Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Swedenborg's Vision of the Afterlife and the Eternity of Hell

I use Swedenborgian models of the afterlife because it fills in gaps in the classical Christian perspective. These posit a spiritual realm that is nevertheless wedded to another kind of space-time-matter continuum that is more responsive to our wills than the space-time-matter continuum we are in. Sort of "quasi-ethereal, quasi-physical" or "marriage between heaven and earth".

The only part of the Swedenborgian afterlife vision I vehemently disagree with is the idea that hell is eternal. Since we are made in the image of God, we always have some good in us. We also have what are called "remains" in Swedenborgese. These may be driven into the unconscious when a spirit makes a decision to have a good time in hell, as in a brutal, power-centered video game. But then, I believe, these demons will tire off and the miniscule good in them will germinate and overcome the evil. Yes, there is some good or potential for good even in the worst mass murderer. They might not become celestial angels, but they will renounce radical evil and the lust for power and distortion and perversion.

Another reason why I believe in universal salvation is that I have seen power-hungry, money grubbing, narcissists in my own family totally mellow out in their late 60s and 70s and 80s. Age does that. So why will a narcissist who lives till 90 get a better shot at the afterlife than one who dies in a car crash at 35, when he is at the prime of his evil? Why will a narcissist who dies at the age of 10 be guaranteed heaven, while one who dies at 25 is not? 

The lovely and humorous Book of Jonah answers these questions in an exact manner: God is not bound by his threats in the Bible or in the Swedenborg's writings. God, like the rest of us, has the right to rescind his threats - it is not a breach of promise if we do so. You cannot sue me in court if my breach of promise did not harm you or actually benefitted you - like my solemn vow to lawfully raise your rent and my later decision to relent.

Hell is to be take seriously, Hell is real, and Hell lasts as long as we want it to - and that may be eons. But in the end, we are made in the image of God, and the worst of us will return home like the 100th sheep. We can keep our vision of universal salvation as a card up our sleeve and mention it only to those who are making a serious, spiritual effort - and hide it from the worldly, the egotistic, the sadistical, the greedy, the perverted, the immature that need a good threat rather than gentle assurance.