Disclaimer: I am not a theologian and I do not know exactly what happens when when one dies. This is written from experience and what I have learned from others.
Yesterday I got in a debate with someone on Facebook. I know this is one of those things you’re just not supposed to do. I know absolutely nothing about the person I was debating with other than the fact that he posts things that drive me crazy. Several years ago, not long after becoming Christian, I joined a group where you can post “your truth.” The person I ended up debating with is actually almost the only person who posts there at this point.
I tend to ignore his posts because they annoy me, and often just don’t make sense. Yesterday, though, he posted something about Hell that rubbed me the wrong way. He posted a meme that said, “The whole exploitation of man depends on two things: fear of hell and greed for heaven. It is such a contradiction that all these religions go on teaching against fear, against greed, but underneath, their whole teaching is against fear of hell.” This was attributed to someone called Osho.
To be sure, Christianity teaches against fear, and against greed. It does not, however, teach that we should fear Hell. Christianity, and in particular, the Catholic Church, teaches that Hell is a choice. God does not send anyone to Hell. One chooses Hell, which is separation from God who is love, joy, goodness, etc. One is capable of making this choice because all humans are free.
Especially in today’s culture, we don’t like rules. To attain eternal happiness, I explained to my “opponent,” for lack of a better word, one must follow what are generally perceived as God’s “rules.” God, and by extension the Church, has these rules because they make for a perfectly good and loving person–they allow the person to be truly like God. Since we live in an imperfect world, there are things we can do that are immoral, things we can say that are unloving, etc. When we make these choices, we are saying “no” to Love. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we have thousands of opportunities to say “I’m sorry,” and to change our “no” to a “yes.”
God loves everyone, including those who say “no” to love all through their lives. An old man who hates God for whatever reason, was left by his wife because he abused her, cheated on his taxes, and had a drinking problem, is still loved by God because that’s who God is. That man has infinite chances to repent and say “yes” to love instead of simply saying “yes” to the things that give pleasure to the senses and the thrill of “getting away with it.” If he says “no” even at the moment of reckoning; if his “no” is definite, then he has chosen his final destination.
Further, Hell is what it is for two reasons. The first is that God is infinite, and the second is that human souls are immortal. What exactly happens when we die, we don’t exactly know. We do know, however that our souls still exist; we still exist. Because God loves and cannot do otherwise, those who have given a final “yes” enjoy His company; His love, while those who have given a final “no” suffer because they do not want Him; they do not want love.