is what is best for all of them. However, some will choose to reject God
and refuse His salvation. He cannot force Himself on these individuals, nor can He annihilate
them. In order to prevent them from hurting others and destroying themselves any further, He
quarantines them to Hell where their digression towards non-being is effectively discontinued.
Though they will not to be united with Him in love, He gets as close to them as He can without
compromising their will. He preserves as much of their being and character as He can, thus
getting them as close to the completion of their nature as possible. So it is loving of God to send
these individuals to Hell. It is difficult to see how He could possibly act any more lovingly
towards them. This is not to say that Hell is not a place of unending torment and misery, for it
most definitely is. However, it is out of God's love and goodness that He has people go there.
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Works Cited
Aquinas, St. Thomas. Summa Theologica, Volume I, Ia QQ. 1-119, Volume II, Ia IIae QQ. 1-
114, Volume V, IIIa QQ. 74-99. Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican
Province. Allen, TX: Christian Classics, 1920. Print.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pontificated by Pope John Paul II. New York, NY: An Image
Book Doubleday. 1994. Print.

Berkhof, L. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MA: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1939.
Print.

Geisler, Norman. Church and Last Things, Volume 4 in Systematic Theology. Minneopolis:
Bethany House. 2005. Print.

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology, Volume 3. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons.
1878. Print

Kreeft, Peter. Summa of the Summa: The Essential Philosophical Passages of St. Thomas
Aquinas' Summa Theologica Edited and Explained for Beginners. San Francisco, CA:
Ignatius Press. 1990. Print.

Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company. 1962. Print.

Stump, Eleonore. "Dante's Hell, Aquinas's Moral Theory, and the Love of God" in the Canadian
Journal of Philosophy, Volume 16, No. 2. June, 1986. 181-198.