6. Who's Going to Hell?
A lady said to me the other day, "How can any right-minded person believe in hell? Isn't God a loving Father? Would a Father condemn his children to an eternity of suffering, just because they disobeyed him or committed some indiscretion during a brief period of life on earth?" I asked her, "Do you think there is a hell in this world?" She replied, "Oh yes." "And do you think people take their characters over with them into the future life?" "Yes, perhaps they do; but surely God will forgive them and make them good, and take them to heaven in the end!"
This lady is not the only person who has questioned the eternity of the hells. Now, it is a good sign that people are doing this. It is evidence of the growth of a kindly liberalism, which is very much better, and more truly Christian, than gloating over the torture of the damned. Tertullian back in AD 200 believed that one of the principal delights of the angels was to sit on the edge of heaven and look down into hell and watch the dreadful punishment going on there, and realize what they have escaped! We have got a long way from that, thank God. Yet maybe it is a hangover from the old idea of hell as a place of punishment and torture, which has led to this questioning of the permanence of the Ruling Love, which, if evil, takes a man to hell. We must understand that hell is not a place of punishment for evils committed during the earth life, nor is heaven a place of rewards for a man's good deeds. The whole spiritual world is, in fact, a state of fulfillment, where people can be themselves, and live how they want to live, and express themselves freely without inhibition. Those who are consumed with evil loves and passions, with envy, hatred and cruelty, constitute hell; they make hell. Those who love one another tenderly, and wish only good for their neighbor, form heaven. There is misery in hell, certainly; but this arises from the evil nature of the inhabitants. What kind of happiness can you expect from an atmosphere of hatred, jealousy and cruelty? Only in heaven is there true happiness: the inner joy arising from unselfish love given and received.
Viewed in this way, hell is no longer seen as a place of torment into which disobedient souls are thrown by a cruel, implacable God. In fact, our attention is drawn away altogether from hell as a place, and we begin to think of it instead as a state of mind: the state of mind of those who have congregated there of their own free will. The unpleasant features of hell, referred to by Jesus Christ (the "fire that is never quenched, and the worm that dieth not"): these are caused by the evil desires and false beliefs of the inhabitants of hell, and are not forced upon them as a punishment from God. It is a universal principle governing the spiritual world that everyone there is surrounded by an environment which is a projection of his inner mind. The Lord Himself infinitely desires the salvation of all men. Why, then, does He not raise everyone up into heaven? Because heaven and hell are states of mind which people adopt freely. The only way to get evil spirits up into heaven would be to rob them of their free will, which would be to destroy them as human beings, and this the Lord will not do. Nevertheless there is a perpetual effort proceeding from the Lord to lift every evil spirit out of hell. If an evil spirit repented even in the least degree and wished for something better, the angels in heaven would rejoice, and the Lord would pour salvation upon him. This sometimes happens during the early stages after death, before a man's Ruling Love has entirely taken over. Theoretically, I suppose, any evil spirit could change and reform and become an angel of light, since there is absolute freedom over there. But in practice, as Swedenborg observed, those who have confirmed themselves in evil while on earth do not want to change, after death, into anything different from what they are. If you picked them up and put them in heaven, they would kick and scream; in fact, they would writhe in agony, until you put them back among their companions in hell, where they feel at home.
