The subject of Hell has been of interest to me ever since I was a child; as I have had ample occasion to mention before, the reminder of the ultimate unthinkable threat of eternal hellfire was constantly flaunted before my impressionable, sensitive eyes, every single day of my young life. Therefore Hell was one of the first Christian concepts I easily, cheerfully, dispensed with during my long days of atheism and agnosticism.
One of my big problems, with Hell, always used to be that it seemed so unfair; not only were living people, who had never heard of Jesus, automatically condemned to Hell, but generation upon generation of men who walked the earth BEFORE Jesus came, were also condemned to Hell. A few days ago, I read an online article that very clearly stated that Martin Luther was in Hell, because he had been ex-communicated by the Pope. My God! All these people are condemned to Hell who never heard of Jesus, who never had any opportunity of accepting or rejecting Him--or maybe they are condemned just because a guy in a pointy hat says so. A world in which this kind of injustice can prevail is not the creation of a loving God! Everybody except the chosen measly few are created to suffer in eternal hellfire! Hell this, Hell that, so easily they speak the word! From this it seemed that, in the thousands of years before Christ, Earth was just a breeding ground for Hell. It just didn't seem reasonable to me.
Since then, as faith has grown in me, so has my ability to include such unpleasant realities as Hell into my self-constructed cosmography. Reality is not pretty. But, again, we run upon the horns of the literal vs. symbolic dialectic: the question of whether Hell is a really live place, or whether it is merely a state of mind? Spiritually speaking, I figure it can't make that much difference, either way; but I make no pretense of having perfect understanding of this matter. However, I will say this: in an eternity of eternities, eternal damnation is no longer an impossible thing for me to imagine.
I have often encountered New Age accounts of where souls actually come from, and where they go, etc., and I have wondered about the various possibilities they suggest. If we accept the Rudolf Steiner view that humankind is always in a state of evolution toward some ever more perfect state, it is not hard to imagine the opposite: the scenario of a wasted soul, a soul which could never make more of itself, a soul which digressed rather than progressed--I say, it is not hard to imagine such a soul being recycled into some lower-vibratory stuff of the universe and losing its personal identity: this, to me, would be death. It is also not hard for me to imagine a place of ultimate torment; and since all eternity is included in a moment, it is therefore not hard to imagine a place of eternal torment. Nevertheless, the jury is still out on this one, as you will see from the following opinions on the subject of Hell.
The Rudolf Steiner explanation of the situation, in terms of the evolution of Mankind, has much less to do with the afterlife than it has to do with the presence of the Kingdom of God on Earth. The reality of Heaven on Earth is what Jesus, as Mediator, made available to Mankind for the first time; that's the importance of Jesus' coming: it wasn't to bring Heaven as a substitute for Hell, it was supposed to eliminate Hell; it was simply supposed to make us understand that eternity is available here and now in whatever form we ask it to take, material or otherwise; that the fruits of Heaven and the fruits of Hell are available on any dimension of creation at any time.
First, I must mention how I came upon this subject: it has to do with my survey of John, which was postponed while subjects of a more seasonal character were discussed; coming back to John, I give the following quotation:
John 5:22-27 (ESV Bible)
"22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son,
23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.
24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.
26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.
27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man."
I was attracted to the idea of the Son as Judge. I don't think I ever imagined Jesus presiding over the Last Judgment, even though I have heard the words of the Credo many many times--when I read this, I realized that I have always thought of the Father as Judge, and the Son as, maybe, the executor. Putting Jesus in the throne of Judgment suddenly sheds new light on Jesus' position in the Spiritual hierarchy, and lends enhanced significance to my personal relationship with Him. I also breathe a sigh of relief, because I figure I can get away with stuff with Jesus that I can't get away with from God. On the other hand, it says, that the Son must be a representation of the Father. . . Oh, well.
It makes sense, though, for who better than a former Man, to judge other Men fairly? The coming of the Mediator brought the coming of the necessity for judgment; the fact that Jesus could weep with us, shows that He will always weigh the rewards and punishments in favor of pity, and mercy, and forgiveness. Indeed, I don't think that Jesus must ultimately judge anything or anybody--that we make the decision to enter Hell or Heaven on our own.
This is the thesis sentence of the sermon, which we will return to in time.
"I don't think that Jesus must ultimately judge anything or anybody--that we make the decision to enter Hell or Heaven on our own."
