Hell is not an objective location to which we go, after death.
Hell is a ‘place’ in the heart where we fail, betray, block, the love inspired by the Fire of Spirit that ‘passes through’ the heart. Thus Hell is experienced already in this life, as an existential condition of the heart which acts for God’s love, or more routinely resists it. The only question is whether we remain in the hell of the heart, in this life and even beyond, or are redeemed.
The heart is the battlefield of the forces of life and death, truth and lie, wisdom and nullity.
Oliver Clement, in ‘The Roots of Christian Mysticism’ [pp 303-305], points out that Eastern Christianity never believed, nor accepted, that hell is ‘punishment for sin.’ Hell is the existential consequence of using our freedom to avoid love. This creates the experiential dynamics, the phenomenology, of hell in our depths. Oliver Clement, in discussing this point, quotes St Isaac of Nineveh and St Gregory of Nyssa=
“..It is unthinkable and contrary to the very spirit of the Christian revelation that God should abandon anyone. God, in Christ, gives to everyone the fullness of his love. But this love can be experienced as torment by those who reject it. In its light they discover how much they have sinned against – betrayed — it. The fire of hell is the fire of love that gives remorse a terrible clarity:
‘As for me, I say those who are tormented in hell are tormented by the invasion of love. What is there more bitter and more violent than the pains of love? Those who feel they have sinned against love bear in themselves a damnation much heavier than the most dreaded punishments. The suffering with which sinning against love afflicts the heart is more keenly felt than any other torment. It is absurd to suppose that sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love. Love.. is offered impartially. But by its very power it acts in two ways. It torments sinners, as happens here on earth when we are tormented by a friend to whom we have been unfaithful. And it gives joy to those who have been faithful. That is what the torment of hell is in my opinion – remorse.’ [Isaac of Nineveh, ‘Ascetic Treatises’, p 326]
We must pray, however, that the fire of God’s judgement [which is God’s truth] ..will not consume the wicked, but only that part in each one which is evil. The division into Sheep and Goats.. would thus be made, not between two crowds of human beings, but between two kinds of character within each individual. ..other parables.. like that of the ‘wheat’ [good seed] and the ‘tares’ cannot be interpreted in any other way. ..What is ‘sown by the devil’ [Mathew, 13, 36] is destructive suggestions, the seeds of idolatry and folly. Good seed and tares are human dispositions. To destroy the thoughts sown by the evil one is not to destroy the person but to cauterise him=
‘The body is subject to various sorts of illness. Some are easy to treat, others are not, and for the latter recourse is had to incisions, cauterization, bitter medicine.. We are told something of the same sort about the judgement in the next world, the healing of the soul’s infirmities. If we are superficial people, that amounts to a threat and a process of severe correction.. But the faith of deeper minds regards it as a process of healing and a therapy applied by God in such a way to as to bring back the being he created to its original grace.
In fact those who by incisions or cauterization remove.. warts.. on.. the body, do not bring about the healing without pain; but it is not to do harm to the patient that they carry out the incision. It is the same with the ‘warts’ that have formed on our souls.. [for] at the moment of judgement they are cut out and removed by the ineffable wisdom and power of him who is, as the Gospel says, the physician of the sick.’ [Gregory of Nyssa]
Certainly [no] limits can be put on our terrible freedom as human beings.. Nor, however, can one limit [God’s love].
..Deeper than hell is Christ the conqueror of hell.”
There is no greater heartbreak than to use the heart, put it out in the world, then come finally to the doubt that there is any point to having a heart at all.
In the ultimate, it is this despair Christ suffers for, to resurrect from it a trust in the heart after innocence has been abused, a trust born of trials and pain in this world.
Nietzsche said= “The world is deep.” The Jews have a word for this; ‘nisayon’ means ‘the world as arena of the test.’ This test is spiritual, and physical, because it is existential.
The broken-hearted have entered the worldly arena, taken it on, accepted its wound, but for one reason or another, also hit the wall.. This is the point where Sartre’s final judgement bites= “Humanity is a useless passion.” If your passion is futile, over the longer run, what point in giving your heart? Are you simply a fool?
The Cross is, at its deepest, the entry in and commitment to the arena of the worldly test. You will not find this test anywhere in nature, the cosmos, the being and becoming of things. You will find it in the world, and it has the power to afflict the heart with a doubt so corrosive, the heart dies in you even as you still stand, go about your business, breathe, and move. But it is no good.. There is no heart in any of it.
Losing heart is having the stuffing knocked out of you. You have no sand. You become insubstantial. A leaf could knock you over.
I have seen in this world how few are the people of heart.. People are remote from the heart, but do not understand this is so, because they would not want all that comes with the heart.. These people not of the heart pursue other things, some materialistic, some spiritual, some political, some cultural.. It doesn’t matter. This is not ‘bad.’ It is just without heart.
Every person of heart I have met in this life I have seen come to despair with it; having risked heart, ending in the place without heart.
The Jewish word for honour — kavod — is much debated in Judaism, but its meaning is clear, and pained, to anyone who ever had a heart and lost it.
Thus kavod as honour means ‘heaviness’ or ‘weight’, it means the dignity or ‘gravitas’ of a person. It is the heart that has to bear and endure, lift and carry, the heavy weight in existence so deep, the heart is crushed under it. Yet kavod also means ‘the seat of honour in the inner man, the noblest part of humanity.’ This is the heart that tries to lift, and tries to carry, what humanity long ago put down..
This is the heart that carries the weight, and buckles, because it is too heavy to carry.
To try the heart, and see it fail in one’s own life and in the lives of others, is the final heartbreak.
Humanity has lost its dignity, its gravitas, its nobility, because the weight remains un-raised. We have let ourselves become light-weight. Thus evil walks in and takes what it wants, it sweeps us aside, as a strong wind blows away thin paper.
Never the less, the heart remains the true place of God, and even in our deepest doubt in the heart, there remains a cry, and this cry is our prayer.
Becoming Nothing is to see every idol of heart, every previous imagining and desire, every idealistic hope, finally burned to ashes. The heart is the furnace of the active engine of the world, every action for the rectification of the world – ‘tikkun olam’ — comes from the heart. To lose heart is to despair of the ‘repair of the world.’
This is the same as the heart concluding, ‘there is no God.’
There is no Redeemer, there is no Messianic Power of Spirit, at work in the world, helping the heart raise the weight, and by this, become weighty enough to dent the massive stone on the heart, holding it down, in all humans.
This is coming to the Nothing.
Humility? Who knows.. It just means, my heart is out of juice and pith, and does not ignite any more..
This is the deepest hell.
For the people who have tried the heart, it can be final in this life.. It is possible never to find any way back from this extremity.
If there is a way to reignite the ashes, you will know its veracity if it has the weightiness to enable you to lift the weight under which you stumbled and crashed to the ground. Otherwise, the way is light-weight, and can do nothing for your heart.
What lifts the heavy weight on your heart will enable you to carry the heavy weight in existence as it bears down on other people’s hearts.
Anyone who carries the weight reveals the heart, broken in everyone.
If you are not capable of any heavy carrying, it is all right.
Stay in the Nothing. Do not try to do, or understand, more than you actually can. Continuing to punch above your weight, at this moment, is no good..
The Nothing is pregnant because it is a paradox. The point where the heart fails is the only place where the heart can be renewed.
Will you make a last gamble on that? Will you try a last trust, take a last risk, on the heart in that paradox?