A while ago, I read a letter in the Catholic Herald that made me stop and think. There had been a variety of articles and letters on the theme of Hell. The writer of the letter was joining in the debate. His premise was that we need to teach about Hell because teaching about consequences makes people more contentious about their faith. He gave the following example: If a driver is going too fast, seeing a speed camera will slow him or her down. The possibility of getting caught and facing a fine or a ban changes the behaviour of the driver, making them more careful.

My initial reaction was quite negative. In my time as a Protestant I met people whose motivation for faith was to save their own souls from Hell. And this seems to miss the point. Christianity is about gaining God not losing our souls or getting to Heaven. It is about finding the object of my desire and discovering that God has been seeking me out. Pope Benedict XVI once said that God never tired of searching us out. It is a love story not a law book.

And then I had another reaction. For what that writer said jogged my memory. In the Spiritual Exercises, St Ignatius sets a meditation on three kinds of love. When I did the Exercises the first kind was described as the love a creature has for its Creator. St Ignatius says “I so subject and humble myself that I obey the law of God our Lord in everything.” Obedience is a part of love when we are talking about our relationship to God. The key here is that love is the motivator. If I love God, I follow his law and will not break it under any circumstances. It is less saving my own skin and more I do it because the God who created me and loves me asks it of me.

Of course this is St Ignatius ‘entry level’ love. It is a starting point. The next two degrees of love each take us deeper. Love of a servant for his master might describe the second degree and love of a friend the third. We don’t move through these in a straight line. Often in life we move backwards and forwards through each level but the hope is that over all we deepen our love for God to the point that we are more often in the second and third levels.

On reflection I think that the view of faith that revolves around following God’s laws can be a form of love.  It depends on the motivations of the person concerned. An individual can be obedient for self-serving reasons or because they fear the consequences. This is not love.

However a person can be motivated by love for God and express their obedience in terms similar to the letter in the Herald. We are always called to move into deeper waters. We take our obedience with us and our love becomes one that motivates us to become more like the God we love.

Hell is “the place that God is not”. A person who has allowed God to work in their lives so that they wish to be with him in everything will want to avoid Hell because to be there is to lose the lover of their soul. Losing God is truly something to fear.