Indeed, our good friend C. S. Lewis always makes a point, in those one-on-one interviews with Aslan that all the Narnia books have--the scene where all pretense is stripped away, and Aslan reads the soul of the child before Him, and the child confesses all truly. In the presence of Aslan, no one can lie, even to oneself. Thus, the absolute honesty, that the presence of the Christ compels, makes each Man to confess each his own condemnation, each his own salvation. This is how Jesus stands in judgment; he makes Men see the truth of themselves, and reveals to them the consequences of choices they have already made.
However, before we can justify a conclusion, there is much amplifying material to sort through. We will begin to explore this subject with a piece from Paramount Church.com : What is the Gospel? This piece makes a case for the justification of such a place as Hell:
"God is terribly angry with the sin man is born with, as well as the sins man personally commits, and thus will punish sinful man both now and in eternity. Though God is merciful, He is also just. The Lord God is a holy God. He is a consuming fire, a jealous God. Thus, His justice demands that sin, committed against His supreme majesty be punished with the supreme penalty, namely eternal punishment of body and soul in hell.
Matt. 10:2828 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Matt 25:40-4640 And the King will answer them, Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’The eternal Son of God had to become man because sinful man cannot pay for others the debt they owe to God. Christ, the Mediator, had to be born of a virgin and become a man because God’s justice demands that human nature, which has sinned, must pay for its sin.
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."
Yet, it was necessary that our Mediator also be God so that by His own power, He might bear the weight of God’s anger in His humanity and earn for us and restore us to righteousness and life."
Thus, from this author's point of view, Hell is man's just punishment for his so-called "supreme" sin, even if it is, after all, Adam's sin.
The following piece, Beyond description, by Herman Bavinck
is all about: by what right Jesus claims the position to the right hand of God. The main point is that: the sacrifice is commensurate with the reward. The piece goes on to elaborate on what it is that Jesus' sacrifice has won Him, and on what it is we gain from the mediation of the Son.
“What Christ acquired by this sacrifice is beyond description. For Himself He acquired by it His entire exaltation, His resurrection, His ascension to heaven, His seating at the right hand of God, His elevation as head of the church, the name that is above every name, the glory of the mediator, power over all things in heaven and on earth, the final judgment.
In addition He acquired for His own, for humanity, for the world, an interminable series of blessings. In His person He is Himself the sum of all those blessings: the light of the world, the true bread, the true vine, the way, the truth, the resurrection, and the life, our wisdom, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption, our peace, the firstborn and the firstfruits who is followed by many others, the second and last Adam, the head of the church, the cornerstone of the temple of God; and for that reason there is no participation in His benefits except by communion with His person."
[Sidebar: Thank you, Jesus, for that lofty yet utterly simple idea:
". . . there is no participation in His benefits except by communion with His person."
How this sums it all up for me! Participation in the great Ocean of Jesus, focussed in the Christ Consciousness, is the ultimate authority of belief, and the ultimate end of our time on Earth. The Person of Jesus; what a lovely expression!
Back to Bavinck:]
"Yet from Him flow all the benefits, the whole of salvation, and more specifically the forgiveness of sins; the removal of our sins; the cleansing or deliverance of a bad conscience; justification; righteousness; sonship; confident access to God; God’s laying aside His wrath in virtue of Christ’s sacrifice, that is, the sacrifice of atonement; the disposition in God that replaced it, the new reconciled—no longer hostile but favorable—disposition of peace toward the world; the disposition of people vis-à-vis God; further, the gift of the Holy Spirit; the second birth and the power to become children of God; sanctification; participation in Christ’s death; the dying to sin; the being crucified to the world; the cleansing and the washing away of sins by being sprinkled with the blood of Christ; walking in the Spirit and in the newness of life; participation in the resurrection and ascension of Christ; the imitation of Christ; increased freedom from the curse of the law; the fulfillment of the old and the inauguration of a new covenant; redemption from the power of Satan; victory over the world; deliverance from death and from the fear of death; escape from judgment; and, finally, the resurrection of the last day; ascension; glorification; the heavenly inheritance; eternal life already beginning here with the inception of faith and one day fully manifesting itself in glory; the new heaven and new earth; and the restoration of all things.”
Notice, in the previous quotation, the reference to Jesus as the first and second Adam. I was surprised to stumble across that expression in mainline Christian material, but you must know that it's a common enough concept in New Age Spiritual Theory: many New Age authors, including Edgar Cayce and Elizabeth Claire Prophet, among many others, have insisted that Jesus was the reincarnation of Adam--that because Adam had committed the first sin, it was up to Him to make restitution for it, by undoing the damage caused by His original sin. Hence, the first and second Adam. The details of these beliefs are, as usual, of little interest to me, (and I have no intention of committing to one such belief or another, especially since there are so many variants); but it is definitely tantalizing to imagine that Jesus' authority over us comes from his commission of the original sin. That Jesus should finally come forward and redeem that sin is a very interesting thought. Some might think this interpretation diminishes the force of Jesus' proclaimed Divinity, but I don't think so--its just one more way the story works.
