Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?

Will God Damn Me to Hell if I Break the Commandments?

Aw, hell!

A fire-and-brimstone preacher terrifies his listeners with lurid tales of the scorching punishment awaiting them in hell if they don’t repent from their sins.

Perhaps those preachers have had some success in scaring their people into better behavior. But can a modern, rational person really believe in all those flames and pitchforks? And is God really such a you-know-what as to condemn people to eternal torture for breaking his commandments?

In a word: No.

God loves everyone, saint and sinner alike (see Matthew 5:43–45), and is always working to bring every single one of us out of hell.

How could there be a hell, then?

The surprising answer: because many of us insist on having a hell. Hell is not a place we are sent after we die if we’ve broken God’s commandments. It is a state of mind and life that we create within and around ourselves when we put our own pleasure, possessions, and power first—and don’t care who we have to step on to get them.

If this is the kind of life we love, we will choose to go to hell after we die because we’d rather be in hell than in heaven.

Hell: the punishment of the damned?

Imagine this . . .

A burglar who has committed a string of crimes in well-to-do neighborhoods is shot while breaking into a swanky home. He dies on the spot—but not before swinging around and taking a shot at his killer, who turns out to be the woman of the house. The burglar soon finds himself standing before God’s heavenly throne. God pronounces him guilty and casts him down into the smoking chasm of hell. No sooner has he hit the charred ground than red, horned devils snatch him up and deftly turn him into a human shish kebab. They place his oversized skewer on stands across a well-stoked fire pit. As he screams in agony, devils poke and prod his blistered flesh with pitchforks, turning him over and over to keep him roasting evenly all the way around.

The rich, glamorous woman whose home the burglar was robbing also dies from her gunshot wound. She is next in line to stand before God’s judgment seat. Her recent killing is excused on a self-defense plea. But when the celestial register of her earthly deeds is opened, it turns out that she has secretly engaged in a whole string of adulterous affairs. God pronounces her guilty, too, and sends her hurtling headfirst into the abyss. She tries to buy her way out, but her credit is no good in hell. Soon, stripped of every last scrap of her wealth, finery, and pride, she is mortified to find herself roasting right next to the common criminal who shot her.

To add insult to injury, the two of them quickly realize that it’s a spectator sport. As their bodies slowly rotate, they see ever-changing crowds of happy people in white robes lounging on the comfy clouds above them, sipping frosty drinks and watching the punishment of the damned for their evening entertainment. The front row seats are reserved for their former victims, who settle in with their friends and families for hours at a time to point, hurl insults, and stare in smug satisfaction at the stark naked, writhing scoundrels suffering the eternal sentences for their crimes.

On earth the burglar had laughed at the people he robbed; the highborn woman had scorned the wives of the men she slept with. Now they wail and gnash their teeth not only in excruciating pain from the flames and pitchforks, but in helpless rage at the ogling eyes and triumphant jeers of their enemies.

No matter how hard they struggle and thrash around, they can’t break free. The spits keep turning, the fires burning, the spectators taunting, forever—all because they sinned against God.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Almost everything, according to scientist, philosopher, and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772).

Okay, it’s true that there is no favoritism in hell. Wealthy or poor, in the end it doesn’t matter. Beyond that, where do we start?

Who sends us to hell?

Let’s start with God throwing people into hell. It just doesn’t happen. God loves all people, no matter what they’ve done. God is always working to bring everyone out of hell. That’s what salvation is about—and God wants to save everyone.

If there are people in hell, it’s not because God wants them there, but because they themselves choose to be there. In fact the only way people can be in hell is to insist on going there despite everything God does to keep them out.

Yes, Swedenborg tells us that people who get their gratification from personal power, pleasure, and wealth at the expense of others choose hell over heaven because hell is where they can enjoy their selfish pleasures in at least some limited fashion.

It may be surprising, but anyone who wants to can go up to heaven after death. However, those who care more about themselves than about others find heaven to be excruciatingly painful. They can’t stand the atmosphere of mutual love and service that reigns in heaven. It is torture to them to be in that environment. So they rush headlong out of heaven as fast as they can go.

In hell, on the other hand, they can breathe easily. This is the kind of place they love! Here it’s all about me, and I can do whatever the hell I want! (Not quite, but at least they can do some of what they want, unlike in heaven.)

Nobody is forced to go to hell. And nobody is sent to hell as a punishment for evils committed on earth. But those who enjoy evil will keep on committing evil. They can’t do it in heaven because heaven’s atmosphere prevents it. So they go to hell of their own free will. And they laugh at anyone who would try to convince them to go anywhere else. This includes God, whose efforts to pull them out of hell they utterly reject.

In other words, hell is a choice. It may be a bad choice, but it is our choice. If we go to hell, we have been sent there by nobody but ourselves.

What makes hell hell?

So does it really matter what choice we make? It sounds as if whether we choose heaven or hell, we get to enjoy ourselves!

There is some truth to that. Both the people in heaven and the people in hell get to enjoy themselves. However, there is a distinct difference.

In heaven, everyone’s joy is to love and serve others, and make them happy. This means that my joy adds to your joy and your joy adds to mine. When everyone in an entire community is working for the good of others, it all adds together and creates a level of happiness and bliss that goes almost beyond human comprehension.

In hell, everyone’s joy is to get power, pleasure, and possessions for themselves at the expense of others. Wealth gotten fairly is no fun! What’s fun, rather, is getting it by cheating and stealing from others. And power is all about imposing our own will on others, forcing them to serve us and grovel at our feet, and miserably punishing anyone who dares to disobey. In other words, my pleasure is your pain, and your pleasure is my pain.

This means that all pleasure in hell is fleeting, as well as self-punishing. I may have pleasure while I’m the top dog and I’m torturing you. But pretty soon you’re going to get together with some of the other prisoners in my dungeon, stage a break-out, and throw me and my supporters in there, where we’ll take our turns being stretched on the rack.

Everyday life in hell

Of course, there is a lot of variety to how people live in hell. Not everyone is into lording it over others. Some are interested only in money, money, money! Some like to torment people psychologically. Some just like to argue and fight to prove that they’re right and everyone else is wrong.

What is everyday life in hell like? Probably a lot like the lives of people here on earth who devote themselves to their own power, wealth, and glory. Except mostly without the actual power, wealth, and glory. Hell is all about trying to get the kind of pleasure you want for yourself, sometimes succeeding, but then losing it all and having to start all over again. We can see a symbolic image of the life of people in hell in the ancient myth of Sisyphus, who was condemned to eternally roll a huge boulder up a hill only to see it roll back down again before he could get it to the top.

The actual life in hell is probably more like continual gang warfare, except nobody dies, because they’re already dead. Or it’s like the continual rise and fall of empires and kingdoms through brutal warfare, intrigue, torture, corruption, and then conquest by one’s enemies. Or it’s like a home in which the husband and wife are continually battling one another, verbally or physically, for supremacy. Or it’s like robbers continually stealing from one another and then being stolen from in turn. Or it’s like misers counting huge piles of money only to discover that it’s all fool’s gold.

Whatever the particular evil love that the people in a particular community in hell are driven by, that will determine the quality of their everyday life. For those looking in from the outside, the sight will be horrible and disgusting. But for those engaging in these sick and ever-repeating scenes, they are intensely pleasurable—when they’re on the dishing it out end and not on the taking it end.

There’s also the problem of how to get food and clothes. All who live in hell must work for their keep—no matter how much they hate to do anything for anyone else. They don’t work willingly. But when they feel a gnawing hunger in their bellies and their clothes are turning to rags, they go to caves where there are workhouses. There they are given tasks by harsh taskmasters. Once they have finished their work, they are given food, clothing, and perhaps a partner to sleep with for the night.

Tying up a few hellish loose ends

Oh, and a few more things about my earlier caricature of hell:

There are no red, horned devils in hell. At least, not as a separate race of beings. Every devil and evil spirit in hell was once a human being living in the material world. Perhaps some of them do look like red, horned demons. But that is only how they look from outside of hell. To each other and to themselves they look like normal human beings.

Hell is not some giant, fiery nudist resort gone bad, as depicted in many classical and renaissance paintings. As a matter of mercy, the evil spirits in hell, both male and female, are given clothing in return for their periodic work. And to them, life seems quite ordinary.

That’s because the fire of hell is not literal fire at all. It is the spiritual fire of continually burning anger and hatred toward everyone else but oneself, and especially toward God. The damned do not roast on a spit in hell. But they do get continually skewered figuratively by their fellow devils.

Further, angels do not look on as evil people get their just desserts in hell. The sight would be too sad and disturbing, so hell is closed off from their sight. Besides, angels have their own good and happy lives to live. They take no pleasure in anyone’s pain, and they have no desire for revenge.

Finally, there is no eternal punishment for anything done on earth. Evil spirits in hell are punished only for the things they continue to do after death. And those punishments are simply the unavoidable consequences of their own evil actions.

Despite the previous disclaimers, many of the punishments in hell are felt as physical pain. But the worst part is psychological, not physical. Evil is always accompanied by fear—and evil spirits are always bringing their worst fears upon themselves. The fear and terror itself is the worst part of the experience.

It is also true that the rich and powerful on earth who were driven by evil and selfish motives will be stripped of all their wealth and power in hell. There, they will forget all about their former wealth and power, and live as abject slaves in the same squalid conditions as everyone else. But rich people who were good, thoughtful, and caring will find their place in heaven, where they can live in splendid homes and enjoy the finer things in life as they go about the business of serving others in their communities.

The balance between heaven and hell

Does hell do any good?

Not intentionally!

But hell actually does serve a use in the divine order of things.

The primary use hell serves is as a balance for heaven, so that we humans on earth can be in a state of freedom of choice between good and evil.

As long as we continue living here on earth, God sees to it that the balance between heaven and hell is always restored whenever it gets tipped too far in one direction or the other. If we are going down toward hell, God arranges opportunities for us to choose to turn around and go in an upward direction. If we are going upward toward heaven, God opens up successively deeper and more intransigent evils within and around us so that we are always facing greater challenges.

Either way, the balance between heaven and hell keeps us human. It is human to have freedom and rationality—to make our own decisions and chart our own course. If we were never presented with anything but what is good, we would automatically follow that path, and there would be nothing virtuous about it. But since we do have the ability to choose either good or evil, and we are constantly making that choice as long as we live here on earth, the path we take is real, and it is ours.

Hell serves many other purposes as well, such as providing object lessons for us about what will happen if we follow a particular destructive path. It also provides contrast in the fresco of life, making the good and beautiful parts of our lives stand out all the more clearly, and feel all the more sweet and blessed, because of the darkness that often surrounds them.

The real hell

Yes, there is a hell. But it is not the place of smoke, fire, torture, and condemnation depicted by the old literalistic Christian theology. Rather, it is the state of mind and the human community that results when each of us seeks our own pleasure and power first, and we don’t mind trampling on everyone else to get it.

If selfishness, materialism, and the desire for personal power and pleasure drive us, we won’t be sent to hell after we die, because we’re already in hell. All that will happen after death is that our outward facade of civility will be torn off, and we will fully express and fully live the life that we have chosen and continue to choose.

In short, hell, like heaven, is 100% voluntary. We choose one or the other by what we love, what we believe in, and how we live. And whether we choose heaven or hell, we get to spend eternity in community with like-minded souls who have made a similar choice.

This article is © 2013 by Lee Woofenden

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Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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Posted in The Afterlife
188 comments on “Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?
  1. jambulee says:

    Right on Lee, well said and very clear.

  2. jahnosecret says:

    Fear of retribution never worked, only humility in the knowledge of a loving God!
    ‘Freewill to dwell in heaven or in hell’
    Peace and thanks for your article which has served as my Sunday Service!

  3. Rob says:

    It a contradiction to say that God wants all to be saved and yet he needs people to be damned in order to bring “balance”.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rob,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for bringing up a great point!

      In response:

      God does want all to be saved, and God does not want or need anyone to be damned. God is always putting out every effort to lift everyone up into heaven.

      However, once we humans have created evil by choosing to defy God’s wishes for us, hell comes into existence–through human will, not Divine will. Still, God does not allow anything to exist that is completely useless. So in the divine economy, since we humans insist upon having a hell, God presses hell into service in providing balance for other human beings who are making their own choices between good and evil.

      For more on the existence of evil and where it comes from, please see the article, “If God is Love, Why all the Pain and Suffering?

      Thanks again for a thought-provoking comment!

  4. Rob says:

    What about those who for whatever reason don’t get along with the world and its people? You know, those who have forever felt like outcasts and can’t help but to feel antagonism towards others? Some people have been deeply hurt by life and find it hard or impossible to trust others, even after years of trying. Its seems so unfair that they will have a negative eternal existence.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rob,

      Good question!

      The general answer is that neither external circumstances nor inborn character will send a person to hell, or even to heaven, for that matter. Only the choices we make within our circumstances, and given the character born and bred into us, will matter in determining our eternal home.

      Life here on earth is often very unfair. Some people are dealt much better “cards” than others. But spiritually, all of that earthly unfairness is canceled out, and each person born has an equal opportunity to make choices within his or her own circumstances that will lead toward heaven (or toward hell).

      For a more in-depth answer, please see the article:
      Can Gang Members Go to Heaven? (Is Life Fair?)

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rob,

      One more thing (for now):

      After we die, we go through a period of transition in which anything that doesn’t match our true desires and motives is stripped away. If, as in the example you give, we truly want to be a good and loving person, but our external circumstances make that very difficult, then in the afterlife the obstacles to our true motives and desires will be removed, and we will be able to fully express what we have tried not so successfully to express here on earth.

      For more on the process we go through after death before reaching our final home in heaven or in hell, see the article:
      What Happens To Us When We Die?

  5. Walt Childs says:

    Lee, I liked your article on hell, it is very clear and makes perfect sense. However, I have a question concerning some of the parables in the Bible as they seem to indicate that if we are not careful in our walk with the Lord we could end up being cast out of the kingdom at the judgment. Any comments concerning this would be appreciated.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Walt,

      Thanks for your comment and question. I would say some of the parables are more along the lines of if we’re not careful to walk with the Lord, but walk away from the Lord instead, then our souls are in peril.

      “I wasn’t paying attention” is often not a very good excuse. Those who get hurt by our inattention and negligence may fairly ask this question: What were you paying attention to when you should have been paying attention to the road? The same principle applies in our walk on the spiritual road with the Lord.

      However, if you have a particular parable or parables in mind, let me know which ones you’re thinking of, and I may be able to give you a more specific answer.

  6. Tony says:

    just out of curiosity just say you was destined to hell after dying if you supposed to go there for eternity doesn’t that mean you aren’t supposed to escape it?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Tony,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your question. I’m not sure exactly what you’re getting at, but here are a few shots in that general direction:

      No one is destined for hell. Everyone is destined for heaven. But those who choose hell over heaven as self-responsible adults in this world will find themselves living in hell to eternity in the afterlife.

      This is not forced on them. It is by their own choice. Although they do suffer punishments, forced labor, and various other pains, indignities, and humiliations in hell, for them, the alternative (heaven) is even worse. If they try to go up to heaven (which is sometimes allowed), they soon start gasping for breath and writhing in agony because they can’t stand the atmosphere of powerful divine love and light that reigns there.

      If you think of little boys torturing ants by focusing sunlight on them through a magnifying glass, that’s about what it feels like for evil spirits to go to heaven. They feel like they’re about to die! They either rush out of heaven themselves or are thrown out by the angels there so that they won’t die in that intense heavenly warmth and light. To the angels, though, that same intense warmth and light feels beautiful, gentle, and life-giving. (Still, even they experience only a tiny fraction of the full power of God’s love and light.)

      Yes, there is also the power of God and the angels keeping evil spirits in hell so that they won’t escape. They are, in a sense prisoners. But even when they do manage to stage a “jailbreak,” they don’t last long. Soon they go rushing or slinking back to their own hell, where they can breathe freely and enjoy their own sick and evil pleasures at least some of the time–even if those pleasures inevitably carry pain and punishment with them.

  7. Tony says:

    well that does give some perspective but I think what I was trying to ask is, is it possible to reject living a life of hell having already experienced what it is like and actually start spending eternity in heaven. This is all assuming you have already died by the way so if you choose hell while alive and then died and find out that you having landed yourself in hell is there truly no way you can get yourself out of an eternity in hell once you have died. If the answer is no then it seems that you follow what the mindset of some christians think that once dead you will definitely your eternity in one or the other with no way of getting out of it. I hope this makes sense 🙂

    • Lee says:

      Hi Tony,

      Thanks for clarifying your question.

      There actually are some people who experience hell after they die, find that it’s not for them, and then leave it and enter heaven for eternity. These are people who have perhaps fallen in with bad companions and allow themselves to be influenced into doing things they shouldn’t, but are not actually evil people at heart. What happens to them is that after they die, they still stick with the bad crowd they’d been attached to on earth, and get dragged down to hell along with them. There, they suffer hard things until they are finally ready to break their ties with those friends, having realized that they don’t belong with them. Then they rise out of hell, are taught by angels in the world of spirits (the area midway between heaven and hell where everyone goes at first after they die) and then find their eternal homes in heaven.

      However, for those who truly are evil at heart having chosen a life of selfishness and greed during their life on earth, it’s a different matter. The plain fact is, these people don’t want to leave hell.

      Or if they do want to leave hell, it is only to attack good spirits and angels. So if they were allowed out and could stay out, they would only wreak havoc and make life miserable for good and innocent people. It would be like letting all the hardened criminals out of jail so that they could go on murdering, raping, and robbing people. You just can’t do it if you want a safe society. And as much as we might wish hardened criminals would change and reform, most of them just don’t.

      As long as they’re here on earth, even hardened criminals do have the opportunity to change. And occasionally they do have a change of heart. But the reality is that most of them have no interest in changing. They get a thrill, and intense pleasure, from their particular type of crime. Not being allowed to commit it is the real torture of jail for them. And if they were not allowed to at least desire and fantasize about it, they would feel as if life was not worth living.

      Hell is where those who, having been given every opportunity to change here on earth, still chose to live a life of evil, selfishness, greed, and disregard for their fellow human beings. Nobody goes there by accident. And nobody goes there who doesn’t belong there and wants to be there. Though they are kept there, they also choose to be there. As I said in my previous comment, if they do try to go up to heaven, they feel intense pain and hurl themselves back down into their own hell.

      I realize this sticks in the craw of thoughtful and merciful people who want everyone to end out in heaven. The problem with this is that it just isn’t realistic given what we know about human nature. But more than that, if we didn’t have the choice to choose an eternal hell, we wouldn’t be truly free, or truly rational, or truly human.

      That last statement might sound surprising. If you want to follow up on it, please go to this article:
      The Bible, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Reincarnation
      It’s a long article. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, scroll down to the section titled “What’s wrong with reincarnation?” and read the next five sections, up to and including the one titled “A conversation with some inhabitants of hell.” There, this issue is discussed in more depth.

      Another article you might find helpful is:
      Can Gang Members Go to Heaven? (Is Life Fair?)
      The point of this article is that no matter what it looks like from the outside, nobody goes to hell unless that is where they truly belong.

      I hope this helps.

      • Ryan says:

        Unless hell is infinite like God is, surely they’ll get tired of it. Trees that grow in the same spot can still be cut down or moved and regrown in heaven. Sin is not bad because it’s pleasurable, they all are actually sources of misery for everyone so I just can’t imagine how they can never get tired of hell… but then again, if it is eternal and they COULD leave and God doesn’t force people to stay in hell unless they belong there, if they wanted, maybe they will eventually leave. but I don’t understand why Jesus died for us if hell isn’t impossible to get out of.

        it’s like God made this system to make it hard for people to avoid hell. If more people go to hell than heaven, it makes no sense because most people are leaning towards good, even criminals can be good but just make mistakes due to their low intelligence. I find that intelligence has a lot to do with criminality, but being more intelligent doesn’t mean you’re a better person than a criminal.

        I don’t think you should be judging so much lee, because even good people in the bible expect to go to hell. God probably weighs every little bit of your life, which is why children automatically go to heaven for having a short life. How can people stay in hell forever for being CAUGHT in sin later?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ryan,

          Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughtful comment.

          The idea that hell is eternal certainly is a tough one for many thoughtful and compassionate people.

          Swedenborg himself early on in his spiritual writings thought of hell as a place that people eventually get out of. It was only later, when he’d spent more time in the spiritual world, that he came to the conclusion that hell is eternal, and that people who go there never leave.

          He said this was the case not because the people in hell are being punished for anything they did on earth, or because God is angry at them and won’t let them out, but rather because they themselves no longer have any desire to leave. They have formed a settled character based on the selfish and greedy things they most love to do, and they enjoy doing those things even when they realize that it will inevitably bring them pain. So although people looking into hell from outside may think their lot is terrible, and that eventually they should be let out and allowed to go to heaven instead, they themselves simply have no desire to live anywhere else.

          For more on this, please see the article, “The Bible, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Reincarnation,” starting with the section titled, “What’s wrong with reincarnation?” and more specifically starting with the section, “Hell is a choice.”

          In order to understand eternal hell, it is necessary to understand that hell is not really a place of eternal punishment for sins and crimes committed on earth. Rather, it is a place where people who, through their own freely made choices, love evil rather than good, and who enjoy engaging in destructive and evil actions rather than good and constructive ones, can live and gain as much pleasure in life as is possible for them given that they have chosen evil over good. God allows hell for them so that they will have a place to live where they can have at least some enjoyment. For them, being in heaven would be pure torture.

