There are many misconceptions about Christian doctrine. One of the most pervasive fallacies is the idea that Jesus taught nothing but love and forgiveness, but afterward a bunch of intolerant, mean-spirited Church leaders added all that hell-fire and brimstone rhetoric to scare folks and keep them in line.
The thinking is that Jesus was so meek and mild He wouldn’t even harm a fly. He came to offer unconditional pardon to everyone and bring them all to Heaven, no questions asked, no requirements necessary.
In reality, Jesus talked about Hell more than He talked about Heaven. In this gospel reading, Jesus told the parable of the weeds and the wheat. This is one of the few parables that Jesus explained to His disciples afterward. He clearly described each symbolic point: (1) the sower is the Son of Man, (2) the field is the world, (3) the good seed represents the children of the Kingdom, (4) the weeds are the children of the evil one, (5) the enemy is the devil, (6) the harvest is the end of the age, and (7) the harvesters are angels.
Jesus then said, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
Remember now, this was Jesus’ explanation of the parable. He was not speaking in symbolic language at this point. He was plainly explaining the true meaning of his previous symbolic language.
In His explanation, Jesus acknowledged the existence of the following: the devil; the devil’s evil followers; a future final judgment; and a place where evildoers will be sent, which is, shall we say, not very pleasant.
But how can that be? How can a loving God send people to such a terrible place as Hell?
Professor Peter Kreeft offers an interesting idea: “Maybe Hell and Heaven are the same thing: God’s own truth and goodness, loved and enjoyed by the people in Heaven and hated and feared by the people in Hell. Maybe the fires of Hell are really the light of God. Like two people at a concert: for one it’s heavenly music, for another it’s hellish noise.”
Certainly, if someone was self-obsessed, and found himself in a place where everyone forgot about themselves and focused all their attention and devotion toward God, that would be agonizing. The point, however, is not whether Heaven and Hell are separate places or the same place experienced differently by different people. The point is that Jesus clearly taught that the final judgment and Hell are real.
Yes, Jesus certainly is meek and mild, loving and forgiving. But there’s a lot more to Him than that. He is righteous and just. He abhors evil and makes it clear there is no place in His Heavenly Kingdom for chronic and unrepentant evildoers.
If Jesus said there really is a devil, and that “children of the evil one” exist in this world, we can be sure it’s true. (I mean, come on, watch the evening news for 10 minutes. You don’t need Jesus’ words to be convinced that evil is flourishing in our world.)
The first step to winning a battle is to realize that you are in a battle. Far too many Christians are not even aware that an intense struggle between good and evil is raging at this very moment.
At Mass this Sunday, listen to Jesus’ words—whether you’re at church or still watching Mass on TV. Listen carefully. Now is the time to make sure that when those harvesting angels appear, you’re not bundled up with the weeds and tossed onto the flames. Jesus is all-loving, but we have to embrace His love and let it transform us into holy people.