Is Hell Eternal?

Most people who belong to traditional faith-systems assume that damnation in Hell is eternal and don’t give it a second thought.

But based on the visionary insights and theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, a spiritual seeker is given much to think about. Swedenborg’s systematic theology offers the most detailed look at life in Heaven and Hell. One of his most unique ideas is that heaven is not closed off to anyone, yet many individuals choose hell and choose to stay!

To understand this novel concept one must grasp that neither Heaven nor Hell is a place you go to. They are not physical destinations. Rather, each is the spiritual reality one creates or cultivates from his or her life-choices while on earth. The spiritual world, which is beyond space, time and physical coordinates, reflects the quality of one’s spirit.

A person gravitating to either heaven or hell simply follows the path of their own life principles. The human spirit simply follows its heart. That is why the ultimate purpose of religion is to direct the heart to make the best choices—which often requires us to transcend our selfish motives and self-interests.

A person who puts themselves above others and has inner contempt for others cannot stand being around those who have embraced mutual love. Such individuals actually find heaven a suffocating experience and flee from angelic beings of their own FREE WILL!

But the big question is if, after the death of the physical body, one takes the wrong spiritual path—from a life of putting themselves always above others—is there a way out of hell? Even those who study Swedenborg intently argue whether Hell is a forever thing. Those who contend that a God of Infinite love would not allow for hell to be an eternal situation cannot bear the thought of such a thing. Yet, nowhere in his writings does Swedenborg concur. For instance, Swedenborg says this about those who falsely believe that God can do anything when it comes to salvation:

For he supposes that if the Lord wills, He can save everyone, and this by means innumerable – as by miracles, by the dead rising again, by immediate revelations, by the angels withholding men from evil and impelling them to good by an open strong force, and by means of many states, on being led into which a man performs repentance, and by other means. But he does not know that all these means are compulsory, and that no man can possibly be reformed thereby. (Arcana Coelestia, Vol 5, n. 4032).

But can’t an individual come to his or her senses after enduring hell for eons? Again, in hell, a person simply is faced with one’s own evil.  However, the full answer to this question comes from Swedenborg’s scientific background. He observed that a person’s Ruling Love formed the bio-structure of person’s spiritual body. A person therefore becomes who he or she really inwardly is—this is very fabric of one’s being. If God could change this He would in effect destroy that person’s individuality and life.

I have just touched on a few areas of this important issue. I invite you to add to this discussion by sharing your own views.

About thegodguy

EDWARD F. SYLVIA, M.T.S. Philosopher/Theologian Edward F. Sylvia attended the School of Visual Arts in New York and received his Master of Theological Studies at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA and a Certificate of Swedenborgian Studies from the Swedenborgian House of Studies. He is a member of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (C.T.N.S.) and the Swedenborg Scientific Association (S.S.A.). Award-winning author of "Sermon From the Compost Pile: Seven Steps Toward Creating An Inner Garden" and "Proving God," which fulfills a continuing vision that God’s fingerprints of love can be found everywhere in the manifest universe. His most recent book, "Swedenborg & Gurdjieff: The Missing Links" is an edgy collection of anti-intuitive essays for personal transformation that challenges and inspires. He has been a student of the ideas of both Emanuel Swedenborg and George I. Gurdjieff for over thirty years. Read more about TheGodGuy, his books and his ideas at
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24 Responses to Is Hell Eternal?

  1. dlmul2 says:

    You refer to God’s Holy Word, which word is it? The Bible, The Koran, The Book of Morm, etc.? True Buddhist’s are by definition atheistic. Is your precept based on a monotheistic, polytheistic or pantheistic God?

    It seems to me that God first and foremost is Holy. That can be the only basis for a reward for something as majestic as heaven is to the mind of human beings (assuming they believe in it at all. Who would want to spend eternity with a God who wasn’t Holy? This must be the prime essence of who God is. He must be by definition sovereign. He must be omnipotent. He must be omnipresent. If your premise is a monotheistic God than which one – the God of the Bible, Allah of the Koran, or Yahweh of Judaism?

    Man’s ruling love is for himself. Self-preservation is the modus operandi. Buddhist’s will tell you to seek the inner God in yourself while denying an infinite eternal God exists, that doesn’t work. Judaism says meet God’s law perfectly and you will be rewarded with eternity in heaven. But their own book the Old Testament says that “God has searched the hearts of all men and found it deceptively wicked,” so meeting the requirements of the law is not met. Christianity alone offers a way to meet the requirements of the law, faith in Christ who was a perfect sin offering to God in atonement for falling short of the law.