Another idea we must get out of our heads is that those who go to hell after death are a class apart, and have nothing in common with ourselves. We think of them as the murderers and adulterers who get headlines in the newspaper, the scum of our prisons and penitentiaries. We are sorry for them, and would like them to be saved eventually, but it has never occurred to us that we or any of our friends might be among their number. Yet the sobering fact is, that the elements which take a man to hell after death can be present in the hearts of good-living church folk, senators and successful businessmen, just as much as in the hearts of out-and-out criminals. For the Ruling Love which determines our final destiny is a matter of motivation; it is a matter of one's attitude toward God and the neighbor; it is a question of whether or not you are immersed in SELF. As someone has truly said: "He who judges everything from the standpoint of self, and considers his own profit in everything he does, is on the threshold of hell already!" And this self-seeking attitude of mind can be found among the rich and successful, just as much as among the failures and the bums, or the criminals who languish in our state prisons. Respectable people conceal their self-seeking motives; but if they are hiding them only for the sake of show, then after death their evils will burst forth. "There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed; and hid that shall not be known." Is it likely, do you think, that anyone who has confirmed himself in selfishness is going to change for the better, just at the point when this selfishness bursts into flame? Is he going to want to change, when he finds he can express himself freely as he is? It is hard enough to change oneself in this world, where we cannot have everything we want; won't it be much more difficult after death, when we can?
Young people on earth can change fairly easily; but the older you become, the more difficult it is. Conversion experiences are rare after fifty, and are usually only temporary at best. Even New Year Resolutions are more difficult to keep as you become set in your ways. I was speaking to an old man on New Year's day. He is a confirmed grumbler, and I suggested that he should make a New Year resolution never to grumble again, but always to look on the bright side of things, and to think and speak positively, not negatively. He agreed, and said O.K., he would never grumble again; he would make a solemn promise. "All the same," he added, "it is difficult not to grumble, with the cost of living going up every month (and they are going to raise the rent again), and the dreadful weather we have been having, and I'm not feeling too well, and the war, and the crime in the streets; and...." Well, he had got into the habit of grumbling; it was his life pattern, and I guess he was too old to change. Nevertheless, although change becomes more and more difficult as we grow older, it is never impossible while we are still in this mortal life. For this world of time and space is expressly designed to make change possible. There is a whole mechanism of change built into it. That is why we are placed here on earth, in a state of equilibrium between good and evil, so that we can choose to tip up the scales toward heaven or hell. At death, we pass out of this condition of equilibrium, and commit ourselves wholly to one side or the other. After that, the direction of our lives is determined forever.
What is the mechanism of change? This is a question that has often been asked. How can we change from being evil to being good? Well, to begin with we must understand that everybody on earth, however evil, has some good in him, even if it is only the remains of innocence, gentleness and sweetness left over from his infancy. We have two selves, one bad and one good. Paul speaks in his epistles about our lower self and our higher self, and says there is a battle going on all the time between them. We have two doors, one opening to hell and one to heaven; and through these doors we are visited, in succession, by evil spirits and by angels. These give us an appearance of ever-changing moods, even of temporary personality changes. In fact, it can be said that we are not just two selves, but many; sometimes one facet of our characters is dominant, and sometimes another. These fluctuations of state, or changing moods, are permitted by the Lord so that we can draw from them what we like, and reject what we don't like, and gradually build up our true selves, our Ruling Love. It is that real self, the absolute "me," that survives death and lives on to eternity in the spiritual world, when all play-acting and temporary moods and externals have fallen away. The relief we shall feel when this takes place must be tremendous.... It is like taking off a heavy overcoat and heavy boots, and suddenly finding oneself unencumbered and light as air, able to do anything one likes, and be wherever one wishes; either to plunge into the enjoyments of sin without shame or any prickings of conscience, or to rise up to the highest heaven and taste the blessed nearness of the loving Father. The evil feel no need for self-control, no desire for betterment; on the contrary, now that they can express themselves freely they plunge deeper and deeper into their evils. The good feel no further temptation to evil, but enjoy good only. And so a great separation takes place between the good and the evil, known as the Judgment, and this separation becomes wider and wider to eternity. It is only the ceaseless effort of the loving Father that prevents the evil from destroying themselves utterly.
