How can anyone be truly happy in Heaven if they have a loved one in hell? Wouldn’t that just tarnish the experience?
I’ve really struggled with this question. When I was younger, I tried making a deal with God, praying that I’d be willing to go to hell if my family and friends would be saved. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. God doesn’t control or force anyone’s free will—the choices of angels or humans, those who are capable of reason.
Here’s my answer to the initial question: the inhabitants of Heaven are fully satisfied by God. Their desires are rightly ordered towards the greatest good, which is God Himself. They love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength, and their neighbor as themselves (Luke 10:27). Now, does “neighbor” include those in hell? I believe yes, in the sense that we are all creatures of God and there will be no ill will in Heaven. And no, in the sense that those in Heaven will be living separately from those in hell.
Allow me to use my mercury poisoning conversion experience as an analogy. When God was helping me get rid of my porn addiction, He also took away my memory (mercury is a neurotoxin which affects the brain) and allowed my body to be in such a weakened state that any physical pleasures could not make up for the overall discomfort that I was in. I stopped watching TV, listening to pop songs, reading comic books and magazines, and for the most part, avoided outside influences that would tempt me to lustful sexual desires.
I also went to confession and Mass, prayed the Rosary, fasted, and let go of my worldly ambitions. Essentially I was preparing for death. I didn’t know what was going to happen since the doctors couldn’t figure things out, as I was gradually deteriorating. But God entered my heart, and those times alone with Him were honestly some of the best moments of my life. I was happier in my suffering with God than in my self-gratification without Him.
Our mistake is thinking of Heaven as a place, irrespective of its Owner. But without God, there would be no Heaven. It’s not the location, but the company, and also our state of being pure. Nothing unclean will enter the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:27). The Prince of Lies and his minions are not welcome there.
One final word of consolation: since God is the Creator, anything good in His creation is magnified infinitely in Him. So even if someone we loved were to go to hell, we wouldn’t be missing those good things about them in Heaven. You would experience that beauty, that goodness again, ever more completely in God, Who made them.
Loving the person who is in hell though, we will fully respect their good, which is to have the God-given gifts of free will and eternal life. The separation is necessary, in order for those in Heaven to be free, finally, from sin and suffering.
We can conclude that choosing hell, then, is utter insanity and foolishness. A soul would not be free from sin or suffering. Here’s an excerpt from St. Faustina’s diary that illustrates this crucial point…