The posts on hell and mortal sin have generated a lot of comments and some good discussion. I would like to take up two themes that are related. One is to ask how God can be so cruel and vindictive as to condemn someone to hell for a fleeting mortal sin. The other is the question of why we should be obsessed with sex when there are so many other evils in the world.
I think we might like to say to God "Look, this sex thing - you gave me these feelings, it's no big deal. I wouldn't condemn anyone for this." We don't see what harm there is in a little sexual licence here and there (although the daily newspapers could help us out a bit on this.) We want to ask him "Can't you just lighten up a bit?" But he doesn't. Our Lord said that if a man so much as looks at a woman lustfully, he has committed adultery with her in his heart. No compromise.
So we get a little angry at this refusal to budge. We know this just must be wrong. After all, we could be quite understanding about all this. So what is God doing making life so difficult? Surely I could be a better God than that? You're being unreasonable. I will not serve... Whoops - did I say that?
So we should instead turn to God in a spirit of humility and obedience, accepting his teaching in the scriptures (very clear teaching there) and in the magisterium of the Church. We should reflect on how awful sin really is. It is something so dreadful that an almighty and loving God, in his wisdom and despite his infinite mercy, cannot countenance it if a mortal sin remains unrepented in our soul when we die.
Knowing the awfulness of sin, we are motivated to change. We make a heartfelt act of contrition, moved both by the fear of forever losing God, our greatest good, and by our consciousness of his overflowing love that holds out to us the promise of forgiveness. We want to go to confession to bring the life back to the soul that has been lost. The stronger our motivation, the more likely we are to change our lives.
It may be a bit of a laborious process, needing lots of prayer and penance and the help and encouragement of a kindly and understanding confessor. Without a lively sense of the eternal truths of death, judgement, hell and heaven, we will not have sufficient motivation to change ourselves and respond more faithfully to God's grace nor to encourage others to do so.
Fr Thwaites had a good way of explaining what it is like to live a sinful life in this world without a knowledge of the eternal truths. He said that it was like being a dog at a birthday party. The dog is having a great time licking up spilled coca-cola, snaffling dropped sandwiches and bits of birthday cake, yapping excitedly at all the fun - but it has no idea what is going on. If we are not clearly convinced of the reality of our destiny either to eternal bliss or eternal damnation, we really have no idea what is going on.