          Also, no one goes to hell due to low intelligence or any other external, natural factor or influence over which they have no control. It is true that many criminals in jail did not start out with the best conditions in life, and that many of them have rather low intelligence—perhaps as a result of the poor conditions of poverty and malnutrition in which they were raised. However, there are probably just as many well-educated white collar criminals and fraudsters who never see the inside of a jail cell either because they are smart enough not to go over the line and get caught or because they’re able to hire fancy lawyers and get themselves off the hook.

          Spiritually speaking, natural intelligence or lack thereof has no effect on whether a person will end out in heaven or in hell. Hell results only from the choices people make within the zone of moral freedom they do have, which is different for different people. For more on this, please see: “Can Gang Members Go to Heaven? (Is Life Fair?)

          Finally, the default destination is always heaven, not hell. Even though we do start out in life all wrapped up in ourselves, it is only when we, as rational, self-responsible adults, freely choose evil over good, knowing the difference between the two, that we end out in hell. Here is one more article along these lines: “Is it Easy or Hard to Get to Heaven?

          Of course, we’re all free to believe what we wish about heaven and hell. But I do hope these thoughts and the linked articles are helpful to you on the issue of eternal hell.

        • Ray says:

          Hi Lee. What is considered evil and sinful? Is it evil to enjoy things like video games, or violent tv shows.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          The Ten Commandments provide a basic guide to what is evil and sinful. Here is an article that expands upon them:

          The Ten Commandments: Our Spiritual Inventory List

          A few of the commandments, such as not worshiping idols and not working on the Sabbath, are not in force quite as literally as they once were. The culture has changed since the time the Ten Commandments were given. Most people today aren’t inclined to literally worship idols, and Jesus changed the way the Sabbath is to be observed. However, even these commandments are still in force spiritually, as covered in this article.

          Assuming people don’t live out in reality the immoral and violent things that happen in video games and TV shows, playing video games and watching violent TV shows is not evil any more than reading novels in which people have illicit sex and and wage war is immoral. These things are part of the human experience. It is only natural that they will find their way into our art and recreation. There are several articles here about video games. Here’s the first one:

          What Does the Bible Say about Video Games? Part 1

        • Ray says:

          Hi Lee. Sometimes I like to review old comments and see if I have any more questions. Things like violent video games or tv shows or books with illicit sex won’t be permitted in Heaven though. We’ll have to give all that up and I guess if we don’t we’ll be headed to probably a milder Hell, but still a hell.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          “Won’t be permitted” is probably not the right wording. It’s more like most people in heaven just won’t be interested in such things. It’s possible that some of them will still exist in the lower heavens. But in the higher heavens there would be no pleasure, but only sadness in imagining such things. So it’s not that we “have to give them up.” It’s that we will no longer be interested in them.

          For one thing, the conflict and evil in books, movies, video games, and so on are all about the conflict between good and evil in our own hearts, minds, and lives, and in society. These are battles we fight here on earth, so we are drawn to entertainments that portray them and give our mind something to focus on in relation to them. In the afterlife, our big battle between good and evil is finished. All that’s left is “mop-up operations.” Therefore playing at war, conflict, and the temptations of illicit sex will not be very useful to us anymore.

          It’s not that we won’t have hard work to do. But we will not do it with the inner conflict that commonly dogs us here on earth as we go about our careers and our daily lives. In heaven, we will have a clear mind and heart, and a clear purpose and direction in life.

          Having said that, some angels do have jobs that involve dealing with evil, such as moderating the insanity and rage of evil spirits in hell, and dealing with newcomers to the spiritual world who have lived very evil or very mixed-up lives on earth. This is why I say that such things may not be entirely absent from heavenly entertainments in certain parts of heaven.

          All in all, it’s a fascinating question. The main point I would make is that we are not forced to give up things we like in heaven. Rather, we willingly and happily give up things that are no longer helpful to us now that our earthly battles have come to an end, and we have entered the peace of heaven. In heaven we are free to live as we want to live, because the way we want to live is good.

        • Ray says:

          Hi Lee. Interesting take. What I meant by being forced is that you couldn’t enter Heaven as long as you have attachment to such things. The lower Heavens and higher Hells have me intrigued as to how much a person could still remain as they were on this Earth without losing much about their identity.

          I always too it to mean that if you go to Heaven you have no interest in anything that portrays anything that is sinful and if you go to Hell, you have no interest in anything that was ever good even if you enjoyed it on this Earth.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          Some of the lower heavens and some of the higher hells as portrayed in Swedenborg’s writings sound an awful lot like the way some people live here on earth. For example, he describes people in a very low level of heavens adoring idols, and being admonished periodically by visiting angels not to worship the idols themselves, but to think of them as representing something about God. And he describes parts of hell where couples live together in their houses and are constantly fighting with one another.

          My sense is that ordinary people who haven’t put much thought and effort into their spiritual life will continue to live a lot like they did on earth, only the ones who go to heaven will have a generally better life, whereas the ones who go to hell will have a generally worse life.

        • Ray says:

          Couples live together in hell? Why would you live with someone that makes you miserable 24/7? Are there people in Heaven that still don’t believe in God and if they do, why are they still worshipping idols?

          In Heaven are you are all good and Hell you are all bad?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          Only God is all good. And nothing can be all bad, or it would annihilate itself. All created humans are a mixture of good and bad. In heavenly ones, the good is in control, and it—or really, the Lord—keeps the evil under lock and key. In hellish ones, the evil is in control, and it uses the good for its own evil purposes.

          Have you ever seen or read Jean Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit”? It’s a classic, illustrating how selfish people would remain with others who make them miserable precisely because they are driven by selfish desires. We humans are social creatures. That’s true whether we are good or evil. If we’re good, we enjoy others’ company because we can do good things for them and make them happy, and we enjoy the mutual relationship in which they are doing the same for us. If we’re evil, we get pleasure out of others’ company because we can use them to push forward our selfish and greedy goals, and because we can torment them and rule over them—or at least try to. Those couples in the milder hells are together for their own selfish pleasure, and because they enjoy tearing someone else down.

          As for the idol-worshipers in a very low heaven, they were from an earthly culture that had very little spiritual enlightenment and elevation, so it’s the best they can do. They’re not bad people. They’re just very shallow people. They need visuals for their worship, but they have to be reminded periodically that these statues are not actually gods and goddesses.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          Oh, and I should mention that the couples in hell are not eternal partners like married couples in heaven. They reject marriage and fidelity. The men consider the woman they are with, not to be a wife, but a whore. And they treat her like a whore, using her for their own pleasure. The women, meanwhile, despise the man currently in their life, and are only in it to get whatever they can for themselves.

          Because of these motives and attitudes on their part, they do not stay with one other person forever, as angels do, but periodically change partners. However, for the most part the men are not allowed to have more than one woman at a time. They may cheat on her, just as the women will cheat on their current man. But then they reap the whirlwind for that in the form of attacks, vituperation, blackmail, and so on from their current partner and his or her friends. And so it goes.

          In other words, it’s a lot like immoral people on earth, who similarly have no belief in marriage, but commonly cheat on their partners, break up, and get together with someone else . . . and then someone else.

        • Ray says:

          So these people who worship idols are told they aren’t real, but then they forget that and continue to worship the idols and constantly need to be reminded?

          So one is truly miserable in Hell all the time even those that live in poverty and are slaves? It’s something they 100% choose for themselves? I mean yeah they is pain and misery, but it seems their sins in Hell cause as much pleasure as they do misery, almost like a sadomasochist.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          Yes, they can keep it firmly in mind only so long that these are not actually gods, but only representations of different qualities of the one God. So they have to be reminded of that periodically. It’s not that they resist that idea. Just that they are very physical-minded, so it’s hard for them to lift their minds above external things.

          Yes, sadomasochism pretty much sums it up. But that’s not what all hells are like. For example, Swedenborg describes hells for people who are misers in which they’re always counting up piles of gold, but if any light from heaven comes in, it becomes clear that it is just tiny grains of fool’s gold. And they’re all pretending that everyone else’s gold is theirs, but if they try to say that it’s not the other misers’ gold as well, then they are punished. In other words, not all hells are about sadomasochism.

        • Ray says:

          And those in Hell even if they are in poverty or slaves are as happy as those in Hell that have possessions? That’s the impression I got is that overall people that are in Hell are happy no matter how miserable their lives may become as a result of their actions. But it seems odd to imagine a evil king who had wealth and privileges being happy in poverty or as a slave.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          People who were kings, wealthy, snd powerful during their earthly lives but chose a hellish live over a heavenly on forget all about their earthly wealth and glory by the time they enter hell. There, they do think of themselves as miserable slaves, because that is their ongoing life.

          By the same token, “happy” is probably not the right word for their state of mind in hell. It would be more appropriate to say that they have their pleasures when they are able to engage in their evil desires. But then they have pain afterwards, because in the spiritual world, evil and its punishment are inextricably bound together.

        • Ray says:

          Hi Lee. So what pleasures would someone who has to divest themselves of their Earthly wealth and glory get? I always thought that is what gave them pleasure: To have all that wealth power and glory. So, if they don’t get that then what do they have left worth enjoying?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          It’s a good question. Perhaps it’s like Sisyphus, who is always striving to achieve something, but never quite achieves it. Maybe they’re always scheming and hatching plans to get rich, and enjoying their fantasies about how rich they’re going to be, but their schemes never quite work out as planned.

        • Ray says:

          Hi Lee. I thought people weren’t punished for their sins on Earth, but forcibly stripping someone of something they enjoyed and tricking their mind into thinking they were a slave when they weren’t on Earth sure seems like a punishment to me.

          At times, it seems Swedenborg contradicts himself. At times he says people love being In Hell, but other times it seemed they are put into to Hell and made deliberately miserable.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          In the spiritual world, outward appearances soon change to exactly match inward realities. The reason evil wealthy people lose all their wealth in the spiritual world is that wealth (gold, silver, and so on) corresponds to spiritual truth and love—which evil people don’t have. It’s not a punishment for their actions on earth. It’s a reflection of the character they developed on earth.

          Beyond that . . . hell is complicated, because it’s made of people, who are complicated. It is true that Swedenborg’s descriptions of hell aren’t always consistent with one another. But remember that hell is a very big place, in which there are billions of souls, each with his or her own particular type of evil. Some parts of hell are quite different from other parts of hell, just as some parts of heaven are very different from other parts of heaven. Even the almost thirty years Swedenborg spent with open access to the spiritual world was nowhere near enough to explore all the areas of the spiritual world. I don’t think his varying descriptions of hell are inaccurate or contradictory. They just reflect different parts of hell that he saw at different times.

        • Ray says:

          Hi Lee. Didn’t Swedenborg talk to denizens of Hell that outright said they liked being there. Yet, some people who end up in Hell, I can’t imagine them enjoying it at all with what happens to them. It just seems strange to have evil spirits saying they enjoy it on one hand and yet on the other hand, people being impoverished and forced to be a slave. I guess one can assume the deeper one goes into Hell the less pleasant it is, so the ones in the higher hells enjoy it more than the ones in the lower Hells. Then again, I have also read about phantasies and how evil spirits have the power to phantasize to the point where it feels as real as Life on Earth does now

          Heaven can’t be too complicated. See, because Hell is where people can indulge in all of their twisted pleasures. It’s basically anything goes. When I look at Heaven, I look at a genuinely pure place where people may slip and get arrogant or have an occasional argument but their better nature eventually takes over and they apologize.

          In Heaven, people are mostly happy doing what they love without hurting others, but in Hell, it almost seems like some people find Hell more pleasant and satisfying than others. My initial impression was it didn’t matter how deep into Hell people were, they enjoy it the same amount as anyone else, but the only difference is what makes them enjoy it. For example, in the higher hells, what gives people pleasure is tame compared to what gives them pleasure in the lower Hells.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          It’s not so much that they like hell as that they love engaging in their particular evil pleasures. That is what they will never give up, because that is the pleasure of their ruling love, which is the core of the character that they chose to build within themselves during their lifetime on earth. If indulging in those pleasures causes unpleasant blowback, for them that’s just “the cost of doing business.”

          Swedenborg does say that over time they moderate their evil actions because of the punishment that follows. But they never stop desiring those pleasures, and they will keep indulging in them as much as they can without going beyond boundaries that bring so much pain upon themselves that the costs are too high.

          For one of Swedenborg’s actual conversations with some spirits from hell, in which this subject comes up, please see the section titled “A conversation with some inhabitants of hell” in the article: “The Bible, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Reincarnation.”

          Heaven is also complex, but not in a negative, conflicting way. Consider the immense complexity of the human body, every part working together to make its own specific contribution to the functioning of the whole. This is the type and level of complexity that exists in heaven, only on a spiritual level rather than a physical level.

        • Ray says:

          Oh and if wealth corresponds to love and spiritual truth, shouldn’t everyone in Hell have nothing and be impoverished cause they have no love or spiritual truths in their heart? Why do some people get to have possessions (even though they are evil and have no love in their heart) and others don’t?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          No one in hell is wealthy. Or if they are, it is only very briefly when they have succeeded in clawing their way to the top—only to be overthrown in the next coup or uprising, which will be on its way soon. And even that brief wealth is poverty compared to the splendor of heaven.

        • Ray says:

          Hi Lee. I think I was conflating wealth with having possessions. Also, I do wonder if those that desire wealth but can’t obtain it will at least be able to fantasize about having it since apparently fantasy’s are more powerful in Hell. Almost seems like a compromise. They can’t physically possess it, they can fantasize having it to the point where it seems real.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          Even poor people have possessions. It’s just that they have very few possessions. That’s the meaning of being poor rather than being rich, which is having many possessions. Money is just another form of possession. It can be exchanged at will for various physical goods and services.

          And yes, people in hell can at least briefly fantasize about being wealthy, though they cannot sustain that fantasy indefinitely. For a description of such people engaging in their fantasies, see True Christianity #662. After a general discussion, the descriptive part starts at subsection 5.

          It is interesting that the account says that these people’s “living quarters were not in hell itself but were above it, just under the ground below our feet.” I’m not quite sure what to make of that.

    • Ray says:

      Hi Lee. This fantasy aspect of Hell is interesting. Apparently people can even perform witchcraft in Hell. Something that I honestly didn’t believe existed. It may be worth doing a whole article exploring fantasy in Help vs reality.

      • Lee says:

        Hi Ray,

        Sounds more like subject matter for an after-death novel. I’m probably not the guy to write it. :-/

        • Ray says:

          So where would i find this out then i wonder 🤔

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          You could always read the section about hell in Swedenborg’s book Heaven and Hell. There is also a lot of raw material on Swedenborg’s experiences of hell and evil spirits scattered throughout his huge unpublished (by him) work Spiritual Diary, also known as Spiritual Experiences.

    • Ray says:

      Hi Lee, so these people literally get dragged into Hell or just the metaphorical Hell?

      • Lee says:

        Hi Ray,

        Not literally. As an example, think of a teenage boy who doesn’t really want to steal, but his friends “drag” him into a store to shoplift something. They don’t literally drag him into the store. They pressure him into it, and he yields to the pressure and walks into the store on his own two feet.

  8. Tony says:

    thanks that is what I wanted, I guess that means once you have made that choice and die you most likely won’t be able to make that eternal choice again, I think that this demonstrates it must be truly difficult if not next to impossible to accept god’s love after rejecting it. It would be really hard to fathom what it would take to turn back after such rejection of such a love.

  9. Adam says:

    Just so I’m clear on what you’re getting at, Hell is only eternal if one chooses it to be eternal? I guess what I’m getting at is if someone went to Hell (for whatever reason), is it possible for them to one day go to Heaven? It seems you’re kind of hinting at this without saying it outright. My apologies if I misread what you were saying.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Adam,

      Thanks for stopping by. Good questions!

      No, I don’t mean to say that hell is eternal only if one chooses it to be eternal. At least, not in the sense that someone could go to hell and then, perhaps a century later, decide to go to heaven instead.

      Yes, there are people who temporarily go to hell, or at least to regions right near hell, after they die, because they have been associated with hellish people or have lived in some hellish ways outwardly, but whose hearts (meaning their deeper intentions) are not really hellish. These people get dragged down with their former associates into a hellish area of the spiritual world, and suffer hard things there until they realize that these people and this way of life is not what they truly want in their heart of hearts. The experience is a means of purifying them from ingrained associations and actions that do not match their true inner character.

      Think, for example, of someone who grew up in an organized crime family or in a gang, and who engages in violence and in many illegal activities, but isn’t actually a bad person at heart. Such a person will have to be purified of his (or her) old violent and illegal ways of living, and break off relationships with his or her former bad associates, often in difficult and painful ways, until his or her outward actions truly reflect the good heart within. For more on this, see the article: Can Gang Members Go to Heaven? (Is Life Fair?)

      However, for someone who truly is driven by a heart full of greed, selfishness, desire for power, and so on, and who has confirmed and expressed that through a greedy, selfish, power-hungry life, there will be no turning back on the other side. The choice we make in our heart here on earth is permanent. If we choose hell in our heart here on earth, we will live in hell forever in the afterlife.

      It’s not that God won’t let us out of hell. It’s that at death, our fundamental character becomes crystallized or “fired” (to use a pottery term), and is no longer subject to change. Yes, we can still learn and grow and develop our various skills, but our basic direction in eternity is set.

      So although theoretically someone could leave hell and go to heaven, those who live in hell simply don’t want to. They have made their choice, and they are very much settled in that choice. They have no desire whatsoever to go to heaven, because the things they love are hellish, and they can’t stand living anywhere else but hell.

      For more on this, go to my article, “The Bible, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Reincarnation,” scroll down to the section titled, “What’s wrong with reincarnation?” and read from there through the section titled, “A conversation with some inhabitants of hell.” This will give you more detail on my view of why there has to be an eternal hell.

  10. Tom says:

    Hi Lee, thankful for this insightful article! What are your views about people who have had near-death experiences and claimed to see hell as fire and horned devils? Thank you!

    • Lee says:

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for stopping by. Hellish NDEs are far less common than heavenly ones, but they do happen. Why they happen for a small percentage of the people who have NDEs I don’t really know. I suppose it depends at least partly on where the person is spiritually, or on the emotional circumstances that they may be caught in at the time.

      What it does show is that hell, like heaven, is real, even if it’s not necessarily exactly how it is pictured in traditional Christian theology.

      As for some who see hell as fire and horned devils, those things do represent and symbolize something about the evil side of human experience. Fire, in this case, represents our burning anger and hatred against all who don’t serve us and our pleasure. And red, horned devils are a picture of the evil monsters we become in spirit when we live out of selfishness, greed, and hatred instead of out of love. That’s why this imagery got into religious thought in the first place. And those who have hellish NDEs and see these things in the spiritual world are seeing human evil pictured graphically as fire and monsters.

  11. Anon says:

    Hello Lee, what do you think of Dante’s Inferno?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Anon,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your question.

      I’m not up on the details of Dante’s Inferno, not having actually read it. Of course, I’d disagree with a lot of the Catholic theology involved in the Divine Comedy. For example, I don’t believe there’s any such place as Purgatory. However, if it’s read, not as a literal description of the afterlife, but as an allegory of “the journey of the soul toward God” (Wikipedia), as it was intended by its author, then it remains a great and worthwhile piece of human literature, even if some of its doctrinal underpinnings may be faulty.

  12. Morgan says:

    Thank you for the thoughtful article. Its encouraging to have hell explained in this way, and I’d really like to believe it, but from where in the Bible are you drawing these conclusions? It seems very different than the rich man’s experience in Luke 16:19-31. In this parable, the rich man regrets his former life, wants to be in heaven, and wants for his brothers to be warned so that they don’t have to suffer. (1.) Where do you get this description of hell from? (2.) Where does it say that people will work in hell in return for food, clothing, and other necessities? (3.) Why do you think that people are allowed to leave hell and then go to heaven if they don’t want to be in hell, or that it is completely their choice where they go? How do you reconcile this with the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)? Thank you in advance for taking the time to discuss these questions and I look forward to reading your responses!

    • Lee says:

      Hi Morgan,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughtful comment and questions. I’m glad the article opened up for you new possibilities about hell and what it is like.

      About your questions, it helps to understand that the Bible really doesn’t offer a clear description of the afterlife, because that’s not its purpose. The Bible is about how to get to heaven, rather than about what heaven (or hell) is like once we get there. And in this I believe the Bible has the right focus. How important is it to know what heaven and hell are like compared to knowing what we need to do in order to go to heaven rather than to hell?

      The Bible focuses on telling us what we need to know to live a life here on earth that leads us to heaven. And that’s as it should be.

      We should keep that general principle in mind when it comes to the Bible’s various references to the afterlife, such as the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. When the Bible talks about the afterlife, its purpose is not to give a description of the afterlife, but to lead and motivate people to believe what they need to believe and to do what they need to do to be saved and go to heaven rather than to hell.

      So for example, when Jesus has the rich man say, “I am in agony in this fire” (Luke 16:24), that reflects common views of hell among the people he was talking to: that it is a place of fire and torture. The point of the story is not to describe hell, but to motivate his hearers to repent from their sins, believe in Jesus, and begin a new life. And Jesus does this using their own concepts of hell. But as explained in the article, the fires of hell are not literal, physical fire, but spiritual fire, which is the fire of anger and hatred that we feel (when our heart is evil) against all who don’t serve us, and especially against God.

      In other words, in Luke 16:19-31 Jesus is speaking in parables, which was his common mode of speaking to the people.

