Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How to explain Heaven and Hell to teenagers



A new school year began for me last week and that meant I got new classes and with them new students. This also meant that with new students (some of whom were unfamiliar with me as a teacher) came new questions. One of my students asked me this week, "What is Heaven like and what is Hell like?"


The Catholic Church defines Heaven and Hell in these ways (emphasis added):


"This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity - this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed - is called 'heaven'. Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness." - CCC, par. 1024


"The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, 'eternal fire'. The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs." - CCC, par. 1035


Without insulting the intelligence of teenagers I ask this question earnestly: how do you explain that in simple terms to a teenager? Well, this is how I went about it:


Think of someone that you love dearly; someone that you want to be with all the time. This someone also loves you dearly and wants to be with you all the time. You never get tired of each other's presence; the flaws that other people notice about you don't exist to this person and you know that this someone is completely, utterly, and totally perfect. You are perfect because they love you perfectly. This is Heaven: being in this someone's presence all of the time and not needing anything else because this someone is all that you need.


"But, as it is written, 'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.'" - 1 Corinthians 2:9


Now imagine being separated from that person for all eternity. It's your fault the two of you are separated. That someone didn't go anywhere, but you did something wrong and failed to admit you did wrong and failed to make reparation for it. All the time you cry out to that someone who loves and adores you unconditionally but they cannot hear you. As you cry out you feel the guilt and remorse burn through you like hot wax in your veins. You feel like a fool for the wrong you have done and the tormentors around you know this; they remind you of it constantly. Your choices and your pride led you here.


"The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth." - Matthew 13:41-42


Remember, this is not a definitive description of Heaven and Hell; it is introductory. One may start off by explaining Heaven and Hell this way to students (or teenagers), but if you really want to dig deeper, then I suggest referring to the paragraphs form the Catechism of the Catholic Church I cited earlier, and to then read what scripture says itself on these last things.


"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing." - 2 Timothy 4:7-8


Amen.

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