Apologists nowadays usually avoid the question and just say that unrepentant sinners simply can’t enjoy beatitude. It’s logically impossible. The impression left is that God would like to send everyone to heaven but those who refuse to repent just make it impossible for Him. He doesn’t want to punish, but His hands are tied. He’s off the hook. I think the main point here is true: embracing sin makes it impossible to enjoy the vision of God, not just as a matter of divine decree, but by logical necessity. It’s not clear how well this works as a defense for God, though, since the will to repent is itself a divine gift, and we very quickly find ourselves in deep waters, with either Pelagius or Calvin waiting for us at every turn.
I would not like to speak exclusively like this, though, for this sort of talk is not that of Our Lord, or Saint Paul, or the Fathers of the Church. They were all quite comfortable saying that God, at least by his consequent will, wills the punishment of sinners. He does so because He is just, and they deserve it–no other argument needed. We also should be comfortable in this, because to reduce sin to a sort of disease or misfortune is to rob moral life of its seriousness; it fails to do justice to the reality of our freedom. We have not only interests, but also duties. God is not solely interested in our happiness. He responds to us as free agents, with approval and disapproval, reward and punishment.
Who would I send to hell if I were God? Would I really throw someone in hell just for missing Sunday Mass? Imagining oneself in the place of the almighty is never a useful exercise, but since everyone is implicitly doing it when they talk about God seeming “cruel”, let’s do it anyway. I myself respond very differently to sins of weakness as opposed to sins of outright defiance. I have nothing but pity for cowards, and I feel no anger but great sympathy for people who engage in sexual sins in a proverbial moment of weakness. That faggot in the CDF who’s demanding the Church alter her teaching to accommodate his vice is obviously a different case–a man satanically defiant against God and His law. On the other hand, torturing him for eternity does feel extreme. So does torturing for eternity the fellow who skipped Church, or even the adulterers. Then again, I wouldn’t even torture for eternity with fire child molesters or serial killers, or for that matter even any of history’s great perpetrators of genocide. Punish them severely, sure, but hell just seems in excess of what anyone could deserve for a mere one lifetime of wickedness.
Do I feel this way because I am more merciful than God?
No, I feel that way because I lack His justice, His understanding of the severity of sin. My inclination for an empty hell is a defect of my imagination, not something to be proud of. Certainly not something to boast of before the Almighty.
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