The pope and hell
Recent headlines have suggested, in their normal lurid fashion, that Pope Francis has denied the existence of hell. These claims have been shared widely on social media platforms, but officially denied by the Vatican. Christians would do well to show due diligence before sharing these or similar stories online. The claim originates from an Italian journalist, Eugenio Scalfari, to whom the pope frequently grants interviews. One would think that the pope would decline such interviews, especially if he desires not to be misunderstood, since Scalfari takes no notes during his interviews but instead quotes from memory and, therefore, has the tendency to misquote people (intentionally or not). Be that as it may, the Vatican claims that the pope and Scalfari met in private, and that there was no official interview in this case.
Scalfari alleges that the pope said, “The souls of those who are unrepentant, and thus cannot be forgiven, disappear,” and “Hell does not exist; the disappearance of sinful souls exists.”1 Official Roman Catholic news agencies, however, cite other examples in which the pope affirmed the reality of hell:
[On one occasion] the Pope assured the children [who asked him about hell] that God is good, but reminded them that there was also a “very proud angel, very proud, very intelligent, and he was envious of God. Do you understand? He was envious of God. He wanted God’s place. And God wanted to forgive him, but he said, ‘I don’t need your forgiveness. I am good enough!’”
“This is hell: It is telling God, ‘You take care of yourself because I’ll take care of myself.’ They don’t send you to hell, you go there because you choose to be there. Hell is wanting to be distant from God because I do not want God’s love. This is hell. Do you understand?”
On other occasions, the Pope has described hell as the destination for those who choose to continue to sin and do evil.
Speaking to families of victims of the Mafia March 21, 2014, the Pope made an appeal to all men and women in the Mafia to stop, turn their lives around and convert.
“Convert, there is still time for not ending up in hell. It is what is waiting for you if you continue on this path,” he said.
The pope seems to affirm the existence of hell, therefore. Hell is for the impenitent Mafia; hell is for the proud devil; hell is for those who reject the love of God. Nevertheless, the pope’s teaching of hell differs sharply from the Bible’s doctrine of hell.
First, the pope believes that God desires to save everyone, even the devil (“God wanted to forgive him”). Second, the pope believes that God has made provision to save everyone, for He loves everyone (presumably, even the devil), and Christ died on the cross for everyone (although I suspect the pope would exclude the devil from Christ’s atonement). Third, the pope believes that everybody has the capacity to choose the love of God—a person “chooses” hell by rejecting God’s love, but God does not send people there.
Nevertheless, the Bible teaches sovereign reprobation, as well as sovereign election, concepts anathema to Rome, Arminianism, and even to many professing Calvinists. To the reprobate, Jesus will say on the Last Day, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (), which everlasting fire constitutes “everlasting punishment” (v. 46). The apostle Paul affirms that God was “willing to shew [show] his wrath, and to make his power known” and, therefore, that He “endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction” ( ). We sing in that God hates the wicked (not merely their wicked deeds) and that “upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup” (see also ). The book of Revelation warns the worshiper of the antichristian beast that he “shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever” ( ). Such everlasting torment is the portion of the devil ( ) and of all those who forever dwell in the lake of fire ( ), whose names are not written in the book of life, that is, the reprobate. And notice that, contrary to the affirmations of the pope, unbelievers are cast into hell ( ; ).
On another recent occasion, Pope Francis received a question from a young boy called Emanuele, whose father, an atheist, had recently died. The young boy was weeping profusely when he came to ask his question, so, rather than ask it publicly, he whispered it in the pope’s ear. Emanuele’s question was whether his unbelieving father was in heaven. With the boy’s permission, the pope chose to make the answer to Emanuele’s sensitive, emotional question public, using it as a teaching moment. I quote the pope’s answer. Let the reader judge whether the pope really believes in hell:2
It’s good for a son to say about his father, “he was good.” Do you think that God could abandon a man like that? Do you think that? Speak louder, with courage. [No].3 Does God abandon his children? [No]. Does God abandon his children when they are good? [No]. Here, Emanuele, this is the answer. God was surely proud of your father, because it is easier when one is a believer to baptise his children, than it is to baptise your children as an unbeliever. God surely was very pleased with that. Talk to your dad. Pray for your dad. Thank you, Emanuele for your courage.
Obviously, one has to be careful and sensitive to answer the question of a young, grieving boy. However, the pope explicitly denied the gospel—not that we should be surprised, for the pope, being a false teacher and the head of the false church, does not know the gospel. In the pope’s answer, there is no mention of Christ, the cross, or the grace of God. The boy’s atheist father, according to the pope, entered heaven based on his own merit, the meritorious, “pleasing” work of having his children baptised despite his own unbelief. Not only did the pope whisper this false gospel in Emanuele’s ear, but he also taught this false gospel publicly to the people. He even encouraged the young boy to pray to and for his departed father, who is presumably in heaven, if not in purgatory, according to the Roman pontiff. The devils rejoiced at the pope’s answer, for they love to make people deny hell, so that they can bring as many souls as possible to that dreadful place. Perhaps the angels wept, for such an answer discourages repentance—why repent and believe in Jesus Christ if even atheists go to heaven? Certainly, God was displeased with the pope’s answer.
Does the pope believe in hell? Yes, on paper he does, but for all practical purposes, hell has disappeared from his theology. Such a disappearance of hell fits with the pope’s—and Rome’s—universal love of God, universal, ineffectual atonement of Christ, and universal, ineffectual, saving will of God.
