A vision of hell

Hell is the result of free will of those beings who are created by God. Many “apocryphal” sources attest its existence outside “official” Christian revelation and Church teachings. I tend to blur the distinctions between hell and what western Catholicism calls purgatory. Many lost souls will remain forever in hell because they refuse the light of God, but many will accept the help of those (called angels, guides, helpers, etc.) sent to guide and heal them. There is a way out for those who want it.

I came across a terrifying description of the fate of those who kill people and then commit suicide or get themselves killed by the police or the army. France has lived through the horror of what happened in New York in September 2001. The terrorists believe they will go to some kind of paradise for doing these heinous deeds. What is this “paradise”?

What Happens To a Suicide Bomber On The Other Side. Take it with a pinch of salt. It is not Church teaching or Revelation, maybe somewhat “new age”, but the experience of this person reveals something horrifying, and it corresponds with experiences of others including the children of the Fatima apparitions in 1917. Some saw the souls of Nazi war criminals spiralling down whirlpools to total annihilation (see this and its mention of Irma Grese), or an existence where they would “live” to experience their retribution.

The imagery is horrifying.

I could see severed arms and legs, heads with their jaws missing and blood and burned cadavers everywhere. The acrid stench of burned human flesh was everywhere. Right in the middle of the pile was a man wriggling, trying to free himself from the mess, but however hard he tried he sank back into the pile without the possibility of escape. Every so often he would sound out calling for his God and pleading for mercy but his prayer had no power. Instead, every time he uttered the name of his Lord he was confronted with the truth of his deed and how it was in opposition to what his religion had decreed. And now as soon as his prayer left his lips it was reeled back in almost instantly by the agony of his suffering victims which screamed back at him, and every time it did so he felt their pain and the consequences of his act. The image of a mother holding her mutilated child rising out of the pile and then sinking back again, a child clinging on to the dead body of its parents, the horror that consumed their whole being, a horse lying dying in the street, a young man staring in disbelief at his mangled body. All this played back in a feedback loop from which there was no apparent escape. It was an unending replay, made worse by the realisation there was nothing on Earth or under Heaven that could make this heinous crime undone.

A benevolent person would not wish such horror and suffering on his worst enemy. The damned brought it upon themselves, but yet the person who visited that “place” was stricken with compassion.

I looked at the miserable soul who was trapped in the pile of wriggling and smouldering limbs and felt a wave of sorrow and sincere compassion and then directed my love towards him. I was surprised by the light emanating from my hand and lighting the region. In the light I could see faces emerging from many more piles such as this. Lost anguished souls turning towards me with their hands outstretched, reaching for the light. That was all I could do, but I hoped with all my heart that in some way it would break the horrific loop and free these people, who in the end were victims themselves.

I walked through the vast killing field of misery, sending waves of light and hoping that through some mysterious way they would do some good and relieve some of this monstrous misery. While I was doing so I was praying inside my heart that people would learn and understand the key tenet of their religions, which was love and not hate.

No one escapes from karma (the law of acts and consequences, action and reaction). We are all accountable for what we do in this world, and we do not escape God’s judgement, or rather our own judgement on ourselves which will be that much more severe. We reap what we sow. Our salvation begins not only with faith and recognition of truth in Christ but love, compassion, altruism, goodness and everything that is beautiful and filled with light.

What is hell in the absolute? It may be a parallel universe or an Nth dimension. It also invades this life and is seen through any kind of hatred and lack of empathy. It was not created by God, but is the result of our own refusal of love, hatred and sin, of our own freedom to refuse goodness, beauty and love. I don’t believe it is eternal for all its “inmates” but can be for those who continue in their refusal. I blur the distinction between purgatory and hell, and have every confidence that there is always hope of salvation, perhaps even of the Devil itself and the wicked angels as Origen surmised, perhaps, if there is a change of heart, repentance and loving approach to God. I cannot believe that anyone is beyond all hope of grace, even someone like Hitler or Vlad the Impaler, or the terrorists in Paris who blew themselves up, killing others.

