by the late Ms. Bertha Berran,
former member of the Swedenborgian Church in San Diego, CA
in the October, 1996 Issue of Our Daily Bread

Hell: What is it? Where is it? How did it start? What will become of it? What does the Swedenborgian Church have to say about it?

It says, in brief, hell is the state of evil people, here and hereafter. Hell exists by permission of God's Providence because He has to leave us in freedom to choose either good or evil, and some choose evil. The actual location of hell is wherever the evil people are.

Clarence W. Barron, who was the owner and editor of the Wall Street Journal, said in his printed address titled, "Reading Swedenborg - a Help for Every Man and Woman," that the reader of Swedenborg knows that if he looks after others, the Lord will look after him; he also knows where he will land if he tries to look after himself, and leaves the Lord to look out for somebody else; indeed he is already there - in hell.

Upon making preparation for our final home, when we enter the world of spirits, we will try to do exactly as we have done here on  earth. We will keep up the mask of appearances and act and speak quite other than we actually are, but gradually we will just be our own real selves. We will show our likes and dislikes and form associations with those who are kindred spirits; with those who have a like range of sympathies, hopes and passions. So by the force of mutual attractions and repulsions, we will draw nearer to heaven or to hell. If our associations and manifest passions are evil, if we delight in spitefulness and wrongdoing, if we are filled with the spirit of envy, enmity and self, if we breathe forth only cruelty and lust, we will gravitate to hell, to associate with our life, and find ourselves externally as well as internally in the life which, by persistent practice and delight, we have by choice made our own.

We find no children or immature persons in any part of this whole evil state of life called hell, for no one who is not a fully mature adult can made deliberate choices and continuous practice of any one form of life. All those who die in such immaturity are given into the charge of angels in heaven where the whole atmosphere is towards love and any natural inclinations to evil are soon forgotten so the gradual development of the soul into heavenliness is assured.

Before we can see the truth unfolded by Swedenborg concerning hell, we must rid ourselves of certain false ideas commonly held on this subject. Hell is not a place created by God for the punishment of sin. On the contrary, it is the heaven of the wicked created by themselves. They rush into it and abide it of their own accord. There is no attribute of God which calls for the punishment of sin or which could receive the least satisfaction from such punishment, any further than it may be made a means of reforming and blessing the sinner. God is infinite love. His anger is a false inference drawn by sensual humans from their own state of evil and misery. God wills the same love, wisdom, peace, joy to all in hell that He wills to all in heaven, and because it is not received by them, it is no fault of God's.

Is there then no punishment in hell? At first there is none. If our delight is in the expression of any evil lust, there is no punishment in being deprived of inner restraints and being allowed to find our home among most congenial companions. At first, therefore, this life of hell must be keenly delightful to those who find their way there. But there is a punishment in hell, not inflicted by God, but inherent in every form and degree of end by its own nature. No one can exercise extreme selfishness, or lust, or love or rule without stirring others to the like desires, which by their nature, interfere with ours.

When in hell, therefore, this interference becomes too aggressive, those oppressed rise against the oppressor The one evil overlord must be restrained to give another an equal chance of indulgence. Thus does the government of the Lord's providence in hell always keep the evil from their natural trend of becoming continually worse. A sort of equilibrium is maintained consisting for those there in alternations of periods of wild, and to them, doubtless, delightful unrestraint, with periods of restraint, which are, of course periods of punishment. Even this punishment is doubtless mitigated by confident anticipation of the time when they again shall have the upper hand, and also by schemings for the hastening of that time and for its fuller enjoyment.

Does this statement seem fantastic? It is surely not unknown in the world. It is matched exactly in any person of unrestrained selfish ambition or any evil lust who stops at nothing to satisfy his desires. Do we think that those in this state of hell would exchange it for the life of heaven? Not if it is the one state available for the expression of their real life of self-indulgence. To such, heaven with its unselfish love of service, would be hell, and hell is as much of a heaven as their nature permits. For we are taught that, while in the true light of heaven such people appear as monsters rather than people, living in hovels in the gruesome surroundings congenial and corresponding to their inward state, to themselves they appear as the finest of ladies and gentlemen, their hovels as palaces, the hideous desert as the most delightful paradise. And this, necessarily, of the Lord's just providence, so they do not realize the depth of degradation in which they are, and be really tortured by the remorse caused by the knowledge of what they have lost.

Is the loss then irrevocable? Picture a person to whom evil is the very love and life, who, for the sake of that unity of life has had mercifully removed all the inner bonds of conscience and the outer bonds of decency; will such persons voluntarily desert their true delights? Every evil spirit, we are taught, may go from hell even to heaven if he wants to. The choice is his. But can you conceive anyone voluntarily quitting the state which that person calls heaven, but is really hell, which one enjoys, to make the necessary changes needed to enter heaven?


And His disciples approached Him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field." He answered, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will collect out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!"

Matthew 13:36-43

Reading from Swedenborg:

In general the hells are ruled by a general outflow form the heavens of Divine good and Divine truth whereby the general endeavor flowing forth from the hells is checked and restrained; also by a particular outflow form each heaven and from each society of heaven. The hells are ruled in particular by means of the angels, to whom it is granted to look into the hells and to restrain insanities and disturbances there; and sometimes angels are sent to them who moderate these insanities and disturbances by their presence. But in general all in the hells are ruled by means of their fears. Some are fueled by fears implanted in the world and still inherent in them, but as these fears are not sufficient, and gradually subside, they are ruled by fears of punishments; and it is especially by these that they are deterred from doing evil. The punishment sin hell are manifold, lighter or more severe in accordance with the evils. For the most part the more wicked, who excel in cunning and in artifices, and who are able to hold the rest in subjection and servitude by means of punishments and consequent terror, are set over there, but these governors dare not pass beyond the limits prescribed tot hem. It must be understood that the sole means of restraining the violence and fury of those who are in the hells is the fear of punishment. There is no other way.

Heaven and Hell, #543

Music: Conversations with My Soul
1999 Bruce DeBoer