Is God an Eternal Torturer?

In the Catholic tradition there is a prayer known as the ‘Fatima Prayer’, so called because it is claimed it was given to the young children visionaries at Fatima in 1917, being one of a number of formal prayers, but this one being especially associated with the recital of the Rosary. The ‘Fatima Prayer’ goes as follows:

O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who are most in need of Your mercy.

If we are to believe the impact of this prayer given through an ‘apparition’, then it seems that the Blessed Virgin Mary herself, the mother of Jesus and ‘Queen of Heaven’, is directly acknowledging that there is a Hell and it is a place of ‘fires’. This would then seem to logically indicate that God is an eternal torturer since He fundamentally controls all reality, not just in this world but in the everlasting world to come.

Let me say straight away that I love the Rosary and pray it frequently and include the Fatima Prayer at the end of each decade. But – and it is a big but – I slightly modify the Fatima Prayer as follows:

O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the wiles of Hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who are most in need of Your mercy.

One could also use ‘lies of Hell’ as an alternative. The point I am making is that I simply do not believe that Hell is a place of demons and somewhere where sinners are roasted by roaring fires that never go out.

For me Hell does exist – it has to, if we are to be truly free to accept God or reject Him. But it is essentially the place where someone who chooses hate over love all through their life on earth would end up. God does not ‘send’ anyone to Hell – rather, the individual chooses Hell because of the way they have lived their life. Hell in this sense is quite simply the everlasting absence of God – a place of eternal desolation and meaninglessness, a place of utter unfulfilment and devoid of comfort. Horrendous indeed. But no fires!

Some traditional Catholics and Protestants may counter that Jesus speaks of Satan ‘falling like lightening’ (Luke 10: 18). They would therefore claim that Hell is not controlled by God but by the arch demon, the very personification of absolute evil: Satan. It might then follow that, if Satan commands Hell, then he can make it a place of everlasting torture? I don’t see how that lets God off the hook. I say this because God could snuff Satan out in a moment, and by allowing Satan free reign, then God is implicated, and allows torture beyond imagination.

In actual fact I don’t believe that there is such a being as Satan. Moreover, no human is totally bad or totally good. We are all of us a mix of good and bad. That in itself casts some doubt on whether there is actually anyone in Hell. Such a human would have to be a most unusual person indeed.

Traditionalists may then counter that if no one is in Hell there is no real human freedom and a lot of the Bible is false, which it cannot be. It goes without saying that we should never take the Bible literally, but seek to interpret it, and there may even be numerous valid interpretations. Scholars would also point to Jewish literary mechanisms in the Bible like ‘strong words’ – these are where Jesus and others use graphic images (cut off your hand if it causes you to sin!) to ram home a particular point, while never intending the literal message. Most Jews of Jesus’ time would have easily understood what He was getting at. And then again, the human authors of scripture are quite capable of exaggerating and using ‘poetic licence’ to make their own spiritual points.

Does Hell exist? I think it has to, as a logical end point on the spectrum of free will. Is there anyone in Hell? Hmm, not so sure. Does Satan exist? Personally I think not. Hatred and love, evil and good, are much more nuanced in human life.

In the last analysis, we all of us will entirely depend on God’s mercy. None of us can brag about being worthy of Heaven. The Good News is that God’s mercy is limitless and He is always desperate to apply it. Read about it in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11 – 32).

What do you think about these issues?