Christians, or at least the ones I know, do not much like to think or talk about Hell. How could a loving God send anyone, no matter how egregious their sins? It is a theological question probably as old as theology itself.
The list of people whose residency in Hell we are most inclined to consider is brief. Hitler. Stalin. And, of course, Judas.
If anyone is worthy of eternal damnation, surely it is the person who enabled Jesus’s crucifixion, particularly given the fact that person was one of his followers, a trusted member of his inner circle.
As uncomfortable as the subject matter may be, I am reading a fascinating book that addresses it head on: Fr. James Martin’s A Jesuit Off-Broadway.
The book documents Martin’s time as theological advisor to a play called The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. The play, which was directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman and included such well-known actors as Sam Rockwell, cleverly puts Judas on trial, with a number of historical characters serving as witnesses. These include Satan, Sigmund Freud, Mother Teresa, St. Monica and Jesus.
There are a number of gripping themes the play addresses, but chief amongst them is despair. In laying out the history of Catholicism and Christianity’s treatment of Judas, Martin makes a convincing argument that ultimately, the nail in Judas’s coffin was not his betrayal of Jesus. Rather, it was his capitulation in the face of despair. After realizing the grievous sin he had committed and returning the 30 pieces of silver he had won for the deed, Judas did not repent or seek forgiveness; he hung himself.
Unlike Judas, we do not have opportunity to betray the actual person of Jesus. We can, however, yield to hopelessness. We can refuse to believe we have access to God’s boundless mercy. Whether or not we deserve forgiveness is almost beside the point. One could argue that none of us are worthy. Nevertheless, our faith teaches us that God loves us anyway.
Remorse is effective to the point it allows us to acknowledge our mistakes and grow, helped along by God’s grace. Once we have done that, we have no need to despair.
*Note: In light of speaking about Judas’s sense of despair in the context of his suicide, I want to be clear that this post in no way is intended to offer commentary on people who suffer from depression or any mental illness. Its sole purpose is to speak to the hope we have in God’s mercy.