      The fact that Christians of different stripes vary all over the map in their beliefs about heaven and hell is testimony to the fact that the Bible really doesn’t provide a clear picture of heaven and hell—nor does it aim to. Some Christians believe heaven and hell are physical places here in the material world. Others believe they are in a spiritual world. Some believe that hell is a place of fire and torture. Others believe there is no hell, but that evildoers are annihilated and go out of existence. Some believe that heaven involves continually praising and worshiping God. Others believe it is a place where we relax on chaise lounges while scantily clad women fan us with palm fronds and feed us peeled grapes. There are almost as many ideas about heaven and hell as there are Christian churches.

      Clearly, if the Bible intended to tell us what heaven and hell were like, it didn’t do a very good job of it! But as I’ve already said, the Bible is not about describing the afterlife for us. It’s about teaching us what we need to know, and do, in order to go to heaven rather than to hell.

      Where, then, do I get my descriptions of heaven and hell? Where do the ideas you mention in your second and third questions come from? You can find the answer here: Heaven and Hell, by Emanuel Swedenborg. That post provides a brief description of Emanuel Swedenborg’s most popular book, Heaven and Hell, and links to where you can get a copy for yourself. While the Bible covers the most important issues of how to be saved and go to heaven, Swedenborg offers an extensive eyewitness account of what heaven and hell are actually like.

      Meanwhile, for more about the Bible and its message and method of communicating with us, please see these articles:

      I hope this helps! And if you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

  13. Ivy says:

    Hello Lee! This article was extremely insightful, and I greatly thank you for it.
    I have a few questions, and I’d greatly appreciate it if you could comment on them.
    From what I’ve gathered from your articles, whether someone goes to heaven or hell is based on how they were, internally, as a person. However, what about people who die young, like children or young adults, or people who have just experienced and have been taught less things in life, and hence cannot achieve the level of maturity they would otherwise? Do they have a lesser chance of ending up in heaven? Also, does it mean that once someone dies, he or she cannot learn, grow and mature anymore? What about the many opportunities to learn about spirituality and God that you mentioned exists in heaven?
    Thank you so much! Once again, I greatly appreciate your articles.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ivy,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and your good questions.

      Children and young people who die before they reach self-responsible adulthood all go to heaven, and none to hell. We go to hell only if we freely choose it as adults. This can happen only when we are actually responsible for ourselves and our own choices. There’s a fuzzy line as to just when this happens, but at minimum, children and teens who are still living with their parents, being supported by their parents, and under their parents’ responsibility are not yet of an age to choose hell of their own accord. They may behave badly, but that is more a matter of their natural character and the various outside influences on them than it is due to any freely made choice of their own.

      For more on this, and on the question of people who have been taught less in life or who have not grown up in a good environment, please see: Can Gang Members Go to Heaven? (Is Life Fair?)

      In short, we go to heaven or hell based, not on some absolute standard, but based on the choices we make as adults within the range of our actual freedom of choice. And if we die as children or teens before we can make this adult choice, we go to heaven, not to hell.

      And yes, in heaven we do have the opportunity to learn and grow. It’s just that this learning and growth will be in the general direction we have already set here on earth. For more on this, see my comments here and here.

      Please see also these two related articles, about what happens after we die and what angels do in heaven:

      1. What Happens To Us When We Die?
      2. Who Are the Angels and How Do They Live?

      I hope this helps!

  14. Hi again, Lee. I’m David, from Spain.

    About hell… Do you feel compatible the visions or revelations of Hell of some nuns like Faustina Kowalska with the vision of Hell you’re telling us? You think that really they saw the Truth?

    • Lee says:

      Hi David,

      Upon looking up the vision of hell of Sr. Faustina Kowalska, I believe she saw a symbolic and metaphorical representation of hell rather than what hell is actually like for those living there. It is similar to the symbolic and metaphorical representation of hell that is found in the Bible.

      The hellfire mentioned in the Bible is not literal fire. Even Sr. Kowalska notes that it is spiritual fire. But she seems not to grasp the full implications of that. Spiritual fire is not like physical fire. Rather, it is the fire of burning hatred against all who do not serve us and worship us and contribute to our personal pleasure.

      Yes, hell is real. Yes, it is eternal for those who go there. And yes, there are tortures in hell. But the tortures in hell are the direct result of the evil deeds that the evil spirits in hell engage in there (they are not punished for what they did on earth). And those punishments are inflicted upon the evil spirits by one another—and certainly not by God.

      About the evil spirits in hell being tortured by conscience. Sr. Kawalska is simply mistaken about this. Evil spirits are in hell precisely because they have no conscience. They do not believe that their evil deeds are wrong, nor do they suffer pangs of conscience in committing them. In fact, they find those evil deeds intensely pleasurable—which is why they do them.

      So with all due respect to Sr. Kowalska, she is mistaken about what hell is like for those who live there. She has taken literally many things in the Bible that are meant to be understood metaphorically and spiritually. She has mistaken what hell looks like from a distance due to the symbolic, correspondential representations of things in the spiritual world for what they are actually like for the people who are engaged in them and experiencing them. At a distance, hell does look like a continually burning furnace. But when you actually enter hell you find that people are living like ordinary, if evil, people, and are not burning up in fire. The fire, once again, is a symbolic representation of their hatred for one another and their evil desires. And Sr. Kowalska has made the common mistake of thinking that the people in hell are really good people with conscience who are doomed to violate their conscience. It is charitable to think so. But the fact is that the people in hell really are evil people with no conscience, who take great delight in doing evil and in tormenting one another. But then it comes their turn to be tormented—which, of course, they do not enjoy at all.

      For what hell is really like as experienced by those who live there, once again, please see the above article.

  15. Griffin says:

    On a totally unrelated note, “fiery nudist resort gone bad” sounds like a pretty good name for an experimental music group.

  16. Foster Caldaroni says:

    “There’s also the problem of how to get food and clothes. All who live in hell must work for their keep”

    What’s the point if food in the afterlife? If you theoretically can’t die of hunger why eat food?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Foster,

      We have bodies in heaven just as we do here on earth. They’re spiritual bodies, so they don’t require physical food and drink, but they do require spiritual food and drink, which for angels are embodiments of new love and goodness, and new truth and understanding, and for evil spirits their opposites. And though you can’t die in the spiritual world, you can get awfully emaciated and unable to do much if you go too long without food and drink. And before that, you’ll get awfully hungry and thirsty.

  17. Isabella Martino says:

    Every devil and evil spirit in hell was once a human being living in the material world?

    Where the hell are satan and the fallen angels at…
    Hell was made first and foremost for them!
    As far as us choosing it…
    that is correct, but how we live our lives in the here and now on this earth is going to destin us to heaven or hell – this is it.
    And as far as the commandments… I do believe I read once upon a time a Man/God named Jesus told us if we love Him we will obey Him and He did not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it.
    This Swedenborg is making up his own truth and it’s not what Jesus taught.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Isabella,

      I’ve already responded about angels and Satan in response to your recent comments (here and here)

      The Bible doesn’t say that hell was made for fallen angels, since the Bible never says that Satan and his followers were fallen angels. That is human tradition, not biblical teaching.

      And yes, how we live our life here will determine whether we become angels of heaven or devils of hell in the afterlife.

      I’m not sure what you’re referring to about abolishing the law. Jesus himself, however, abolished a number of laws that were stated in the Old Testament, such as the one about “an eye for an eye.” Even when it comes to the Ten Commandments, he reinterpreted the meaning of the commandment against working on the Sabbath. But in general, he affirmed that the Ten Commandments are still in effect. And I believe that as well.

      There are many things that traditional Christianity says are in the Bible that simply aren’t there. For a few major examples, please see:
      “Christian Beliefs” that the Bible Doesn’t Teach

      Some of the traditional Christian teachings covered in that article are believed only by Protestants, but others are believed both by Catholics and by Protestants.

      To find out what the Bible says, it’s necessary to read the Bible itself, and not just take a priest’s or minister’s word for it that something they are teaching is taught in the Bible.

  18. Sheri-Lynn Coughlin says:

    I am confused on this I have watch dozens and dozens of you tube video’s of people who have actually died and went to hell and they all say the same thing that no one can talk with each other, the smell is horrific, they are so thirsty and no water, people are being tortured example arms flesh being ripped open only for it to grow back and happen all over again, millions of people screaming and crying and the fact that that they are there forever with no way out. I also watched on people who have crossed and seen heaven and it seems to be same message that hell is real and it’s very scary and you will never get out.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Sheri-Lynn,

      It helps to understand that in the spiritual world what you see, especially if you’re seeing it from a distance, may not be what is literally happening.

      For example, people in the spiritual world who look toward hell from a distance will commonly see it as a fiery, smoky furnace. But if they actually go there, what they’ll see is people who live in seething, burning hatred for each other, such that they’re constantly attacking each other verbally and physically. The flames and smoke are visual images, or metaphors, of the psychological fire of mutual hatred and the psychological smoke of lies and deception that form the lives of the people living in hell.

      It’s not so much that what near-death experiencers saw when they looked toward hell was wrong as that it needs to be understood as a metaphorical rather than a literal depiction of hell. The same is true of many of the descriptions of hell in the Bible as a lake of fire and so on. The fire is not literal, physical fire, but the psychological or spiritual fire, in a negative sense, of the mutual hatred, anger, and jealousy that exists in hell, and that causes hell to be hell.

      Having said that, people in some parts of hell do experience literal physical torture. But it’s not devils with pitchforks doing the torturing, and it is certainly not God. Rather, in some parts of hell people love attacking and torturing one another, and they do so as much as they can get away with it. People in these regions of hell may actually experience flesh being ripped from their bodies, being stretched on a rack until their joints pop, being burned with fire, and so on. And yes, they do heal from it, and then turn around and torture their torturers. That’s not because God is punishing them for their sins, but because their greatest pleasure is to torture one another, and whenever they do, they open themselves up to revenge from the people (evil spirits) that they have tortured.

      About never getting out: Many people find the idea of an eternal hell unacceptable, and simply don’t believe it. However, if hell is eternal, it’s not because God wants it that way, or because God is eternally punishing us for sins committed here on earth, or because we didn’t believe in Jesus. It’s because the people in hell intensely enjoy their hellish pleasures, and hell is the only place where they can indulge in them. In short, they could leave if they wanted to, but they don’t want to. And they never will want to. That’s why hell is eternal for those who make hell their home.

  19. What would happen with non believers like Atheist, & Agnostic? Would they go into limbo part of hell. It suppose to be a nice area with beautiful fields but there is still a little sorrow. Also, what about people with learning disabilities? Does God take that into account, because they think differently?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Greg,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and questions. About atheists and agnostics, please see:
      Do Atheists Go to Heaven?

      Short version: Atheists and agnostics who live a good life according to some set of personal principles will go to heaven, not to hell.

      Learning disabilities are not a roadblock on the path to heaven. God requires of us only what we are capable of. For those who have mild or serious physical or mental handicaps, those are canceled out of the equation when it comes to our salvation and eternal life.

      We are also restored to full physical and mental health in the spiritual world. Those who were stuck at a certain intellectual and emotional age due to mental handicaps will have those handicaps removed, and will grow to full maturity and have their full human faculties just like everyone else there. Here is an article that deals with some of these issues:
      Will Sick or Disabled People Return to Good Health in the Spiritual World?

      I hope these answers and the linked articles are helpful to you. Please feel free to continue the conversation if you have further questions.

      • I found your information valuable & thank you for answer my question. I read some of your other articles as well. I don’t know really how to explain this but I will try my best. I am actually an agnostic and so was my mom. She died last year (2017). What about people who don’t fit in Heaven or Hell? My situations & my mom’s that we couldn’t do very many good deeds but I don’t believe either of us are really that evil but were not that Good. I still try to be good but I have some bad habits that God may frown on (Nothing illegal) & my mom as well (Nothing illegal). I am the type of agnostic that is open to the possibility of a God. I haven’t told my family that I am an agnostic, there extreme Christians because they will think I am possessed by the devil or a demon. No my mom’s death didn’t change me to an agnostic I was actually an atheist at that time and didn’t believe in any God. My christian friend believes those that go to hell are thrown into the lake of fire & vanish. You no longer exist. That when I became an agnostic.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Greg,

          I understand. And it sounds like you came out of a pretty harsh religious environment. Annihilationism is hard core, and even beyond what most traditional Christians believe.

          In general, my response is that getting to heaven is not nearly as hard as many people think it is. Really, all you have to do is live a decent life and think about others’ wellbeing as well as your own.

          You say that you and your mother couldn’t do very many good deeds. But I wonder if you’re defining out a lot of the good deeds that you (and she) did do. For example, if you have a job, and you make a reasonable effort to do good work or provide good service in the course of your job, you are doing good deeds during your whole working life. And if your mother set her own wants aside in order to raise you and any siblings you may have because she wanted the best for you, she was doing good deeds the whole time.

          In other words, good deeds don’t have to be some special, “extra” good deeds. It’s what we do in our regular, everyday life that counts the most.

          Also, not a single one of us is perfect. We all have a few warts in our character that we’d probably be better without, but that seem to hang around anyway. But as I say in the article, you have to ask yourself the question: Is it really that bad? Is this bad habit breaking the Ten Commandments? Is it wrecking people’s lives? How much damage is it really doing? God does not require us to be perfect. Only to stop doing really damaging and destructive things, and devote our life to serving our fellow human beings as best as we flawed and faulty humans can do.

  20. Duane says:

    Do the people in Hell not know they are in “Hell”? It sounds a bit like that here — and in a few of the other posts — that they don’t really realize what’s going on? Do they think they are not even dead? Do they simply deny God continually? What if one were to shout “Jesus! save me” and mean it?
    Also the idea of balance: hypothetically, if everyone exercised their freedom to choose God, would God still have a hell for the balance aspect?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      It varies greatly depending upon who they are and what state they’re in. Evil and falsity go together, so it is very common for evil spirits in hell not only to engage in deception of others, but also to deceive themselves about their own situation. However, in their more lucid moments they can be remarkably objective and rational about their own state and situation. If you’re curious, a number of Swedenborg’s conversations with evil spirits in hell are gathered together in this book: Debates with Devils: What Swedenborg Heard in Hell. There doesn’t seem to be a Kindle version.

      As for shouting “Jesus! Save me!” and meaning it, they won’t do that for two reasons:

      1. They greatly enjoy the evil pleasures they can engage in in hell. In heaven they would not be able to do the things they love. So even though they do suffer punishment and torment as a result of their evil actions, they plunge right back into those actions as soon as they are able because of the intense pleasure they get from those activities. In short, they have no desire whatsoever to be saved from hell.
      2. To use the Parable of the Potter, at the time of our death the “pot” of our character is “fired,” so that it can no longer change. Or to be more technically accurate, our “ruling love” or “dominant love” becomes fixed at death, and can no longer change to eternity. In layman’s terms, we make the choice of who we want to be here on earth, and then we live out that choice to eternity in the spiritual world.

      About God, they do become aware of God’s existence from time to time. When they are aware of God’s existence, they hate God and rail against God, blaming God for all of their troubles and torments. At other times they deny God’s existence altogether. And in general, they turn their backs on God and face away from God because their dominant love is diametrically opposed to God’s love. Just as everyone in heaven continually faces east toward God, no matter which way they turn their bodies, so everyone in hell continually faces west away from God, no matter which way they turn their bodies.

      And . . . your hypothetical is purely hypothetical because many people have in fact exercised their freedom to choose evil instead of God. But in general, God does not create evil or hell; we do. So if none of us chose evil instead of good, and created evil out of good, there would be no evil and no hell.

  21. Nigel Wright says:

    Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like? I am Nigel Wright. I have no credentials.. other than I believe in Jesus Christ every word in Scripture is true. The word meaning what was in the original text, rather than the plastic perversion we see today.
    You see I don’t agree with man when it comes to what man says versus what God says. Men like their ears tickled don’t they? That’s why we find articles like this one. God’s word says there is a place called the lake of fire, a place of eternity, where those who go there will be tormented forever. Now, who are you going to believe? I should say that the word Hell is not actually found in the scripture but in fact is a combining of the OT word sheol with the NT word hades, yes that’s right, a man made word that even the King James Bible has helped with to add confusion to our understanding of scripture. Does God love everyone? umm. God indeed commanded His people to love Him and latter Jesus made it clear that those who are His must also obey His commandments loving God and loving our neighbour as ourselves. The Lord takes it very seriously when those who claim to be His followers don’t obey His commandments. Then there is the love one Christian is to have for another 1John4:21; 5:1-3; 1john 3; 2John 1:6. We are to love 4 people groups. God, neighbours, brethren and our enemies. We love God because He first loved us, we love our neighrbours because it shows the nature of God in us to a fallen world, our brethren because we are to live in righteousness and do unto our brethren as though unto Christ the Lord (Matt 25:31-46)
    Interesting that the Lord Himself concluded in verse 46 of Matt 25:46 “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
    Who are the these? Where will they end up? Don’t lie now, be honest what does the text say?
    We are also to love our enemies because we are all God’s enemies and God demonstrated His love to us his enemies once when He sent His son into the world to die on the cross for the sin of the world, once. Heb 9:27-28, Heb 9 & 10, Rom 5:8-10.
    We have been told that God so loved the world so much. So we tell everyone God loves them but does the verse say loved or loves? If the word order was placed correctly in the translation it actually reads so indeed or in like manner, or thus so in like manner for. The beginning in Greek is Houtus Gar. see link.
    If we read the context we notice this favorite verse directly connects to the previous section referring to Numbers 21. It is the narrative of Moses having to lift up the bronze serpent then we get the comparison. In like manner or thus Indeed God loved by giving His only begotten son to be lifted up on the cross, just like the bronze serpent.
    The wrong idea people get told from this verse is God loves everyone be they are Sooo loved i.e they( mankind )must be so great that God can’t help himself. With this idea in the minds of man it is no wonder that the problems arise when we then have to tell people that the unrighteous go to the lake of fire forever are tormented forevermore. There would seem to be some contradiction with this idea. But if we understand already that everyone is born into sin and will eventually live under the sway of the wicked one and are under Gods wrath and condemned already and furthermore that God is a righteous judge who won’t allow corruption in His presence, then we will get a better understanding of why we need the saviour Jesus Christ to come and take our punishment for our sin which is death and give us the only way to God the Father, make us righteous and keep us from the lake of fire. Do you understand now why to deny hell (if we can call it that) is to deny who God is?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Nigel,

      Thanks for stopping by and expressing your thoughts.

      So I have a few questions for you:

      • Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15:5). If we must believe exactly what Jesus says, what kind of vine do you think Jesus is? Is he a grapevine? And are we grape branches? Because I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t look like a grape branch! I look like a human being. If Jesus is not actually a vine, and we are not actually branches, aren’t we rejecting his explicit teaching?
      • Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). So if I am reading this right, in order to have life, we must be cannibals, physically eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood. Is this correct?
      • Jesus said, “All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left” (Matthew 25:32–33). Now this is a little confusing. At first he says he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. But then he simply calls them sheep and goats. So are we actually sheep and goats, or are we human beings? Remember, we must believe in the Bible exactly as it is written!

      I think even you will agree that we can’t take everything in the Bible literally. Jesus is not literally a vine, nor are we literally branches. We don’t literally eat Jesus’ flesh and drink Jesus’ blood. Nor are we literally sheep and goats.

      So if Jesus speaks figuratively in many places—in fact, the Bible itself says, “Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing” (Matthew 13:34)—how can you say that we must take the Lord’s teaching in the Bible about the lake of fire literally?

      No, my friend, you are focusing on the letter, which kills, instead of paying attention to the spirit that gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6, and see also John 6:63).

      Yes, there is a hell, and yes, it is eternal, and yes, there are punishments there. But it does not consist of literal fire any more than Jesus Christ is literally a vine, and we are literally branches.

      As for your final words about Jesus taking our punishment, if you think this means that Christ paid the penalty for our sins, then you are badly mistaken because you are contradicting the Bible itself. Nowhere does the Bible say that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. I challenge you to find a single passage in the Bible that says this. You cannot, because there is no such passage anywhere in the Bible. In fact, the Bible specifically rejects the idea that God will punish the innocent and exonerate the guilty:

      Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. (Exodus 23:7)

      And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished.” (Exodus 34:6–7)

      The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished. (Numbers 14:18)

      When people have a dispute, they are to take it to court and the judges will decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty. (Deuteronomy 25:1)

      Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the Lord detests them both. (Proverbs 17:15)

      Whoever says to the guilty, “You are innocent,” will be cursed by peoples and denounced by nations. (Proverbs 24:24)

      The Protestant falsity of penal substitution, in which an innocent man (Jesus Christ) is punished whereas the guilty (human sinners) go unpunished, is detestable to God. It says so right there in plain words in the Bible.

      My friend, I advise and urge you to abandon the false teachers who have been filling your head with false and unbiblical teachings. Learn the truth about the Bible and about Jesus Christ. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

      Here is an article to get you started:
      Today’s Christianity: Vastly Void of Truth

      One more thing. Jesus himself states as clear as crystal that God in the present tense loves both the evil and the good:

      But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:44–45)

      • Nigel Wright says:

        Lee asked questions. Above my reply, I have written ‘my answer’

        So I have a few questions for you:

        Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15:5). So if we must believe exactly what Jesus says, what kind of vine do you think Jesus is? Is he a grapevine? And are we grape branches? Because I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t look like a grape branch. I look like a human being. If Jesus is not actually a vine, and we are not actually branches, aren’t we rejecting his explicit teaching?
        Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). So if I am reading this right, in order to have life, we must be cannibals, physically eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood. Is this correct?
        Jesus said, “All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left” (Matthew 25:32–33). Now, this is a little confusing. At first, he says he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. But then he simply calls them sheep and goats. So are we actually sheep and goats, or are we human beings? Remember, we must believe in the Bible exactly as it is written!

