Hellfire and Gnashing of Teeth

UNTIL now, hardly anyone has known the meaning of the eternal fire and gnashing of teeth ascribed to people in hell in the Word. This is because people think materialistically about statements in the Word, in ignorance of its spiritual meaning. So some of them understand the fire to be material fire, some think it is torment in general, some the pangs of conscience, some that it is just words meant to strike a terror of evil into us. Some understand the gnashing of teeth to be a kind of grinding, some only the kind of shudder we feel when we hear this kind of clash of teeth.

Anyone familiar with the spiritual meaning of the Word, though, can realize what eternal fire and gnashing of teeth are, since there is spiritual meaning in every expression and in the meaning of every expression in the Word. At heart, that is, the Word is spiritual, and spiritual meaning can be expressed to us only in natural terms because we are in a natural world and think on the basis of what we encounter in it.

In the following pages, then, I shall explain what the eternal fire and gnashing of teeth are that evil people find after death, or that their spirits experience once they are in the spiritual world.

There are two sources of warmth. One is the sun of heaven, which is the Lord, and the other is our world’s sun. The warmth that comes from heaven’s sun or the Lord is spiritual warmth, which in its essence is love (see above, Sections 126–140). The warmth that comes from our world’s sun, though, is a natural warmth that in its essence is not love but serves spiritual warmth or love as a vessel. We may gather that love in essence is warmth from the fact that our minds and then our bodies become warmer because of love and according to its intensity and quality. This happens to us just as much in winter as in summer. We may also notice the warming of our blood. As for the fact that natural heat arising from the world’s sun serves spiritual heat as a vessel, this we may gather from the warmth of the body that is stimulated by the warmth of its spirit and abets it. We may look particularly at what the warmth of spring and summer does for all kinds of animals with their annual love cycles.

It is not that the [natural] warmth makes this happen, but that it disposes their bodies to be receptive to the warmth that flows into them as well from the spiritual world. You see, the spiritual world flows into the natural the way a cause flows into its effect. People who believe that natural warmth creates these loves are quite mistaken, since the inflow is of the spiritual world into the natural world and not of the natural world into the spiritual; and all love is spiritual because it is the essence of life itself.

Further, people who believe that anything happens in the natural world apart from the inflow of the spiritual world are also mistaken, since natural phenomena arise and persist only from spiritual ones. Even the members of the vegetable kingdom get their power to sprout from this kind of inflow. The natural warmth of spring and summer simply disposes their seeds into their natural forms by swelling and opening them so that the inflow from the spiritual world can have its causative effect.

I mention all this to make it clear that there are two kinds of warmth, spiritual and natural, and that spiritual warmth comes from heaven’s sun and natural warmth from the world’s sun, and that inflow and cooperation set up the effects that we see before us in the world.

from Heaven and Hell, Sections 566-567

Notes:

Sections 126-140: Published 11/22/2016-12/2/2016

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