Before I get started here, let me confess what might ought to be obvious.
The word hell (twice) in the post's title is admittedly gimmicky. It's my sophomoric way of capturing your attention. If you're still reading, it kinda sorta worked.
It is however also relevant to what I'm trying to write about here so stick with me. I'll attempt to make it worth your while and make the connection.
I've been thinking of late about forgiveness... a lot... and exactly what it means.
As a Catholic, I'm forgiven formally of my offenses against God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (also known as Confession) when I repent and seek His forgiveness.
So what is repentance? It is sorrow for sin (contrition) coupled with a resolute desire to avoid committing that sin again (purpose of amendment). In other words, my forgiveness is predicated on my repentance. If I have no sorrow for sin and if I have no desire to avoid committing that sin again, I have no forgiveness otherwise I would in essence be given license to continue to sin again and again and again.
God does not desire that I be free to sin with impunity. Can we agree?
Let me let those with more credibility, more depth, more integrity, attempt to convince you of what I'm attempting to articulate:
Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian "conception" of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins. The church which holds the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part of that grace. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God. Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before.
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Costly Grace
Or, put another way:
Confession without repentance involves self-deception and does us positive harm. The Sacrament of Penance does not operate like a charm, and absolution touches only those sins for which we are truly sorry.
~Fr. Alfred Wilson, Pardon and Peace.
That speaks hopefully with clarity and conviction, to the forgiveness we seek from God. God's forgiveness is not unilateral in that we must be contrite and we must be actively willing to avoid the occasion of committing that sin again.
Which brings us to the offering (and accepting) of forgiveness to (and from) each other.
The Lord's prayer teaches that we are to forgive those who trespass against us as He forgives us. We've established what is necessary to receive His forgiveness and how the Church teaches this through the mechanics involved in the Sacrament of Confession. We should then, as the Lord's prayer references, forgive those who trespass against us in like manner or we will encourage a continuation of those trespasses.
That's not to say we should be unwilling to forgive. An unwillingness to forgive will inevitably result in bitterness and an unloving disposition. We would in essence, by propagating that unwillingness, be falling into sin ourselves. We don't want to go there.
So what's the bottom line and where do we go from here?
The bottom line is that forgiveness is obviously serious and necessary. Without it, that word used twice in the post's title comes into play and we've already established (hopefully) that we don't want to go there. Hopefully. But forgiveness should not be taken lightly, should not be offered cheaply as it is not offered to us cheaply by God.
We should certainly be willing to forgive and this ad infinitum as to how often but I think it's clear that forgiveness is conditional and dependent on repentance. True reconciliation, with God first and foremost, and with each other, will only take place when true repentance is offered.
I'll close with this reminder from an Anglican priest (of course, we'll forgive his Anglicanism) that I think best summarizes the mindset we who seek true forgiveness, through true repentance, should adopt:
The Scriptural doctrine in regard to repentance is not, that a man must repent in order to his being qualified to go to Christ; it is rather, that he must go to Christ in order to his being able to repent. From Him comes the grace of contrition as well as the cleansing of expiation.
~Henry Melvill, p. 506. (Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895))
Let's be serious about seeking forgiveness by being serious about repenting, and let's be serious about repenting by seriously seeking His grace for both contrition and for purpose of amendment. This is not something we can undertake on our own. We need His help. And he offers that help lovingly, mercifully, willingly. Seek it. Seek Him. Even now.
Amen. And amen.