We must continue to believe in, and preach, hell, as a real place of everlasting torment, warning unbelievers (including Roman Catholics) to flee from the wrath to come. And we must continue to be thankful to God that Jesus Christ “by His inexpressible anguish, pains, terrors, and hellish agonies, in which He was plunged during all His sufferings, but especially on the cross, hath delivered [us] from the anguish and torments of hell” (Heidelberg Catechism, LD 16, Q&A 44).
California bill AB 2943
“California Bill Will Ban the Bible.” Such is the shrill reaction to a proposed law, AB (Assembly Bill) 2943, which is making its way through the legislature in Sacramento, California. The bill seeks to expand the ban on “sexual orientation change efforts” (SOCE) in the state of California by amending the California Consumer Remedies Act. The secular and Christian press, as might be expected, have reacted very differently to the proposed law. Therefore, I took the time to read through the bill:
This bill would include, as an unlawful practice prohibited under the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, advertising, offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual.4
The Courts, including in California, have recognized the practice of sexual orientation change efforts as a commercial service. Therefore, claims that sexual orientation change efforts are effective in changing an individual’s sexual orientation, may constitute unlawful, unfair, or fraudulent business practices under state consumer protection laws. This bill intends to make clear that sexual orientation change efforts are an unlawful practice under California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act.5
That seems clear enough—under Californian law, SOCE may not be offered to minors. “Existing law prohibits mental health providers, as defined, from performing sexual orientation change efforts, as specified, with a patient under 18 years of age”.6 This law would make SOCE illegal for all people, not only mental health providers; therefore, no one in California would be permitted to offer such a service even to consenting adults. The proposed law would also make it illegal to advertise, offer, or engage in SOCE in the state of California, if such SOCE include a commercial service, financial transaction or service, or the sale of goods and services. The rationale behind the bill is that SOCE are supposedly harmful and deceptive, and therefore the offer of SOCE constitutes fraud.
How, then, does the bill define SOCE?
[Sexual orientation change efforts are] any practices that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.
So, any effort in which an individual, as part of a commercial service, financial transaction, service, or sale or lease of goods or services seeks to change the behaviour or gender expression of a person who identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or some other sexual identity would be unlawful and constitute a fraudulent, deceptive practice in California under the proposed law.
This bill, if it becomes law in the State of California, has serious implications. As with all laws, it would be tested in the courts, but it does not take too much imagination to see where this could lead. Would it lead to the ban of the Bible? Unlikely, at least in the short term. Robert Gagnon, author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice, imagines the following scenarios:
So you would be violating the law if you advertise that Christ can empower people not to engage in homosexual practice or not to identify as “gay” or “transgender” because such behaviors and self-identities are morally wrong, or if you offer to engage or actually engage in efforts to persuade people of Christ’s power to transform in this area, you will be in violation of California AB 2943, at least so long as your advertising or efforts involved in any way an exchange of money for goods or services.
Consequently, selling religious or secular books (pamphlets, videos, audios, etc.), holding conferences, teaching courses in a college or seminary where tuition is paid, giving a speech at a paid venue, counselling people for a fee, or perhaps even posting online articles in a site that requires a paid subscription, in which it is asserted (in whole or part) that it is morally wrong for people to engage in homosexual practice or identify as “gay” or “transgender,” all could be treated as a violation of California Assembly Bill 2943.7
What about the First Amendment? Does it not guarantee freedom of speech and religion? In the hands of activist, leftist judges, the U.S. Constitution with its Amendments is just a piece of paper, to be interpreted and reinterpreted until nothing remains of the intent of the founding fathers. SOCE are harmful—that is the contention of the framers of AB 2943, and they quote a slew of “experts” to prove that very point. Is harmful speech—psychologically harmful to LGBT people—really protected under the First Amendment? Of course not! If the people can be convinced of that, and they are already convinced of that, the First Amendment must go. On college campuses, with their “safe spaces” that protect students from speech that might offend them, the First Amendment is already dead.
The LGBTQ juggernaut moves forward. Homosexuality must not be criticised; it must be celebrated. And soon it will be forbidden to call homosexuals to repentance, for repentance is a change of mind and behaviour. Nevertheless, all elect homosexuals shall repent, whether AB 2943 passes or not, because God will see to it in His sovereign, efficacious, particular grace (). In the meantime, “evil men and seducers [including reprobate impenitent homosexuals and their allies] shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” ( ).
1 http://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/8821/pope-does-not-deny-existence-of-hell-says-vatican and https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vatican-dont-trust-report-that-pope-francis-denied-reality-of-hell-53450
2 There are various YouTube videos of the incident with different versions and translations of the pope’s words into English from Italian, but the gist of what the pope said is clear: God was pleased that the atheist baptized his children; therefore, God will have mercy upon the atheist, despite his unbelief, and grant him a place in heaven.
3 These bracketed “No’s” are the crowd’s response.
5 CAB 2943, italics in the original bill.
6 Notice that a mental health provider may not seek to change the “sexual orientation” of an individual. However, he not only may, but he is encouraged, if not compelled, to help someone change their gender from male to female or vice versa. “Sexual orientation” is fixed, but gender is fluid, at least in the minds of many in the state legislature of California!