        I think even you will agree that we can’t take everything in the Bible literally. Jesus is not literally a vine, nor are we literally branches. We don’t literally eat Jesus’ flesh and drink Jesus’ blood. Nor are we literally sheep and goats.

        So if Jesus speaks figuratively in many places—in fact, the Bible itself says, “Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing” (Matthew 13:34)—how can you say that we must take the Lord’s teaching in the Bible about the lake of fire literally?

        My answer.
        2Tim 3:16-17 says “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. “

        Of cause, there is figurative/ allegorical writings in scripture.
        So every word of Scripture has been inspired by God or was it only some? Well, it seems to you that it’s only some.
        Interesting that Jesus made a point to speak in Parables and then define exactly what He meant to certain people and his disciples only. See Mark 4:1-25
        Are you a disciple of Jesus Christ? Has He explained what He means?

        Do you take what Jesus said to those who believe in Him literally when He said whoever believes in Him will have eternal life? Do you believe in that eternal life? or is it to be taken figuratively?
        It’s All Scripture or No Scripture. What is it?

        The same place that God has prepared for the Devil and his angels is the place the cursed go.
        Rev 14:9-11
        Revelation 20:10
        Then He [God] will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’ (Matthew 25:41).
        If you want to add or take away from what is written then be it on your head, my hands are clean.

        Lee Said
        “No, my friend, you are focusing on the letter, which kills, instead of paying attention to the spirit that gives life” ( 2 Corinthians 3:6, and see also John 6:63).

        My answer.
        Here we go, another one who thinks it’s spiritually clever to separate the spirit of truth from the spirit inspired word of God and quote that the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.
        John 14:23-26 If anyone loves me he will keep my words… (Please read on)

        How is anyone going to know if what they believe (by ‘the spirit’) is the true Spirit of God? How are you going to know that? You won’t. You won’t know the truth unless you listen to the words of Jesus. John 17:16-17, John 12:44-50, Heb1, Deut 18:15-22.
        Is the word of God the truth or not? (John 17:16-17) I believe it is. Is Jesus the truth or is that to be taken figuratively? Jesus sent the Spirit of truth from the Father so that His words would be remembered by those first disciples He would later sent out (Apostles) Again see John14:23-26.
        Living by the word of God is living by the Spirit they must not be separated and to do so is wrong.
        Why do you think Jesus said (as you already quoted in John 6:63) “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.
        Which word is that the words’ the spirit says or the words that Jesus said? Which is it?

        Lee Said
        Yes, there is a hell, and yes, it is eternal, and yes, there are punishments there. But it does not consist of literal fire any more than Jesus Christ is literally a vine, and we are literally branches.

        My answer.

        Under the section you wrote called “Who sends us to hell?”
        Again as I mentioned in my first response there is no actual biblical name of Hell, it’s either Sheol (OT), Hades (NT) and then after that the Lake of fire as in after the white throne judgment of God spoken of in Rev 20:7-15.
        But just for simplicity, I will assume that hell is that same as the lake of fire.
        You obviously believe in Swedenborg. You believe that one can choose to go to heaven.
        You said “Nobody is forced to go to hell. And nobody is sent to hell as a punishment for evils committed on earth.”
        Lee, you don’t believe the word of God, do you? When you said (as quoted above) “there is a hell, and yes, it is eternal, and yes, there are punishments there”
        you obviously wrote that but don’t actually understand it or believe it in the way I do because. Which means every meaning has a different meaning. This is why you wrote.

        “They can’t stand the atmosphere of mutual love and service that reigns in heaven. It is torture to them to be in that environment. So they rush headlong out of heaven as fast as they can go.” Then you say “Hell is a choice. It may be a bad choice, but it is our choice. If we go to hell, we have been sent there by nobody but ourselves.”

        My answer.
        Lee they where never in heaven in the first place, so how would they rush out?
        And if man cant get to God the Father without believing in Christ, how is man going to get themselves to hell, (lake of fire) they don’t even believe it exists
        This is nonsense.
        Rev 20:15 says they will be cast into the lake of fire.
        Cast meaning G906 (Mickelson’s Enhanced Strong’s Dictionaries of the Greek and Hebrew Testaments)
        G906 βάλλω ballo (ɓal’-lō) v.
        to throw.

        Lee Said

        As for your final words about Jesus taking our punishment, if you think this means that Christ paid the penalty for our sins, then you are sadly mistaken because you are contradicting the Bible itself. Nowhere does the Bible say that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. I challenge you to find a single passage in the Bible that says this. You cannot because there is no such passage anywhere in the Bible.

        My answer. to “Nowhere does the Bible say that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins”
        John the Baptist cried out “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)
        In the word of God, we find in all cases where sin is atoned for that a sacrifice is made to appease God.
        The Passover in Exodus 12 a for shadow and type of Christ the lamb who was to come is again teaching us that one dies so the other can go free.
        2Cor 5:21 “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
        Elsewhere we read that Christ was the propitiation for our sin. Rom 3, 1John2:2; 4:10.

        The penalty (wages) for sin is death Rom 6:23 So the exchange or substitution is made. The one who was righteous and just (without sin) dies for the unrighteous & unjust. The believes are then justified, made righteous and more.
        In Rom 6:10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.
        Hence Mark 10:45

        Does/will God punish sin? Yes. There are too many examples to quote.

        Did God punish Jesus for our sin?
        Well, we have just read that the death Jesus died was for sin Rom 6:10. But He (Jesus) was without sin. Firstly this is what makes it possible for Jesus to be the propitiation for our sin. Because firstly the sacrifice (as with the Passover lamb) had to be without blemish, this is what satisfied God. Then the lamb was to be killed, its blood shed and used to cover round and over the entrance of the doorways. Exodus 12.
        Why would God the Father, who loved His only begotten son, Jesus, to be the Lamb for the sins of the people of an unjust world? Why would He even allow it? He forsook Jesus. Jesus, as He prayed to the Father in the garden, said: “not my will be done but thy will be done.”
        It was God’s will that Jesus would suffer and die for our sin whilst the Father allowed it and furthermore we find the this in.

        My answer to “Nowhere does the Bible say that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins”

        Isaiah 53 HERE IS THE ANSWER. Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.
        The word used here (נכה nâkâh ) means “to smite, to strike,” and is sometimes employed to denote divine judgment.
        Thus it means to smite with blindness Genesis 19:11; with the pestilence Numbers 14:12; with tumors 1 Samuel 5:6; with destruction, spoken of a land Malachi 4:6; of the river Exodus 7:25 when he turned it into blood. In all such instances, it means that Yahweh had inflicted a curse. And this is the idea here. They regarded him as under the judicial inflictions of God, and as suffering what sin deserved.
        Gal 3:12-14 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”),

        Isaiah 53 continued
        But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes, we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, everyone, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

        We might think God could have said, that’s it, my son is not going to the cross, He did nothing wrong so everyone can pay for their own sin with their own life.
        Now, of course, God could not have changed His mind in this regard because Christ birth, death, and resurrection was already set from before the foundation of the world and the prophecies concerning Christ birth, death and resurrection were written and had to be fulfilled.
        This will in effect happen as with the flood of Genesis when God’s wrath is poured out See Revelation. (another study)

        Lee Said
        In fact, the Bible specifically rejects the idea that God will punish the innocent and exonerate the guilty:

        Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. (Exodus 23:7)

        And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished.” (Exodus 34:6–7)

        The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished. (Numbers 14:18)

        When people have a dispute, they are to take it to court and the judges will decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty. (Deuteronomy 25:1)

        Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the Lord detests them both. (Proverbs 17:15)

        Whoever says to the guilty, “You are innocent,” will be cursed by peoples and denounced by nations. (Proverbs 24:24)

        The Protestant falsity of penal substitution, in which an innocent man is punished whereas the guilty go unpunished, is detestable to God. It says so right there in plain words in the Bible.

        My friend, I advise and urge you to abandon the false teachers who have been filling your head with false and unbiblical teaching. Learn the truth about the Bible and about Jesus Christ. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
        Here is an article to get you started:
        Today’s Christianity: Vastly Void of Truth

        One more thing. Jesus himself states as clear as crystal that God in the present tense loves both the evil and the good:
        But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:44–45)

        My answer
        There is nothing more to answer. The weight of scripture that I have presented above to refute what you and Swedenborg believe is sufficient. What you do about that is your concern. You can either agree or disagree.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Nigel,

          Thank you for your response.

          I would first simply point out that not a single passage you quote says that Jesus paid the penalty for our sin. They say he took away the sin of the world. Nothing about the penalty for sin. They say he suffered for our transgression. Nothing about paying the penalty for it. I could go through them one by one, but I would simply suggest that you read them carefully for yourself. Not a single one of them says that Jesus paid the penalty for our sin.

          Please don’t add or subtract words to what the Bible says. The idea that Jesus paid the penalty for our sin was invented by Protestant theologians 1,500 years after the Bible was written. It is not stated anywhere in the Bible because it is a false, human-invented doctrine.

          Second, saying that all scripture is God-breathed does not mean that all Scripture is to be believed literally. In fact, if anything, it focuses on the spirit of the Scriptures. The word for “breath” and the word for “spirit” are the same in the original languages. The entire Bible is inspired by God. That’s because within it is the spirit of truth. Some of it is also literally true. But that is inconsequential, because the Bible is given by God to teach us about God and spirit, not about earthly things. See:
          From Literal Slavery to Spiritual Freedom

          If you wish to read the parts about hell literally, you are free to do so. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that because you believe certain statements in the Bible are literally true, that means you are being more faithful to the Bible than those who recognize them as pointing to deeper spiritual realities.

          Finally, about Jesus being the propitiation for our sins, please see this article:
          How did Swedenborg interpret 1 John 2:2: “He is the propitiation for our sins”?

          The traditional Christian understanding of “propitiation” as placating God is in error because it is based on a lack of understanding of the meaning of the original Hebrew words involved, and the meaning of the ancient Jewish sacrifices, and therefore of the meaning and force of that word as used in the New Testament.

          There is more I could say in response to your long comment, but that is enough for now.

        • Nigel Wright says:

          Lee you said “Nowhere does the Bible say that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins”
          Let ask some questions if I may.

          Is there a penalty for sin or to put another way, is there a wage made to the sinner?
          What is it?
          How does mankind not receive the penalty?
          Was Jesus paid our wages?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Nigel,

          Here is my answer to your questions, and not just my answer, but the Bible’s answer:

          Is there a penalty for sin or to put another way, is there a wage made to the sinner? What is it?

          Of course, you are referring to this passage:

          For the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)

          I hope you will agree with me that this does not refer to physical death, but to the “second death,” which is spiritual death, resulting in our permanent residence in hell.

          How does mankind not receive the penalty?

          Through repentance from sin.

          The Bible is crystal clear about this, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Here are just a few of many passages that say this in words that cannot be mistaken:

          But if the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they shall surely live; they shall not die. None of the transgressions that they have committed shall be remembered against them; for the righteousness that they have done they shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live? (Ezekiel 18:21–23)

          At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” (Luke 13:1–5)

          Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. (Romans 2:1–11)

          Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Revelation 2:5)

          This is why John the Baptist, Jesus, and Jesus’ disciples all preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins:

          John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:4)

          From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17)

          Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:45-48)

          Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)

          But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:29–31)

          According to the Bible, “mankind does not receive that penalty” through repentance from sin, at which point none of the transgressions we have committed will be remembered against us. And as the last quote just above says, it is Jesus who gives us that repentance, by giving us the ability to repent. Without him we can do nothing (John 15:5).

          Was Jesus paid our wages?

          No. The Bible never says that Jesus was paid our wages. It says that he was struck and suffered due to our sins. But it never says that he paid our wages for us, or took our penalty for us. That simply is not a biblical teaching. As I showed you in multiple quotes from the Bible in my previous reply, God utterly rejects punishing the innocent for the sins of the guilty, and states in words so clear that they cannot be mistaken that God will not leave the guilty unpunished. Only when the guilty repent from their own sins can they escape the wages of sin, which is death.

          Of course Jesus suffered for our sin. Sinful humans treated him sinfully, ultimately nailing him to a cross and killing him. It wasn’t God, but human beings who crucified Jesus. And so “he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). We are healed by his wounds when we see and recognize that he died for us, and see his love for us in laying down his life for us, and in gratitude we believe in him and follow his commandments to repent from our sins and live a life of love and kindness to our neighbor.

          This is the only way we as Christians can be saved. This is the plain teaching of the Bible. Any other teaching is denying what the Lord has said to us through the prophets in the Old Testament, through the apostles in the New Testament, and with his own lips in the Gospels and the book of Revelation.

          Once again, I urge you to abandon your false teachers, who are filling you with human traditions instead of the Word of God. Read the Bible without adding words to it or subtracting words from it. Learn what the Lord is teaching us for our eternal salvation.

        • Nigel Wright says:

          In answer to my questions:
          Is there a penalty for sin or to put another way, is there a wage made to the sinner?
          What is it?
          How does mankind not receive the penalty?
          Was Jesus paid our wages?

          Lee answered
          For the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23
          my next question was What is it? Lee answered death by quoting Rom 6:23
          But now Lee says
          ” I hope you will agree with me that this does not refer to physical death, but to the “second death,” which is spiritual death, resulting in our permanent residence in hell.”

          My answer
          No, I don’t agree with you. it is not spiritual death as you mean it. It’s firstly physical death, then the resurrection of the dead from out of Hades, then the white throne judgment then a perishing without end the eternal torment Rev 20, Daniel 12:2

          Romans 5
          Through one man sin entered the world, Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because all sinned
          Through one man’s offense death reigned through the one. Therefore the judgment of God came to all resulting in condemnation.

          is the Adam spoken of in Genesis alive today? Is he physically walking on the earth? Why is that?

          The same applies to all men. Hence the wages of sin is death.

          Heb 9:27-28 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.

          How does mankind not receive the penalty?

          Lee answers “Through repentance from sin” Then Lee goes to quote
          Ezekiel 18:21–23. and many other verses.

          Lees repentance of sin is actually not biblical repentance it’s a works-based salvation idea.

          My answer.
          It is written that by the deeds of the law no flesh shall be justified and that it’s only by grace we are saved NOT BY WORKS its a gift of God, lest any man boast.

          lee concludes his works based salvation by saying
          “According to the Bible, “mankind does not receive that penalty” through repentance from sin, at which point none of the transgressions we have committed will be remembered against us. And as the last quote just above says, it is Jesus who gives us that repentance, by giving us the ability to repent. Without him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).”

          my answer.
          According to Lee (not the scriptures), man does not die (receive the penalty) because they have worked for their salvation which is a good works repentance philosophy.
          Then Lee quotes John 15:5 which has to do with bearing fruit. But Lee wants us to believe it’s the good works we do to get saved which is Lees repentance idea and without him, we can do nothing.

          I should explain at this point for any others who might be wondering why I am saying these things. Because. One man’ Black is another man’s pink.
          What do I mean? I mean when I am talking about Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross and that we can only be saved from death and have eternal life by believing in Christ alone and that we can not work for our salvation. And that yes we must repent That everything has a different meaning to Lee. This is because he follows the beliefs of the occultist Emanuel Swedenborg.

          My next question
          Was Jesus paid our wages?
          In other word did Jesus die for our sin?
          Jesus we know was without sin. so why did He die? We die because of sin and death is the penalty (wages) for sin. So was Jesus paid our wages? Yes. according to God’s word.
          Rom 6:10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.

          Lee answers my question “No. The Bible never says that Jesus was paid our wages. It says that he was struck and suffered due to our sins. But it never says that he paid our wages for us, or took our penalty for us. That simply is not a biblical teaching.”

          Do you see how Lee cannot tell us directly that Jesus dies for our sins? He says No. The Bible never says that Jesus was paid our wages. It says that he was struck and suffered due to our sins. But Romans 6:10 is God’s word, not Lee’s word.

          But wait
          Lee explains why “God utterly rejects punishing the innocent for the sins of the guilty, and states in words so clear that they cannot be mistaken that God will not leave the guilty unpunished”

          So Lee is a heretic. He is making it clear that Jesus is the innocent and God doesn’t punish the innocent for the sins of the guilty. Lee, you are an unbeliever. You don’t believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ and as Paul says in Gal 1:6-10 If anyone preaches another Gospel to you than what you have received let him be accursed.

          But unbelievably Lee now contradicts himself saying.
          Of course, Jesus suffered for our sin. Sinful human treated him sinfully, ultimately nailing him to a cross and killing him.

          So you at this point you think well maybe I have misunderstood what Lee has said. No. Because now Lee writes “It wasn’t God, but human beings who crucified Jesus. And so “he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24).”

          Oh no, it was, those horrible humans, fancy doing that. God had nothing to do with it.

          Lee you are deliberately avoiding Isaiah 53:4 Smitten by God and afflicted and vs 6 and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. vs 8 he was cut off from the land of the living (He died) For the transgression of My people he was stricken. vs 9 And they made His grave with the wicked– But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth. vs 10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. vs12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many And made intercession for the transgressors.

          Lee, you said “God had nothing to do with it” That is a lie of the devil. God has everything to do with it.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Nigel,

          You can contradict and deny the Bible’s plain statements all you want. But the Bible plainly says, both Old Testament and New, that if we do not repent from our sins we will go to eternal punishment. And Jesus says in words as plain as day that if we do not do good works for our fellow human beings, we will go to eternal punishment:

          “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

          “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

          “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’

          “And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

          “Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

          “Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’

          “Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

          These are not my words. These are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ.

          And if Jesus Christ says one thing, and you say something different, I will believe Jesus Christ, not you, and not Martin Luther and John Calvin, from whom your doctrines come.

          If you believe that Paul contradicts Jesus by saying that our good works do not contribute to our salvation, then you are greatly misled and sadly mistaken. For the truth of what Paul was actually saying in all of the passages that you so badly misunderstand due to the Protestant falsities that you have imbued with, please see:

          Nowhere in the Bible does Paul or anyone else say that we are saved by faith alone. In the one and only place that faith alone is mentioned in the Bible, it is specifically rejected as justifying, or saving us:

          You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)

          So if you think Paul teaches faith alone, then you are saying that Paul is flatly contradicting James, so that the Bible is contradicting itself.

          But Paul never taught faith alone. He taught faith without the need to do the works of the Law of Moses, meaning that it is not necessary to be circumcised and be an observant Jew. That is what he means when he says we are not saved by “works,” as the context of those statements makes crystal clear. All of this is covered in the above articles.

          Paul says plainly in Romans 2, which I already quoted for you, that we will be judged for eternal life or death according to our works. In other words, Paul says the very same thing as James, Jesus, and everyone else in the Bible.

          You are greatly mistaken because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.

          About Isaiah 53, you are leaving out some very important words:

          yet we accounted him stricken,
          struck down by God, and afflicted.
          But he was wounded for our transgressions,
          crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:4–5)

          In other words, we thought that he was stricken by God, but we are mistaken about that because in fact he was stricken for our iniquities. But that translation does not quite tell us what the Hebrew actually says. The “for” here is from the prefix form of the Hebrew preposition min, whose primary meaning is “from, out of, by, by reason of.” In other words, the “for” here does not mean “instead of us” but “because of” and “by” us.

          That is exactly what I am telling you. He was wounded by humans because of human transgressions and iniquities. It was humans, not God, who crucified Jesus. This is what Isaiah 53:5 says in the original Hebrew.

          A few verses later it says, in our English translations, that “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). But that, also, does not properly convey what the original Hebrew says. Here it is in a more literal and accurate translation:

          And Jehovah has made to meet on him the iniquity of us all. (Green’s Interlinear Hebrew/Greek English Bible)

          In other words, Jehovah arranged for the full force of human iniquity and sin to be focused on Jesus. And so evil humans, together with the Devil, focused the full force of their fury, evil, and sin upon Jesus, ultimately crucifying him in an attempt to destroy him. Jesus willingly took all of their furious attacks upon himself, deflecting them from us, in order to overcome and defeat all of that power of human evil and sin, defeat the Devil’s power, and save us from it. He showed by his resurrection on the third day that he had defeated the power of the Devil and of human sin.

          Nowhere does the Bible say that he paid the penalty for our sin so that we could remain sinners and be saved anyway. Anyone who sins will draw the wages of sin, which is death.

          But thanks to the saving work of Jesus Christ, who overcame the power of this world, or the Devil, we have available to us the power to repent from our sins and live by the Lord’s two Great Commandments to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves. If we do not do this, as Paul says in Romans 2:1–11, there will not be salvation, but wrath and fury for us on the Day of Judgment.

          You are greatly mistaken because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.

          Once again, I urge you to abandon your false teachers and learn what the Bible actually says. And if you don’t want the Bible filtered through false human doctrines that have taken over the minds of its translators and affected our English translations, then I advise you to learn the original languages in which the Bible was written: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Although our Protestant-produced English translations may appear to support Protestant doctrine, the Bible in its original languages does not.

          That is another reason you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. You have been misled by poor translations that make the Bible seem to say things that it does not say in the original languages.