Christianity isn’t about “avoiding” hell (as if God would throw someone into hell for any reason) but about love, compassion, being filled with light and beauty. Grace is given freely and we give freely to God and other people, to our planet and all the life it contains. Many deluded Christians paint a picture of our life being a matter of obedience to authorities, books and codes in order to avoid hell (as if it were the “normal” fate of most).

Our world once again experiences the hell of war and terrorism. Hell is a matter of people refusing the humanity of other human beings, destroying and mutilating. Those who have chosen hell in this world will suffer it after their bodily death. They wanted it and chose it, not God.

Some readers might ask me why I look to such “unorthodox” sources on this subject rather than rely purely on Scripture and Church teaching. Catholicism remains profoundly marked by the Augustinian legacy in Calvinism and Jansenism: hell is the “default” fate of all humans unless one is arbitrarily predestined and elected by God. If that is so, we can only knuckle up to a vision of the Church that is no better than Islam with its laws and its book. We need a different picture, and actually one that can be even more terrifying, but one that is yet more radiant when love reigns. We are even brought to the idea that sin is not some kind of “black mark” that can be forgiven cheaply and for the asking. It has to be atoned for and expiated in full – and that goes for us all to differing degrees.

I read something in Bonhöffer about “cheap grace”. Indeed it is the bane of modern Christianity!

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4 Responses to A vision of hell

  1. Fr. David Marriott SSC says:

    Perhaps it is because of where I lived as a child, but any description of hell (or might it be purgatory?) has no need of fire and brimstone: even the fiery furnace of Pilgrim’s Progress. No, the true depiction (in my view) has to be that to be found in C.S.Lewis ‘The Great Divorce’:where that ‘divorce’ is the chasm between heaven and hell.
    C.S.Lewis describes what I can only recall from my childhood to be the rainy, wet and windy cobbled streets of East Lancashire in winter, streets of glistening cobbles which stretch endlessly to the horizon, where you know that there are yet more as far as can be seen: and it is always raining: that light drizzle rain which soaks through your clothing: so you can never, even when near a fireplace, you can never get warm and dry – ever again.
    Those who live there have ignored God, they have taken their own way instead of the Christian way, and even when they might have shown some intention to repent of past ways they can always find some excuse to avoid the issue: and they continue on their miserable way along the cobblestone streets glistening with the steady rain…..But then, you need to read the book to hear about that other place to which we all aspire…..

  2. J.D. says:

    I shudder at the thought of Hell, as it terrifies me. I guess I just don’t think about it much. When I see all those bloodied corpses at that theater in Paris or the horrifying images of jihadists about to sever someone’s head, throw a homosexual off a rooftop or stone an alleged adulteress there’s a part of me that hopes there is a hell for people who commit such atrocities. But than again I wonder if I really truly wish hell— an eternal hell— on anyone? If I really stop and think about it I don’t.

    Life itself is a mystery, especially life after death. Purgatory is actually a hopeful teaching in that it leaves room for man to leave this short life in a state of imperfection and still eventually be able to see God face to face. I’m more Eastern in my views so I do not like to get too detailed about purgatory and what it means, but I do believe in an intermediate state/ place or both. I believe prayers can somehow help those that have died but I don’t think too much about the mechanics of it.

    Somehow us Christians are ” sinners yet justified”, or in the Catholic sense we are redeemed and sanctified yet privy to concupiscience. I very much dislike the black and white sharp distinction between nature and grace in the scholastic tradition, the idea that one is either in some ” state” of grace or one is a hellbound sinner with a blackened soul. I tend to think the reality of things is more dynamic and mysterious than that. Grace is always present, especially in the baptized. It can be covered over and abused but it’s always there. Jesus Christ is always there to help save us from ourselves.

    Perhaps what purgatory is all about is that it is purely passive, that we must wait and be purified by grace, kind of like going through a withdrawl from drugs. As a guy who has struggled with drugs for years I can see this pretty clearly. You just sit,wait, and suffer in agony and let Gods grace bring you through to the end of things. Maybe purgatory is like that.

