The Hell is a vast territory, which God specially designed to torture the sinners. There are pans with boiling oil, cauldrons, demons with pitchforks, and unquenchable fire… In short, it’s the lake of fire. Is it true that the worse the sins of a dead man, the more terrible the suffering that his soul has to endure after death?
The Church doesn’t teach about any frying pans. That is what Saint Isaac the Syrian writes about the reason for the human suffering in hell: “I tell you, those who suffer in the Gehenna are lashed by the whip of love! How bitter and cruel this torment of love is! …The sadness that strikes one’s heart for sinning against love is more frightening than any other possible punishment. The idea that the sinners in hell are left without God’s love is incongruous. Love is born out of the knowledge of truth, which (as everyone agrees) is disseminated among all humans. However, the power of love has two opposite effects: it torments the sinners, even as we have to suffer certain afflictions from our loved ones here on earth, and makes those who did what they were obliged to do happy. That is why, in my opinion, the torment of hell is actually repentance.”
The Lord is angry with sinners and punishes them with various diseases and troubles while they are still alive, and sentences them to eternal torture in hell after they die because sin makes God angry or offended, right?
Sin is an action that contradicts our very essence as human beings, and thus it is no accident that such an action inflicts pain. As far as God’s attitude towards sinners is concerned, this is what St. Anthony the Great has to say, “…God is never happy and never angry because joy and anger are passions. It is foolish to think that the Deity may feel good or bad due to our actions. God is good and He always does only good. He never harms anyone. He is always the same. When we are good, we can interact with God due to our association with him; when we become bad, we are separated from God because we become different from him. When we lead a virtuous life, we are close to God; when we become evil, we are far from him; it doesn’t mean that He is angry with us: our own sins don’t let God shine through us. Our sins connect us with our tormentors, the demons.”
Are we responsible for the sins of our parents?
Depends on how you define responsibility. If you mean legal responsibility, of course not. Only the “author” of a certain sin is responsible for it before God, people, and his own conscience. However, the sin-inflicted damage of human nature can be inherited from one’s parents. A vivid example is inborn alcohol addiction, which an alcoholic mother can transmit to her unborn child.
Why do I have to bear responsibility for the sin of Adam and Eve?
Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos), a contemporary Greek theologian, writes, “…the Holy Fathers make it evident that it’s not Adam’s guilt that is inherited but the consequences of his sin, i.e., corruption and death. Adam’s sin made human nature weak and corrupt, and therefore, it is natural that every human being, as an inseparable part of this nature, cannot avoid the prevailing corruption… Therefore, based on all those assumptions, we can speak of inheritance of mortality but not guilt, as Western theology claims.”
Why do people in the Church commit sins?
It’s because the Church is the spiritual hospital. People in the Church sin for exactly the same reason that patients who stay in a hospital are ill. Saint Ephraim the Syrian used to say in the 4th century that the Church is not only the assembly of the righteous but also the crowd of penitent sinners. There are spiritual diseases that cannot be cured straightaway. With that said, the sinners who go to church hate their own sins, shed tears and do their best to get rid of them, while those very sins can constitute the main purpose and meaning in the life of a person who doesn’t go to church.
Is retaliation for one’s sin in Christianity the same as the law of Dharma in Eastern religions?
No, it’s not. Indeed, there is the idea in Christianity that retaliation for one’s sin is natural. This is what St. Mark the Ascetic writes about it: “Generally, God has decreed that every action, good or bad, must be followed by a natural consequence. The reward or retaliation is not invented for every occasions separately, as some people who are ignorant of the spiritual laws believe.” At first glance, you might think that there is a direct analogy of this teaching with the principle of Dharma or with atheist determinism, where every event in the life of the world is an inescapable result of preceding events. However, this analogy is superficial. According to Christian doctrine, apart from spiritual causes and effects, there is also the omnipotent God who is capable of tearing up the connection between human sins and their apparently unavoidable results. Figuratively speaking, Dharmic religions teach that if you shoot an arrow, it will always hit the target even if you suddenly realize that the arrow is directed at your own son. Christianity teaches that God can ward that “arrow of sin” off even if it is almost too late.
Why does the Church demand that I confess “thought crimes”? I can’t control my thoughts
It doesn’t mean that you have to repent of the never-ending “train of thoughts” that’s so often filled up with so much garbage. Only the thoughts that you “entertain in your heart” can be sinful. Confession of all sinful thoughts is doomed to failure: we commit these kinds of sins too often. There is a better way to ward them off: an immediate prayer of repentance and an outcry to God for help is the most effective means against the countless sins that every one of us commits in our hearts all the time. You don’t have to wait for a formal confession to ask God for help. Saint Theophan the Recluse stated in no unclear terms that “with regard to minor sinful movements of the heart, thoughts and the like… here’s the rule: as soon as you notice something impure, you must purify it with repentance before the Lord. It will suffice but if your conscience signals that there’s something wrong still, you can mention that thought during your evening prayer with a contrite heart, and that’s enough. This kind of sins is cleansed by heartfelt repentance.”
Why does the Church divide sins into mortal and non-mortal ones?
The Old Testament lists several sins that couldn’t be atoned by animal sacrifice. They devastated the soul of the person who had committed them so strongly that according to the Mosaic Law, the person who had committed one of those sins had to be punished by death. Among those sins were murder (premeditated or not) and forced sale into slavery, which was regarded as its equivalent; idolatry; adultery; fornication and various sexual perversions; sorcery and false prophecy; irreverence towards parents and elders; failure to observe the Sabbath and religious holidays; blasphemy and sacrilege. The New Testament Church abandoned the practice of death atonement for these sins. However, the name “mortal sin” which can be found in the New Testament points at the profound spiritual damage that was punished by death in the ancient Israel. A mortal sin changes the sinner’s life. There is some part of his or her soul that dies forever because of it.
Why do people tend to commit the same sins that they’ve confessed over and over again?
Saint Augustine described this situation with extreme precision: “I was asking You to make me chaste and I said, Please make me chaste and moderate but not now. I was afraid that You would hear me immediately and cure my evil passion at once: I preferred to satisfy it rather than extinguish it altogether.” If our souls are attached to the sin, it remains attractive and desirable. The Lord inspects our hearts, not our words. If we confess our sins hoping that the Lord won’t hear us, the Lord won’t cure our sins against our will. He will let us fall into that sin again and again and again… However, you still have to repent of that sin because if you have to go to a confession and tell a priest about your sin, you will have to overcome the barrier of shame. This shame frequently has a therapeutic effect because it calls for our effort. Seeing our effort, the Lord gives us the chance to see how ugly our sins really are and begin to loathe them. Only then can a genuine repentance and liberation from those sins be possible.
How can I denounce one’s sin and not be angry with the sinner?
It is possible only if that sinner is a person whom you really love and whom you can sacrifice your own life for. Saints loved everyone equally, like God. If you aren’t a saint but you see someone else’s sin and are willing to help that person to improve, pause and try to be honest with yourself: what are you ready to do for that person and for his or her improvement? How dear is that person to you? It’s not enough to help another person to see his or her own sin. You must help them to defeat that sin by being around and by taking up some slack. It means that you’ll inevitably have to bear some repercussions of his or her sin. You will have to suffer on his or her behalf and carry his or her burden according to the law of love. If you’re not prepared to do so, refrain from criticizing someone else’s sins and take care of your own sins instead.