The Martin Luther feature for today consists only of two short excerpts:
The following is from: Christians at MOMENT BY MOMENT REST:
Martin Luther stated; "Thou (God the Father) hast put all things in subjection under His feet. For in that He put all in subjection under Him, He left nothing that is not put under Him (to chance, as He will rid Himself of this evil existence in due time!). But now we seen not (viewing the destructive pattern that this world is following currently) yet all things put under Him."
Afterlife and Salvation by: Ted Vial
"Martin Luther, like most traditional Christians, believed that this life was simply a pilgrimage, a journey toward our final destination. That destination was an eternity spent either in heaven or in hell. There was nothing one could do to earn a spot in heaven-God freely forgave the sins of some, and they could enter heaven. Heaven is a state of blessedness where you exist in the presence of God, something humans have not been able to do since the fall in the Garden of Eden. Hell was a place of torment, as just punishment for sin.
. . .
The conservative wing of the Lutheran Church maintains its belief in an afterlife spent in a literal place, either heaven or hell. More liberal Lutherans tend to downplay hell, often because the image of God torturing people for eternity, even if they are sinners, is not easy to square with their idea of a loving God. Nor is it easy to square the idea of a just God with one who casts people into hell just because, as the result of fortune for which they are not responsible, they have not lived in a place where the Gospel of Jesus was preached.
Far more Americans say that they believe in heaven in recent surveys, than say they believe in hell.There are also Lutherans since the mid-20th century (this is true of all Protestant denominations) who hold that neither heaven nor hell are literal places. If the core of salvation as described above is to live in the presence of God, heaven is then a metaphor for blessedness or a divine relationship in this life. Hell is a metaphor for living in the absence of God in this life."
If my mother had heard the last few sentences of the piece I just read, she would have rejected totally anything the guy was trying to say, because, to her, there is no gray area: the Bible says Heaven and Hell are real places, so all this symbolic baloney carries no weight. To her the physical reality is more important than the spiritual reality; she is so unspiritual, she can only imagine physical realities (albeit coaxed into being, somehow, by magic). And there are many, many, many people who, like my mother, find it comforting to think of a literal Heaven or a literal Hell. To me, it's a trivial point, because the Heaven experience is all about enjoying blessedness, and the point of Hell is to suffer. If there is one thing I know, Man is capable of suffering on any dimension.
On the subject of suicide, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that, if people are suffering in life, they must certainly continue to suffer in death; a soul in pain is a soul in pain, regardless of the dimension it is focussed in, physical or otherwise. I have to agree with the philosophy I read many years ago, which is states that suicide never solves anything or delivers anybody from anything, because we take our problems with us wherever we go. If we're in such torment that we can't stand to live, we must be in Hell already--so, if we kill ourselves, we just take our Hell with us, maybe in a more intense form. This has never seemed to be a very good economic solution.
As you will have noted, I have presented readings from many theologians, philosophers, and poets, including writings from many ancient masters, as well such New Age philosophers as Steiner, Campbell, and Lewis. There is a New Age writer whom we have not mentioned often enough, and that is William Blake. Blake was really the great-grandaddy of the Spiritualist movement, about seventy-five years ahead of everybody else. He was an intensely original thinker, with a magnificently open heart, and a cosmically resonant vision.
The following is from: William Blake's Proverbs of Hell:
"Unlike that of Milton or Dante, Blake's conception of Hell begins not as a place of punishment, but as a source of unrepressed, somewhat Dionysian energy, opposed to the authoritarian and regulated perception of Heaven."
[Sidebar: Remember Steiner's point that the material world is tainted all by Luciferian vibrations. Hell is the tang of those one-too-many beers. Very subtle, very comfortable. It is that neon-lit glow of sin that tempts us into Hell; that wild and crazy freedom of sin, of carnality, of excess. Shaw's Don Juan in Hell paints Hell as one great aristocratic ball. What present of the Magi would be the perfect blend of Earth and Heaven?]
"Blake's purpose is to create what he called a "memorable fancy" in order to reveal the repressive nature of conventional morality and institutional religion, which he describes thus:"The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could perceive.
