Monthly Archives: March 2018

Imagine there’s no hell

Pope Francis made the news earlier this week–Holy Week in the Christian faith–by saying that there is no hell. In an interview with Eugenio Scalfari, an atheist friend of his, which was published in La Repubblica, the Pope said, “They are not punished, those who repent obtain the forgiveness of God and enter the rank of souls who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot therefore be forgiven disappear. There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”


A little inside baseball for non-Catholics:

  • Both the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Holy Scripture point out the existence of hell.
  • The Pope’s statement to Scalfari is just that–a statement. Papal infallibility does not apply to everything a Pope says. It’s used only twice–once to cover the Immaculate Conception and once about Mary’s assumption into heaven.

immaculate reception

With that out of the way, it’s always seemed to me that the overriding desire to attain heaven or avoid hell misses the point.

If God is the father in the story of the prodigal son, then what he wants is to have a relationship with us, and then for us to have a relationship with each other. Hence, he waits every day for his wayward son and runs to him when he returns. For a Jewish patriarch of the time to do that was unheard of. It would be like Archie inviting the Meathead to sit in his chair.


After the reconciliation of the wayward brother, he practically begs the responsible son inside to accept his brother back. There’s no reference to heaven or damnation because the story ends there. It’s entirely about relationships, not eternal reward or condemnation.

In the Christian faith, we’re taught the necessity to surrender ourselves to God, to give back to him the most precious gift he’s given to us–our free will. Not because he demands it, but because of his desire for relationship. Sort of like you give up your right to date when you get married. It’s a desire for union, not a harsh command.

Beyond that desire to enter into a trusting relationship is the desire for us to love his other children, or do our best. He’s inviting us into that larger union that exists horizontally. He wants us to join everyone else in the messy, sometimes agonizing party.

It’s another request to trust.

If that trust exists, then heaven and hell are beside the point. The relationship with the Beloved is heaven and its absence is hell.

I’m not sure of heaven or hell. I’m not nearly as sure as I’d like to be about that loving relationship of the Father. But if I were sure, heaven and hell would be the last thing on my mind. When a relationship that overpowering occurs, there’s no room for anything else.

Last year, actress Gal Gadot became an icon to some when her movie Wonder Woman became the first major mainstream theatrical superhero movie to feature a female protagonist.

Gal Gadot

Last week, some of the same people who lauded her were far less excited about her tweet in reaction to the death of Stephen Hawking.

“Rest in peace Dr. Hawking. Now you’re free of any physical constraints.. Your brilliance and wisdom will be cherished forever,” she wrote.

The reaction among some was some degree of anger. The post, they said, was ablist. They said it implied that a person confined to a wheel chair can’t live a full life. It implied that those with chronic or disabling illnesses are somehow less than they could be, less than others.

With deep respect to those who crave out amazing lives because of illness or disease, I disagree.

Hawking became what he was both because and in spite of his illness. He’s one of the greatest scientific minds of his era. If not for his ALS, he probably would’ve done something different with his life. But the ALS made it harder to accomplish what he did.

When skiier Amy Purdy finished second in Dancing with the Stars in spite of having no feet, a lot of people were impressed. That she trained while participating in the Winter Paralympics made her accomplishment even more impressive. Yet, in the shadow of that accomplishment, there was a cry from some of disability porn toward those who watched and were awed.

Amy Purdy in Dancing with the Stars

Closer to home (for me, at least), author Laura Hillenbrand suffered from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), more commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, while she wrote Seabiscuit and Unbroken. She never actually met Louis Zamperini, the subject of Unbroken because she was housebound. She worked with him via Skype, phone calls, and email.

Zamperini said that she probably did a better job telling his story because she was a prisoner, too, unable to leave her home. When Zamperini died, he willed his Purple Star to her.

In 2015, I was diagnosed with ME. I worked from bed some days and managed to complete a very long and difficult system implementation, then support a system that was so buggy, the manufacturer replaced it with a new product a year later. Looking back, the only reason I got the work done was that I refused not to.

At the time, I didn’t know I would recover. Some days I had to stop and rest on my way to the bathroom. Every weekday morning, I would wake to despair because of what lie in front of me.

I’m a different person because of that experience. My heart softened and my empathy grew. It changed my outlook of the world and it’s still working on my outlook on God–which is continuing to change my outlook on the world.

I figured I’d eventually become bed-ridden. I’d probably lose much of my ability to earn a living. I’d figure something out to stay employed–I knew that much. But that something would be harder than anything I might’ve considered before that.

You wouldn’t have insulted to me to wish I might overcome that condition. I wished it, too. My life wasn’t diminished when by the grace of God, misdiagnosis, or whatever, I slowly recovered from that circumstance.

I accepted whatever was going to happen, but never for a moment did I stop hoping and praying it would change.

The bottom line is that people who achieve with chronic illness or disability are, in fact, amazing. From Dr. Hawking, to Amy Purdy, to a friend of mine whose chronic illness has made her less active than she’d like. Admiring them isn’t disability porn. Wishing them recovery isn’t devaluing them. And accepting them where they are and caring about the person they are is what God commands.

The reaction to Ms. Gadot is far too harsh.