If you are worried about hell

As a person with serious mental illness and hallucinations, I worry about the spiritual realm, the unseen realm. When I had hallucinations back in 2017, I believed a police officer was watching me, waiting for me to confess a crime before taking me off to prison. As I had Electro-Convulsive Therapy, he disappeared, and I have not seen that person since.

In my experience with church literature, such an apparition could be considered a demon. Be advised, I’m not a theologian or priest, I never went to an orthodox seminary, so my beliefs and opinions might not be credible. But now, after a lot of contemplation, I have some words of scripture for others to meditate on.

In orthodoxy, one of the comforting things is that, whether we are good or bad, we all go to the same place. What I mean by the same place is the presence of God. (Psalm 139:8: If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in sheol, You are there.) God loves everybody, good and bad, pious and impious, prostitutes and chaste, angels and demons, God shines forth his love on all. (Matthew 5:45: For He makes the sun to rise on the good and the evil, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.)

What is comforting is that, no matter what, God will always be beside me and every one of us. (Romans 8:38-39:  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.)

The bad thing is; not everybody experiences God’s love in the same way. For those who love God, His love is like light and warmth. For those who hate God, and close their eyes against Him, His love is like an all consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:29: for our God is a consuming fire.) Another verse, when interpreted according to writings of the Holy Fathers, also illustrates this reality. (1 Corinthians 3:15: If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved–even though only as one escaping through the flames.) This means that the builder is the soul, and escaping through flames means that He is being tormented in the fire of God’s love.

So rest assured, if you are a sinner, you will go to heaven, but you won’t enjoy it. I once said to my spiritual father, questioning if I had any heresy in me, said to him, ‘Is it true that there are no bars around hell; sinners can leave anytime they want, but why would they want to?’ He answered, ‘Yes, certainly there is no repentance after death.’ To further prove this reality, I will quote Matthew 13:42 (the weeping and gnashing of teeth.) Why does Jesus use weeping and gnashing of teeth to describe the state of the souls in perdition? I don’t know what the weeping means, but gnashing of teeth means the sheer anger of those in hell, which is directed at God.

Remember all of God’s qualities; love, humility, chastity, temperance, righteousness, justice, integrity, joy, and so forth. Love is evil for the hateful. Humility is evil for the proud. Temperance is evil for the glutton. Righteousness is evil for the wicked. Justice is evil for the unjust. Integrity is evil for the unscrupulous. Joy is evil for the ungrateful. So therefore, God’s goodness is evil for the bad sinner.

In my opinion, if you are worried about the state of your soul after death, you are on the right track back to God. You at least recognize your need to repent. Don’t be too hard on yourself. God will eventually give you the tools for repentance. By the insults and dishonors given by others, your soul will learn humility. By being made to wait for God’s good gifts, you learn patience. By worrying about your soul, you will eventually obtain your soul’s salvation. (Romans 8:28: for we know that all things work together for good for those who love him.) So please, my dear friends, do not lose sleep or develop a mental illness worrying about hell.

Scourged by the whip of God’s love

The Protestant and Catholic traditions have a long history of believing that hell is a material fire and is a state of separation from God. This is not what the Eastern Rite Orthodox Church believes.

Psalm 139:8: ‘Even if you make your bed in Sheol (hell), I (the Lord) am there.’ I could only come up with this verse to prove the reality that hell is not a place, but a condition of the soul.

To quote Archbishop Lazar Puhalo of the ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia), ‘God doesn’t send anybody to hell. God doesn’t punish us either in this world or the world to come. And as St Anthony the great says, “It would be great error to think that God could love people in hell any less than He loves people in heaven.” Because hell is your condition, it’s not a place. The malice we feel is the fire that burns. The malice within our own conscience.’

St Isaac the Syrian describes the state of the sinners in hell as a state in which they are ‘scourged by the whip of God’s love.’

I shall give you an example from my own life. Each time I attend the divine liturgy at my Greek Orthodox church, I feel as though I am in hell, I feel the fire that burns. I feel the malice and rancor of my tendency to judge others, even my fellow parishioners in the temple of the Lord.

I am not looking forward to my day of judgement, where I will have to face the Lord. The Lord will not accuse me of anything. My own conscience, the basic input-output system of our morality, will accuse me, where I will feel the ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (Luke 13:28).

One of the Saints, in his deep humility, said, ‘I will go to the place where the devil will be condemned.’ If I were to say that about myself, it would not be humility, it would be a fact.