          As for Swedenborg, if you want to know what he was really all about, rather than listening to fundamentalist Christians—such as the one whose article you linked—who are ignorant of his life and teachings, and also ignorant of the Bible’s teachings because they have been misled by false teachers of human traditions with which they have replaced the Word of God, here is an article to get you started:
          Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible?

  22. Duane says:


    I know you often appeal to the Bible, so I simply ask “where in the Bible” does it talk about Hell as existing so as to balance out heaven and make free choices on earth “more free”? (I hope I’m understanding this correctly). It seems this idea is central to Swedenborgianism, given that the “atonement” of Christ hinges on upsetting the negative balance that existed prior to the incarnation, correct? So Jesus’ life/death/resurrection is the victory over that.

    So I guess then I’m also wondering how “Hell” (as the sum of all evil) influences decisions here on earth as well?

    Also, if so MUCH is at stake for us, namely whether we will spend life with God or life in agony, why does God keep upping the ante like a computerized, standardized test? It seems God would of course want free choice, but to keep making it more and more difficult for us seems a bit …odd?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      Your first question is a good one, and deserves more time than I can put into it right now. In general, though, the Bible is quite clear and plain on what we need to believe and do in order to be saved, which I regard as essential Christian teachings, and much less clear on the spiritual and theological mechanics of it all. I don’t claim to be able to support every Swedenborgian doctrine based on the Bible. I do claim that the basics about God and salvation are stated plainly in the Bible, unlike those of traditional Christianity, which are stated nowhere in the Bible, and are even explicitly denied in the Bible.

      However, to give at least some answer, I would say that the Bible focuses more on themes of spiritual battle: of God and the angels defeating the power of the Devil and his angels. And when it comes to the Incarnation, the emphasis is on Christ accomplishing what no human being was or is able to, which is the overthrow of the Devil’s power. “And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him.” (Isaiah 59:16, KJV). Offhand, I don’t think that the idea of the balance between heaven and hell, and the freedom this affords us, is stated explicitly in Scripture. But if something occurs to me I’ll pass it on to you. Meanwhile, the freedom that the Bible does mention is freedom from the Devil’s power, and the freedom afforded by knowing the truth.

      About hell influencing our decisions here, that takes place via evil spirits who are with us all the time. There are also good spirits with us all the time. The good spirits continually draw us toward heaven, and the evil spirits continually drag us toward hell. Our freedom is in the balance between the two of them. I realize that believing in spirits all around us sounds archaic and superstitious in this modern, scientific world. Nevertheless it is the truth; and if that connection with angels and spirits in the spiritual were cut off even for a moment, we would lose our ability to think and feel, and soon our ability to live as well.

      On your final question, first it is necessary to expunge from your mind the idea of hell as “life in agony.” This is based on a literal reading of Scripture, but it is not the reality of hell, as explained in the above article. From the perspective of God and the angels, life in hell is agony. But for those living in hell, it is intense pleasure mixed with or alternating with intense agony. They live for the pleasure, and unfortunately, agony inevitably results from their destructive pleasures. It’s like someone addicted to hard drugs. When the drug hits the system there is pleasure; when its after-effects hit, there is agony. And yet, the addict still keeps going for a fix because of that momentary pleasure and thrill. Meanwhile, from the outside it looks like a life of agony to those who have a good and fulfilling life. So you have to distinguish between the appearance from a distance, which is what the biblical metaphors generally describe, and the actual experience of those who are immersed in it.

      Beyond that, I’m not quite sure what you’re referring to about God making it more and more difficult for us. If you mean that as we are regenerated or spiritually reborn, we keep facing deeper and more difficult spiritual trials and temptations, that is because in order to grow spiritually and reach greater levels of spiritual awareness and maturity, we must face and overcome deeper and deeper evils within ourselves. Someone who is just starting out on the spiritual path may have his or her hands full just trying to keep from stealing, lying, having casual sex, or punching people’s lights out. But once he or she has gotten the basic behavioral stuff more or less on track, then there are deeper, more internal evils to face that have to do with pride, arrogance, greed, impure sexual desires, and all manner of thoughts and feelings that were behind that evil outward behavior.

      We keep progressing deeper and deeper in our spiritual life, and as we progress, we face deeper and more intransigent evils within ourselves, so that our trials and temptations become progressively more difficult. However, by the same token, through our efforts and victories in earlier less difficult battles, we build up the strength of character and spirit that enables us to face the later, more difficult battles. So it is never “unfair.” We are never presented with a no-win situation that is beyond any possibility of our succeeding—with the help and power of the Lord working in us, of course.

      If you meant something else, though, please spell it out for me and I’ll do my best to respond.

  23. Duane says:

    Also, a follow up: regarding Hell and who goes there. It seems to be presented here that Swedenborg presents a much more loving God (God is love) since he allows for non-Christians and those who believe all sorts of things to be saved, whereas traditional Christianity does not. But(!), as I dig deeper here, there does seem to be a severe warning that false beliefs and false teachings pave the way to Hell for most people.

    So I don’t see how these are compatible. In other words, it seems like everyone can go to Heaven, except those who disagree with Swedenborg, they are self-deceived at least, which is a very dangerous thing, right? But given Swedenborgians make up a very small percentage of Christianity, doesn’t this mean that Christianity at least is in a very precarious position regarding salvation??

    I guess what I’m really wondering is the nature between theory and practice.

    I hope this makes sense!

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      This is a tricky issue. In some instances I believe Swedenborg is being provocative in an attempt to break people out of false and destructive beliefs. In those passages he does make it sound as though anyone who “disagrees with Swedenborg” is going to hell. But in other passages he makes it clear that false beliefs in themselves, if they don’t come from evil motives, are not damning.

      Perhaps part of the reason for this was that he had spent so much time in the spiritual world that he had gotten used to people’s beliefs and their heart being a seamless whole. In the spiritual world, after our initial stages there, it is not possible to have false beliefs but a good heart. There, people with evil motives have false beliefs, whereas people with good motives have true beliefs. And so it is true that if we cling to beliefs that “disagree with Swedenborg” in the spiritual world, then we are on the road to hell. Of course, Swedenborg himself would not put it that way. He would say that if we persistently reject the genuine truths of Christianity even in the spiritual world, then we will go to hell.

      A helpful teaching in wrapping our minds around this is that among people here on earth, Swedenborg distinguishes between two types of falsity:

      1. Falsity that comes from evil
      2. Falsity that does not come from evil

      Falsity that comes from evil is falsity that we cling to because it justifies, defends, and gives cover for our evil desires and actions. For example, a monk who wanted to have sex with nuns despite his vow of chastity might convince gullible (or desirous) nuns through clever reasoning that since they are married to Christ, and he (the monk) is Christ’s representative, this means that having sex with him is simply consummating the nuns’ marriage to Christ. This would be an example of falsity that comes from evil.

      Falsity that does not come from evil is falsity that we innocently believe because we have been taught it by teachers, especially Christian priests, ministers, and instructors. Since it is what the church tells us we are supposed to believe, we accept it and believe it even though it is actually false. In this instance, in the spiritual world we will fairly easily be led to abandon those false beliefs because behind them is a desire to be faithful to the Lord and the Lord’s Church, which is a good motive, not an evil one. When we realize that the Lord and the Lord’s true church teach something different, we will gladly abandon our former false beliefs that our church on earth had taught us and accept the true ones that the angels are now teaching us.

      Regardless of what we’ve been taught, there is a baseline that we must live by if we wish to go to heaven. That baseline is the two Great Commandments given by Jesus Christ. We must love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves. Or to put it in somewhat more abstract terms, we must consider God to be the most important thing in our life, and engaging in service to the neighbor to be a basic requirement of God’s commandments.

      If we have false beliefs but in fact have regard for God and wish to follow God, and have regard for our neighbor and actually spend our days engaged in useful service to others because we know and believe that it is the right thing to do, and ultimately because we love serving our fellow human beings, then we will be elevated to heaven when we die.

      But if we have false beliefs, and we think those beliefs absolve us from the duty of loving and serving our neighbor, but instead spend our days providing only for our own pleasure, wealth, power, position, and reputation, then those false beliefs, however sanctioned they may be by our church, will lead us straight to hell in the afterlife because we have not done any good for the least of these, the Lord’s brothers and sisters.

  24. Duane says:

    No no, these are perfect answers. Thank you! It makes sense and I can immediately see what you mean by it.

    Also, I didn’t mean literal Hell as agony, I meant it rather in the sense you suggested, which is admittedly difficult to describe, but something like pleasure in cruelty that also cycles back to a kind of psychologically. I don’t believe in literal hellfire, though, I would describe hell as agony, that is, from the perspective of someone who loves Christ, I would find eternity without him to be the worst possible existence.

    What I meant to say about God “making it more and more difficult”: It seems like you were maybe suggesting that one could get so far in the spiritual life and fall away. That is, what if it just gets “too hard” and you fumble the ball???

    I know personally how difficult loving people can be, especially people who hate me. It’s easy to love my friends, but the people who have it out against me, sometimes i feel not like i don’t have the power to love them, but rather that I simply don’t know how to do it!

    Sometimes it seems like Swedenborg is suggesting that since we are saved by our love and in our heart, that (1) we could be deceived and thus never really sure of our spiritual state, (2) following from (1), that we could never be doing enough or loving “enough.” This to me seems to rob the Christian of Joy.

    Now, I agree that the solution to this isn’t simply to say that intellectual assent to certain dogmatic propositions ipso facto secures your place in heaven (e.g. sola fide). So, in other words, I think I’m misunderstanding something here.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      About the people living in hell, just keep in mind that they are experiencing it through their own eyes, not through the eyes of people living in heaven. And to them, it all seems quite normal. To a gang member living in the ‘hood, his life is quite normal, and even exciting, even if to you and me it looks desperately sad.

      And yes, it is possible to “fumble the ball” and lose our salvation if, under the pressure of trial and temptation, we opt to go back on our commitment to God and goodness, and to begin living solely for our own pleasure and benefit instead. In fact (sorry to be scary), people who have attained a certain level of spiritual development and then turn back are in a worse state than people who never developed spiritually at all. This is known as “profanation,” or in more contemporary terms, “corruption.” It is what Jesus was referring to when he said:

      When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but not finding any, it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. (Luke 11:24–26)

      Analogies in earthly life are politicians who attain a position of power and then use it to enrich themselves and their friends, or priests who use their position of religious authority to take advantage of parishioners sexually. In both cases, it would have been better if the person had never achieved a position of power and authority in the first place.

      This is why it is very important for people who have attained some level of spiritual growth, or regeneration, to stick with it until the end of their lives. It is also why the Lord does not allow us to achieve any level of regeneration unless the Lord sees that we are at least capable of sticking with it to the end of our life. And that, to me, is the comforting part, assuring us that it remains in our power and ability (with the Lord’s help, of course) to stay the course and continue on to heaven, no matter how hard things may sometimes get for us.

      About loving our enemies, though it may seem obvious, I would first point out that loving our enemies does not necessarily mean liking them. We may find them abrasive and almost intolerable to be around. But the charge to love our enemies means that we are not to treat them badly ourselves, but are to treat them with basic human respect even if they don’t do the same for us, and we are not to intentionally act in a way to harm them. There is a little more about this in this article:
      How Do I Love My Neighbor?

      About being deceived and not loving enough, once again, as hard as it might be, I would encourage you to put such thoughts out of your mind, and focus on doing the right thing as best you are able in whatever is right in front of you, and whatever situations you are facing. Getting worried about our own salvation and our own spiritual state tends to get us focused on ourselves. Real spiritual life is about focusing on other people, and on God. Not to our own detriment, of course, but rather using our best self and our best capabilities in the service of others, which is also using them in the service of God.

      • Duane says:

        Thank you Lee for the encouraging words. I appreciate them, and your always taking the time to reply so thoroughly to my questions! I don’t take that for granted.

        Re: Love vs. Liking of neighbor — if we have to love each other “As I have loved you,” doesn’t this mean we have to eventually care and like the person (even if we dislike their deeds). But as I read through your article here “How Do I Love My Neighbor,” what you are saying makes sense.

        Somewhat related, why do you think Jesus describes the love he has for us in terms fo the love the Father has for him (If they are the same person)? “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love, if you keep my commands you’ll abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and abide in his love…”
        (Or: still on this topic, Paul speaks of in Romans/Galatians the spirit of God’s Son in our hearts crying Abba! — which seems like there are persons that are separate there). Again, I am simply wondering how to respond to critics here.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          I think that many of Jesus’ commandments are aspirational: things that we are to continually strive for, even if we can never “ace” them. We cannot literally love one another as Jesus has loved us, because Jesus’ love is infinite, while ours is finite. But we can continually strive to love one another more as he loves us. And that will keep us busy to eternity.

          About the Father loving the Son, from a Swedenborgian perspective, that makes perfect sense because the Father represents Divine Love, whereas the Son represents Divine Wisdom. And Divine Love does fully love Divine Wisdom.

        • Duane says:

          Ah! So in other words the Father “loving” the Son is more metaphorical than personal? It seems like the Tradition has opted to prefer the personal over the metaphorical, yet at the expense or at least at the risk of becoming tritheistic. It seems to me that the only way to avoid that is to read it metaphorically, I suppose? If so, that makes perfect sense.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          It is both personal and metaphorical. In God, there is no distinction between the abstract and the concrete. It is all one in God. God’s love for wisdom is very personal. Just as personal as you or I have a great affection for the truth because it guides us to do good and show love to those around us. And while we may think of truth as something external to us, in fact it is internal to us. It is within our spirit, and is the very form of our mind.

          The Divine Love does love the Divine Wisdom with an intense and personal love, because the Divine Wisdom provides the Divine Love with the means to save all people who are willing to be saved. And just as Divine Love loves us and wants to bring us to heaven to be with him/herself, so Divine Love loves all the means within the Divine Being to bring that about. It’s not mere metaphor for God. It is intensely personal.

  25. Duane says:

    P.S. Lee, would you say it is possible for someone to truly love God but not love others? Or would Swedenborg say such is ipso facto an impossibility???

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      Yes, both Swedenborg and I would say that loving God without loving our neighbor is an impossibility. The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 24:31–36 conveys this quite clearly by saying that as much as we have done something for our fellow human beings, we have done it for God.

      Swedenborg, for his part, sometimes telescopes love of God and love of the neighbor into a single love, which he calls “the love of heaven.” For angels in heaven, even tough there may be an intellectual distinction, for all practical purposes there is no difference between loving God and loving the neighbor.

  26. Duane says:

    Two further points of clarification re: this discussion.

    1. What sense does it mean to say that the Son is divine wisdom? What is wisdom without something to be wise about? That is, we typically speak of wisdom having “content” (e.g. for Aristotle theoretical wisdom (sophia) was about first principles, and practical wisdom (phronesis) was about knowing the proper end of man and the best means to achieve that end). But what sense then does God have wisdom or is wisdom himself?

    2. It seems like at times, that most people are going to Hell, or at least most are deceived. At least the way things seem to be presented here, it seems to be much easier — the default even — to go to hell, and very, very difficult to get to heaven. It also feels like “yea yea, God helps us” but it’s really “all on us.” If so, this seems to steal the “joy” of the Christian walk — I know you had just said that I (or anyone) shouldnt focus on this or worry about this, but it’s kind of hard not to think about this if one is constantly being told that “better watch out, bc you’re probably going to hell!” and “you cant be sure!”

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      1. Living here in the material world it’s easy to think of the spiritual world as an empty place, and of God as an empty being, because we don’t experience them directly. However, the reality is that there is far more “content” in the spiritual world than there is here. And in God there is infinite content. The content of God’s wisdom is . . . everything that exists. God knows everything, understands everything, and is wise in the sense of using all of that knowledge and understanding to bring about good results—primarily, our eternal life.

      2. Do you have a copy of Heaven and Hell? If so, please read the chapter starting with #528. If not, you can read it online starting here.

  27. Duane says:

    1. But if it’s not a mere metaphor and is personal than the object of love (wisdom) which is God must be a person, or if not, it’s simply saying metaphorically that God loves himself, that is, God loves this aspect of himself, namely his wisdom?

    2. I understand that about the metaphysical world being fuller in content; what I meant was, God, in himself, before the creation of the world. Or was God not yet “divided” or a “trinity” prior to his creating (that is, I think that you may have addressed this in another article — but Swedenborg thinks that God is only triune in his economy and not in his theologia, that is, in relation to the world and not in himself, right?)

    • Lee says:

      Hi Duane,

      1. “Personal” is not necessarily the same as “interpersonal.” There is no problem with God loving some aspect of himself. But he loves that aspect of himself, not out of self-love, but because that aspect of himself enables him to express and carry out the purposes of his love, which is a love for the whole human race, and for all of creation.

      Consider your love of your own knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. You’re a professor, so you must have some love of these things! And though, as humans, we naturally tend to have some ego attached to our own capabilities, for a teacher the greatest love and satisfaction in having knowledge, understanding, and wisdom is in the fact that this makes it possible for us to impart it to others, improving their knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom, and in this way giving them a better and more fulfilling life.

      That is how God loves God’s wisdom.

      2. First, there is no such thing as “God before the creation of the world”—at least, not in a temporal sense. Time and space came into existence with the material universe, and are properties of the material universe. There is no temporal “before” creation, and there is no such thing as a temporal “from eternity,” because before creation there was no time. So God was not sitting around twiddling his thumbs before Creation with nothing to do and no one to love. This type of thinking that leads traditional Christians to posit a trinity of persons in God all loving one another before Creation is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of God, time, and creation.

      God is “before” Creation in the sense of causal precedence, not in the sense of temporal precedence. God is “before” the universe in the sense that the universe was created from the being of God (not out of nothing, as in Catholic philosophy), and therefore God is prior and the universe posterior in a philosophical sense.

      About the Trinity: The Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit did indeed come into existence in time. Temporally, before the Incarnation, there was no Son, and there was no Holy Spirit in the New Testament sense of that word. It is true that the Holy Spirit is mentioned as the source of Jesus’ conception, but that’s because the very incarnation of Jesus invoked a sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit. But Jesus himself said that the Holy Spirit didn’t come into existence until after he was glorified. And it was after he was glorified and ascended to the Father that the Holy Spirit came and rested upon his disciples, on the day of Pentecost.

      However, there was a pre-existing Trinity in God, and that was (and still is) the Trinity of Divine Love, Divine Wisdom, and Divine Power or Divine Action. These do correspond to the Trinity that came into existence in time, the Father corresponding to Divine Love, the Son corresponding to Divine Wisdom, and the Holy Spirit corresponding to Divine Power or Divine Action (or “the Divine Proceeding,” as it is also commonly termed in Swedenborg).

      So there was a Spirit, or Power, of God that came upon Mary and caused her to conceive in her womb. It wasn’t technically the Holy Spirit that came into existence after Jesus was glorified. But then, the Bible isn’t a technical manual, and it also speaks in many cases from a non-temporal perspective that can be confusing for us time-bound humans.

      I’m being called away for supper, but here is an article that touches upon some of these subjects about time vs. eternity:
      If God Already Knows What We’re Going to Do, How Can We Have Free Will?

  28. Roger Keith says:

    Talking about hellish spirits, one would hope that contrary to what Swedenborg wrote, hell would over eons transform into a muted version of its former state. In other words, that it became far less hellish and more like the lowest heaven.

    Here’s the reason for my hope. I have a family member who works as a prison guard in California, and he mentioned that felons in their seventies and eighties invariably become “nice”. Some because of conversion to Christianity or Islam or generic spirituality, but most because they are too tired of being evil. There are probably two ways of not being evil: (1) Choosing good, which is choosing heaven, (2) Practicing evil to one’s heart’s content until one gets tired of it.

    Of course, there are several planets in the physical universe that keep streaming new entries into the spiritual world, and there may be several physical universes that do the same. There will always be fresh arrivals into the world of spirits, and from there into hell’s communities.

    Entire communities in hell might eventually morph into some faded version of heavenly communities where the inhabitants, while not loving each other, do not bully or abuse others and where they experience happiness and open up to receiving divine blessings – like the friendly octogenarian convicts playing checkers. Of course, not choosing evil is better than just getting tired of it.

    At the same time, newer hellish communities might form for new arrivals even as older hellish communities flip. The erstwhile hellish communities would be similar to the Mormon concept of telestial (I am no Mormon) as a place for “liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie” which, nonetheless, is not a hellish mode of existence.

    Does this contradict Swedenborg? On a superficial level, yes, But I do remember reading somewhere in his ocean of words that hellish communities feel the constant upward tug of the divine. Eventually, this may wear off their evil bent.

    I am struck by the unfairness of the fact that those who die before reaching maturity (12? 16? 18? 26? 30?) invariably make it into heaven because the choice is made for them – while those who are unfortunate enough to live into adulthood risk making the wrong choice of hell. It would be fairer to speculate that evil people will eventually sublimate or mute their ruling love into something that does not create hellish havoc for others or themselves. This would be an asymptotic condition rather than an immediate act of divine violation of privacy whereby God overrides their freedom, the root of all human dignity.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Roger,

      Based on what Swedenborg wrote, this is a good news / bad news situation.

      The bad news is that according to Swedenborg, once we die, our “ruling love,” which determines our character, becomes fixed, and cannot change to eternity. This means that for those who have chosen evil, they will never “flip,” but will remain desirous of doing evil forever.