    To leave this on a somewhat comical note just yesterday I read some fundamentalist protestant account of hell where it was said that he saw Pope John Paul II and Michael Jackson down there, and that the way the demons move around is by doing the ” moonwalk”! It sounds ridiculous but heck anything is possible I guess! I don’t know what’s more terrifying, the vision of the shepherd children with souls falling into hell like snowflakes or seeing the King of Pop moonwalking with a legion of demons and Karol Wojtyla!

  3. Dear Father Anthony,

    Thank you for the two posts, the first one re the Hell on earth situation in France in fact in many places in the world and the second one re “a definition of hell”

    I agree with your comment that God did not create hell, but from reading and study I conclude that it a place of torment ( eternal that is ) , but its location could be anywhere. Many verses in the scriptures point to the fact that it could be under the earth, but the Bible says that the Earth will be destroyed and that Hades (or the grave) will be thrown into Hell (Lake of Fire). It would be rather difficult for Hell to be thrown into itself, or for Hades to be thrown into the Earth, especially when the Earth was already destroyed. So, it is pretty clear that the Bible does not say that Hell is under the earth, but is a place separate from earth (and probably separate from the universe, since the entire universe will be destroyed and replaced with the new creation).

    Verses cited by skeptics reportedly referring to hell being under the earth really refer to the grave, the common destination of all human beings. In fact, the Bible says that the grave will be thrown into hell after the judgement, ending death altogether. Although the Bible does not describe where hell is, it is apparent that it is outside the universe, since it will still exist, at least temporarily, after the present universe is destroyed by God. After this creation is destroyed, God will create again—a new heavens and new earth, where righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13).

    I wont dwell at this time on how different denominations view hell and the way they preach about it. Perhaps some other time. I think we need to view hell as the opposite from Heaven, hell is being in a state of eternal separation from God, which is obviously not without pain and suffering. Contrary to your opinion that you believe that eternal damnation is not permanent, I would say it is.

    Our God is a merciful God, Who has given us chance after chance, if we wont give our lives in Christ, whilst we are alive then it is too late. If the likes of Hitler and other severe criminals have left it too late to repent, then they are subject to eternal damnation. I cannot therefore agree with your comments that there would be hope for Hitler, unless you are thinking the way I am thinking on the subject.

    There are many question in relation to those, who have not had the chance to hear about Jesus and other special situation, let’s leave the judgement to our God, Who will know what to do.

    Tomorrow, we shall begin Advent , a wonderful opportunity for us to pray, to read , to meditate and repent and fervently pray for the Lord’s return on the clouds on Heaven, it is more urgent then ever.

    From eternal damnation, save us good Lord.

    Father Ed Bakker

    • We don’t know what hell is but we can get a good idea what it isn’t. To say it is under the surface of the earth lacks any credibility, like saying that heaven is up in the sky. Atheists call Christianity the “dead-man-on-a-stick religion” and a load of silly fancies for children and idiots. We don’t know for certain. There are theories about multiverses and the possibility that the disembodied spirit can go from one to another unlike the incarnate souls we presently are.

      Whether or not there is hope for the likes of Hitler or Nero, we just don’t know. There are different theories including annihilation to prevent reincarnation. I am in favour of a comparative approach, including the eastern traditions. Even if hell is not “eternal”, it is just as serious and frightening, and we should be reserved about it. I detest someone preaching “good news” and then saying it applies only to the five lucky lottery winners since the creation of the world!

      Another point is our understanding of time and eternity. The notion of eternity is usually explained by analogy with the notion of time – it’s all we in this life know. Quantum physicists advance theories according to which time is an illusion, indeed like matter. Traditional vocabulary begins to lose its validity as do the categories of scholastic theology. Perhaps it can be said that those souls that stay “forever” in hell do so because they don’t want anything else – they are in their place.

      All these things, like much of the Old Testament, are analogies and metaphors to try to describe things that are completely outside human experience except by way of exceptional revelation and experience. Anyway, thank you for your observations and you have my prayers for your priestly ministry.

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