For people today hell is a hard idea to get a hold of. In former ages people accepted the idea of hell and it entered into literature and painting without question. But in our time we find it hard, no matter how evil a person has been in his or her life, to imagine them in hell for eternity.

Yet hell is simply an extension in one direction of the great gift of God, which is human life and human freedom. If he gives us these gifts it means we have to accept the consequences of them. If we make good choices we are enriching the lives of everyone around us and ensuring that we too will enjoy life here and hereafter. When I say ‘enjoy’, I do not mean that life will always be pleasant. It may be filled with struggles and challenges. But at a deep level there will be a happiness that no one can take away. When Pedro Arrupe, a former general superior of the Jesuits, emerged from a month of solitary confinement in a Japanese jail (he was falsely accused of spying for the Americans) he astonished his guards by thanking them. Despite his sufferings in an unheated jail in winter with unpalatable food he was deeply happy during that month. He made it a retreat in solidarity with the sufferings of Jesus in his people everywhere. Such people make a choice to live their lives to the full in accordance with the simply prayer, ‘thy will be done.’ By doing so they inevitably reach heaven or whatever you want to call the life ‘God has prepared for those who love him’ (1 Cor 2:9).

If, on the other hand, we make bad choices and get into the habit of trampling on our conscience and become more and more accustomed to evil ways, well, then we have freely chosen hell. We have made ourselves evil people and it is almost impossible to change such people. Really hardened drug criminals, torturers and exploiters of others in all sorts of ways chose to be that way. They simply shut out any suggestion that they should do otherwise. Today we find this whole concept of someone being so evil that there is not even a spark of goodness somewhere in him or her deeply uncomfortable. As I say, earlier generations had no problem.

Jesus confirmed the Jewish tradition as found, for example, in the last words of Isaiah (66:24, see Mark 9:48),

Their worm will never die

nor their fire be put out   

We do not get a description of hell in the bible beyond such imagery as this, but this is enough. The worm that will not die can be seen as the habit that will not change. If people make evil decisions that little by little become hardened habits they simply create their own hell. After death their decision is confirmed by the reality that awaits them.  

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