Some years ago, I read a book by a very pious Christian visionary who had visions of the afterlife in which she saw “souls going down into hell like snowflakes.” She linked this vision to Jesus’ saying that “the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few there are that find it.” (Mt. 7,14) In her visions, the vast majority of people were going to hell and only a small minority was being saved.
Is such a view sound or sick? Does it speak a deep truth or does it insult the nature of God? Is the fear that it potentially inspires healthy or morbid?
Given the current cultural and religious spirit, a majority of persons would, I suspect, protest that any fear of hellfire whatsoever is unhealthy. That, however, is overly simplistic. Jesus assures us that hell is a real possibility and that a certain fear of it is not necessarily morbid anxiety.
What this visionary expresses, however, is morbid. Her vision of “souls going down into hell like snowflakes” contains some very false and dangerous conjectures, namely, that one can go through this life blissfully unaware of the fact that he or she is on the road to damnation, and that the majority of people are going to hell.
Can we go through life blissfully ignorant of the fact that we are on the road to damnation? Are the majority of people, in fact, going to hell?
The nature of God and the incarnation belie these suggestions. In regards to being unaware of being on the road to damnation, Jesus does warn us that we can, at a point, rationalize and distort our own consciences to the degree that we see truth as falsehood and prefer the misery of hell to the happiness of heaven. That being done, one can, in fact, be unaware, though hardly blissfully, of being on the road to damnation. However, even in this case, hell will not be a surprise waiting for a basically sincere and happy person, but will rather be the full flowering of a lifetime of dishonesty, distortion, and rationalization.
Hell is not full of people spending eternity regretting their mistakes on earth … painfully wishing that they had just one minute back on earth in which to make some act of contrition which would enable them to go to heaven! I suspect that hell isn’t very full at all and, if there’s anyone there, they are not regretting their lives on earth, but are looking with disdain and pity at those poor naive folk who have been duped into heaven. Far from regretting their choices on earth they are grateful for how “enlightened” those choices have made them. The quality of truly being in hell is not regret, but disdain for those whose choices have made them happy. It is not easy to go to hell, at least not forever. It takes a very strong person to permanently set his or her heart against love and happiness. Thank God for weakness!
This implies that the majority of people are not going to hell. To suggest that they are is, I believe, a great insult to the Creator. If God is the passionate, all-patient, all-forgiving Lover that Christ reveals, then it is unthinkable that God would sit idly by while the majority of people were being eternally lost. If that were the case, God would redo the incarnation!
One might protest here, saying that, if God truly respects human freedom, there is, beyond what has already been given and revealed in Christ, nothing further God can do. This, however, does not takes seriously enough the nature of God and the power of God’s love.
Many great saints and mystics were either borderline or full-blown universalists. This means that they believed that, in the end, there is universal salvation, nobody will be in hell forever, and the final consummation of history will be when the devil himself converts and enters heaven. Their reason for believing this is not the perennially popular (and very bad!) argument: “If God is all-loving and merciful how can He send anyone to hell?” Rather they argue from the power of God’s love: “God wishes the salvation of everyone and is, ultimately, powerful enough to bring it about. If we believe in the power of love to heal and to create freely its own response, surely God’s perfect love will eventually bring even the most hardened sinner to accept it. If human love, weak and imperfect as it is, can melt hard hearts, won’t perfect love eventually penetrate every kind of resistance?”
If that is true, and it is, then nobody is going to spend eternity regretting missed opportunities on earth … and people are not going to hell “like snowflakes”. A hell that’s fuller than heaven is mockery of God’s nature, love, and power.