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.


  1. I agree with you. I think the image of the Lord as Father is meant to imply that He will never rest while on of His chilren is in hell.

  2. But He might frighten us into sanity nonetheless. Recall the episode in the Writings where children who were raised in heaven and who grew a bit uppity were given a vision of hell as their own ground state (their state in the absence of the divine influx of grace and other good and true things).

    Swedenborg is such an ocean - one reads his works and finds insights and then is not able to locate the exact source in the Writings. Maybe pundits like Glenn can help locate this source.


  3. I am not a pundit, but I have located one of the islands in the ocean.

    Approaching the dock,

    o Moreover little children are of diverse genius and of diverse natural disposition, and this from what they inherit from their parents, and by succession from grandparents and great-grandparents; for the actual life with parents, confirmed by habit, becomes a second nature, and is implanted hereditarily in the infants, and this is the source of their diverse tendencies. AC 2300


    o Concerning little children I have inquired of the angels whether they are pure from evils, seeing that they have no actual evil, as adults have. But I was told that they are equally in evil; nay, that they too are nothing but evil; but that they, like all the angels, are withheld from evil and are kept in good by the Lord, insomuch that it appears to them as if they were in good from themselves. And therefore also the little children, after they have become adults in heaven, in order to prevent them from being of the false opinion regarding themselves that the good in them is from themselves, and not from the Lord, are sometimes remitted into their evils which they have received by inheritance, and are left in them until they know, acknowledge, and believe, that the truth is as has been said. A certain one also who had died when an infant, but had grown up in heaven, was of a similar opinion; and therefore he was remitted into the life of the evils inborn in him, and it was then given me to perceive from his sphere that he had a disposition to domineer over others, and that he esteemed lascivious things as of no account; which were evils that he had inherited from his parents. But after he had acknowledged that such was his nature, he was again received among the angels with whom he had been before. AC 2307

  4. Glenn,

    Thanks for the quotes!


  5. Very interesting because these people who grew up in heaven are angels (not spirits) and yet they can be remitted into their inborn evils. So they are not wonderful, perfect angels. They are regular non-goody-two-shoes angels.

    Remember this?: "A spirit, however, is in the world midway between heaven and hell (DLW 140). If the spirit is an angelic spirit, the worst is put off, the best is kept, and the spirit is taken up into heaven. But if the spirit is an infernal spirit, the best is put off, the worst is kept, and the spirit betakes himself to hell. My guess is that those spirits who wind up in heaven are, when in heaven, better than they had been when they had lived in the world--after all, they are being perfected to eternity."

    Just sayin': these angel children have kept some of their 'worst'.

    I do really like this passage because it is a concise version of what happens to us on earth. We have to learn hard lessons. We are in evils (which I have a new appreciation of after reading blog comments. Someone noted that it means evils are all around us - we are "in evils" - and does not necessarily reflect on our actions). We get remitted into those evils in order to learn and stop eating from that tree of knowledge (at least, I think the tree of knowledge represented us thinking good and evil comes from us and not from the Lord). We improve our outlook.

    I knew angels had ups and downs in being close to the Lord, but I never knew they could fall quite this far until I read about these particular angels. Domineering and lascivious?

    I like that about Swedenborg. Regular people go to heaven, not just a perfect version of regular people. The me that I think I am could make the cut here perhaps.

  6. Remember this?... If the spirit is an angelic spirit, the worst is put off, the best is kept, and the spirit is taken up into heaven... Just sayin': these angel children have kept some of their 'worst'.

    Oh, a contradiction, eh?

    Maybe. Maybe not. Depends on what comes to be signified in one's mind when 'put off', 'remitted', 'removed', 'separated', etc. are read.

    ES uses such terms (or, rather, his translators uses such terms), yes, but they don't necessarily mean what a reader might think they mean. When he says, e.g., 'removed', he does not mean removed such that they no longer exist. Rather, he means, e.g., re-moved, i.e., relocated (1). Or he might mean that they undergo a transition from an active state to a passive state, i.e., become reduced to a state of quiescence (2).

    (1) o It is an error of the present age to believe that evils are separated and indeed cast out when they are remitted. It has been granted me to know from heaven that no evil into which man is born and to which he has actually habituated himself is separated from him, but is only so far removed that it does not appear. Before that, I held the belief entertained by most people in the world, that when evils are remitted they are cast out, and are washed and wiped away as dirt from the face by water. This, however, is not the case with evils or sins. They all remain, and when after repentance they are remitted, they are moved from the centre to the outskirts; and then what is in the centre, because it is directly under view, appears as in the light of day, and what is at the outskirts is in the shade, and sometimes as it were in the darkness of night. As evils are not separated but only removed, that is, relegated to the outskirts, and as a man may pass from the centre to the parts round about, it may also happen that he can return to his evils which he supposed had been cast out. For man is of such a nature that he can pass from one affection into another, and sometimes into an opposite one, and thus from one centre to another--that affection in which he is for the time being constituting the centre, for he is then in its joy and in its light. DP 279.2

    (2) Regarding a particular phrase of Genesis 13:9, "separate thyself, I pray thee, from me" KJV, or "Separate, I pray, from me" in the Bible he was using, ES remarks,

    o That this signifies that the good cannot appear unless what is discordant is made null is evident from what has just been said; namely, that the internal man desires that [that] which disagrees in the external man, should separate itself; for until it has been separated, the good which continually flows in from the internal man (i.e., from the Lord through the internal man), cannot appear. But as regards this separation, it is to be known that it is not separation, but quiescence. With no one, except the Lord, can the evil that is in the external man be separated. Whatever a man has once acquired, remains; but it seems to be separated when it is quiescent, for thus it appears to be none. Neither does it become quiescent so as to appear as none, except from the Lord; and when it does thus become quiescent, then for the first time do goods flow in from the Lord, and affect the external man. Such is the state of the angels; nor do they know otherwise than that evil has been separated from them; whereas there is only a withholding from the evil, thus a quiescence, so that it appears as none; consequently this is an appearance, as also the angels know when they reflect. AC 1581

    I suppose it could be said, in a colloquial way, that he's saying, "The station never ceases to broadcast, and the radio can never be turned off. But while the station never ceases to broadcast, and the radio can never be turned off, the volume itself nonetheless can be turned down; indeed, the volume can be so turned down that it seems as if the station itself has ceased to broadcast, or as if the radio itself has been turned off."

  7. Following this theme, then, it could be said that the AC 2307 quote above is saying, in effect, "Lest one adopt the false opinion that the station is no longer broadcasting, or that the radio is off, s/he is reminded of the real case, i.e., that the Lord has so reduced the volume that the broadcast no longer is audible."

  8. Nice. Hell is eternal because it is the noise of evil being broadcast. But individuals don't have to listen forever. The volume can be turned down to where the individual can't hear it. And the Lord only turns the volume up when it can do some good.