Hell and the Mercy of God

by Adrian J Reimers, Catholic University of America Press, 272pp, £25

There are many apparent discontinuities in Catholic thought which, upon closer inspection, reveal a perfect harmony. Perhaps the most famous (or infamous) example is the supposed “conflict” between faith and reason. Tomes have been written challenging this notion of rupture.

A simple examination of the history of science will reveal how many people of faith have made significant contributions to the sciences; and a careful study will show that faith and reason cannot be inherently contradictory – truth cannot contradict truth.

Adrian Reimers establishes the book’s guiding question, as well as the answer, early in the prologue. The question is simple, yet one that has tormented the hearts and minds of countless people over the centuries: how can a good God send anyone to hell? This is a powerful and ponderous question that may seem difficult to grapple with at first glance. If God is all-powerful, He must be able to prevent any particular thing from happening. If He is all-loving, He must not want anyone to go to hell. The answer to this conundrum as outlined by Reimers is as follows: “To believe that a good God could not send a sinner to hell is to understand neither the wickedness of sin nor the goodness and mercy of God.”

Reimers observes a peculiar paradox inherent in damnation: “The damned are not treated unjustly. They chose to turn from God, and so they are cast out from his presence.” God’s mercy is eternal, but his justice demands real consequences for the choices we make, and He will not undermine the gift of free will.

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