Anyone who gives you a cup of cold water to drink will not lose his reward. (Mark 9:41) The reward for humble divine love: Heaven. [Spanish]
Better for you to enter into the Kingdom of God than to be thrown into Gehenna. Where the worm of conscience never dies and the fire never goes out. (Mark 9:43) That would be… H. E. double hockey sticks.
Who taught the human race about heaven and hell? Were we born knowing about heaven and hell?
First, this question: How do we know that bodily death doesn’t just mean: The End. How do we know that our souls have an eternal destiny, be it good or evil? How do we know that our souls are immortal?
We know for a fact that our souls are immortal for a very simple reason. There’s nothing, other than God, that can destroy a human soul.
Yes, an iceberg can sink a huge ship, like the Titanic. Yes, a flash flood can turn a four-lane highway into a moonscape of potholes the size of pickup trucks. Yes, a teething puppy can turn a new pair of gym shoes into some very expensive dog bones.
But no known force can destroy the spiritual reality of knowledge and free will that animates the human body. We are obviously more than just a delicate chemical balance of elements. We do things like: Shout out the answers during Jeopardy! And propose marriage. And pray for our beloved dead, memorializing them with stones and monuments.
None of this would make any sense at all, if we were just over-grown orangutans. No: the spiritual dimension of our lives gives definitive evidence that we have a higher calling. To live eternally in communion with everything true and good. In other words, we certainly have immortal souls.
So: Were we born knowing that an immortal soul can suffer punishment forever in hell?
I would say: We kind of were born knowing that. We naturally fear the prospect of offending the all-powerful Creator. And we naturally fear death. Not because we fear “nothingness;” nothingness is nothing to fear. What we fear is: an unknown somethingness that involves just punishment.
But our natural fear of sin and death is vague. Most of the precise stuff we know about hell comes from the great teacher and preacher of hell in the Bible. The biblical figure who talked about hell the most.
The prophet Ezekiel? Elijah? Job? Certainly someone from the Old Testament? No. Line for line, verse for verse, the #1 Hell Preacher in the Holy Bible is… Jesus of Nazareth.
“Enter through the narrow gate. Because the way is wide that leads to destruction.” “Just as weeds are gathered up and burned, so will it be at the end of the world.” “Do not be afraid of the one who can kill the body, but not the soul. Rather, fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” There’s a lot more, in the four holy gospels.
But before we get freaked-out: The Lord Jesus’ teaching about hell is so stark and precise because hell is hell compared to heaven. Jesus fundamentally came to the earth for one reason: To offer us heaven.
Jesus is Himself heaven. He is the eternal Light, the eternal Beauty. He united the Undying Glory to the human race, in Himself. In the holy… Incarnation.
Some non-Christians object to our doctrines of heaven and hell on the grounds that we unfairly teach that only Christians go to heaven. In point of fact, we don’t teach that. We believe that God offers heaven to everybody.
But we do teach: Only Jesus Christ offers heaven, because only Jesus Christ is heaven. Heaven is something so unimaginably wonderful that only the Incarnation could have given the human race the idea.
The eternal Father has prepared this kingdom–Jesus’ Heart. Where every tear will be wiped away. And, as we read in the Sunday-Mass gospel passage, it comes as a “reward.”
Now, without the saving sacrifice of Christ, we could never hope to receive such a reward. But since He offered Himself for us as a living Lamb that constantly gives forth life, we can not only hope for the reward of heaven, we can actually do things that harmonize with Christ’s love and thereby draw us closer to heaven.
Things like giving a cup of cold water to an honest thirsty pilgrim. As we talked about last week: God, in His humility, reconciled us to Himself as one of us. So when we see someone thirsty, we know it’s Him, giving us a chance to love. When we see someone suffering, someone struggling, someone spiritually at sea: we know it’s Him, beckoning us to love.
We have immortal souls. We fear eternal damnation. We hope for everlasting happiness. We love our way there.