Hell and God's Mercy

By Marc Massery

Turn to any page of St. Faustina’s Diary and you’ll find spiritual gems. 

Does hell really exist? Yes. In fact, St. Faustina saw it for herself. She wrote:

Today, I was led by an Angel to the chasms of hell. It is a place of great torture … I would have died at the very sight of these tortures if the omnipotence of God had not supported me. (740)

How can a good God, a God of mercy, allow people to go to hell? 

To reconcile this apparent contradiction between God’s mercy and the existence of hell, many dismiss hell's existence altogether. But the reality of hell permeates Scripture. In the story of the sheep and the goats, the Son of Man told the damned, “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt 25:41). 

Clearly, according to Scripture, hell not only exists, but it’s a real possibility for all of us. The existence of hell, though, does not diminish God's mercy. This is because, out of love for us, God has given us the gift of free will. We can either accept Him with love, or we can reject Him. It's not God's choice — it's ours. The souls in hell have simply chosen to reject God and His goodness. As author C.S. Lewis put it, “The gates of hell are locked from the inside.” 

Though we ought to have a proper fear of hell, we ought not to let that fear overwhelm us. Scripture also says, “[God] wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell, but in His justice, He allows souls to go there. In this context, we can see how the existence of hell harmonizes with God’s mercy. Imagine if you hated someone with all your heart. Then imagine if you had to spend eternity with them! Souls in hell hate God, so He allows them to spend eternity as they choose — apart from Him. As St. John Henry Newman said, “Heaven would be hell to the irreligious.” 

So, God is very merciful, and hell exists. Both are true.

The possibility of ending up in hell ought to lead us to repentance. It ought to influence us to encourage others to turn back to God, too. We need to pray for the souls of those who are in danger of going to hell. We need to pray for ourselves, that we may continue to have remorse for our sins, turn back to God when we fall short, and trust in His mercy. If we persist in our desire to be in communion with the Lord, we can have hope that God will lead us one day to be with Him in Heaven for all eternity. 

Photo by Alfred Kenneally on Unsplash

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