    Swedenborg seems to imply that the Catholic Church’s idea of purgatory might be valid. Some nether world between heaven and hell. This idea leads to religious hokum-pokum similar to what Luther rebelled against when he attacked the Catholic church over indulgences. It seems to me a marriage and co-mingling of Buddhism with bad Catholic theology.

    As much as I would like to believe that you can prove God cosmologically it is not possible. I suppose I have simple faith, the God of the Bible has spoken to my heart and my eternal spirit. He has revealed Jesus Christ to the world and through faith has promised eternity to those who believe and eternal damnation for those who don’t.

    The scientific amazement of the world that I see and can’t see is all the scientific proof I need (who can know the mind of God?). Is it atom or Adam that I come from?

  2. Sue says:

    Excellent topic, GodGuy!
    In my own (possibly wrong)view of quantum physics, I imagine that reality is different for everyone. We make a pattern in the soup of reality. The soup’s pattern is unique to each person. It depends on what the person wishes.
    So, each person is experiencing good or evil based on his own choices (and on what he needs to learn). Therefore heaven or hell is determined by each person’s choice and could actually be changed if that person came around to God’s way of thinking.

  3. thegodguy says:

    Dear dlmil2,

    Obviously you need no proof of God’s existence or goodness. My book simply challenges current science’s materialistic ideology. I think you will be interested in tomorrow’s blog topic.

    Also see my response to Sue, below.

    Spiritually yours,

  4. thegodguy says:

    Dear Sue,


    Heaven (or hell) is the eternal outcome of the things we have cultivated in our hearts and minds (our spiritual reality).

    Mere faith or belief saves no one. The Lord Jesus Christ. when in the world, taught that we are to love God and love our neighbor. Swedenborg pointed out that the Pauline doctrine was misinterpreted. Paul himself states that “love” trumps “faith” and “hope.”

    Spiritually yours,

  5. Glenn Schoen says:

    Heaven is a free gift, hell is our creation. The gift is given to each by virtue of having been born. But though free, it has to be claimed. And if isn’t claimed, hell is created instead. In fact, not claiming it is creating hell.

    Heaven is within, like a time-release capsule. We swallow a time-release capsule, and its contents are slowly released. But we are born with the gift of heaven within, and need only release our hold of the things that obstruct for the benefits of heaven to be released.

  6. thegodguy says:

    Dear Glenn,

    Yes, heaven is within.

    Yes, it is not a free gift in the sense that we have no responsibility or heavenly duty by which we can legitimately receive such a gift (unless you die in childhood).

    The time-release capsule is a creative way to explain how spiritual love is released as we apply God’s tenets into our lives and remove our hurtful inclinations.

    Spiritually yours,

  7. Glenn Schoen says:

    Yes, it is not a free gift in the sense that we have no responsibility or heavenly duty by which we can legitimately receive such a gift (unless you die in childhood).


    At the same time, we have received the gift, and quite ‘legitimately’, merely by being born.

    ES says, “All are predestined to heaven.” Also, “The divine is in every created thing.”

    Not everyone makes it there (so to speak), because not everyone “claims” the free gift.

    One cannot merit heaven, quite true. But there is no need to–it is freely available. All one needs to do is not create hell for themselves (or if they have, let go of their own mini- and psuedo-creation), i.e., live according to heavenly truths in accordance with divine order.

    ES does make the point over and again that man’s first nature by birth is a hell in minature. Yet he also over and again makes the point that it is not man’s heriditary nature that “condemns” him, but his acquired nature.

    This is why children who die automatically go to heaven–they’ve not yet had the chance and opportunity (so to speak) to acquire a hellish nature.

  8. Glenn Schoen says:

    I like dlmul2’s comments, which include this interesting question,

    If your premise is a monotheistic God than which one – the God of the Bible, Allah of the Koran, or Yahweh of Judaism?

    If God is One, there cannot be multiple “monotheistic” Gods. While there can be multiple conceptions of the one God expressed in different natural languages, God and conceptions of God are quite different entities.

  9. thegodguy says:

    Dear Glenn,

    The question for discussion is whether damnation in hell is eternal!!!

    Meanwhile, I have addressed the topic of a monotheistic God in past blog posts. If you have the time, read my post entitled “Three Gods or One God?” (June 5, 2008). It caused quite a lengthy conversation!