And particularly they studied the genius of each city & country, placing it under its mental deity;
Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav'd the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects: thus began Priesthood;
Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales.
And at length they pronounc'd that the Gods had order'd such things.
Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast."
In the most famous part of the book, Blake reveals the Proverbs of Hell. These display a very different kind of wisdom from the Biblical Book of Proverbs. The diabolical proverbs are provocative and paradoxical. Their purpose is to energise thought. Several of Blake's proverbs have become famous:"The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom."
"The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction"
Blake explains that,"Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.
From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil.
Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy.
Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell."
We see a similar attitude toward the temptations of Hell expressed in Swedenborg's Heaven and Hell :
"... hellish fire is self-love and love of the world, it is every craving that belongs to those loves, the craving being an extension of love because a person constantly craves what he loves. It is also a pleasure, since when a person gets what he loves or craves, he perceives it as pleasant. This is the only source of heartfelt joy for man. So hellish fire is a craving and a pleasure that well up from these two loves as their sources... "
The following is from Job:
"Job again took up his parable, and said:
"Oh that I were as in the months of old, as in the days when God watched over me; when his lamp shone on my head, and by his light I walked through darkness, as I was in the ripeness of my days, when the friendship of God was in my tent, when the Almighty was yet with me, and my children were around me,
when my steps were washed with butter, and the rock poured out streams of oil for me, when I went forth to the city gate, when I prepared my seat in the street.
The young men saw me and hid themselves. The aged rose up and stood. The princes refrained from talking, and laid their hand on their mouth. The voice of the nobles was hushed, and their tongue stuck to the roof of their mouth.
For when the ear heard me, then it blessed me; and when the eye saw me, it commended me:
Because I delivered the poor who cried, and the fatherless also, who had none to help him, the blessing of him who was ready to perish came on me, and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy.
I put on righteousness, and it clothed me. My justice was as a robe and a diadem.
I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy. The cause of him who I didn't know, I searched out. I broke the jaws of the unrighteous, and plucked the prey out of his teeth.
Then I said, 'I shall die in my own house, I shall number my days as the sand. My root is spread out to the waters. The dew lies all night on my branch. My glory is fresh in me. My bow is renewed in my hand.'"
I find this last quotation from Job, just in terms of its literary quality, to be astonishingly beautiful poetry; but I was drawn to this passage for the single moment, in the long progression, that refers to justice. The reference to justice, in this quotation, bears directly on Jesus' authority to judge and to mete out punishment and reward. Thus, not only is it beautiful poem, a poem that affirms the possibilities for good that come with life, it is a prophetic poem, as well, because, through the mouth of Job, it speaks about putting on the authority of the sun in order to administer one's affairs--that the blessings of God will bring happiness into his life; a long life such that, when he grows older and looks back on this, he will see it as a good thing. The justice of the Son justifies (duh) the world and all that is in the world.
The following is from Joseph Campbell on Jesus and Metaphor:
CAMPBELL: "The reference of the metaphor in religious traditions is to something transcendent that is not literally any thing. If you think that the metaphor is itself the reference, it would be like going to a restaurant, asking for the menu, seeing beefsteak written there, and starting to eat the menu.
For example, Jesus ascended to heaven. The denotation would seem to be that somebody ascended to the sky. That’s literally what is being said. But if that were really the meaning of the message, then we have to throw it away, because there would have been no such place for Jesus literally to go. We know that Jesus could not have ascended to heaven because there is no physical heaven anywhere in the universe. Even ascending at the speed of light, Jesus would still be in the galaxy, Astronomy and physics have simply eliminated that as a literal, physical possibility, But if you read "Jesus ascended to heaven" in terms of its metaphoric connotation, you see that he has gone inward – not into outer space but into inward space, to the place from which all being comes, into the consciousness that is the source of all things, the kingdom of heaven within. The images are outward, but their reflection is inward. The point is that we should ascend with him by going inward. It is a metaphor of returning to the source, alpha and omega, of leaving the fixation on the body behind and going to the body’s dynamic source."
"This is the problem that can be metaphorically understood as identifying with the Christ in you. The Christ in you doesn't die. The Christ in you survives death and resurrects. Or you can identify that with Shiva. I am Shiva--this is the great meditation of the yogis in the Himalayas...Heaven and hell are within us, and all the gods are within us. This is the great realization of the Upanishads of India in the ninth century B.C. All the gods, all the heavens, all the worlds, are within us. They are magnified dreams, and dreams are manifestations in image form of the energies of the body in conflict with each other."