      The good news is that a) for them, doing evil is pleasurable, and b) according to Swedenborg, although they never change from loving evil to loving good, they do over time moderate their evil actions in order to avoid the punishment (by fellow evil spirits, not by God) that inevitably follows. So while they, and their hells, never become good, they do become less evil over time.

      About the octogenarian prisoners, some of them may just be experiencing this phenomenon of hell where they get “tired of doing evil” because it doesn’t get them anywhere. But others, I think, have actually thought better of their criminal life, and have made the decision not to be evil anymore. This is one reason I do not support the death penalty. It takes away the possibility that a criminal will, in time, think better of his or her wrong desires, attitudes, and actions, and turn away from them.

      It’s also important to recognize that many people who do evil are just damaged, confused, or desperate, and don’t actually have evil hearts. That will be sorted out in the initial stages after death, if it is not sorted out here on earth. No one who doesn’t actively love and desire evil through freely choosing evil over good ends out in hell.

      Here are some articles, in addition to the above article, that go into some of these topics in more detail:

      I should add that early in his theological writings (in the earlier parts of Spiritual Experiences, aka Spiritual Diary, and in the first volume or two of Arcana Coelestia) Swedenborg did make some statements indicating that at that time he thought that people who go to hell eventually leave hell and go to heaven. This has led some Swedenborgians to believe that hell is not eternal. However, by the time he wrote Heaven and Hell he stated decisively that those who enter hell never leave. That became his consistent position for the rest of his life. So we have to consider those earlier statements something he later regarded as mistaken because he had not yet gained enough experience in the spiritual world.

      May I suggest that if you want to continue on this topic, you re-start the conversation in the comment area of one of the above-linked posts? That way we’ll avoid getting the comments here too far off-topic for this article.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Roger,

      About children who die automatically going to heaven, that is simply the default for anyone who is not a self-responsible adult, and therefore not in a position to make a personal choice between good and evil. My general belief is that the transition takes place when a young person is emancipated from parental authority and takes responsibility for his or her own life. However, people who are severely mentally disabled may never reach that point even if they are physically adults. So the same rule applies to them: they always go to heaven if they die.

      While this certainly is a blessing and a mercy, it also means that such people never have the opportunity to choose what kind of life they want to live. And that is one of our core human capabilities. So it is not an unmitigated blessing. I also think it limits the type of jobs such people can do in heaven. They tend to be very innocent angels, but they also never had the chance to develop the strength and depth of character required to take on some of the more challenging and demanding tasks that can be done by angels who were able to live out a full human lifespan.

      As for the possibility of an adult choosing evil and going to hell, once again, it’s important to understand that those who choose evil and go to hell do have their pleasures. In fact, they very much enjoy the freedom to engage in their favorite evil pursuits, even if they realize they’ll have to pay the piper. For more on this, go to the article, “The Bible, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Reincarnation,” scroll down, and read the section titled, “A conversation with some inhabitants of hell.” Or better yet, start a little earlier, with the section titled, “What’s wrong with reincarnation?”

  29. Eric Rosenfeld says:

    Isn’t it a bit frustrating that God’s word appears to convey a literal lake of fire? It comes across so blatantly in the Bible. Why does God want to mislead mankind this way? Same for many other subjects: Slavery, Homosexuality, baptism, and other old testament laws to name a few. Why should we need gurus like you and Swedenborg to try and interpret things the right way? Wouldn’t it have been better for everyone if God’s word was more clear from the start? If I was a loving parent, I’d try my best to clearly explain these things, but instead the Bible continues to confuse so many people.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Eric,

      Yes, it can be frustrating at times that the Bible doesn’t say everything plainly in the parlance of present-day culture. However, on the most important things, it does. Such as the need to stop doing things that are wrong and start doing things that are right instead.

      To put it in perspective, though, it’s only been fairly recently in the Bible’s history that it started to get “confusing to so many people.” In the cultures in which it was written, and for a thousand or two years afterwards, it made perfect sense to most people who read it, because most people who read it lived in cultures that were fairly similar to the ones in which it was originally written. Even today many people have a mindset similar to those of a thousand or two thousand years ago, and don’t have any problem with the ordinary meaning of the Bible.

      It’s only been since the Age of Enlightenment two or three centuries ago that the Bible has gotten “confusing,” because human culture has begun to move decisively beyond the rather low level it had been stuck at for, oh, pretty much all of recorded human history.

      Meanwhile, at the very same time that human culture began moving decisively forward, God provided us with the knowledge we needed in order to look deeper into the Bible, and understand it at a higher level. I’m speaking specifically about the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, and more generally about the overall rise in the level of human thought toward metaphorical and spiritual concepts that were scarce or nonexistent among people in earlier ages. Just as skeptics and materialists were beginning to rip the Bible apart, God gave us what we needed to look deeper, and go beyond those materialistic and reductionist perspectives on the Bible.

      Of course, it takes some effort to do that job of looking deeper. Nothing worthwhile comes without effort on our part. That’s just how life is. For those who want something greater, deeper, more sensible, and more soul-satisfying, and who are willing to do the work of seeking it out and learning it, the answers are there. For those who aren’t willing to do that work . . . well, as the saying goes, “You get what you pay for.”

      • Eric Rosenfeld says:

        Thanks Lee. You’re one of the few people that seem to provide quality answers to me. Right now I’m struggling to understand why a loving God would condone owning another person as their property. What are your thoughts on slavery on the Bible?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Eric,

          You’re welcome. It is my pleasure, and it is also what God put me here to do.

          About slavery being condoned in the Bible, the basic answer is that slavery was so ingrained in all of the cultures of the day, including Hebrew and Greek culture, that it was not possible to root it out at that time in human history. Any revelation or prophecy that attempted to do so would have been rejected and ignored.

          Imagine, today, what would happen to a religion that stated that technology, and especially automobiles, are evil and must be rejected. Yes, it would get a few adherents. But even the Amish are having trouble sustaining their anti-technology stance. The vast bulk of people would just say, “That’s ridiculous,” and completely ignore that religion and its rules. That’s exactly how people in biblical times would have reacted if they received a revelation or prophecy saying that slavery is evil and must be rejected. (I’m not saying that I believe technology and automobiles are evil. That’s just an illustration.)

          Instead, the Bible gives various laws governing the treatment of slaves, prohibiting cruel treatment of them, and also prohibiting Jews from making their fellow Jews into slaves. Rather than making a futile attempt to stamp out the practice altogether, the Bible seeks to ameliorate the condition of slaves, and induce slave owners to treat their slaves in a more humane fashion than they otherwise would. The New Testament goes farther along those lines than the Old Testament, but it still would have been impossible to eliminate slavery altogether. The people and their culture just weren’t ready for it.

          In fact, it wasn’t for another 2,000 years that slavery began to be seriously questioned to the point where a large number of people began to believe that it was socially, morally, and spiritually wrong. It has only been in the last century or two that slavery has been effectively legislated against in large segments of the world. And even today, slavery continues to exist in many areas of the world, albeit often underground and on the black market. It’s a battle that we are still fighting.

          God works on human beings and human cultures where they are, not where they ideally should be. This means making many compromises with existing ingrained cultural beliefs and practices. God bends, human beings and human cultures toward the good, but does not break them. Over the centuries, as God makes progress in influencing and bending us toward the good, we are able to receive and enact better and more humane principles and laws. It has taken thousands of years for God to bend us enough toward a vision of the inherent worth of every individual human being that we are finally ready to reject slavery altogether as a society. If God had not worked with us the way we were for all those centuries and millennia, that never could have happened.

          This is the meaning of the beautiful prophecy in Isaiah 42:1–4:

          Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
          my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
          I have put my spirit upon him;
          he will bring forth justice to the nations.
          He will not cry or lift up his voice,
          or make it heard in the street;
          a bruised reed he will not break,
          and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
          he will faithfully bring forth justice.
          He will not grow faint or be crushed
          until he has established justice in the earth;
          and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

        • Eric Rosenfeld says:

          I understand how it has been a major part of human culture. But God commanded change for all kinds of other things happening at the time. He forbid certain clothing, male homosexuality, and He even forbid eating shellfish and pork. It sure seems strange that he wouldn’t forbid owning others as property. He could have ended such a morally despicable act right then and there. It’s issues like these that sometimes makes me wonder if the Bible was just made up to control us or just a fantasy book that wasn’t inspired by God.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Eric,

          In today’s day and age, it might seem perfectly reasonable that God could have just put an end to slavery right then and there in the Bible. But considering the very low state of humanity at that time, I just don’t think it’s realistic. This was a brutal time in human history, characterized by vast empires, and armies regularly sweeping across the land. The common people were expendable, and they were regularly crushed underfoot—often literally. For most people on earth, life was short and brutish. Today’s sense of human rights simply didn’t exist. In such a culture, eliminating slavery just wasn’t going to fly. About the best God could do was what God did do: prohibit enslaving one’s own people, and give laws about the treatment of slaves.

          As I said in the previous response, it took another 2,000 years for us to reach the point where we were ready to consider that slavery was wrong. In Bible times, such a realization just wasn’t possible. Even the laws you mention are mostly for relatively unimportant, external things such as diet and clothing. And homosexual love as we know it today effectively didn’t exist then. Homosexual sex was almost always a dominant man penetrating or even raping a submissive younger, lower status, or conquered man or boy. This was something God could forbid to the Hebrews, though it continued to be practiced in the surrounding cultures.

          But slavery . . . that was an integral part of all of the cultures of that time. It simply wasn’t realistic for God to try to eliminate it in that time period.

          For another example, consider sacrificial worship. Various passages in the Prophets make it clear that God has absolutely no interest in animal sacrifice. But, once again, it was an integral part of the cultures of Old Testament times. So instead of eliminating it, God gave many laws about how it was to be done, so that it could be turned into a way of honoring and obeying God. By the time of the New Testament, however, people were ready to leave such barbaric rituals behind. And with the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, all animal sacrifice ceased among the Jews, and among any remaining Jewish-derived Christians who still observed Temple worship. People were ready for a less materialistic, more spiritual form of religion. And so animal sacrifice ceased.

          There are many laws in the Old Testament that were specific to the ancient Israelite culture. In the New Testament, much of that culturally-based law was superseded and left behind. For slavery, it just wasn’t yet the time for people to let it go.

        • Eric Rosenfeld says:

          Really appreciate it Lee. That’s a subject I’ve been upset about for quite some time. After reflecting on what you’ve said, I think that is the best God could have done given the way of life then, and without violating our free will.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Eric,

          Yes, it’s a disturbing issue, but that’s the conclusion I’ve come to as well.

  30. Chad says:

    Hi Lee. I’m curious as to your (and Swedenborg’s) thoughts on something regarding hell, a sort of philosophical exercise or question in moral reasoning.

    First, what do you think the fate is of those who were “selfish”, indeed, to their core, but not actively evil or malicious because of that selfishness? I know you mentioned before that the general “jerks” in life would probably end up in a higher-up or not as severe hell, but there is an interesting case along those lines. The philosopher Ayn Rand valued selfishness to an almost absurd degree, so much so that she made a whole philosophical system out of self-interest (Objectivism) and spent her life in the United States advocating and spreading those ideals. Needless to say, this is downright antithetical to the spirit of love, selflessness, giving and service that permeates Heaven, but Miss Rand could hardly be called “evil”. Her beliefs and ideals were anathema to the Christian life, but it seems like she did neither great harm or good over the course of her life. She just kind of… pontificated a lot, her “actions” restricted to writing books and giving lectures, as a philosopher is apt to.

    Of course, only God knows our hearts, but if Miss Rand truly believed in selfishness and self-interest to her core, where in the afterlife does that leave her? In heaven with the angels? Objectivism is the very ideal of selfishness taken almost to the philosophical breaking point, so unlikely. In hell with the greedy, murderers or adulterers? Hardly, she was on government aid most of her life (quite ironic for a champion against welfare), Objectivist philosophy hasn’t killed anyone (that I’m aware of), and she was loyal to her husband all the way to his death. Where in the afterlife would a “selfish philosopher” like Ayn Rand go, and what would their daily life possibly look like?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Chad,

      To get a minor issue out of the way first, Ayn Rand was not on government aid most of her life. About six years before her death at the age 77, having been diagnosed with lung cancer, after initially resisting, she consented to a social worker employed by her lawyer signing her up for Social Security and Medicare benefits. She took the common route of believing that since she had been forced to pay into the system against her will, she was receiving repayment of what had been wrongfully taken from her. Whether or not one accepts this argument, she was not as hypocritical as her ideological opponents have accused her of being.

      Moving on to the bigger issue, in understanding Rand’s Objectivism, and its embrace of self-interest over altruism and collectivism, it is necessary to understand that she was a young girl in Russia when the October Revolution took place. She lived through the Bolsheviks confiscating her father’s business and forcing her family to flee their home, all under the name of socialism, collectivism, and altruism. This made an indelible impression upon her young mind. If she later rejected everything that Soviet socialism claimed to stand for, she can be excused for that.

      Though she and her followers do use the term “selfishness,” they don’t mean the same thing by it as ordinary people do, and they certainly don’t mean the same thing by it that Swedenborg means by “self-love” in a negative sense. In Swedenborg’s theology, self-love is loving only oneself, and having no concern whatever for other people’s well-being, such that if lying, stealing, and killing others will advance one’s own interest, one will willingly do so. In Objectivism, however, individual rights have a high value. This includes the faithful Objectivist not violating the individual rights of others. Theft, fraud, deception, murder, and many of the other basic interpersonal evils forbidden in the Bible are forbidden as wrong actions that violate Objectivist ethics.

      I think Rand and her followers were deceived by the rhetoric of Marxist governments that claimed to be altruistic, and to be looking out for the needs of the many, but were in fact quite callous and corrupt. They trampled on the lives of millions of people in their attempts to achieve their unworkable ideals. I believe that Objectivists’ rejection of altruism is based on a false idea of what altruism is, and that their embrace of “selfishness” is reactionary against the false picture of “altruism” painted by largely corrupt governments and movements.

      When Rand and her followers reach the other life, they won’t be asked about definitions of altruism and selfishness. Rather, they will be asked whether they lived a good life that benefited others. And if you read Rand’s novels, as I did when I was in my 20s, you will see that they are full of heroes who live lives and run companies that provide products and services that are of benefit to many people, all as part of their philosophy of “rational self-interest.” Perhaps they are doing the right thing for the wrong reason. But the main point is that they are doing the right thing in service to a philosophy of life that they see as higher than themselves. If they have done this, I believe they will be accepted into heaven, after angels have explained a few things to them about the real nature of self-love and love of the neighbor. See:

      Do Atheists Go to Heaven?

      To dig a little deeper for a moment, I believe that what the Objectivists call “selfishness” should really be called self-expression and self-motivation. What they are saying underneath it all is that one should act out of one’s own internal motivation, and not based on how others think one should act. And this is indeed part of the path to full angelhood. Beyond accepting basic ethical and moral standards that are usually taught to us when we are young, we are meant to act from our own best self, not from what others try to impose upon us.

      In fact, it is necessary for us to begin that journey from a stance of self-centeredness, because that’s where we are when we first start out on this earth. And when we have developed a clear sense of our own self, and even a certain amount of egoism, then, if we are willing, the Lord can transform it into a “heavenly self” that devotes itself to employing its own specific loves, skills, and interests in serving the well-being of others. In heaven, everyone acts from their own ruling love, meaning their own internal motivation, in serving others and providing for the well-being of others.

      For an article that goes into this last point in more detail, please see:
      Spiritual Growth 101 with Mike Tyson: “The Virtue of Selfishness”

      • Chad says:

        Thank you for clearing up my misconceptions, Lee. Objectivist philosophy has been lambasted quite a bit on several fronts, so I hope you’ll pardon my initial ignorance on the subject. I started watching an interview between Ayn Rand and Tom Snyder (after I wrote the comment), and while I don’t want to advance any one philosophy or idea, I was impressed at the quality of discussion between the two, and I learned more about Objectivism than what its critics reduce it to.

        I did also have another question regarding hell. I believe Swedenborg once described a group of spirits in hell gathered around a table, fantasizing about immense wealth (an episode of “Swedenborg and Life” goes into this, I can’t remember the exact one). Are there some things that evil spirits enjoy in hell that either cause minimal “blowback”, and thus punishment, or are only punishing to themselves? You mentioned how evil spirits are punished as a consequence of their continued evil actions, but what consequences derive from an evil spirit having eternal fantasies of wealth and greed, and not harming or irritating other devils in the process? Perhaps the “punishments” are in that case self-inflicted in some way? I appreciate your insights and thoughts on questions like these, which aren’t always clear to me.

        God Bless,


        • Lee says:

          Hi Chad,

          Although I view Objectivism as a rather low-level and materialistic philosophy, it does have a set of ethics and a code of conduct that requires its adherents to live a generally moral and useful life. As such, it can serve as a stand-in for God and religion for a group of people who would otherwise be amoral and unprincipled.

          About hell, a key difference between traditional Christian conceptions of hell and Swedenborg’s conception of hell is that in traditional Christianity, hell is viewed as a punishment for sin, and in Protestant circles especially, for wrong belief, that occurred here on earth. Swedenborg says no, no one is punished in hell for anything they have done on earth. And no one is punished for wrong belief at all. Rather, they are punished for ongoing wrong behavior committed in the spiritual world. Wrong belief, in the spiritual world, serves to justify bad behavior. But it is the bad behavior that they are punished for, not the wrong belief.

          Further, the purpose of punishment is to restrain them from doing evil, just as it is—or at least should be—here on earth. In the case you mention of the misers counting their money (really, fool’s gold) in hell, they had learned through punishment not to try to take, or claim, others’ money for themselves, but just to pretend that everyone’s money was theirs, which the other people in the room also pretended. Prior punishment had had the effect of restraining them from actual theft of money from their fellow evil spirits. And if evil spirits can be restrained from actual offenses through punishment, then they no longer have to be punished, because they are no longer committing the crimes.

          Of course, they’re still living a largely useless life when they’re following their own impulses. So they are required to engage in periodic work in return for food, clothing, and shelter. They don’t want to do any work at all, but they do work when they find themselves cold, starving, and naked out in the street. For them, having to work is an ongoing “punishment” because they do it unwillingly. However, it is not actual punishment, such as being flogged at a whipping post.

          In general, then, evil spirits are punished only when they engage in evil and destructive behavior, and only to restrain them from engaging in such behavior. But if the things they love to do are very evil and destructive, they’ll do them anyway, and suffer the punishment, because their pleasure is in doing those things. People in mild hells are not punished as severely as people in more serious hells. The punishment does fit the crime.

          Some evil spirits in the milder hells seem to live a fairly ordinary negative life of fighting and bickering with each other all the time. For couples living together, the man may verbally abuse and beat up the woman, and the woman may treat the man with contempt and throw iron cooking pots at his head—sort of like some couples here on earth. I’m not talking about couples in which an innocent and submissive partner is abused and under the thumb of the other. In hell, they’ll be at each other’s throats, each trying to get the upper hand, and the power will continually shift back and forth between them. For people who enjoy going out and brawling, getting beaten and bloodied by their opponents when they’re on the losing side is enough punishment for their evil intentions and behavior.

        • Ray says:

          So evil spirits will basically live like the normal human does on Earth? Work for what they have.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          Yes. Compared to the old notions of sitting on clouds and strumming on harps, life in the spiritual world (heaven, hell, and the world of spirits in between) is quite similar to life here on earth. After all, if God created this world to be a preparation for eternal life in heaven, why would God make life in this world completely different from life in the spiritual world? That would make about as much sense as preparing people for careers in nursing by having them do apprenticeships as a plumbers’ assistants.

          This means that just like here on earth, people in heaven and in hell get up in the morning, eat breakfast, and go about their daily business. The main difference is that in hell, people’s facades of politeness and virtue have been torn off, so that they openly and unashamedly pursue their selfish and greedy goals. And in heaven, the criminal element and other badly motivated people have been weeded out of the culture, and everyone has the good of their neighbor at heart, so that people can enjoy their work and their recreation in good company, without fear of being attacked or taken advantage of.

          About work specifically, everyone in the spiritual world works, pretty much like on earth. However, in hell nobody wants to do anything for anyone else, so they work unwillingly and grudgingly, only enough to get the things they want and need. In heaven, however, everyone loves doing things for other people, so their work is a joy to them, and the greatest source of satisfaction in their lives. They would be very sad if they were told they couldn’t work.

        • Ray says:

          Interesting, but who do they work for in Hell? On Earth, we work for the greedy elites. In Heaven, it’s obvious we work for the greater good of everyone, but God is our “employer” so to speak. So who employs people in Hell since the wealthy will also be brought down to the level of the commoner there, but apparently the wealthy can still acquire their wealth in Hell.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          Swedenborg doesn’t go into great detail about the economic system in hell—or in heaven for that matter. In heaven, people do their work because they love to do it, and they are given food by the Lord. In hell, people are also given food by the Lord, but only if they do some useful work, which they don’t like to do. They do it anyway, grudgingly, because otherwise they get no food and clothes.

          As for who they work for in hell, Swedenborg says that eventually evil spirits go to caverns where there is a person in charge who gives them work to do, gives them food and clothing when they complete it, and disciplines them if they engage in bad behavior. You can read about it toward the end of a story he recounts in True Christianity #281. He doesn’t say whether this “person in charge” (traditionally “master” or “overseer”) is an evil spirit or a good spirit. However, this person apparently serves as some sort of intermediary between the source of food (God) and the evil spirits who eat it.

