Hell is real, but there’s a lot of fake news in the world about it. 

Before any Christians reading this get too nervous, our source is the Bible, but the Bible gets you in trouble if you read it literally. When you understand the nature of the Bible and the spiritual language it contains, you can start to glean the truth about what hell is like. 

The truth about hell that most Christians have wrong is that a person chooses to go there. 

That’s right – it’s a choice! A principle of the way the spiritual world works is that we determine our spiritual location. 

How do we know? Why take our word for it? First, see if it makes sense to you; your own internal BS-o-meter is a good guide. Second, there was this guy Emanuel Swedenborg, a polymath from the 18th century, who published EIGHTEEN books on his study of the Bible and his own experiences in the spiritual world

Here’s the deal:

No one is ever condemned to hell. 

Anyone who resides in hell has chosen it willingly. God provides a spiritual home for everyone. The Lord’s will is for everyone to be in heaven, but if a person has entirely rejected everything of goodness and truth, and instead loves what is evil and false, then the Lord allows for that person to exist in the spiritual realm called hell.

But you might be wondering:

Is hell a place of eternal torment and eternal fire?

What the Bible says:

Probably the most famous characteristic of hell is the idea that you’re going to burn there. This comes from what hell is like in the Bible. In Revelation 20, for example, the beast, the false prophet, the devil, death, and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life is thrown into the lake of fire, which burns with sulfur, and it is written that they will be tormented there forever and ever. 

When the Bible mentions fire and burning, it means the kinds of drives for evil that people in hell have. So hellfire really means “all the craving to do evil that flows from love for oneself” (Heaven and Hell 573 ← that’s one of the books Emanuel Swedenborg wrote and it references a paragraph number; he numbered his paragraphs (thanks Swedenborg!)).

The way hell really works:

The truth is, when observed from the outside, hell is not a great place to exist because there is a lot of mean stuff that goes on there, BUT everything that happens there is arising from the wills of the people who reside in hell. They like it that way

For the people in hell, they are getting to live out the desires of their will (within certain limitations that we’ll get to), and this necessarily means that they are trying to do harm to others.

Spirits in hell are allowed to attempt to act on their will, but they also have to face the consequences of their actions. This is another law of the spiritual world. The harm done by people in hell acting on their impulses is allowed only so far as it actually can be used by God within the system of hell to keep the spirits in hell restricted.

Everything in the other life, overall and in particular, exists in such perfect balance that evil punishes itself. In this way, evil contains its own penalty. So does falsity, which rebounds on the person who subscribes to it. . . . 

The Lord turns all the punishment and torment to good and puts it to some use. No penalty can ever exist unless the Lord has some purpose in mind for it, because the Lord’s kingdom is a realm of purpose and usefulness.

Secrets of Heaven 696 (← that’s right! That’s another book by Swedenborg with another handy paragraph number. You can explore it yourself via a free pdf download by clicking on the link!)

Now this may all sound crazy but:

There is a system to hell. It’s not just total chaos. The Lord (God, the divine, whatever name you choose) governs hell (through God’s own omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent divine nature) and there are different layers to this government.

How God governs what happens in hell:

1. By the influence of divine goodness and divine truth flowing in.

Divine love and wisdom govern hell.

2. By the connection between individual communities in heaven to certain communities in hell.

heaven and hell are interconnected such that individual communities in heaven govern their opposites in hell.

3. By giving access to certain angels in order to intervene. Their presence alone is able to bring matters under control.

Angels sometimes are sent to mitigate what happens in hell

That gives you the framework, but if nothing else works, then the fear of punishment that the spirits themselves have keeps their behavior in check.

People in hell fear torture for their evil actions.

Everything is done to mitigate the harm that evil spirits would like to cause, for their own sake as well as for others.

What’s the bottom line?

No single act or choice in our lives determines our fate after death. It is our intention and the overall arc of our lives that aligns us more with heaven or hell. Think about it, does the traditional doctrine of hell really square with a divine being who is love and mercy itself? 

Swedenborg said it best when he wrote, 

From these few points you can see how insane people are who think that God can condemn anyone, curse anyone, throw anyone into hell, predestine anyone’s soul to eternal death, avenge wrongs, or rage against or punish anyone. People are even more insane if they actually believe this, let alone teach it. In reality, God cannot turn away from us or even look at us with a frown. To do any such thing would be against his essence, and what is against his essence is against himself.

True Christianity 56 ( catchy name, huh?)

God is on your side! God’s will is to free us from hell and fill us with love and wisdom, or in other words, bring us into heaven (inwardly, right now even!). 