The conclusion of all this is: If we want to change our Ruling Love for the better, we must do so in this life, here and now. You must take advantage of your good moods, when you have them, and commit yourself so fully to the heavenly life that the bad moods, when they come, are unable to break down what the good moods have built up. Plan your life; determine the kind of person you want to be; get a clear image of yourself as a child of the loving heavenly Father; decide on the order of your values, what is important to you. Pour out love and forgiveness to everybody, even those people whom you do not like. Be gentle and appreciative. This is during the sunshine period. Later, the clouds will cover the sky, and storms sweep over us. Evil spirits will take control, and we shall no longer feel loving goodwill for anyone. Instead, we shall be depressed, self-pitying, irritated, annoyed with ourselves and everybody else and life in general. We shall find ourselves grumbling at everything, like the old gentleman I mentioned who just couldn't stop himself from grumbling! But, during your good moods you will have built up a CONSCIENCE, and through this conscience the Lord will be able to speak to you and remind you of your better days, of the vows you then made. And you will be able to say within your heart: "This depressed, negative, unloving and unlovely person that I am at present is not really me. I don't like my self in this present character. The evil spirits are certainly having a ball. Forgive me, Lord, and take them away as soon as you can. And let me return to that other self which was very much more to my liking!" - and then be patient till the dull or stormy weather passes and the sun shines through again.
If someone has been mean to you, try to realize that he or she also has changing moods. You cannot hold other people accountable for everything they do; it was probably the evil spirits who were with them at the time who prompted the snide remark or the unkind attitude shown. Wait patiently, and they, like you, will change for the better later on; then ignore what has passed, act as if it had never been. A good way to help yourself out of a state of depression is to go and do something, preferably something creative, anything that will take your thoughts off yourself and your fancied grievances, and let the Lord restore the waste places. Best of all, go and do something which you know will please the person who has upset you. Anyway, cling on to your good resolutions, even when they no longer seem good or necessary, even when every nerve of your body cries out against them; even when the devils are telling you, "Claim your rights! Stand on your dignity! Enjoy yourself while you can!" and so on. Think of Jacob clinging to the angel through the darkness of the night, and saying, "I will not let you go until you bless me." (Genesis 32:26).
You see, it is possible to get a blessing from all your moods, good and bad, if you draw from them what you need for the building up of a good Ruling Love. And, as your Ruling Love grows stronger, you will find you can get a better control of your moods. You can generate good states of mind, by reading the Bible and books of devotion, by periods of prayer and meditation, which scare the devils away and attract the angels in. We can actually say, "Get thee behind me, Satan!" and hand the whole situation over to the Lord. Discipline is required for this, as for all matters of self-improvement. Discipline is required for those going out every day to earn their living. They can't say, "Oh, it's raining this morning; I don't think I'll go to work." They know they must go, whether they like it or not, because earning their living is important. Yet, is it more important than building up the life of heaven within themselves? Maybe we are too much influenced by our feelings! Since our feelings and moods are not really our own, but are caused by the visitors, evil as well as good, that swarm in and out of the chambers of our heart, need we take so much notice of them? Feelings are not really very important; they are ephemeral only. The important thing is the Ruling Love, which is developing out of sight fed by what you appropriate to yourself and make your own and confirm in yourself by deliberate choice. This will determine your life forever.
All too soon the time will come when you will be transferred to the spiritual world and your Ruling Love will take over. Don't be afraid that you won't have time to get ready, though, for the Lord will grant you all the time you need. But don't waste it. Determine here and now what kind of person you want to be. Get your values right, according to our Lord's teachings, especially in the Sermon on the Mount. Make Jesus your leader, and think all the time what He would have you think and say and do. If you find yourself facing hell, turn away from it at once; and when you find yourself facing heaven, press eagerly forward. Love the brethren. Give yourself to others unstintingly and without thought of recompense or even acknowledgment; and be lovingly grateful and accepting when others give themselves to you. So will there be built up in you, deep down and out of sight, a little heaven of kindness and tenderness and peace, into which you will enter when death removes you from the hurly-burly and confusion of this physical world, with its good and evil, its beauty and its filth. For the final conclusion of the whole matter is: "What you want, deep down (provided you want it strongly enough), that you will get."