I was wrong about Hell

Writing a theistic blog over the last 2½ years, it was only natural that I would eventually touch on the subject of hell. I focused mainly on whether hell was eternal or if the Lord God had provided a contingency plan by which all souls would inevitably be saved.

My news was bad.

As one who embraces the theology of Emanuel Swedenborg and studied his ideas for over 35 years, it was made clear to me that hell was eternal. I pursued this topic because it could also serve to illustrate the lawful and orderly organic process of spiritual salvation by which the inner qualities of the human heart and mind formed the very living fabric of one’s spiritual body (which houses the soul).

To expect that the Lord God could change this inner fabric from Divine Love and Mercy overlooks the sticky problem that if you change whom a person has chosen to be (his or her spiritual reality), you tear their personhood into shreds and destroy that individual. The process of spiritual transformation and one’s decision to live life on a heavenly trajectory must get a start while the person is living in the body. The physical body, with its focus on the material world (and its many vanities and allurements) offers both resistance to spiritual influences and provides the parameters (stage) for our individual salvation.

However, once we depart from the earth and live as pure spirits, there is nothing to offer resistance to our negative proclivities and compulsions—unless we have made sincere efforts to do so while living in the physical body. In the spiritual world, each of us becomes who we really are (from free will). Because of this, Swedenborg claimed that hell was eternal. So, armed with this doctrine, I merely echoed the sad news that once a person entered hell there was no escape.

Well, I made a boo-boo.

According to Swedenborg, some people who end up in hell do eventually get out! So I want to apologize to all my readers for misleading you.

Who are these lucky souls that buck the trend?

They are those who through friendships, blood relations or marriage have created strong bonds with individuals who do find their way to hell. In spite of the awful mess these good-natured people get themselves into, they find—through their powerful attachments—that leaving such individuals and relationships is unthinkable.

Swedenborg states that getting people out of this situation is extremely difficult—even for the Lord God.

So although I left out some important data concerning this emotional subject, these individuals who do eventually escape from hell never actually belonged there in the first place!


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 http://www.staircasepress.com
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14 Responses to I was wrong about Hell

  1. So in other words hell is still forever.

    I have heard that this topic can really upset people. I want to know what is behind these feelings. Are they afraid to go to hell? Are they sorry for the people in hell? Are they worried about an eternally loving God condemning people?

    I don’t know.

  2. sks says:

    Great post, GodGuy! This is an interesting point you make about being so connected to someone that you could actually end up following them all the way to hell. Yikes! That’s a pretty sobering thought. And a heads-up to me that I had better be cleaning up my own act not only for myself, but also for the sake of my loved ones. That puts a whole new face on it. Personal responsibility runs even deeper than I generally think about. It generally doesn’t occur to us on a very deep level that how we “are” and what we love in our hearts (in terms of good and evil) could actually have that significant an effect on those around us. Sincere thanks for the wake-up call!

  3. thegodguy says:

    Dear sks,

    Swedenborg brought both wonderful and sobering news to the world. When the Lord came into the world it was not only to comfort us but to confront us! We often say that the truth hurts but turn against truth once it starts hurting. Just as all energy is under law the Lord God’s Love is under truth (spiritual law).

    Spritually yours,

  4. Linda Austin says:

    I think those who are scared of eternal hell worry about fire and brimstone, but hell is separation from God, not the firepit thing. Doesn’t that mean some of our beloveds won’t be able to spend quality afterlife time with us if they are on the other side of the fence – another thing people worry about. Sorry, personally I don’t know how Swedenborg really could know the details; however, excellent thinking, here, Ed, stuff I had never imagined before. Hey, don’t the Mormons believe you can pray somebody out of hell? And the Catholics have that purgatory thing.

  5. thegodguy says:

    Dear Stephen,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with my readers. There are several reasons why this topic is so painful even to Swedenborgians. First, it seems that a God of Infinite Love would not allow eternal suffering – forgetting that one in hell suffers from one’s own hatred. Also, few people can bear knowing that friends or loved ones might suffer such a fate, overlooking the fact that while we are still in an external/physical body, we are not in a position to observe a person’s true inner qualities. Thirdly, one does not like feeling uncomfortable about others or themselves. Heaven is not guaranteed.

    Swedenborg makes it clear that the first legitimate act of charity is to identify particular evils and compulsions within us and ask the Lord to help us remove them. I believe many people want to feel good about themselves and prefer to skip this important but unflattering step and jump right in the “doing good” part.

    Ministers want their congregations to hug, support each other and rejoice. And I don’t blame them. I however, purposely did not choose the path of ordination so that I could assist those who wanted to take the splinters out of their asses.

    Spiritually yours,

  6. thegodguy says:

    Dear Linda,

    Swedenborg claimed that the Lord opened his spiritual sight so that he could observe citizens of both heaven and earth. This is how he was able to write about the details.

    Yes, hell is separation from God. But this separation takes place by the decisions we make in our minds and hearts – what is more just than that? As long as we live on the terrestrial globe people of different inner qualities can become friends and be helpful from worldly goals.

    If Mormons believe you can pray for people to be saved this becomes problematic for those souls whose past cannot be retraced. Being raised Catholic myself, the concept of purgatory is only partially similar to Swedenborg’s view of the spiritual world in general – where souls go to be prepared for heaven (or for hell). But that would require more details!

