Can one change one’s mind once in hell?

Can the damned, the very people whom, in our imagination, are roasting in the fires of hell, change their mind after all? Find out more with Rev. Fr. Thomas Lapenne who refreshes a few truths on what hell is about, and how the dramatic possibility of ending there out of one's free will engages one's responsibility in one's daily life.

Can the damned, the very people whom, in our imagination, are roasting in the fires of hell, change their mind after all? Find out more with Rev. Fr. Thomas Lapenne who refreshes on a few truths on what hell is about, and how the dramatic possibility of ending there out of one’s free will engages one’s responsibility in one’s daily life.

Hell is a spiritual state of self-exclusion

In art, paintings or frescoes depict the Last Judgement as scary. If only instilling a holy awe that calls for insight, why not? However, hell is above all a spiritual state of self-exclusion. It consists in voluntarily excluding oneself from the Kingdom of heaven, where the Lord himself longs for me. God does not disallow anyone since he wills everyone to be saved. He created each of us to be with him and to rejoice in his glory. As for so-called predestination, the only and real one is predestination to heaven and not to hell.

In the Gospel when 46 times Jesus refers to the Gehenna of fire and hell, he seeks to remind of the dramatic possibility of using one’s liberty to say a definitive ‘no’ to God and of excluding oneself from the promises of life.

Is there no turning back?

One can change one’s mind whilst on earth, for one is on one’s way to heaven. Change is always possible right up to the last moment of earthly life, right up to the moment of death. Consider the conversion of the Good Thief who, repentent, entrusted himself to Christ a few seconds before dying. Jesus assured him: “Today you will be with me in Paradise”. Thus, all that one has to do is to open up to the grace of mercy that addresses every sinner’s heart. Right up to the last moment, one has the chance to change one’s mind.

At the moment of death, my life is over and time, as it were, is frozen. I’m going to be judged according to all that I have lived through and to all my decisions, especially the last one, or at least according to the state of mind in which I shall thus be presenting myself before God.

When it comes to saying ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to the Lord, the decision is entirely mine. God will not decide for me. He will simply display my life and ask me to make a choice that is consistent with everything I experienced. I can then make a liberating and joyful choice to follow him or to refuse him and lock myself up in eternal sulkiness.

The ultimate decision will be final as consistent with the movements and directions of one’s life. It is absolute, even if at the last moment, faced with Christ exposing his mercy, one can hope for a trigger alike that of the Good Thief, ‘Lord, you know my blunders and my denials, but faced with your goodness I bow down and I wish to follow you’. There is hope. Let us believe that no one is in hell, and let us pray for that.

Can choosing to go to hell be compared to suicide for the soul?

In refusing God, one refuses life. In this case, we may call it suicide for it is a matter of spiritual death: the death of the soul. The Book of Revelation in particular, but also the letters of John, speak of the second death that affects the soul and which no one can overcome unless one repents and exhorts Christ for life. Souls are meant to be irrigated by grace, so if I turn down this divine life, I am de facto in a state of spiritual death.

People who turn God down and thus choose damnation still retain their intelligence, will, consciousness of who they are and of their deeds, altogether with that of the sins they committed. Even though they abhor it, they still persist in the will to keep attached to this evil and not to quit it. It gnaws away at them, but they can neither change nor die. They remain in a kind of eternal unhappiness that no one should wish on anyone. They saw God and the paradise that they were destined to and, in what may have been a total mad move, they declined. This ultimate foolishness, that is of choosing death, is therefore a bit like suicide.

Is not being able to change one’s mind in hell compatible with the Christian faith of love?

The existence of hell is not primarily intended to frighten or incapacitate people. Yet being aware of it may provoke a salutary reaction. My life is serious business, I only have one life, and it is a beautiful thing. God’s love is demanding in the sense that it is perfect. God does not fake. He is in everything and everywhere, and he wills to fill us with his limitless love. This infinite love is demanding and a permanent challenge for one’s life and one’s own free decisions.

Indeed, it cals one to take responsibility for one’s deeds, perhaps not for all of them, as sometimes one is subjected to things, such as traumas, and setbacks on account of other people’s choices, for example.

But it is up to each one to deep inside choose how to react and which path to follow: the path of faith or that of rebellion, the path of forgiveness or that of reproach, the path of hope and love or that of despair and hatred.

When told about the Galileans who were crucified by Pilate, or about the passers-by who were crushed down by the fall of the Siloam Tower, Jesus calls for conversion. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish”, in other words: unprepared, unaware, without having freely chosen God. For us too, this is a call to repent and change our hearts. To see life as a gift from God and live it in a proper manner.

Knowing about the eventuality of hell heartens responsibility

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the fear of hell may have been instilled but that is not how the Lord deals with us. First and foremost, he demonstrates his love and urges to join him at the eternal nuptial celebration. Since he respects our freedom, he acutely accepts the possibility that we may stray from him. In Deuteronomy (30:19) we find: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live”.

God is not to be feared. Except in a filial kind of awe, one that marvels at his greatness. Better live in fear of one’s own deeds and decisions that can separate from God forever. Such a fear can help realise that one’s deeds are important and that one’s life carries eternal weight.

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