          Even though Swedenborg says in this story that the entirety of hell consists of caves and workhouses like these, elsewhere he describes people in different hells living in huts, engaging in various brawls and escapades, flitting about here and there, and so on. Perhaps those are descriptions of their lives in their free time, after they’ve finished their work. Apparently there is great variety in people’s lives in hell, just as there is in heaven.

          It’s best, I think, not to take Swedenborg’s descriptions too narrowly and literally. They are based on what he experienced there. I believe that he described his experiences faithfully, and that his overall picture of the spiritual world is the best and most accurate one we have. However, the spiritual world is a vast place. Even in the nearly thirty years Swedenborg had open access to it while still living in his physical body, it would not have been possible for him to visit every nook and cranny. No one person could visit every culture and community even on this earth—and the spiritual world is far bigger than this earth.

          Swedenborg conveyed enough about heaven, hell, and the world of spirits in between for us to get a good sense of what things are like there. But on the fine details, I think we’ll just have to find out when we get there.

        • Ray says:

          It all sounds really interesting, and far more complex than just being thrown into a pit of fire. I an also curious about the world of spirits in between.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          It definitely is. And here is the book for you:

          Heaven and Hell, by Emanuel Swedenborg

          There is a whole section of the book on the world of spirits. For the short version, please see:

          What Happens To Us When We Die?

  31. Clien says:

    This straight up ignores the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” and “the smoke of their torment will persist day and night forever with no rest”. Prettying up the fact that people born into this world are going to wake up in eternal damnation by saying “hey, you chose this” is ludicrous. Explain all the other religions in the world with radical followers who believe a similar doctrine of hell and heaven but have a totally different set of beliefs and were unable to learn the truth of Christianity. Did they willingly choose to be sent to hell?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Clien,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      However, according to Jesus, it’s not what we believe in our head, but the good deeds that we do for our fellow human beings that determines whether we will be saved or damned. Read it for yourself in Matthew 25:31–46. Paul teaches the same thing in Romans 2:1–16, where he tells us very clearly how non-Christians are saved by Jesus when they live good lives according to their own conscience. If you think good people will go to hell just because they don’t intellectually believe in Jesus, then you are denying what both Jesus and Paul taught in the Bible. See:

      Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?

      Yes, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth . . . for people who live selfish, greedy, and evil lives.

  32. Luna says:

    Does this mean that our desires for items and objects will lead us to hell?

    Please clarify.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Luna,

      It’s a good question.

      Our desires for items and objects will lead us to hell only if we put those desires ahead of everything else, and in particular, ahead of love for God and love for our fellow human beings. But if we keep our desires for possessions and pleasures below our love for God and our neighbor, as servants rather than as masters, then they are good and necessary.

      For more on this, please go to the article, “The Spiritual Anatomy of Physically Abusive Men,” and start reading at the heading, “The hierarchy of loves.”

  33. Luna says:

    Is it possible for someone to have a change of heart in hell and go to heaven? I mean someone who hasn’t been dragged down to hell by bad circumstances, but someone who went in with an evil heart but later on, realized what he/she did or believed in was wrong. Is it possible for them to go back to heaven and be taught by the angels how to lead a loving eternal life after they saw how truly evil what they were doing was?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Luna,

      People who are in hell have no desire to leave. Even if they are allowed to go to heaven and see what it is like, they are not interested. They willingly and eagerly go back to their home in hell, where they can engage in their favorite evil pleasures. And if God allowed it, they would attack and destroy the angels who were their gracious hosts only a few hours earlier. This is what Jesus was talking about when he said:

      Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. (Matthew 7:6)

      • Luna says:

        So does that mean people in hell don’t get any chance to change for the better? Like they’re hearts are just solid? How can that be when there are examples of how even criminals can have a change of heart?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Luna,

          As long as people are still living in this world, they can, and sometimes do, have a change of heart. Yes, even criminals can have a change of heart here on earth. But once we move on to the spiritual world, our heart is “fired” so to speak, like a clay pot being fired in a kiln, and it can no longer change. That is why what we do in this life is so important.

          I realize that this is a hard teaching for many people to accept. However, Swedenborg had the opportunity to speak to various evil spirits from hell, and they assured him that they had no desire whatsoever to change and go to heaven. They assured him that they very much enjoyed their foul and evil pleasures, and they did not want to give them up.

  34. Luna says:

    But isn’t that kind of unfair because some criminals on Earth may not have a change of heart here, but what if they could’ve had a change of heart in the world of spirits but wasn’t able to just because they’re heart was fired?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Luna,

      Unless we die young, we have plenty of time on this earth to make our decision. And people who die very young, before they begin their adult life, always go to heaven.

      Further, God gives every one of us, even criminals, plenty of opportunities to see that the way we are living is wrong, and to make the decision to turn our life around. If we squander every one of those opportunities, and choose to do what is wrong instead, then it’s clear that our heart is set even before we die.

      Finally, God will not allow our time of death to determine whether we go to heaven or hell. God is all-knowing and all-powerful. We can’t see into the heart of hearts of other people, but God can. And if God sees that a particular criminal still has some softness in his or her heart, and still might change his or her mind, then God will give that person the time and opportunity to do so.

      No one ever goes to hell by accident, or because God didn’t do everything possible do to give them the opportunity to go to heaven instead. The people who go to hell go there because they regularly and persistently choose evil over good when they could have chosen good over evil instead. And if they keep choosing evil over good year after year and decade after decade, then even if they had all eternity, they would still keep choosing evil over good.

  35. Tiana Smart says:

    I feel better about it all, a little better about everything.
    Thank you!

  36. Chad says:

    Hi Lee. Since we don’t lose any of our humanity or what makes us “us” once we enter the spiritual world, is it possible for spirits in hell, as evil as some of them may be, to still have genuine friendships and loving relationships with other spirits that are like them? Here I don’t mean temporary alliances or “enemy of my enemy” situations or the like, but an actual bond like lifelong friends on Earth or even angels have. A good example would be a group of gangsters or soldiers of an evil regime who, while knowing full well the evil of their actions and crimes, nevertheless feel extremely close to, and possibly even a sense of brotherhood/sisterhood, with their fellow gang members or soldiers. For the sake of the argument, let’s say they ultimately go to hell (in the context of knowing what they’re doing is evil and persisting in it out of selfishness), but once in hell, would their selfishness and evil slowly destroy any actual friendship or bond they have, even with “their people”, people they truly regarded as an extended family on Earth, or would they continue to have that closeness with one another they did on Earth? I’ve noted the intense, often vicious tribalism that seems part and parcel for many humans, at least those who aren’t as spiritually inclined, and it’s made me wonder. On a related note, people can feel a genuine, angel-like love for those they consider “their people” while having no regard at all for those they see as the “other”, but which “side” of them would determine their eternal fate? In hell, would it ultimately be “every man for himself”, or would really close friendships, trust and loyalty still be possible? Hope you and Annette are doing well!

    God Bless,


    • Lee says:

      Hi Chad,

      Good question, and thanks for your kind words.

      As an example of people engaged in evil who have strong bonds with “their people,” consider an organized crime family. Yes, they have an intense “tribalism” that involves close and apparently loving bonds with people in their own family, even while being brutal, vicious, and murderous toward anyone outside their family that crosses them.

      But consider what happens when someone inside the family, who was formerly “loved,” breaks with them, or does something they don’t approve of. If it is a relatively minor breach, that family member will be punished, probably quite physically and severely, in an attempt to “get them back in line.” If it is a major, irreparable breach, the former “loved one” will be considered an enemy—and even more so than enemies outside the family, because it will be seen as betrayal. If the family can get their hands on that person, he or she will die a most miserable death at their hands.

      That is how it will be with evil people who have been friends on earth, or who form friendships in hell. The friendship will last only as long as one person fully conforms to the will of the other, and acts in full agreement with him or her. As soon as there is any deviance or breach, there will be anger. First will come punishment of the weaker person by the stronger person—very often a beating or some other sort of public humiliation—in an attempt to get the “friend” back in line and conforming with one’s own will again. If the two are about equal in strength, instead it will be a serious fight in which each one attempts to beat and dominate the other. If the breach is serious, the two will become sworn enemies, and even more so because each will consider the other to have betrayed him or her. Of course, they can’t actually kill each other, because they’re already dead. But they will attack each other with murderous hatred, and do all the damage they can before they are restrained.

      The problem is, in hell, everyone is motivated first and foremost by his or her own benefit in the form of wealth, power over other people, and so on. While just as here on earth, they may band together and form alliances and “friendships” for the sake of mutual assistance in achieving their desires, pretty soon they’ll each want what the others have, and will try to get it from them. Their own will to be the richest and most powerful is inherently contradictory to the same will in everyone else. Therefore no friendship or alliance will be permanent. There will be continual revolution and shifting friendships and alliances as other people do or don’t further their own interests.

      Here on earth, there is always some good left in people on which there could be the basis for a real, lasting friendship. But for those who have chosen evil over good during their lifetime on earth, that remaining good is stripped away in the world of spirits because it does not conform to the person’s ruling love, which is evil. Therefore even the level of long-term friendship that is possible (though rare) among evil people on earth is lost for evil spirits who go to hell.

      Yes, in hell, it is “every man for himself.” Any friendships or alliances are strictly for people to accomplish their own evil purposes. The moment someone else doesn’t further those purposes, or actively thwarts those purposes, that person instantly becomes an enemy, especially if they had been “friends” before.

  37. Emma says:

    Hi Lee,
    I’ve been struggling with my faith for a long time now, honestly, I’ve spent the last hour or so reading through your articles after a panic about the idea of being tortured for all eternity because I couldn’t stop being angry at God. But what does Hell look like for people who don’t believe in God? Maybe this is personal, but I’m scared that even if I do choose to believe in God, it will be to escape Hell and therefore considered ingenuine and I go to Hell anyway.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Emma,

      I’m so sorry to hear about your terrible struggles. Unfortunately, it is very common for thoughtful, feeling people who grew up in traditional Christian families to have the sort of struggles and anger at God that you have been experiencing. There is so much in traditional Christian belief that is not Christian at all. It lays heavy burdens, hard to bear, on people’s shoulders instead of giving people the peace and the joy that Christ gives us, as he himself said in the Gospels.

      Let me first assure you that God is not a God of anger and rejection, but a God of love and compassion. It is not God’s will that any of the little ones should perish. And to God, we are all little ones. We are all God’s beloved children. Even if we reject God, God never rejects us.

      Second, if you’ve been taught that it’s only what you believe that determines whether you will go to heaven or to hell, and not how you live your life, then you have been misled by a false Christianity that rejects and denies the Bible’s clear teachings about who is saved and who is not. The Bible teaches very clearly that we must not only have faith in God, but also love and serve our neighbor, if we wish to enter eternal life.

      I know these two things may be hard for you to believe right now, given what was drilled into your head growing up. Nevertheless they are the biblical and Christian truth. Here are some other articles that might be helpful to you in gaining a new perspective on some of these issues:

      I know this is a lot. Please feel free to read or not read any of them, in any order you wish, according to your own interests and questions. There are many more related articles linked at the end of each of these ones. If you have any questions as you read, please don’t hesitate to ask.

      Specifically on your question, as covered in the article about whether atheists go to heaven, when the Bible talks about people who don’t believe in God, it is not talking about intellectual belief, but about rejecting God because the person wants to live an evil, selfish, ungodly life, and is unwilling to listen to God’s call to live a good and loving life. Most of today’s atheists are not really atheists by the biblical definition of rejecting God. Most of them are good people who simply can’t accept the terrible picture of God painted by traditional (and false) Christianity.

      You will not go to hell just because you choose not to believe in God. You will go to hell if you live a selfish and greedy life, unconcerned about the needs and well-being of others. Read Matthew 25:31–46 and Romans 2:1–16 to see what Jesus himself, and the Apostle Paul, taught about how all people, both Christians and non-Christians, are judged for either eternal life or eternal punishment based on what they have done. (And of course, as the above article says, the “eternal punishment” of hell is not literal eternal hellfire and torture.)

      No one goes to hell just for believing the wrong thing. No one goes to hell by accident. No one goes to hell due to circumstances beyond their control. No one even goes to hell because God sent them there. People go to hell only if, as self-responsible adults, they persistently choose selfishness, greed, and thirst for power for themselves over love and service toward their fellow human beings.

      I don’t think you are going to do that.

      But even if you did, it would be 100% your choice to go to hell. No one ever goes to hell against their will. And no person of good heart ever goes to hell. This is all covered in the above article, which I encourage you to re-read as needed to assure yourself.

      About your last question, the reality is that all of us are a bit wrapped up in ourselves and our own fate when we head into adult life. It is common for us to do the right thing for the wrong motives. God knows this, and does not condemn us for it. Instead, God uses our desire for self-preservation to get us going on the right path. Later on, as we establish ourselves in a good and thoughtful life even if from poor motives, God will take that stony heart and replace it with a heart of flesh that beats with love for the Lord and for our neighbor.

      The important thing is to get going on the right path, regardless of whether your initial motivations for doing so are a bit self-serving. Don’t worry too much about that. Just do the right thing, and let God sort out your heart. See:

      Spiritual Growth 101 with Mike Tyson: “The Virtue of Selfishness”

      Most of all, please know that even if it doesn’t seem so to you right now, God loves you more than you can ever imagine. God is doing everything possible to lift you up out of the personal hell that you are already in, and into the heaven of a good and healthy life.

      You are struggling with many false teachings and negative messages. You will have to gradually purge these from your mind and heart in order to heal. You have some hard work and a rocky path in front of you.

      But healing is possible.

      I hope these thoughts, and the linked articles, will help you along that path. Speaking of which, here’s just one more article for you:

      Is it Easy or Hard to Get to Heaven?

  38. Ray says:

    Hi Lee. Is Hell only reserved for those that hurt others with no remorse or regret, only care about themselves, and don’t love anyone else? Is it possible to love and still end up in Hell if you engage in selfish pursuits

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ray,

      Our final place in either heaven or hell, and in some particular part of one of them, is determined by what Swedenborg calls our “ruling love.” In psychological language, this is our primary motive. It is what we value and seek most of all. We may do other things, both good and bad, but in all of them we are feeding this primary motive. That motive will be some variation on one of these:

      1. Love of God
      2. Love of the neighbor
      3. Love of the world (wealth, possessions, etc.)
      4. Love of self

      These are all good if they are kept in this order, or at minimum if love of the neighbor (other people) is ahead of the last two. But if one of the last two reigns in our motives and desires, then we are in a state of hell, because we put ourselves and our own power, position, and pleasure before other people and before God, and/or we put gaining wealth and wealth and possessions for ourselves ahead of useful service to our fellow human beings.

      None of us is perfect. Even people with a good ruling love will have some unreformed faults. Once we recognize them in ourselves, our job is to do the work of correcting them. We can’t use our love for God and the neighbor as an excuse not to fix ourselves, or in religious language, not to repent from our sins. But as long as we do put God and our fellow human beings first—which involves actively loving and serving them–we are headed to heaven even if we still have some remaining outposts of unreformed selfishness and acquisitiveness in our character.

      I should add that if we do put God and the neighbor first, then it is not selfish to take care of ourselves and our material needs, and even to engage in things that give us pleasure, as long as they are not the sorts of pleasures that are hurtful to other people. God does want us to have enjoyment in life. A life of constant self-denial is not a life of heavenly joy.

      • Duane Armitage says:

        Hi Lee,
        Given human beings’ deep ability to self-deceive, how can we ever have assurance of our having put God/love for others first? It sounds like Swedenborg wants to say we are never really sure? is that correct?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Good to hear from you again. I hope all is well with you.

          These are good questions. I would say that fundamentally, a good answer depends upon a shift of attitude and perception in the asker. (And you are far from the only person who has asked some variation of this question.)

          But first, two things:

          1. self-examination
          2. doing good deeds for the neighbor

          1. It is true that we have an amazing ability to deceive ourselves. That’s why it is necessary for us to engage in regular self-examination. We must assess our own thoughts and desires, and measure them against some standard that we have adopted as an ideal to strive for. The ultimate ideal is God. Proximate ideals are all the values we have developed in human society in our halting attempts to create a society in which we take care of one another rather than only grasping for our own power, wealth, and pleasure. As we compare our actual desires, thoughts, and actions to the ideal that we have learned and adopted, we can identify areas where we fall short. This gives us something to work on in our character and our life.

          2. Nothing else we do by way of self-examination and personal growth means anything if it doesn’t result in our doing good deeds for other people. At first we may be doing them out of self-interest. For example, we may be worried about whether we’re saved, so we do good deeds to assure ourselves that we are good people and worthy of heaven. Not to worry. At least we’re getting ourselves into the habit of serving our neighbor. Better motives can come in time. In the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31–46, Jesus said that the people who did good deeds for their fellow human beings who were in need would go to eternal life, whereas those who did not would go to eternal punishment. Doing good for the neighbor is fundamental.

          Now on to the meta-issue.

          Being worried about whether we are saved, or to use your wording, whether we have put God/love for others first, is itself a manifestation of self-absorption, and of lack of faith and trust in God.

          This is fine when we’re first starting out on the path of spiritual rebirth. We all start out rather self-absorbed in one way or another. But sooner or later, it’s time to stop worrying about our own spiritual status, and a) start thinking more about the well-being of other people, and b) start trusting that God is loving and merciful, and wants to lift us up to heaven.

          When I was considerably younger and even more foolish than I am today, I used to think and worry a lot about whether I was a good person, whether I was going to heaven, and so on. These days, I’m too busy engaging in the struggle to keep myself on the path and do the work God has put in front of me to spend a lot of time thinking about my own spiritual state and my own salvation status. I have come to trust that God will do what is good and right for me, and that my job is just to do my work. So:

          3. Put your trust in God.

          Do the work that’s in front of you. Serve your fellow human beings. God will take care of the rest, and will treat you well, because God loves you and wants you to be happy.

        • Duane Armitage says:

          But you don’t mean to say that we ought not to concern ourselves with heaven in the sense of hope? I long to be in the presence of Jesus and be with him, like Paul says in Philippians 1 (“I long to be cut off and with Christ, which is far better”). In this hope is, at least for me, my joy. I see your point about the selfish and neurotic tendency of some evangelical spirituality that requires one to obsess about the certainty of one’s salvation. In other words, there must be a “healthy” sense of longing for heaven; after all, this site is dedicated to thinking about heaven!

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          Yes, hope for heaven and for living in the presence of Jesus is good. We all need some hope, especially during the times we’re slogging through the muck here on earth.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Duane,

          A healthy sense of longing for heaven is one that results in action that moves us closer to heaven.

          The big error of evangelicals is thinking that assurance is a matter of belief. If we have faith in Jesus—which in practice is really intellectual belief, not faith as the Bible uses that term—then we can be 100% sure that we are saved.

          This idea is based on an entirely faulty and unbiblical theology. Specifically, it’s based on the satisfaction theory of atonement, which originated 1,000 years after the last books of the Bible were written, and on its Protestant variant of penal substitution, which originated 1,500 years after the last books of the Bible were written. All of this is covered in other articles here. On the “100% assurance” claims of the evangelicals, here is an article that was originally a sermon I preached a few weeks into my first (and only) pastorate:

          Did Jesus Really Die to Pay the Penalty for our Sins?

          Mere “faith” does not provide 100% certainty, or really, any certainty at all. It is just ideas in the head. The only way we can achieve any kind of certainty that we are going to heaven is by becoming heavenly people. And that involves acting on our faith by following the two Great Commandments every day. As we do this, we stop worrying about whether we’re going to heaven, because we are walking the path toward heaven every day. We can have assurance because we know the transformation God has made in our character and life, not by some magical “imputation of Christ’s righteousness,” but by Christ changing our attitudes and our character from the inside out.

          This transformation is not instantaneous at the point of conversion. Rather, it is a process that starts at our point of conversion, and continues for the rest of our life. The farther we progress on this path, the more assurance we will have that we will live in heaven after we die because we are already living in heaven in our spirit even while we’re here on earth.

          This doesn’t mean our life will be easy. Heaven is not about literal “rest from our labors.” People in heaven also have hard work to do. But it is good and satisfying work because it is expressing what is in our heart, which is a love for serving the Lord by making the lives of our fellow human beings better, every day.

          When we are walking this path, and especially when we have spent some years making progress, we no longer worry about whether we are saved, and whether we will go to heaven and live with Jesus, because we are already living with Jesus here on earth. Heaven then becomes a promise and a hope that what we experience here “as in a mirror, darkly,” we will fully experience in the greater light and freedom of the spiritual world.

  39. Ray says:

    Hi Lee. I just want to say in a a separate comment that your beliefs in Hell make sense to me. It has always disturbed me on some level that a loving God would throw people kicking and screaming into a pit of fire to be tortured forever and these same people say it is our choice to be there. It’s literally called the “turn or burn” doctrine.

    But, a lot of these same people condemn the government for coercing people into taking the covid vaccine or else they are ostracized from society. Heck, they believe in a literal mark that everyone will be forced to take that represents your worship of Satan. Yet, they believe God, a being infinitely more loving than even the kindest person alive today, would do something similar.

    Another thing is God obviously doesn’t just want you to love him so he doesn’t torture you for life. “Turn or burn” is basically “Turn to God under threat of a fate worse than death, but you still have to genuinely love him” It’s impossible in my opinion.

    It does make the more sense that we choose Hell ourselves because is is essentially just a community full of our most twisted desires rather than a pit of fire or a place where demonic monsters torture people for all eternity.