    Spiritually yours,

  7. Glenn says:

    A quote (for background info) and a question,

    o I have also been told by angels that a person’s life cannot be changed after death, because it has been structured in accordance with his love and consequent works. Moreover, that if it were changed, the organic structure would be destroyed, which can never happen. They also said that a change in the organic structure is possible only in the material body, and not at all possible in the spiritual body after the former has been cast off. CL 524.3

    If changes in the so-called ‘organic structure’ are necessary for one to bumped up from the discrete natural level to the discrete spiritual level, wouldn’t changes in this organic structure also be necessary in order for one to be bumped up from the discrete spiritual level to the discrete celestial level? If so, wouldn’t this mean (at least) these two things:

    a) celestial angels are formed as such during their life of the material body; and,

    b) spiritual angels, formed as such during their life of the material body, are permanently spiritual angels in the afterlife, and can never become celestial angels (since they no longer have a material body in which could take place non-destroying changes in organic structure enabling them to be bumped up from the discrete spiritual level to the discrete celestial level)?

  8. thegodguy says:

    Hi Glenn,

    That would be correct according to Swedenborg’s observations. During terrestrial life some individuals understand and do good from truth (spiritual trajectory) while others perceive and do good from a deeper principle of love (celestial trajectory). Each trajectory (spiritual and celestial) can be perfected eternally from their own distinct level. That is how I understand it. But the topic is quite complex.

    Good to hear from you again!

    Spiritually yours,

  9. Glenn says:

    Oh, and here I was, thinking you were happy with my silence!

    It is indeed a topic which is complex, and whose complexity is accentuated by at least these six things (all according to Swedenborg):

    1) Angels know far less than everything there is to know;

    2) What is known by one subset of angels may not be known by another, and what is not known by one subset may be known by some other;

    3) There is no guaranty that something reportedly said by angels, was said by angels most knowledgeable about that something;

    4) Descriptions and reports in the writings are only approximations;

    5) Nothing ‘revealed’ in the writings is exhaustive in its survey of a given subject; and,

    6) Affections are changes and variations in the purely organic substances of the mind, and thoughts are changes and variations in the forms of these organic substances–see DP 279–thus, as spirits and angels experience alterations, modifications, changes and variations in both their thoughts and affections in the other life, it follows that organic structures do indeed undergo changes in that life.

    A moment’s reflection, and an ounce of common sense, makes clear that there is quite a lot of wiggle room with regard to many if not most authoritative pronouncements based on revelations from angels (or through angels from the Lord) in the writings.


  10. thegodguy says:

    Dear Glenn,

    Do you recall which of Swedenborg’s statements came from angels and which statements came through angels from the Lord?

    Wiggle room? Next time I experience a temptation I will be comforted to know that the New Church offers loopholes!

    As always, you are one heck of a clever dude. You make a great point about human affections being changes of states in the organic substance of mind and spirit. Unfortunately, these states change according to the dictates of one’s “Ruling Love” – which finds its existence in the choices we made in the world and choices we will continue to make in the next realm. The Lord forgives those in hell but cannot stand in the way of their chosen trajectories.

    If my memory serves me correctly, you had a different opinion of this topic several months ago.

    Spiritually yours,

  11. Glenn says:


    Do you recall which of Swedenborg’s statements came from angels and which statements came through angels from the Lord?

    Who’s being ‘clever’?

    The parenthetical portion of the phrase “based on revelations from angels (or through angels from the Lord)” is precising, not an alternative. In anticipation of an objection that this clarification may inspire, let it be pointed out that anything coming through media is being filtered through that media, and what comes out is not an exact duplicate of what entered it.

    If my memory serves me correctly, you had a different opinion of this topic several months ago.

    My position several months ago, as it is now, was that it doesn’t matter whether hell is permanent or not. The Lord never said, “Because hell is permanent, Thou Shalt (or Thou Shalt Not).”

    Personally, I don’t think it is a good idea to weigh and consider the Lord’s commandments with an eye on the question as to whether hell is permanent or not, as this would be like attempting to decide whether the chances were low at getting caught doing something wrong. If that is one’s mindset, then doing good isn’t a doing of good for the sake of doing good, but out of fear of some sort of retribution, punishment or penalty for having made a wrong choice.

    I understand Swedenborg’s position on the matter, and haven’t a problem with accepting his rationale for it. But that I accept it doesn’t mean that I’m also blind to the fact that it is not unimpeachable, and that others may have reasonable justification for question it.


  12. thegodguy says:

    Dear Glenn,

    As I have already stated, The Lord punishes no one. It isn’t what one has done in the past with his or her life that is damning, it is what one is intent on doing in the future. Disagreeing with me will not damn anyone either. I have merely asked that if one believes that hell is not eternal to please offer an explanation of a rational mechanism that would allow the Lord God to reverse an organic trajectory – especially after one has been removed from his or her physical body.

    (I suspect that some (Swedenborgian) ministers want to be able to comfort their congregations with positive news only.)

    However, when entering the spiritual world a process begins by which all ideas are removed from our minds that do not support our chosen loves. By the time one reaches hell this living process has been completed (unless one’s trajectory is towards a more grievous hell).

    As far as media is concerned, Swedenborg claimed he was instructed by no angel. Unless you offer evidence challenging this I will remain smug in my belief that the Lord spoke through the angels – rather than angels merely offering their opinions.

    Spiritually yours,

  13. Glenn says:


    As far as media is concerned, Swedenborg claimed he was instructed by no angel.

    You are agreeing with me, not correcting me, as I wrote,

    The parenthetical portion of the phrase “based on revelations from angels (or through angels from the Lord)” is precising, not an alternative.

    Unless you offer evidence challenging this I will remain smug in my belief…

    At the same time, Swedenborg did in fact claim that he had been instructed by angels. See, e.g., AC 2750, 3720, 7745, and SE 3881.


    PS See? You forgot you were happy with my silence, didn’t you? 🙂

  14. thegodguy says:

    Dear Glenn,

    Your silence? You are putting words in my smile. 🙂

    Spiritually yours,

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