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Heaven and Hell

The King­dom of heav­en is already in the midst of those who live the spir­i­tu­al life. What the spir­i­tu­al per­son knows in the Holy Spir­it, in Christ and the Church, will come with pow­er and glo­ry for all men to behold at the end of the ages.

The final com­ing of Christ will be the judg­ment of all men. His very pres­ence will be the judg­ment. Now men can live with­out the love of Christ in their lives. They can exist as if there were no God, no Christ, no Spir­it, no Church, no spir­i­tu­al life. At the end of the ages this will no longer be pos­si­ble. All men will have to behold the Face of Him who “for us men and our sal­va­tion came down from heav­en and was incar­nate… who was cru­ci­fied under Pon­tius Pilate, and suf­fered and was buried … ” (Nicene Creed) All will have to took at Him whom they have cru­ci­fied by their sins: Him “who was dead and is alive again.” (Rev­e­la­tion 1-.17–18)

For those who love the Lord, His Pres­ence will be infi­nite joy, par­adise and eter­nal life. For those who hate the Lord, the same Pres­ence will be infi­nite tor­ture, hell and eter­nal death. The real­i­ty for both the saved and the damned will be exact­ly the same when Christ “comes in glo­ry, and all angels with Him,” so that “God may be all in all.” (I Corinthi­ans 15–28) Those who have God as their “all” with­in this life will final­ly have divine ful­fill­ment and life. For those whose “all” is them­selves and this world, the “all” of God will be their tor­ture, their pun­ish­ment and their death. And theirs will be “weep­ing and gnash­ing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:21, et al.)

The Son of Man will send His angels and they will gath­er out of His king­dom all caus­es of sin and all evil doers, and throw them into the fur­nace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. Then the right­eous will shine like the sun in the King­dom of their Father. (Matthew 13:41–43)

Accord­ing to the saints, the “fire” that will con­sume sin­ners at the com­ing of the King­dom of God is the same “fire” that will shine with splen­dor in the saints. It is the “fire” of God’s love; the “fire” of God Him­self who is Love. “For our God is a con­sum­ing fire” (Hebrews 12:29) who “dwells in unap­proach­able light.” (I Tim­o­thy 6:16) For those who love God and who love all cre­ation in Him, the “con­sum­ing fire” of God will be radi­ant bliss and unspeak­able delight. For those who do not love God, and who do not love at all, this same 66consuming fire” will be the cause of their “weep­ing” and their “gnash­ing of teeth.”

Thus it is the Church’s spir­i­tu­al teach­ing that God does not pun­ish man by some mate­r­i­al fire or phys­i­cal tor­ment. God sim­ply reveals Him­self in the risen Lord Jesus in such a glo­ri­ous way that no man can fail to behold His glo­ry. It is the pres­ence of God’s splen­did glo­ry and love that is the scourge of those who reject its radi­ant pow­er and light.

… those who find them­selves in hell will be chas­tised by the scourge of love. How cru­el and bit­ter this tor­ment of love will be! For those who under­stand that they have sinned against love, under­go no greater suf­fer­ing than those pro­duced by the most fear­ful tor­tures. The sor­row which takes hold of the heart, which has sinned against love, is more pierc­ing than any oth­er pain. It is not right to say that the sin­ners in hell are deprived of the love of God… But love acts in two ways, as suf­fer­ing of the reproved, and as joy in the blessed! (St. Isaac of Syr­ia, Mys­tic Treatises)

This teach­ing is found in many spir­i­tu­al writ­ers and saints: St. Max­imus the Con­fes­sor, the nov­el­ist Fyo­dor Dos­to­evsky. At the end of the ages God’s glo­ri­ous love is revealed for all to behold in the Face of Christ. Man’s eter­nal des­tiny — heav­en or hell, sal­va­tion or damna­tion — depends sole­ly on his response to this love.