Lately I've been reading a lot of what people have said about Heaven and Hell. Two ideas from Christian thinkers I've come across that interest me, that I'd like some feedback on...
From Emanuel Swedenborg, Heaven and Hell:
Evil with man is hell with him; for it is the same thing whether we say evil or hell. And as a man is the cause of his own evil, therefore he, and not the Lord, also leads himself into hell. So far is the Lord from leading man into hell, that He delivers him from it as far as a man does not will and love to be in his own evil.
All a man's will and love remains with him after death. He who wills and loves evil in the world, wills and loves the same evil in the other life; and then he no longer suffers himself to be withdrawn from it. This is the reason that a man who is in evil is bound fast to hell and is actually there, too, in spirit, and after death he desires nothing more than to be where his evil is. After death, therefore, a man casts himself into hell, and not the Lord.
When, therefore, a spirit of his own accord and from his freedom drifts towards his hell and enters it, he is received at first in a friendly manner, which makes him believe that he has come among friends. But this continues for a few hours only. In the meanwhile he is explored in respect to his astuteness and his consequent ability; and when this has been done they begin to infest him, and this by various methods, and with gradually greater severity and vehemence. This is accomplished by introducing him more interiorly and deeply into hell; for the more interior and deeper the hell the more malignant are the spirits. After these infestations they begin to treat him cruelly by punishments, and this goes on until he is reduced to the condition of a slave.
From Jacob Boehme, A Dialogue between a Scholar and his Master:
Where thou dost not dwell as to thy SELF-hood, and to thine OWN Will, there the holy Angels dwell with thee, and everywhere all over round about thee. Remember this well. On the contrary, where thou dwellest as to thySELF, in SELF-Seeking, and SELF-Will, there to be sure the Devils will be with thee, and will take up their abode with thee, and dwell all over thee, and round about thee everywhere.
But when the Body dieth or breaketh away, so as the Soul cannot any longer enjoy such temporal Pleasure and Delight, nor the Light of this outward World, which is wholly thereupon extinguished as to it; then the Soul stands in a eternal Hunger and Thirst after such Vanities as it was here in Love withal, but yet can reach nothing but that false Will, which it had impressed in itself while in the Body; and wherein it had abounded to its great Loss. And now whereas it had too much of its Will in this Life, and yet was not contented therewith, it hath after this Separation by Death, as little of it; which createth in it an everlasting Thirst after that which it can henceforth never more obtain, and causeth it to be in a perpetual anxious Lust after Vanity, according to its former Impression, and in a continual Rage of Hunger after those Sorts of Wickedness and Lewdness whereinto it was immersed, while being in the Flesh.
Fain would it do more Evil still, but that it hath not either wherein or wherewith to effect the Same, left to it; and therefore it doth perform this only in itself. All is now internally transacted, as if it were outward; and so the Ungodly Soul is tormented by those Furies which are in his own Mind, and begotten upon himself by himself. For he is verily become his own Devil and Tormentor; and that by which he sinned here, when the Shadow of this World is passed away, abideth still with him in the Impression, and is made his Prison and his Hell. But this hellish Hunger and Thirst cannot be fully manifested in the Soul, till the Body which ministered to the Soul what it lusted after, and with which the Soul was so bewitched, as to dote thereupon, and pursue all its Cravings, be stripped off from it.
Personally, I quite agree that Hell is something that can only be brought on a person by himself, and that God really would wish the best for everyone. The problem is that a soul at the time of death would be unable to enjoy the grace of God.
The question raised by these two passages is... is sin, like Swedenborg says, a cause of torment because it is liberated by death (in that without the laws and penalties of life there is no deterrent from sin), or because it is impossible in death (in that there is no outlet for physical indulgence in death, the body being dead and the spirit bare)?
A little context might help understand the difference here. Swedenborg believes in a spiritual realm that is the source of the natural, so that might account for his disagreement with Boehme on this point. For Swedenborg, the spirit after death is removed from the natural world and remains in the spiritual world, which is a world of states that correspond to things natural (think Plato's Forms). So hell, being liberated, is a community of fallen angels that torment one another, constantly struggling to rise to the highest state of power. So, sin is the cause of its own anguish (which stems from love of self), whereas Boehme says that the deprivation of sin is the cause of torment (as sin stems from love of the world).
Two pretty different ideas, but I think they're both good examples of how hell is necessary. I'm not prepared to defend either of these thinkers, but I'm interested in whatever all of you think about what hell is---the hell question is a pretty popular one among atheists or opponents of the Christian faith and I find it kind of important to be prepared for.
[This message has been edited by Sunshine (04-14-2005 06:26 AM).]