A reader writes:
I am writing re: your post from Sunday, July 29th.
I am not a Catholic, but my fiance is and I am interested in learning more about the faith. I enjoy your posts and find your religious curiousity intriguing. I hope you don’t mind if I ask a couple of questions.
Should our actions of goodness be based on a fear of Hell or rather a desire for Heaven? Is living in fear more effective than being motivated by love? Is this the premise of Catholicism?
Also, can you tell me where in the Bible it discusses who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell? I do not understand how an all loving God would send a Saudi Arabian woman who has never even heard of Catholism to Hell. It doesn’t make sense with my understanding of God. Can you explain?
First of all, congratulations too on your coming marriage! May you both be blessed as you begin your life together.
To your first questions, it is important to recognize that we very rarely do anything based on a single motivation. In the healthiest of relationships – say a best friend – we seek their good both because we desire their happiness and we fear losing their friendship by hurting or offending them. Its common enough to stray to the extreme of a particular motivation – trying too hard to please or fearing overmuch to offend – but both motivations contribute to the depth and goodness of a healthy relationship.
With God, the stakes are much higher because losing our friendship with God is ultimately an eternal decision – as is keeping that friendship. We should have some fear and trembling as we consider our end of that! Thankfully, that fear can be offset by the confidence that God continually extends not only His friendship, but His forgiveness when we’ve hurt or offended Him. We have a friend who leaves the decision to receive that gift entirely up to us.
With regards to Scriptural references to Heaven and Hell, I think I’ll point you to a few – with the assurance that if you want to delve even further there are plenty to be found! My favorite is from Matthew 25.
The reason I like this particular passage is that it lays out Christ’s expectations fairly clearly: feed the hungry & thirsty, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, care for the ill, visit the prisoner – recognizing that not only are you helping your brothers & sisters, but Christ Himself.
There is a wonderful passage in one of my favorite and the last of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, The Last Battle. It is after the climactic battle between the followers of Aslan and Tash and the character Emeth, a Calormene – who have been enemies – is found by the heroes. He relates to them his encounter with Aslan himself:
Then by reason of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services thou hast done to him.
For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be do to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash who he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted.
Dost thou understand Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou would not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.
- The Last Battle, Chapter 15
Long before the thought of entering seminary entered my mind, this particular part of C.S. Lewis’ Christian writings helped me understand what is found in Scripture and taught by our faith – that those who have not been introduced to Christ or His Church are still given all they need to one day join Him in Heaven. (One reason among many that every parent should read these stories to their children, and pass them on to their children’s children!)
We hear this in Scripture from Saint Paul in his letter to the Romans & his letter to the Hebrews, as well as in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Church repeats this in one of Her documents Ad Gentes (paragraph no. 7) saying:
Therefore though God in ways known to Himself can lead those inculpably ignorant of the Gospel to find that faith without which it is impossible to please Him [emphasis added] (Heb. 11:6), yet a necessity lies upon the Church (1 Cor. 9:16), and at the same time a sacred duty, to preach the Gospel.
This is not to say that simply being kind to others is enough, but that all kindness, all goodness, flows from God and ultimately leads the doer of good to Him. In the end, it is not simply what knowledge we had of Christ, but how well we did with whatever knowledge of Him we had – and whether we strove to know Him in the light of the knowledge we were given!
How important is the gift of curiousity, of desiring truth & goodness; no matter where we start with regards to faith, if we are true to these God-given motivations, we will eventually find our way to the Lord – or be found by Him!
Thanks for your e-mail, and thanks for reading here. I hope this is something approaching helpful!
yours in Christ,