Choosing Heaven Now
Monday, September 13, 2021
The shape of creation must somehow mirror and reveal the shape of the Creator. We must have a God at least as big as the universe. Otherwise, our view of God becomes irrelevant, constricted, and more harmful than helpful. The Christian image of a torturous hell and God as a petty tyrant has not helped us to know, trust, or love God—or anything else. If we understand God as Trinity—the fountain fullness of outflowing love, and relationship itself—there is no theological possibility of any hatred or vengeance in God.
Divinity, which is revealed as Love Itself, will always eventually win. God does not lose (see John 6:37-39). We are all saved by mercy. This is an orthodox opinion! In his book Introduction to Christianity, Pope Benedict XVI explains his understanding of the curious phrase in the middle of the Apostles’ Creed: “[Jesus] descended into hell.” Benedict says that since Christ went into hell, that means hell “is hell no longer . . . because love dwells in it.”  Jesus Christ and hell cannot coexist; once Jesus got there, the whole game of punishment was over, as it were. A basic principle of nonviolence is that we cannot achieve good by doing bad.
If this is true, any notion of an actual “geographic” hell or purgatory is unnecessary and, in my opinion, destructive of the very restorative notion of the whole Gospel. Pope John Paul II, who certainly was not a liberal, reminded listeners that heaven and hell are not physical places at all. They are states of being in which we dwell either in a loving relationship with God or one of separation from the source of all life and joy.  If that’s true, there are plenty of people on earth who are in both heaven and hell right now.
Heaven is not about belonging to the right group or following the correct rituals. It’s about having the right attitude toward existence. There are just as many Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews who live in love—serving their neighbor and the poor—as there are Christians. Jesus says there will be deep regret—“wailing and grinding of teeth” (Luke 13:28)—when we realize how wrong we were. Be prepared to be surprised about who is living a life of love and service and who isn’t. This should keep us all humble and recognizing it’s not even any of our business who’s going to heaven. What makes us think that our little minds and hearts could discern the mind and heart of anyone else?
Further, Jesus never really taught “the immortality of the soul” as we understand it. That was Plato. Jesus taught the immortality of love. A torture chamber was an unfortunate metaphor to keep people from never loving, trusting, or hoping. I am not sure it ever really worked because you cannot threaten people into love.
 Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, trans. J. R. Foster (Herder and Herder: 1969), 230.
 Pope John Paul II, General Audiences on the topics of heaven, July 21, 1999, and hell, July 28, 1999. These can be found at https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/audiences/1999/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_21071999.html ; and https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/audiences/1999/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_28071999.html
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Today Is a Time for Mercy,” homily, December 10, 2015, https://cac.org/podcasts/today-is-a-time-for-mercy/;
Franciscan Mysticism: I AM That Which I Am Seeking, disc 3 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2012), CD, MP3 download; and
Hell, No! (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2014), CD, MP3 download.
Story from Our Community:
The CAC newsletters and Richard Rohr’s writings have been a blessing. I grew up Southern Baptist and was always so afraid of hell and wondering if I was “saved” or not. Now I know that everyone is loved and saved. God loves me and all people and things with an everlasting love. Thank you for your wonderful words of hope and love. —Stacy S.