    At one point, I believed in Universal Salvation, but that doctrine never made much sense to me in the long run either because we all end up in on heaven and lose our individuality in the process.

    To sum up, this is the doctrine that makes the most sense to me, but I do go back and forth as i have never been strong in my convictions.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ray,

      Good thoughts.

      And yes, it’s a process of considering different viewpoints, sifting them, comparing them to one another, and satisfying ourselves that the one we lean towards can hold water and is true.

      It’s best not to quickly jump to a particular conclusion. If we do that, our understanding and faith is weak, and easily broken. Better to engage in the conceptual struggle, let each position make its best argument, and after considering the strongest argument for each position, settle on the one that makes the most sense, has the clearest ring of truth about it, and most of all, is good and compatible with a God of love.

      Speaking of universal salvation:

      Response to a Christian Universalist: Is There an Eternal Hell? Wouldn’t an All-Powerful God Save All People?

  40. How could anyone possibly choose death over eternal fellowship with God?
    Wouldn’t everyone choose a lifeboat over a sinking ship? Or would they look back and long for the ship that’s sinking?
    Doesn’t the Devil know that surrendering to God and doing his will can be a lot less painful than perishing in hell for eternity? Doesn’t everyone know that? Apparently not.

    • Lee says:

      Hi WorldQuestioner,

      First, you must correct your understanding of hell. Hell is not “eternal conscious torment,” as the fundamentalist Christians teach. Because they are materialists and literalists, they are interpreting metaphors in the Bible as literal descriptions of hell. Hellfire is not literal fire. It is the spiritual fire, in the negative sense, of burning anger and hatred against all other people who do not serve oneself. That is the fire of hell. See:

      Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?

      Second, people who choose evil over good do so because they enjoy it.

      A man who commits adultery enjoys having sex with women other than his wife. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t do it. He finds it very pleasurable to break the rules and sleep with other women. The very fact that it is forbidden makes it exciting and attractive to him. Limiting himself to sex with his wife feels dull and boring to him.

      Of course, in committing adultery he causes all sorts of problems for himself, his wife, and his family. But he loves doing it so much that he cares more about having his excitement and pleasure than he does about the negative consequences of that illicit pleasure.

      That’s what hell is all about.

  41. Ray says:

    Hi Lee. Something I have been wondering is how these people in Hell lose and start over again. I thought it was because they don’t have anything material and anything they enjoy was just a phantasy, sustained on spiritual food that eventually goes away when they get hungry, so they have to start over again. Now, I am wondering if it is because their property is constantly destroyed by their neighbours.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ray,

      Of course, it’s all based on correspondences. Everything is based on correspondences. Having said that, the correspondences express themselves in how things work on the ground.

      Consider two guys having a knife fight. In hell it’s not possible to die, so they both survive. But now not only do they have to heal from the fight, but their clothing, which does not have the ability to heal, is all sliced up and covered in blood. Maybe they’ll keep wearing it anyway if they have nothing else. But after enough brawls, it’s going to be so shredded that it won’t stay on their body anymore. Now they have to either get new clothes or go around naked. And you really don’t want to walk around naked in hell, any more than you’d want to walk around naked in a crime-ridden section of some city here on earth.

      In the spiritual world, the objects that surround us are not mere projections or fantasies. They are real, solid objects based on the minds and hearts of the people in the area. This is just as true of hell as it is of heaven.

      • Ray says:

        So people have homes and possessions in Hell like people have in Heaven and do people attack each other and destroy their houses in Hell?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          There is a lot of variety in hell, just as there is in heaven, based on all the different ruling loves people have—in this case, evil ruling loves. Not everyone in hell is into death and destruction. Some are into other things, such as being right about their (false) theological views or piling up lots and lot of money to count. But in those areas of hell where people like fighting, stealing, and wrecking other people’s lives, yes, that sort of thing is a regular occurrence.

        • Ray says:

          So people do have homes and the possessions they had on Earth in Hell, but how do they get them? They can’t buy them and where would they steal them from?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          The spiritual world, including hell, is not an empty place. It is just as full of things as the material world is, if not more so. Ultimately those things all come from God, just as everything in the material world ultimately comes from God. But once they are in existence, people can take them, work for them, steal them, make things from them, and do everything else people here on earth can do with the objects and materials around them.

          So yes, people in hell do have homes and possessions, though in some parts of hell not so much, because they live in a state of abject poverty or even slavery.

        • Ray says:

          Okay, but why would certain evil spirits live in poverty and other’s wouldn’t?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          Conditions in hell are generally not good. Most people there do seem to live in poverty. But there are also descriptions (in Swedenborg) of people in hell living in houses situated in towns, religious scholars doing their writing in dark, candle-lit basements, and so on. Swedenborg also talks of hell as vast caverns in which there are workhouses where the evil spirits must work in return for food and clothing. And there are misers’ hells in which people fantasize that the grains of fool’s gold in front of them on the table are vast piles of gold. In other words, there seems to be quite a bit of variety in hell, but none of it is very appealing to anyone looking in from the outside.

        • Ray says:

          Yeah but aren’t the evil spirits allowed to live a life similar to the one they lived on Earth? So, how would living in abject poverty be like that especially if they were wealthy and had possessions? Or, did I misunderstand? Heaven is straightforward, but Hell seems very contradictory.

          People can engage in their sinful pleasures and live the life they want. The only consequence is their actions coming back to bite them. Yet, some live in misery and slavery even if that’s not how they lived on Earth? Is that only reserved for the lowest Hell or do the higher hells have people living like that as well?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          In hell, as in heaven, people’s surroundings reflect their character. Wealth reflects a wealth of spiritual knowledge and understanding. Poverty reflects a lack of spiritual knowledge and understanding. Since people in hell have generally rejected spiritual things in favor of material things, they have a lack of spiritual knowledge and understanding, hence they live in poverty.

          When people first die and enter the world of spirits, they do live very much as they had on earth. However, as their earthly masks come off, and their true inner character comes out, their lives change to match their inner character. They also move on to their permanent home in heaven or hell. In either place, their surroundings and their situation matches what is inside them, in their heart and mind.

          Given that they are still human beings, albeit distorted ones, people in hell do continue to live their day-to-day lives as humans do, eating, drinking, sleeping, waking up, working, engaging in their particular forms of recreation, and so on. All the usual appurtenances to these activities are still there, such as plates, forks, knives, beds, houses, and so on. Though a lot of evil spirits seem to live in caves rather than houses, and have a rather primitive life there.

          In hell wealthy people do not remain wealthy. That’s because they had built up only material riches, not spiritual riches. Before long they forget that they were ever millionaires and billionaires as they live a life of struggle like everyone else in hell.

          In the highest (mildest) hells people live fairly ordinary lives, but they’re all out for their own gain and don’t care about anyone else’s well-being, resulting in continual strife and conflict of various kinds. The evil spirits in the lowest (most evil) hells are either reduced to a very miserable existence or they live in a fantasy land within the prison of their own distorted minds. These hells are generally cut off from access to other parts of the spiritual world, and to the minds of most people on earth, because of the extreme malevolence and twisted minds of the evil spirits there.

          Incidentally, Heaven and Hell, and the earlier material about the spiritual world that Swedenborg published in Secrets of Heaven, does not go into great detail about day-to-day life in hell. From this, some Swedenborg readers have gotten the impression that hell is rather uniform, and consists only of vast workhouses in caverns. But if you read the various stories about the spiritual world that Swedenborg included in some of his later published works, and also his accounts in his unpublished (by him) journal traditionally called The Spiritual Diary, and more recently called Spiritual Experiences, a more varied picture emerges. These stories and accounts are what flesh out the nature of life in hell (and also in heaven), whereas Heaven and Hell gives a more general picture, and provides the general principles that govern the spiritual world.

        • Ray says:

          Okay that makes sense. It’s tough that we don’t have a modern day equivalent. Cause if there is something that you desire to do, but can’t do it, then you are forced to give that up, so whether in Heaven or Hell, you can’t live an afterlife similar to the one you had on Earth, especially if that particular thing was a big part of your life.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          When we first die, according to Swedenborg, we’ll hardly be able to tell the difference between our life here on earth and our new life in the spiritual world. Swedenborg even describes parts of the world of spirits that mirror various cities on earth, such as London and Paris.

          If that is indeed the case, then if you were to die today, tomorrow (or maybe the next day or the day after that) you would likely head home from work, plop down on the couch in front of your trusty TV set or computer, and watch one of your favorite movies or TV series.

          The question is whether you’ll still be doing the same thing in another hundred years (or its spiritual equivalent), once you’ve made your permanent home in heaven. That’s what I’m not certain about.

          What I am certain about is that if you do choose heaven over hell, God will give you everything possible to make you happy. If that includes all the reruns of “Friends” or “Seinfeld” or “The Office,” or even “Game of Thrones” (but with a better final season? I dunno, I never watched the thing!), I’m sure God will arrange that for you.

        • Ray says:

          Hi Lee. God doesn’t provide anything like that for people in Hell so they can resume their normal life there as well. I read somewhere that even though he’d rather them be in Heaven, he also wants them to be as happy as they can without hurting others in Hell, so wouldn’t he provide that for them there as well?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          God would certainly be willing to provide people in hell with whatever they want to be happy. But people in hell reject God, and also reject the gifts God would give them, because God’s gifts are good, but people in hell are evil, and hate good.

          Practically speaking, could people in hell watch their favorite TV series and movies, and read their favorite novels from earth? I don’t see why not.

          Swedenborg does talk about corrupt theologians in hell continuing to write their theological treatises full of falsities. I presume they are able to consult all the standard works of corrupt and false Christian theology that have been written and published over the many centuries of Christianity’s doctrinal decline and destruction. However, the only specific book I recall that Swedenborg actually mentions a hellish theologian having is the Bible. That was in the context of the theologian getting so angry at Swedenborg that he picked up a book and threw it at him, and it turned out to be the Bible! 😛

          If all the religious books are still available even in hell, I presume secular books are also available in hell, for anyone interested. TV and movies weren’t invented yet in Swedenborg’s day, but I see no reason why movies and TV shows wouldn’t be available as well.

          The main question would be whether people in hell would have any interest in that old stuff.

        • Ray says:

          That reminds me of the bible quite where it says that he kind to the unthankful. I was really just picking your brain. It’s tough to say how much people will want to retain of their old lives once they complete their spiritual journey in the spirit world whether that leads them to Heaven or Hell. The angles will have more concrete info, so I guess I’ll just wait to ask them.

        • Ray says:

          Hi Lee. When the hellish theologian picks up the bible and throws it at Swedenborg, what book does he describe that in?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          It is in True Christianity #161.

        • Ray says:

          Hi Lee. Do people in Hell not realize they are dead? This theologian was talking like he had to save people with his writings.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          It’s a good question. People in hell commonly do think of themselves as still living on earth, though they also do know, when they reflect upon it, that they’re not on earth anymore. Keep in mind that people in hell live in a state of self-induced falsity and deception, including a state of self-deception.

          Based on the story, this particular theologian seems more engaged in the theology related to salvation than with salvation itself. In other words, he’s talking about how people are saved rather than engaged in the work of helping people on the path to salvation. In that sense, it doesn’t really matter whether he thinks he’s still living on earth or realizes that he is now in the spiritual world.

        • Ray says:

          Hi Lee. I stumbled upon this old comment thread and I can’t believe I didn’t think to ask this, but people in Hell have spiritual knowledge?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          People in hell who were religious on earth commonly continue in the same beliefs they had held to on earth, especially if they were priests, ministers, or religious scholars. They take pride in their knowledge of the “mysteries of faith,” and consider themselves superior to others because of that knowledge. Since it is part of their ego, they cling to it, but it is all spiritual falsity rather than spiritual truth. So it is “knowledge,” but it’s knowledge of things that ain’t so.

      • Ray says:

        So the deeper you go into Hell, the more you live in poverty and as a slave? I have read some stuff from the spiritual diary. It’s a big book though.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          Generally speaking, yes. Also, if people in hell do gain wealth and power through their intrigues and their battles, it doesn’t last long. Like earthly empires, empires built up in hell rise and fall. In some parts of hell there are continual revolutions as shifting factions continually fight one another for power.

        • Ray says:

          See I always assumed that the people in the lower hells live like the ones in the higher hells. The only difference being the levels of sin. Like people like Stalin, Hitler, and other dictators throughout time are probably in the lower Hells and I thought they were busy battling and conquering each other. Oh wait, I didn’t think of this: Who would they be subservient to in the lower Hells: Each other. So, they do have moments where they have a similar life to the one they have on Earth, but they are constantly defeated and enslaved by each other. Is that right?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          In some areas of hell, yes. One strongman or faction will climb to the top and have glory days, but then will be defeated by another strongman or faction, and reduced to slavery and oppression. Then they’ll rally, make alliances, chip away at the current ruling class, take advantage of the ruling class’s inevitable infighting, and rise up again. And so it goes. It’s not that different from the rise and fall of empires and dictators here on earth.

          About who’s in the lower hells, it’s not always easy to tell from people’s outward earthly life where they will end out. There is a good chance that murderous dictators will end out in one of the lower hells, because they are commonly motivated by a desire for power over other people, which is a greater evil than a desire for wealth. However, the direst hells are occupied by people who were malicious and malevolent to the point of taking pleasure in destroying other people either physically or psychologically or both. Also for people who have used spiritual knowledge and position to take advantage of other people and wreck their lives for their own pleasure or power. This is what’s known as “profanation,” or in a more modern term, “corruption,” specifically of a spiritual nature.

        • Why don’t the damned repent? Wouldn’t it make sense that if they repented, they’d go one level up in hell. And if they did more and more evil, they’d go one level down. If a person in the second lowest level of hell turns and repents, shouldn’t they get to the third lowest hell in return? And if they do more and more evil like tempt people on Earth, they should get to the lowest level?

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          The damned don’t repent because they have no interest whatsoever in repenting. They like themselves the way they are. In fact, they think they themselves are the greatest person ever!

          Why would people who think they are the greatest feel any desire to repent? They’re too busy trying to prove to everyone else how much better they are than everyone else.

        • What do you think of

          I also wonder why isn’t there something like “explain God’s laws” or “explain my condemnations” or “explain God’s reasons” or “explain God’s prohibitions”? I’m thinking kind of like but not on Reddit, and it’s not about “EMD: why is this comment downvoted” but about “why does God forbid X” or “Why does God send people to hell”?

        • Lee says:

          Hi WorldQuestioner,

          There’s much more in your linked article than I can respond to in a comment. But many of these questions are not really questions for God, but for people and churches who claim to be Christian, but don’t actually believe in or follow what the Bible teaches. In this category I include all of the traditional branches of Christianity, and their preachers and teachers. Many of the things you’re asking about aren’t said anywhere in the Bible. Or if they are said in the Bible, they’re part of the Law for the ancient Jews, but not for Christians, because Christ spiritually fulfilled and moved us beyond those parts of the Law of Moses. But this is a very complex subject.

          In general, we are not sent to hell for minor sins, nor does everyone suffer equally in hell regardless of the seriousness of their sins. In fact, God doesn’t send people to hell at all. People send themselves to hell if their heart is evil, and they love to do evil things. In heaven, they cannot do the evil things they love to do, so they can’t stand it there. That’s why they voluntarily go to hell.

          And yes, there are milder and more serious levels and areas of hell depending upon the light or heavy nature of the evil things that various evil people love to engage in. Some of this is covered in the above article.

          On repentance relegating our sins to the past, please see:

          Ezekiel 18: God’s Message of Hope . . . If You Think there’s No Hope for You

          As for explaining why God does this or that, and what we are and aren’t supposed to do, that’s what the Bible is for. Yes, there’s some hard-to-understand things in the Bible. But all the basics are plain and easy to understand, such as the Ten Commandments.

        • Ray says:

          Hi. Lee. Been awhile since I have been here, but I wonder if things like electricity are still needed to run any electrical appliances in the after life. Do you still need to charge your laptop and could you have anything electric in a cave or cavern in Hell?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          I certainly hope they have figured out continual wireless charging in the spiritual world!

        • Ray says:

          I can’t tell if that is your cheeky way of saying we will have wireless charges in the spirit world cause why wouldn’t they have it figured out. It’s God. If he wills it, it will be done.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          These are tricky questions, because most earthly technology is not actually needed in the spiritual world. The ability to do much of what technology enables us to do here on earth is already built into the “operating system” of the spiritual world. For example, long before telephones, radios, TVs, and computers with live video chat programs existed, people in the spiritual world were able to communicate instantaneously over vast distances, and even see each other face to face, without moving from their current spiritual location.

          My surmise is that people who come from technological societies will have their accustomed technology anyway, because that’s what they’re used to. But I’m not entirely certain about that. It’s possible they’ll leave it behind when they realize it’s no longer necessary. This is a question that I will be interested to find the answer to once it comes my time to enter the spiritual world.

        • Ray says:

          I thought everything had correspondence in the spirit world. I could see a person in hell being forced to charge their tech constantly to reuse it, but in Heaven, idk. If we can communicate instantly, but how would one watch their favourite show in Heaven or Hell without technology. Could we just “watch” it from our memories. After all, all of the shows and movies we watched on Earth would be stored in our memories.

          You can ask the angles questions as soon as you die and found out what type of afterlife could be waiting for you?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          Swedenborg speaks of “representations” (Latin: repraesentationes) in the spiritual world, which sound an awful lot like full-sensory three-dimensional movies, along the lines of the holodeck in Star Trek, or a supercharged version of today’s movies. This was long before the technology to do any of these things existed. All he had to draw on was stage plays, but what he describes goes well beyond stage plays.

          In other words, it appears that we don’t really need television sets, computers, and movie theaters to have the “movie experience” in the spiritual world. But because these things are familiar to people of this age, they may exist in the spiritual world anyway. In the spiritual world, our surroundings reflect our inner mental and emotional state.

          And yes, as soon as we die and wake up in the spiritual world, there are angels present with us, and we can ask them any questions we want to know about the afterlife. Swedenborg describes this as a common occurrence, and it is also reflected in some deep near-death experiences.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          About being able to watch our favorite shows in heaven or hell: I think this will be possible not only because they are stored in our memory, but because everything in the universe, in all times and places, is in God’s “memory.” God knows all things, and can provide all things to people if that is in accord with God’s will and with the will of the people involved.

          I should mention that I recently came across a place in Marriage Love where Swedenborg says that evil things are not present in the entertainments of angels in heaven, but only gradations of good down to where good disappears. This goes against some of the things I said earlier about how even in heaven angels can read novels and see movies that have evil in them. So I thought I should mention that to you.

          I suspect, though, that the reality is somewhat more complex. Angels are able to talk about evil and falsity, so it is clear that their minds are not cut off from any conception or depiction of evil and falsity. I suspect, rather, that evil and falsity cannot be falsely portrayed as good and true, as they are in many human productions here on earth. Consider, for example, war movies and war propaganda that portray war as a glorious, wonderful, and righteous crusade, rather than as the horrific and hellish butchery and carnage that it actually is.

          Another way of saying this is that I suspect that as long as human evil is shown in its true light, as bad and destructive, and its negative and destructive consequences shown realistically, this will be possible in the literature and movies of heaven. But once again, I could be wrong about this.

          It is also possible that it is only in the highest, “celestial” or heavenly heaven that evil and falsity disappear from spiritual literature and movies entirely, whereas in the lower heavens our earthly literature, including its depictions of the negative and evil side of human life, is still present. In Swedenborg’s earliest theological writings, he calls only the highest heaven “heaven,” and only their inhabitants “angels,” whereas the inhabitants of what he later called the lower heavens he refers to as “angelic spirits” rather than as angels. This raises the possibility that many of the things he says about “heaven” are actually about the highest heaven, whereas the lower two heavens fall away from that heavenly ideal to a greater or lesser extent.

          Mind you, the inhabitants of the lower two heavens are still good, not evil. But they had not completed the full path of regeneration during their lifetime on earth, and therefore are not fully mature angels in the highest sense of that word.

          Another way of saying this is: It’s complicated! 🙂

        • Ray says:

          Guess I’ll found out when I die. I suspect if our ruling love is pure, you can watch anything without it having an effect on you in a negative way. On this Earth, there’s all kinds of debate of whether fictional violence leads to real violence, but obviously if your ruling love is pure, it can’t affect you in a negative way or tempt you like it may have on Earth. I Hell, that’s obviously another story.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          Here on this earth, we need to see depictions of good and of evil so that we can sort them out in our own mind, and make our own moral and ethical decisions. That won’t be quite so necessary for angels in heaven, especially angels of the highest heaven. But in the lower heavens, it might still be necessary.

        • Ray says:

          Oh and those poor angles. I’m probably going to have so many questions they are going to be like “Are you sure it’s this guys time.
          Maybe we can put him back in his body” 🤭

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,


        • Ray says:

          Hi Lee. On Earth people usually just enjoy a story for it’s characters, the story and themes. I don’t see why it should be any different in the afterlife as long as it doesn’t tempt you to do bad things and if your ruling love is pure and good, it shouldn’t.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          Yes. Though in reading the story, people are also absorbing greater themes and issues about human relationships with one another and with God. That is the power of story. And it is the reason most of the Bible is written as a story, not as a theological treatise.

          But I do agree with you that it shouldn’t be any different in heaven. Only that in the highest heavens especially, I doubt the angels there would enjoy reading about war, murder, rape, theft, and so on. They’re already far beyond such things, and have no need to deal with them anymore.

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