A reader has commented that is a lapsed Catholic now an atheist and that he would not want to worship a God who forces people to love him or he will send them to hell to be tortured forever.

Here is my reply:

Allow me to put it this way: if you blow out the light you will be in the dark. This is not the fault of the light. If you turn off the heater you will be cold. This is not the fault of the heater. Likewise if you reject the love of God you will be without the love of God. This is not God’s fault. If you reject the evidence of God’s love which is all around you, you will not experience the love of God. This is not God’s fault. Hell is simply the result of your choice.

God can’t do it any other way. He can’t do what is logically impossible. He can’t force you to accept his love and force you into heaven. The person who truly hates God wouldn’t be happy in heaven. In fact, the most intriguing speculation about judgement that I know of is that everyone goes, in the end, into the presence of God. For the saved it is bliss. For the damned it is torture. For the saved that light is the radiant light of glory. For the damned that same light is the excruciating torment of hell.

Allow me to put it another way which is more positive: God is constantly seeking to save that which is lost. He is doing everything he can to get people into heaven, and not allow anyone to go to hell. His love is relentless and in this life everyone will be given every opportunity to see and accept that love which is available in many different forms. They may even accept and affirm that love even if they think they are rejecting God because the God they are rejecting is a false understanding of God in the first place and therefore not God at all.

A person’s false understanding of God (received through bad teaching or bad example) may be so profound that they declare themselves an atheist. They think they are rejecting God when all they are rejecting is the James Joyce god. They may live a life of justice and peace and mercy. They may pursue in their life all that they know of truth, beauty and goodness. They may sacrifice all that they have for the poor and seek to love with all their heart all the truth, beauty and goodness they understand.

That person, when they see Jesus Christ will affirm him as all the truth, beauty and goodness they have always loved, and they will continue to reject the false god they thought was God and that will be a good thing. They too, then will be saved, and they will be saved through the love of Jesus Christ and the grace that he and his blessed Mother granted to them–even if they thought they were rejecting Christ and his love.

This is the God I worship and this is the judgement to which I look forward–a judgement at which everyone will be surprised– the good unbelievers who thought they rejected God but only ever rejected a false god, and likewise the bad believer who thought he believed and followed God, but only believed in the little false god of his own devising, and in fact, rejected the true God of total love, forgiveness and mercy.