    Spiritually yours,

  10. Glenn Schoen says:

    Dear TheGodGuy,

    I’ve left a comment at the other post (“Three Gods or One God”). I was going to include it here, since this is where it was brought to my attention, but thought it best not to as it is rather lengthy, and the subject here is not God, but eternal hell (amounts to the same thing, though, does it not?).

    On the subject of eternal hell, what is there to say? The case has been made that ES has hell as being eternal. No one familiar with ES can say otherwise without denying what ES says. Facts are facts, simple as that.

    Regarding personal opinions, the basic positions seem to be, a) hell does not exist; b) hell exists, but is not permanent; and, c) hell exists and is permanent.

    But I had a dialog some while ago with one who offered a fourth basic position. Yes, hell exists and is permanent, he said, but it does not follow from this that a person’s residence in hell also is permanent.

    Hmm. Interesting.

    Still, I’m not aware of anything written by ES which would support the notion that a person’s residence in hell after death is not permanent.

    Regarding my ‘personal opinion’…

    Jesus never said, “Because hell is permanent, you must love your neighbor.” He simply said, “Love your neighbor.”

    So, if the manner in which I live my life is made a function of whether hell is permanent or not, then I’m allowing myself to be guided by something other than the Lord. And if the manner in which I live my life is not a function of the question’s answer, then the question is meaningless.

    Evidently, I don’t really have a personal opinion (as such) on the question, “Is hell eternal?”


  11. Sue says:

    I think hell is definitely not eternal. The Lazarus story agrees with me. Jesus went down and called him and pulled his dilapidated confused self out of there. God won’t abandon his children in hell.

  12. thegodguy says:

    Dear Glenn,

    I am impressed that you read through all 100 comments on my blog post entitled “Three Gods or One God.” I am also happy you found it informative and added your own thoughts.

    As to the eternity of Hell there is more to this discussion than the manner in which we live our life. What we love determines a spirit’s bio-structure and form. Those in hell and those in heaven have their spiritual fabric twisted (circumvolutions) in opposite directions. For God to change this circumstance the original “evil” person would be totally annihilated as a spirit.

    Swedenborg states that such a change cannot happen without a physical body that serves as the proper and orderly foundation for such a change to take place. Spiritual transformation is not a process abstracted from structural change.

    Spiritually yours,

  13. thegodguy says:

    Dear Sue,

    Who said God abandons anyone? God loves those in hell and in heaven equally. But only those who reciprocate with God can enjoy heavenly happiness.

    God does not leave people in hell to dry or twist in the wind.

    How can you feel sorry for people who refuse God’s heaven? The door to heaven is KEPT WIDE OPEN for all spirits to enter – yet they don’t or don’t like it when they get there!

    You are thinking naturally not spiritually.

    Spiritually yours,

  14. sks says:

    Thanks for all this good discussion! Quick comment based on Sue’s last one: I don’t think God ever “abandons” anyone in hell. I think it’s more a matter of individuals choosing to turn their back on heavenly things and instead gravitate toward hellish ones. We have the free will to choose our own path.

  15. Sue says:

    How could anyone NOT feel sorry for people who refuse God’s heaven? Yes, I am proudly thinking naturally in that case if I’m limited to only one.

    How about this:
    Apocalypse Revealed (Whitehead) n. 62
    “And I have the keys of hell and death, signifies that He alone can save. By “keys” is signified the power of opening and shutting; here the power of opening hell, that man may be brought forth, and of shutting, lest, when he is brought forth, he should enter again. For man is born in evils of all kinds, thus in hell, for evils are hell; he is brought out of it by the Lord, to whom belongs the power of opening it. That by “having the keys of hell and death,” is not meant the power of casting into hell, but the power of saving, is because it immediately follows after these words:
    Behold, I am alive for ages of ages;
    by which is signified that He alone is eternal life … The power of the Lord is not only over heaven, but also over hell; for hell is kept in order and connection by oppositions against heaven; for which reason, He who rules the one must necessarily rule the other; otherwise man could not be saved; to be saved is to be brought out of hell.”

    Add that to the Lazarus story and also to the Bible story where God says something along the lines of “if even you human parents do this, how can you think God does less?”

    Ta! Da! Three things that show that hell is not a permanent state.

    Oh and I forgot this one:
    DP 249 “… Evils are allowed for the sake of the goal, which is salvation.”

  16. thegodguy says:

    Dear Sue,

    Love never punishes nor does God sentence anyone to hell – they dive towards it head first!

    Yes, the Lord uses hell for the sake of salvation. However, this is for preserving spiritual equilibrium and FREE WILL – while we are living in the physical body.

