Is there Hell by Henri Nouwen?
A person who lives apart from God and who is dead to God is in fact living in hell. But a person who comes alive to God is living in heaven. Jesus did not come solely to make bad people good but He came so that a person who is dead to God can come alive to God. God gives us the choice to love Him or not to love Him. He will not violate this freedom of choice. This choice is given to us by God from the very beginning. We are given the right to live as we like. We can be self-centered and selfish so as to live apart from Him in hell or to live in patience and kindness with others so as to live in love with God in heaven.
The passages below are taken from Henri J. M. Nouwen’s book “Bread for the Journey,” published in 1997 by HarperCollins publishers.
The Good News of Hell (Dec 15)
Is there a hell? The concepts of heaven and hell are as intimately connected as those of good and evil. When we are free to do good, we are also free to do evil; when we can say yes to God’s love, the possibility of saying no also exists. Consequently, when there is heaven there must also be hell.
All these distinctions are made to safeguard the mystery that God wants to be loved by us in freedom. In this sense, strange as it may sound, the idea of hell is good news. Human beings are not robots or automatons who have no choices and who, whatever they do in life, end up in God’s Kingdom. No, God loves us so much that God wants to be loved by us in return. And love cannot be forced; it has to be freely given. Hell is the bitter fruit of a final no to God.
The Freedom to Refuse Love (Dec 16)
Often hell is portrayed as a place of punishment and heaven as a place of reward. But this concept easily leads us to think about God as either a policeman, who tries to catch us when we make a mistake and send us to prison when our mistakes become too big, or a Santa Claus, who counts up all our good deeds and puts rewards in our stockings at the end of the year.
God, however, is neither a policeman nor a Santa Claus. God does not send us to heaven or hell depending on how often we obey or disobey. God is love and only love. In God there is no hatred, desire for revenge, or pleasure in seeing us punished. God wants to forgive, heal, restore, show us endless mercy, and see us come home. But just as the father of the prodigal son let his son make his own decision, God gives us the freedom to refuse God’s love, even at the risk of destroying ourselves. Hell is not God’s choice. It is ours.
Heaven and Hell (Dec 14)
Is everybody finally going to be all right? Are all people ultimately going to be free from misery and all their needs fulfilled? Yes and no! Yes, because God wants to bring us home into God’s Kingdom. No, because nothing happens without our choosing it. The realization of the Kingdom of God is God’s work, but for God to make God’s love fully visible in us, we must respond to God’s love with our own love.
There are two kinds of death: a death leading us into God’s Kingdom, and a death leading us into hell. John in his vision saw not only heaven but also hell. He says, “The legacy for cowards, for those who break their word, or worship obscenities, for murderers and the sexually immoral, and for sorcerers, worshippers of false gods or any other sort of liars, is the second death in the burning lake of sulphur” (Revelation 21:8). We must choose for God if we want to be with God.
A Second Death (Dec 17)
Hell is a second death. This is what the Book of Revelation says (see Revelation 21:8). Just as there is an eternal life, there is an eternal death. Eternal life is a second life; eternal death is a second death. Our first death can be a passage not only to eternal life but also to eternal death.
Looking at hell as a second death takes away the images of eternal suffering and torture that are so prevalent in medieval art and literature. It defines hell more as the refusal to choose life than as a punishment for wrongdoing. In fact, the sins that the Book of Revelation mentions as leading to eternal death are choices for death: murdering, worshiping obscenities, sexual immorality, lying, and so on (see Revelation 21:8). When we sow death we will reap death. But when we sow life we will reap life. It is we who do the sowing!