One of the problems with the word "symbol" is that it sort of has the the undertone connotation that it's not actually real-- that when something "symbolizes" something, it's somehow talking about an abstraction-- something made up, pretend. But one of the things I have talked about, repeatedly, in these sermons, is that a symbol is a real thing. A symbol which comes to animate a physical object, has its origin in the mental world of abstraction, as an incidence of thought; it's an idea, born as a thought in the mind of God, which becomes realized in the physical plane. So, a symbol is not a nonphysical, nonreal entity, it is actually the physical invasion of matter by thought energy that previously existed in the mind of God.
Therefore, to think of Hell symbolically, for me, does not in any way diminish the terror of Hell. Hell is suffering. Hell is eternal regret, no matter what dimension it takes place in. The prospect of the physical torments, promised by Hell, actually seem much less forbidding than the spiritual hell, because we understand that spirit just keeps going on and on, while we are conditioned to think that physical matter must eventually be burned up. For this reason, it is easier for me to imagine an eternity of spiritual Hell, than it is to imagine an eternity of physical hell. Also, the idea of Jesus going up to heaven is simply a matter of imagining Him disappearing from the physical dimension into a nonphysical dimension. This is not rocket science.
The following is from Waldorf Watch: hell:
"According to Rudolf Steiner, hell is not a location, in any normal sense, but a spiritual state: the lowest such state imaginable. Going to hell means losing one’s soul, falling out of evolution, becoming trapped in a totally material realm, becoming totally corrupted.
In general, Steiner delivered upbeat messages in his books and lectures, often indicating that everyone and everything may be redeemed. But not always. In his teachings, there is no absolute guarantee of winning through to divinity. The divine plans of the good gods can be derailed; and even if everything works out, evil souls will have hell to pay before being redeemed.
Here is a sampling of Steiner’s descriptions of hell in its various guises."
HELL"We have in modern consciousness the feeling of a contrast between heaven and hell; others call it spirit and matter. Fundamentally there are differences only in degree between the heaven and hell of the peasant [in former times] and the matter and spirit of the philosophers of our day."
"Old-fashioned ways of speaking about “hell” are obsolete. But the descent into hell is a real danger. Hell is, in a sense, the world we occupy, the material plane, if we do not overcome its dark temptations."
Speaking of benevolent spiritual beings who helped mankind to evolve, Steiner said:"These former divine companions confronted, as an inimical world, what even in earlier times was called 'hell.' But the efficacy of these spiritual beings stopped short at the gates of hell. These spiritual beings worked upon humankind. The forces of humankind extend even into hell. . . The divine spiritual beings felt this as a world opposed to them. They saw it rise up out of the Earth and felt it to be an exceedingly problematic world ... In His way the Christ gained the victory over death. And therewith entered, I might say, the opposite pole to the Descent into Hell, the ascent into the spiritual world ... [Christ] descended to that to which humankind is exposed ... Thus in the Easter thought we see united in a certain way the Descent into the region of Hell, and through this descent the winning of the heavenly region for the further evolution of humankind."
Is Jesus the judge being fair? Does every tit add up to tat? Thank God, no! Our sins are too far beyond our own power to forgive ourselves--it is Jesus that we must turn to, for forgiveness.
Let me remind you of thesis sentence of the sermon read at the beginning of the sermon:
"I don't think that Jesus must ultimately judge anything or anybody--that we make the decision to enter Hell or Heaven on our own."
"Indeed, our good friend C. S. Lewis always makes a point, in those one-on-one interviews with Aslan that all the Narnia books have at some point--you know, the scene where all pretense is stripped away, and Aslan reads the soul of the child before Him, and the child confesses all truly. In the presence of Aslan, no one can lie, even to oneself. Thus, the absolute honesty, that the presence of the Christ compels, makes each Man to confess each his own condemnation, each his own salvation. This is how Jesus stands in judgment; he makes Men see the truth of themselves, and reveals to them the consequences of choices they have already made."
Thus, C. S. Lewis, and Steiner as well, strongly affirm that hell is a choice. Jesus, as mediator sitting in judgment, merely affirms or rejects spiritual choices already made by the sinner. The miracle is that so much love gives us so many chances. Daily I fall down in my aspired spirituality, and daily I am reminded that without the mercy of an unjust savior, I would be burning in Hell right now.
Let us pray: Jesus thank you for the truth. Thank you for the sense that all things add up to a great good, and thank you for taking responsibility for us. Thank you for giving the truth of ourselves to ourselves, and thank you for escorting me through the gates of your Heavenly Kingdom. Amen.