    The whole process of being incorporated into the Grand Human after death is a process by which one’s understanding becomes unified to one’s will (loves). A person in the spiritual world gradually loses the ability to say one thing and mean another. Therefore, truths are removed from the evil and falsities are removed from the good. Since salvation is enacted by means of truths how can the evil regain what they eternally reject?

    But I must admit your idea has some real appeal. If hell is not a permanent state then heaven is a guaranteed thing. If heaven is a guaranteed thing I see no reason not to act out all my lusts and compulsions. Why not party on the way to heaven!

    Ta! Da! Toga! Toga!

    Spiritually yours,

  17. Glenn Schoen says:

    Sue makes some good points. If angels can lament over ‘faith alone’ and men’s ideas about God (as they do in DLW 188), whatever in the world is wrong about humans feeling sad for those who refuse God’s heaven? There is nothing is wrong with this, nothing whatsoever. And someone immersed in ‘natural thinking’ is quite unlikely to be experiencing a genuine sadness for the reason mentioned.

  18. thegodguy says:

    Dear Glenn,

    I appreciate your role in playing the “good cop.” Yes, I am sure that even the angels of heaven are saddened by those who refuse God’s kingdom.

    I invite all my readers to share in this sadness. However, In the case of the eternity of hell it looks like I have become the Swedenborgian “Purist!”

    Spiritually yours,

  19. Sue says:

    And, hey, I thought of another Bible story that applies here.
    The landowner paid the latecoming workers the SAME as he paid the ones who had worked all day.
    Which caused complaining. But the landowner said he could do whatever he wanted because he owned the place.

  20. thegodguy says:

    Dear Sue,

    OK, you have convinced me that God will even save my odd Uncle Earl. But what about my pet goldfish? Heaven would not be heaven without my pet goldfish!

    Spiritually yours,

  21. Sue says:

    I thought of another thing that backs me up:
    (I love your topic here)
    The parable of the lost sheep. Yes.
    I know you will say “but the sheep/sinner had to REPENT”.
    True. But look at all the special attention that sheep got from the shepherd: he actually left 99 sheep wandering around together in the wilderness to go retrieve the lost one. And he carried it back to the others. And he was joyful.

    That practically proves that hell is not eternal. Well, actually, it’s more like Glenn’s comment, hell is eternal (the wrong path doesn’t go away), but the sheep didn’t have to stay on the wrong path: the shepherd went to get him.

  22. thegodguy says:

    Dear Sue,

    More and more Swedenborgians are challenging Swedenborg’s writings – just as more and more americans are challenging the U.S. Constitution.

    God’s system of justice has nothing to do with social justice or what we would like it to be. I have had arguments with so-called “liberal” Swedenborgians about the “unfairness of heaven” not being the same for everyone. Heaven is hierarchically layered according to the qualities of its inhabitants to love God and the neighbor.

    The shepherd does not bring back all the “strays” to the same flock! And you assume God brings back the smelly goats as well.

    Spiritually yours,

  23. Sue says:

    I know. I can see both sides of this actually. But you asked us to give our viewpoint. And, lo and behold, I find my mind can’t stop coming up with more to bolster mine.

    I have sort of a self-love relationship with some of my viewpoints. You know why? I think it’s because I can often hold two opposing viewpoints at once (confusing). I am easily swayed in discussion. But when something becomes clear in my mind, it stays clear and I like that.

    Do you think it’s wrong to challenge Swedenborg’s writings? I don’t. He was not dictatorial. He was patient and willing to lead my mind through logic and beyond. He wouldn’t expect me to not think or challenge ideas. If he wanted me to keep my mind complacent, why was he so prolific? So throrough? I think he wanted us to become convinced through our own mind, rather than him convincing us. He’s not the boss of me. He’s a mentor that I chose.

  24. thegodguy says:

    Dear Sue,

    Swedenborg himself would tell you not to believe anything that you cannot confirm yourself.

    The only viewpoint we can have is from observing the results of our own efforts at spiritual growth (inner empiricism). These efforts are grounded in a physical body and the formation of our ideas must come from things in space and time. This physical arena is taken away from us after we die. A tree falls where it lands.

    If we could simply change the very fabric of our being in the spiritual world then God went to a lot of trouble and wasted time in creating a physical world. Why would God be so inefficient?

    The only true family one has in heaven is from the society of souls who share equal values and viewpoints. So loved ones on earth may not stay within your sphere in heaven anyway.

    Spiritually yours,

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