You’ve heard that Pope Francis may not believe in the existence of Hell, but all Catholics should hope he is wrong. Why? The simple reason is this: Take away Hell, and you have taken away human freedom, dignity, and the imago Dei (Genesis 1.27).
It’s relatively simple, also, to understand why some theologians believe the Divine Caritas trumps human choices, even the fundamental choice of turning away from Him. If God is Perfect Love, after all, then it follows that God forgives those who “sin against the Holy Spirit.” Love, it is asserted, is Perfect when it forgives all and ignores how a person’s life has been lived.
In fact, this cannot be Perfect Love. Such Love does not ignore the unique dignity of the creature He made in his “own image and likeness.” Strip the person of his freedom to choose separation from God, even eternal separation, and you have lowered him to the level of farmyard animals.
Imagine meeting St. Peter at the gates of Heaven and finding out that nothing you choose, either for good or ill, made any difference in your eternal destiny, that all your efforts to live a good life and avoid evil had nothing to do with your being there. You realize your entrance to Paradise was guaranteed all along by God’s Perfect Love.
In other words, God does not want you to suffer eternal punishment. If so, what happens to the meaning of Christ’s Crucifixion? How can his voluntary death be seen as an act of love, an act belonging to Divine Will? If God does not will the creatures created in his image, why would he submit Himself to paying for sins that don’t really matter?
If Hell does not exist, both Good Friday and Easter make no sense — our human destiny has always been secured by the nature of God, His Perfect Love.
To my mind, the latest “mistranslated” remark of Pope Francis is the most perplexing of all since it cuts to the heart of what it means to be a Christian.