There is a very old philosophical dilemma known as the Euthyphro Dilemma that goes back to Socretes. It is really a theological question and it goes like this…
“Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?”
The problem is that either whatever God says is good, happens to be what God wills and therefore goodness is arbitrary because it just happens to be God’s “preference” so to speak. Or goodness already exists in the universe and God chooses goodness, except that would mean that there is something above God. This is a major problem when considering the Christian God! However the only answer that makes sense to me is from John where he says “God is good” not that God does good things but that God and goodness are one. This mean that what God’s will is and what goodness is are always the same because they are the exact same thing, they can never be separated.
Now let’s apply the same question to justice.
Is what is just commanded by God because it is just, or is it just because it is commanded by God?
So basically what we are asking is, “is justice one in the same as God’s will?” The answer must be “yes” or else we would have the same problem as above, that there is an objective Justice above God that He must follow. Now I think we all know that God desires everyone to go to Heaven, but if you need proof…
1 Timothy 2:3-4
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
So if Gods will is that all men would be saved and Gods Justice is the same as his will, then Hell cannot be necessary for the sake of divine Justice. That is not to say that Hell does not exist and I’m not sure that this argument alone proves conclusively that no one goes to Hell, however it gives good reason to hope all are saved. What it does prove though is that we cannot say that eternal punishment is a necessary for Gods Justice. Gods Justice is different from our fairness, and we should not confuse the two. It means that divine mercy and divine justice are much closer than we can comprehend.
There does seem to be a need for punishment still, however I would argue our only punishment is clinging to things that are not God. So purgatory is necessary but the punishment of purgatory is simply the pain we feel being ripped away from something you love but that is destructive to your soul. For example we are ripped away from our attachment to power and the amount to which we cling to power is equal to the pain we feel. Hell would be if we continued to cling to that power but we would have to cling to it for all eternity. Is it possible for us to cling to something that is not God for an infinitely long time? We certainly cannot say yes because we have no concept of an infinite amount of time. Also, I say we are ripped away because our free will is torn between what we want and what we want to want. We want power, though we know what we really need is God, so we desire to want God even when we want power still. In eternity that leaves us torn but over a long enough time span we always eventually come to God. Therefore our free will and Gods Justice (in other words his mercy) do coexist.
Quotes from Brilliant Minds
Here are some quotes to back me up…
When you punish the wicked, it is just since it agrees with their merits; however when you spare the wicked it is just…. because it is befitting your goodness. – St. Anslem, Proslogium ch. 10
Balthasar says that justice is “subordinate to divine mercy, indeed, must be virtually a mode of this mercy.” – Dare We Hope ch. 11
Only hope is able to comprehend the reality of God that surpasses all antithesis, to know that His mercy is identical with his Justice and his Justice with his mercy. – Josef Pieper On Hope
I read a book about 5 years ago by Rob Bell called “Love Wins”. I had a lot of questions about my baptist faith and if I would have heard of Rob Bell I would have had a lot of answers I was looking for at the time. I eventually would have came to the Catholic Church because Rob Bell only scratches the surface of these questions. If you want a simple read about why “God always gets what He wants, and what God wants is everyone in Heaven with Him.” (My synopsis of Love Wins) then read Rob Bells book. If you are an intellectual that wants to deepen your knowledge of the theology of our time, read Love Alone is Credible by Hans Urs Von Balthasar.
After reading both these books I have become a believer in what we call “Universal Salvation”. This is the belief that in the end every human being will be saved and go to Heaven. The idea is that Hell exists (because Jesus said it does) but no one is actually in Hell. Rob Bell argues that God is the ultimate being (all powerful, all knowing and all good) and if He wants something, there is nothing that He cannot have. We know that our God desires every person to be in Heaven with Him, yes even Hitler! If we do not believe this then we do not understand anything about Christianity or God. However, Rob Bell fails to address the true gravity of the problem of free will. If we have free will then we can choose to reject God completely. Hell is then simply the loneliness of not being with God. Hell is not a place God casts us when we are bad, we put ourselves there by alienating ourselves from a God who desires more than anything to be with us.
My personal belief is that Rob Bell is correct. As for the free will problem, I can’t understand how anyone would willingly choose against God. I see it in finite things, in my own sin I choose against God, but even in sinful pleasure you can look back and say “is this really all there is?” The pleasure that we feel from our sin derives from a distortion of the pleasure of God’s goodness. Food is good and pleasurable until we pervert it by becoming gluttons. The only sin that is not like this is Envy which gives us no pleasure. I would speculate all sin in Hell is Envy and Pride. There can be no good in Hell, therefore Hell is a combination of Envy and Pride since these are the only two sins that contain no goodness. We are envious of God and everyone in Heaven, while at the same time being too prideful to want to abandon ourselves to God. (Dante may refer to this in the Inferno). The reason I believe the argument holds has more to do with human psychology than anything else. How could someone be that prideful? Is it even possible? I don’t believe someone will ever reject all goodness and all love, however I do believe it is possible while Rob Bell does not.
Hans Urs Von Balthasar comes at this problem differently, from God’s perspective. God poured himself out as far as He possibly could in the most extreme and outrageous way possible; in Jesus. Jesus literally went into the depths of Hell to pull us out of our misery. There is a movie with Robin Williams called “What Dreams May Come” where he dies and his grief stricken wife kills herself. He goes to heaven and she goes to Hell. He cannot be happy in Heaven without his wife so he travels to Hell to bring her out. He realizes he can’t because she’s lost her mind so he makes the ultimate sacrifice, to stay with her in Hell and lose his mind too. This ultimate act of self giving is what saves her. This is what God does for us in Jesus. This act is an extreme effort to save all people. Jesus is the expression of God’s love for humanity and shows that God will go into the depths of Hell to bring us out. The idea is that God would go to any lengths possible to save us (and He has) and because of that He has given us every opportunity to enter Heaven. God has gone as far as possible to bring us into Heaven, all we have to do is accept, what else could guarantee as many people in Heaven as possible?