Friday, May 24, 2019 - Updated: 1:16 pm
QUESTION: My question is about God’s justice and fairness. Say that I die with just one mortal sin on my soul, but have lived an otherwise good life. Do I go to hell because of that one sin? If that is true, how then do we say that God is fair and just?
ANSWER: First, God’s justice and mercy are difficult to fully comprehend this side of eternity. Too often, we try to understand these concepts through human eyes. Scripture tells that “God’s ways are not our ways.”
Secondly, we must be clear about our understanding of mortal sin. A familiar catechism definition that many people learned spoke of three prerequisites for such sin: 1) serious matter; 2) sufficient reflection; and 3) full consent of the will.
These points are helpful in that they enable us to appreciate the personal involvement and deliberate nature of mortal sin. The above question almost implies that one might accidentally “fall into” a mortal sin. From what we have seen above, such an “accidental” mortal sin is impossible because mortal sin requires reflection, judgment and consent of the will.
Mortal sin certainly involves individual acts we commit in our lives. But it is also related to a consistent state or relationship with God. It is important to note that mortal sin involves the willful severing of a good relationship with God.
For the sake of argument, let us suppose a person lived a rather good life for many years and then commits one mortal sin and dies. If one considers mortal sin as some accidental occurrence, a negative judgment by God might seem unfair.
However, if one allows mortal sin its full meaning as an action rooted in knowledge, reflection and decision, it appears differently. In that way, a person may (with substantial knowledge and freedom) commit a serious sin. That decision, while related to a specific action, is also related to a choice to turn one’s back on God and live an entirely different kind of life. That decision, that mortal sin, is then not only “one act” but really a radical choice for a life direction. In such cases, it is not for a particular sin but for the life choice that one risks salvation.
It is also possible for a person to commit a mortal sin and then regret it almost immediately. In the same way that the person is aware of the folly of the sin, so too is God aware of our sorrow. We must always remember that God reads our hearts.
God is just and fair. Our salvation does not rest on some cruel “roulette wheel” theory whereby we hope we die on one of our good days. It rests upon a relationship with Christ as lived out in love of God and neighbor.
Eternal salvation depends on the strength of that relationship as seen throughout our entire lives. However, it is important to note that this “big picture” of our entire life does consist of individual actions, each of which has consequence and importance.
Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.