On Heaven and Hell

94

There are certain principles in our string of beliefs that are contradictory. One of them aims at explaining guiding spirits or Angels, and it is repeated through several religions. The belief of a Guardian Angel for every person is common among Catholics and other Christian denominations. Angels are also accepted in Judaism and Islam, although their purpose is that of Messengers from God, such as Archangel Gabriel visiting Mary during the Annunciation to inform her she would be the Mother of the Saviour. Buddhism and Hinduism recognize Angels although they may not name as such: Buddhists believe in forms of energy, light or highly evolved beings who can visit people during dreams; Hinduism does not name them Angels but Devas (“Shining ones”), and believe every person has two guardian Devas.

The existence of Angels and evil spirits has become a trendy, yet difficult to understand subject. Since we have not yet developed an effective way of contacting them through means that are suitable to our five senses, in our techno-culture, the theme is left floating in the air. Yet, many of us have our experienced the presence of a spirit at least once in our lives

Nobody knows for sure how the world of the spiritual beings (that cannot normally be perceived by our five senses) really is. Yet there seems to be a common concept of what they are like, based on personal experiences and tradition of course. We may also be more aware of them beyond the limitations from our five senses than we realize. When information about a specific theme that is of enormous interest is vague or uncertain, tales and legends are born. Misconceptions and fanaticism ride on a herd of wild horses. This has been the case with Angels and evil spirits.

Perhaps one of these areas where legends and fairy tales tend to flow into the empty spaces of knowledge is when it comes to Heaven and Hell. Among Christians, Heaven is a place where we go for the duration of eternity after our human body dies if we have lived good lives. Hell is a place where we will be sent to burn in the flames of punishment for eternity. Among Roman Catholics, purgatory is a suffering place where we heal after death if we did not live terribly bad lives that deserve to be punished in Hell forever, but we are not yet pure enough to enter Heaven. No other religion believes in Purgatory.

Judaism does not mention an afterlife in their sacred book, the Torah. Yet some Jewish scholars believe not in Hell but in Gehinnom or Gehenna, similar in a way to the Catholics’ concept of Purgatory, that is, a place where sins are burned until the being is pure enough to enter Heaven. Gehenna is not meant to be a punishment but an act of divine kindness, allowing our sins to be burned.

Muslims believe that when a person dies, Angels come down to ask the person three questions: “Who is Your Lord”, “What is your Religion” and “Who is your Prophet”. If the soul answers correctly, it will rest in peace until the Day of Judgment. If not it will be sent to Hell, although Allah may decide differently.

I believe these are all human concepts designed both by the respective religions and cultural influence; they may be similar to those in other religions, but never really the same. Even among followers of each religion there are differences on the way an individual understands and accepts these concepts, and the final decision belongs not to the respective religion practiced, but to the person. There is no real way to measure what follows after death other than tradition and legends; so when in doubt, people will follow the path that is a logical conclusion.

Going beyond these belief structures, gray areas and traditions, there are some basic facts that are common; for starters, let’s mention the obvious ones: there are dangerous forces that will wreck us up internally. Similar to physical illnesses and outside risks that can hurt us, depression feeds on our own weakness to destroy our strength. Not an evil being itself, but a mental sickness that snowballs while we feed it with negativity, it lowers our immune system’s self-defenses, generates illness and boycotts our own life: it is an evil force controlled by us. Depression is similar to alcoholism: it starts as a voluntary act of guilt, remorse and self-pity; but may end up as a runaway train hard to stop until it crashes. Using chemicals to silence our internal woes is absurd: this would be similar to using earplugs so we do not listen to the noise of a deteriorating engine of our car that we intend to use. The best remedies against depression are love, forgiveness, exercising a compassionate and active lifestyle every moment we live; as well as to always be aware of our blessings, to be grateful, positive and joyful, instead of the opposite.

Everything that exists flows from an infinitely powerful and perfect source of energy with no limitations that we call God. This immense energy is similar to what we call love (although it is probably much more complicated for us at this stage to be even capable of understanding it in full). We are truly beings of love. Our bodies are alive today not only because of the love that brought our two parents together, but because of the love that fuels us from within. When we allow fear, hatred and anger to rule our lives, we act against our true nature and we forcibly inject ourselves with emotional poison, attacking our own internal foundations and strengths: we betray our real essence. If the attack lasts for a long time, we hurt ourselves and those around us. These are forces of evil that we self-generate when in a reckless state of mind.

A very gifted man who used to practice exorcisms and spiritual healing back in Mexico once told us that there may be more spirits around us than real people. If we believe what our religions say he is probably right. Among these, there are enlightened and wise spirits, or Angels; and confused and troublesome evil spirits. To me this is easy to accept by simply looking at human beings. Most people are exceptional, although some are a mess. Why shouldn’t it be the same on the spiritual side? These spirits have an influence over us but not an absolute control. We decide who to listen to or not, same as we do every day as human beings.

Jesus spoke of our divine origin and essence in terms that the people from Palestine, 2000 years ago, could understand: he wanted to make God accessible to people, by removing obstacles and walls invented by the religions of his time. He told the people that God is our Father and we are His children, trying to open their minds to the fact that we are extensions of God Himself. He also tried to remove the burden of guilt from people by explaining to them that avoiding mistakes (sins) would make them live in peace. (Mathew 18: 25 – 35) He would visit those people in society that were rejected by others: sinners, sick, tax collectors etc. He knew of their burdens and understood guilt is a terrible companion: it opens the door to self-compassion, frustration, anger and sometimes even hatred. This only draws us deeper into a very confusing state of mind. He in turn brought so much light to humanity.