But whether it’s heaven or hell, it can’t be forced. The choice is ours. 

Hope you enjoyed this description of hell! How do these ideas land with you? Let us know in the comments!  

Did you find this description useful? Share it! 

Want to go to the source? Remember you can click on any of the titles we quoted from in this article and get a free pdf download or purchase the work for yourself! 

Hungry for more information about hell and the afterlife?

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    • What a wonderful article and summary of Swedenborg’s teachings about hell! Thanks so much for sharing this here!

  • Great insight. My question is does Swedenborg say anything about those in hell still being able to choose heaven and move in that direction? Thank you for the resouces.

    • An important starting place for this question is to remember that no one goes into hell who might have any regrets about choosing that path. Before a person ends up in hell, they have been offered every possible opportunity to realize the destructiveness of their ways, to wake up to better possibilities, and to make different choices. Only after every possible opportunity has been willingly rejected do people end up in hell. Therefore, it was a full-hearted choice, and the place they will be the most happy. (For those who hate heavenly love and cooperation, heaven is a torturous place.) However, God never abandons anyone, and still constantly works with everyone in hell, doing what is possible to discourage them from falling even deeper into the addiction of hellish cravings and hatred and greed, and leading them toward lesser evils. On the issue of whether people who have fully chosen evil ever come out, Swedenborg is not clear. In some places he seems to indicate that does happen, in other places he seems to indicate that it doesn’t. But eternity is a very long time, and since God desires that everyone comes to heaven, it seems that eventually, God would find some way to bring that about, but it has to be without opposing anyone’s freewill. That is why it is so complex. And I think that is why Swedenborg seems unclear about it. The process would be very, very complex, like major spiritual surgery! It is no easy thing to change someone’s will when they do not want to cooperate with that.

  • What a great explanation of how going to hell works!  Very helpful to be clear on the personal selection process involved – and without negative judgment and condemnation. Works for me.  What I take away and find useful is that by resisting going negative with my feelings when spirits from hell come knocking at my mind’s door I am helping them.  They are addicted to negative feelings I might choose to put out.  Not feeding that addiction helps them suffer less.  This information gives me more motivation to resist them and to stay in a positive state of mind.  I so look forward to the next episode about heaven.  The meditation quote today focused on how love wants to be with and bless every person we love.  Love wants connection and wants to share and help make things better.  This seems more obvious to me all the time. What Divine Love wants to do is to share all it has.  So Love through Its Wisdom created the universe and us.  And since we are made in that image we want what Divine Love wants – we want the same things.  And “hell” and “evil” are not only false and against the Divine Plan – they are actually an unnatural state and against our nature.  These ideas also help me resist going against my true nature, and going into negative emotions at the false urgings of hellish spirits – wishing them well and sending them loving thoughts instead.  Blessings to all of you at OTLE for wishing us well by giving us what we need to resist hell and choose Divine Love’s plan and purpose. ❤️

    • What a beautifully expressed overview! I agree that it’s so helpful to realize that we are lovingly supporting both heaven and hell when we make the effort to resist harmful negativity in our thoughts, feelings and actions. And in doing so, we are also allowing God to gradually bring us back into alignment with the Divine Design, which allows the most heavenly happiness to flow into and through us. I’m so glad you are feeling supported by these concepts, Mary, and we certainly feel supported by and grateful for your presence in our online community! God bless!

  • Hi OTLE Staff, This past month as been bad, my mother passed away which is hard enough but I had a dream of her. I saw her from a distance but when she spoke to me it was like she was right next to me. She said “Tell them they don’t want to come down here”. Then the dream was over. I don’t know if it’s from the Lord or evil spirits. She just passed away 9/28/20 and to think she’s in hell bothers me. But maybe she is wanting me to warn my brothers and sisters. Can you help me to figure this out. Thank you, Shara Palmer

    • Oh, Shara, I’m so deeply sorry for your loss. My heart goes out to you. I believe that dream is not presenting the truth. Very often, dreams during a time of grief are a reflection of the dreamer’s own worries and feelings, so I think this dream is influenced by evil spirits wanting to cause you worry. Please do not worry. Over 27 years of vivid spiritual experiences, Swedenborg witnessed that all people are lovingly welcomed by the Lord and angels. People do go through a process of reviewing their life, and do go through some realizations and struggles to get purified, but it’s all for the sake of freeing up their heart and soul in order to move toward heaven. So it is possible that your mom is doing some processing, but not that she is in hell. Someone in hell would not be concerned about anyone else.

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