On Love and Hell (My Conversion to the Catholic Church, pt 1)

My journey into the Catholic Church began with Hell.

No, not symbolically or spiritually or even emotionally. But with the cold, brutal reality of Hell, of eternal damnation and everlasting torment.

(It’s at this point I should probably point that if you’re after some light reading, this isn’t it.)

At the beginning of last year, I was doing great. I was thriving. I loved Jesus, loved my life and was looking forward to my last year of university. And then… Hell.

You see, over the summer, I met and fell in love with an atheist. I was sure I’d never be that girl, you know, the one flirting with the idea of dating a non-Christian – let alone an out-and-proud Atheist who challenged and ridiculed my beliefs. And yet I there was, seriously thinking about going out with this guy.

I thought I would take a chance with this guy.

What can I say? I was in love.

In the end, I didn’t. Saying no was the easy part. (Well, comparatively easy.) Dealing with all the stuff he brought up was the hard part.

Maybe because his disbelief was so strong, it was impossible to ignore it and impossible to forget the consequences of that. I couldn’t ignore the fact that, according to what I believed, this lovable, infuriating atheist was going to Hell.

If it was just him, maybe my carefully formulated policy toward Hell would have remained in place. (Best characterised as FORGOD’SSAKEDON’TMENTIONTHEWAR)

But so too were my mum and dad.

And my baby brother.

And closest friends.

And that family at the shops, that old man on the bench, those kids in Syria on the news. In fact, a whole world full of people on their way to eternity of despair, torment, hatred and unimaginable pain, separated from every and anything good.

Hans Memling, Last Judgment Triptych (detail), 1467-1471

Of course, I didn’t know that was what was going to happen. But according to my professed beliefs, it was at least a possibility.

And that possibility was terrifying enough.

To be honest, I spent most of my Christian life not dealing with Hell. I pushed down the thoughts; I severed the words I spoke (“Yes, of course, I believe in Hell, the Bible clearly states…”) from what they actually meant.

But this doublespeak eventually caught up with me. Oh, it could up with me good.

I couldn’t pray, I couldn’t read the Bible; I couldn’t even sit in church without crying. I felt abandoned by God and angry at anyone who tried to help. There were times I would lie on the floor, curled up in a ball, sobbing and crying, thinking of all those I loved and feeling only fear and anger and despair and hatred and guilt. They were all bundled up together as I blamed them for not believing, me for not being able to convince them and God for not saving them.

How do you deal with that? What can you say?

Our imaginations can only go so far and after that, silence. And I’ve discovered that nothing is more overwhelming than silence.

“If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.”

Middlemarch, George Eliot

If one death is a tragedy and a thousand, a statistic; what does that make Hell?

I didn’t know. And I didn’t know how to cope with it. What can I say?

Sometimes I hated God during those months. Sometimes I wasn’t sure He was even there. Sometimes I wished He wasn’t. I remembered His love too clearly and it was bitter. How could He love me if He would not love them?

I kept returning to the words of Psalm 73:

“When my heart was grieved, and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you… Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

They were half-comfort and half-torment. Half “I promise never to leave you, my little one” and half “You will never escape this pain, my little one.”

I didn’t want to be with God; it was too painful. There were too many questions and I was that angry, raving beast, lashing out at Him and everyone who got in my way.

And yet I knew His love, tender and fierce, holy and merciful. I knew Him. God help me but I loved Him. I thought I wanted to leave but that I couldn’t.

Now I see that I could have – oh, how easily I could have walked away and hated Him and blamed Him for everything. I could have left but when it came down to it, I didn’t want to. It didn’t make sense to me. How could I go on loving this Father of mine when He threatened my own father with His judgment? How could I go one loving Him as my dearest friend when I believed He may send all my closest friends to Hell?

I don’t know. I don’t know.

What can I say? “Whom have I in heaven but you?”

What can I say? “Earth has nothing I desire besides you”

Luis de Morales, Pietà (16th C.)

I didn’t have an answer but I had Him. Come Hell, high-water or atheists, He was my Rock, the “strength of my heart.” We’d been through troubles, He and I, and we would get through this one.

It was a reckless, foolish trust. I was still hurting so bad and still had so many questions; big questions that could destroy my faith all over again. But He said He could cope with those too.

I decided to believe Him, to see if He could indeed bind up my wounds, and answer my questions and somehow, make it ok. I decided to take a chance on this Saviour of mine.

But what can I say? I was in love.

In love with the One who is Love.

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12 responses to “On Love and Hell (My Conversion to the Catholic Church, pt 1)

  1. Laura, thank you for sharing this with us. What a revelation, and what Grace at the same time. On my own blog I have published on St. Isaac the Syrian, whose comments on hell are the ones which helped me make best sense of how a loving God can be reconciled with the reality of hell. If you search under ‘St. Isaac’ it should take you to the pieces.

    I await the next instalment.

    • Thank you Jess, I know it’s probably a bit much – but I don’t know how to do moderation, not when it’s something I feel deeply about.

      I’ve found the posts on St Isaac you mentioned and there are some great points. I think there’s still a lot I need to work through and think about and pray over. The pain of Perfect Love is a new perspective I’m still exploring.

      I would love your prayers in this, if that’s ok. And hopefully, I can get onto to writing the next installment, where you know, I might even mention the words Catholic or conversion. :p

      Thank you again. 🙂

    • Thanks for the link. It is an excellent video but then, it is Father Barron! 😀 I still have a lot of stuff to deal with in regards to Hell and, as you can see, it’s not an easy topic. But in the last year and in coming to the Catholic Church, I feel so much more confident in God’s love and goodness and that He often works in ways I don’t expect… or see. Thanks again. God bless you. 🙂

  2. Wow, what a powerful insight! Thanks for sharing this moving, and painful, story. Our hearts go out to athiests, even if they don’t return the favor. I feel sorry for them, but they’re perfectly fine to be on their own. The only thing you can do is hope that they have a moment of truth and realize the loneliness they’re living. Good for you for staying strong!

  3. Laura I have learned that suffering can be a gift, we learn from suffering more then an easy life. What first seems like a tragedy maybe a better path. We do not know, but we can trust for one moment more. Those military who believed in the POWs camps had greater survival rate, because they did not fall into despair, but used their suffering to be closer to God. Hell is to be separated from God, I do not think you will be separated from God, Mother Teresa did not feel the presence of God for 40 years but she believed, she had her 40 days in the wilderness, we are not greater then her, so i doubt if our days in the wilderness will be as long, suffering makes saints.

  4. Pingback: Yes and No but Maybe or Yes but No (My Conversion to the Catholic Church, pt. II) « CATHOLIC CRAVINGS·

  5. Pingback: A Problem, A New Perspective and A Girl in Pyjamas (My Conversion to the Catholic Church, pt III) « CATHOLIC CRAVINGS·

  6. Pingback: Meeting the Pope at AnCon (My Conversion to the Catholic Church, pt IV) | CATHOLIC CRAVINGS·

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