Through his words we learned that God unconditionally loves and forgives us, and that we can live in real in communion with God.  God does not judge us and he does not punish us. We do that to ourselves. When we choose to betray our inner moral and ethical standards, guilt and remorse immediately pop up. More than the concept of karma (which is real but can be eliminated) guilt and remorse are excellent warning bells that remind us we are doing something that is not on our best interest and we should stop it; but still they are not intended to be constant companions for life.

Jesus was no different from you and me and not more of a heavenly being than we all are. When we make him unreachable by saying he was of a Godly nature (and thus ‘we are not because we are all sinners’!) his life and passion are of little purpose to us. How can we even attempt to reach his level of consciousness and love if we are second class, incapable creatures? He was a human being, a person and a man. He had feelings, doubts and fears. He felt tired, sick at times and hungry. Why do we draw the line and make Him unreachable? Perhaps we should not hang him on a cross way up there above the altar because this gives the impression that he is basically a different being and we are hopeless. This makes us give up because we have no hope to be better. I seriously do not believe he would like what we have done of the memory of Him; and on the other hand I wonder where humanity would be today if we had not learned about his life, which was brought to us through thousands of years by the Church.

We share with the Cosmos the same essence and power from God, and we have a constant influence over our surrounding world, although in a smaller scale. We not only have the capacity to transform and generate miracles every minute we live, but we do it all the time through our thoughts, emotions, words and our actions. We are non-stop ‘miracle-generators’, and our product depends on the quality of our emotions, thoughts, words and actions. Not practicing Jesus’ example renders our lives useless.

Unconditional love is essentially the blood of creation. Without love we die. God’s love for us is unlimited. God is love, and as such it is present in the fabric of the Cosmos as it unfolds in perfect harmony. God does not need for us to do anything other than rejoice in the miracle of life we receive every day. We do not even have to understand how it all works; we have the opportunity to live our lives, every minute of them, in a loving passion. As Christians, we have a great gift of tradition and moral and ethical rules to live by. We are not prisoners of these rules and precepts from dogma of the Church’s that seem conflicting; but truth be said, there is still a wealth of wisdom in our religions that we can follow. We have been given a free will to think and to choose the best options possible every moment of our lives.

There are many lay people that are disappointed at some of the negative examples of the Churches’ Ministers which have been widely published for some decades. Terrible decisions and mistakes from these people have lowered the respect held for the Catholic Church and other religions. Even if this happens in all areas of our society and not only within the Church, people do have higher expectations of Priests and Religious Leaders. These are difficult times: sensuality oozes through the media and celibacy does not make it easy to live these days; yet running away from religion because of some people’s mistakes is a personal loss. Who does not make any mistakes?

Regarding Heaven and Hell, I remember the parable of the prodigal son, told by Jesus himself, word by word. The parable tells of a wealthy who man had two sons. The younger one asks his Father to give him his share of the estate because he wants to travel the world. Even with the disapproval of the first son and his own sadness, the Father divides his estate and gives him his part as requested. The younger son leaves, travels to another country, wastes his money foolishly and years later ends up feeding pigs on a field working as a servant for a citizen of that country. He realizes how absurd this is and decides to go back to his Father, and ask him for forgiveness. He does so and begs him for a job among his servants. His Father embraces him and celebrates his return in a huge festivity saying “Let’s have a festivity and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and now is found”. This parable makes me notice there is no mention of punishment, anger or revenge. Jesus invented this parable: where is something leading to the belief of hell and purgatory ever mentioned? There is only love in it. Perhaps it is time to remove the concepts of hell and punishment, even if they were written down as a well intended manipulation tool used to control the masses centuries ago. These concepts go against the nature of God, Jesus’ purpose of life and death, and our true essence.

Pope John Paul II shed his light everywhere he went around the world. I feel privileged to have lived my life at the same time he did. He pointed out that the essential characteristic of Heaven, Purgatory and Hell is that they are states of being of a spirit (Angel or demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and understood: this meaning that  human beings, as well as angels or demons make choices that bring good or bad consequences. The following is a copied extract from an article written on the matter:

Heaven, as the fullness of communion with God, was the theme of the Holy Father’s Catechesis at the general audience on July 21, 1999. “Heaven is neither an abstraction or a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity. It is our meeting with the Father which takes place in the risen Christ through the communion of the Holy Spirit”. He explained that the depictions of Heaven and Hell in old paintings and old Churches’ stained glass windows, were meant to express the condition of the soul when in full communion with God (Heaven) or distanced from Him (Hell). Our soul rejoices when we are close to God, and suffers when we are away from Him.

This is a huge truth that was first admitted openly by the Head of the Catholic Church. It is time for us to merge our opinions about heaven, hell and punishment. Not doing it generates uncertainty and desertion among lay people. Fear is the opposite of love and supporting these misconceptions is a moral and an ethical fraud; it is also an insult to human intelligence and our divine’s essence within. Accepting that each of us is responsible for the well being of our world by acting with love, is the first step. Whatever we decide to do, speak or transform today, does make a difference.

Life is a huge miracle, an immense gift of gigantic proportions; an opportunity to transform everything within and around us with the best choices we may choose. This is our privilege as true members of God’s Royal family.

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