CHAPTER II FUTURE JOYS AND SORROWS
1. ANNIHILATION; FUTURE LIFE. -- 2. INTUITION OF FUTURE JOYS AND SORROWS -- 3. INTERVENTION OF GOD IN REWARDS AND PUNISHMENTS. -- 4. NATURE OF FUTURE JOYS AND SORROWS -- 5. TEMPORAL PENALTIES. -- 6. EXPIATION AND REPENTANCE. -- 7. DURATION OF FUTURE PENALTIES. -- 8. PARADISE, HELL, PURGATORY.
Annihilation -- Future Life.
958. Why has man an instinctive horror of the idea of annihilation?
"Because there is no such thing as nothingness."
959. Whence does man derive the instinctive sentiment of a future life?
"From the knowledge of that life possessed by his spirit previous to his incarnation; the soul retaining a vague remembrance of what it knew in its spirit-state."In all ages, man has occupied himself with the question of a future beyond the grave; and it is natural that he should have done so. Whatever importance he may attach to the present life, he cannot help seeing how brief it is, and how precarious, since it may be cut short at any moment, so that he is never sure of the morrow. What becomes of him after death? The query is a serious one, for it refers, not to time, but to eternity. He who is about to spend many years in a foreign country endeavors to ascertain beforehand what will be his position there; how, then, is it possible for us not to inquire what will be our state on quitting our present life, since it will be forever?
The idea of annihilation is repugnant to reason. The most thoughtless of men, when about to quit this life, asks himself what is going to become of him, and involuntarily indulges in hope. To believe in God without believing in a future life would be illogical. The presentiment of a better life is in the inner consciousness of all men. God cannot have placed it there for nothing.
The idea of a nature life implies the preservation of our individuality after death; for what good would it do us to survive our body, if our moral essence were to be lost in the ocean of infinity? Such a result would be, for us, the same as annihilation.
Intuition of Future Joys and Sorrows
960. Whence comes the belief in future rewards and punishments which is found among all nations?
"It is a presentiment of the reality imparted to each man by the spirit incarnated in him. This internal voice does not speak to him without a purpose; he is wrong in giving so little heed to it. If he listened to it more often and more heedfully, it would be better for him."
961. What is the predominant sentiment at the moment of death? Is it doubt, fear, or hope?
"Doubt with the skeptical, fear with the guilty, hope with the good."
962. How is it that there are skeptics, since the soul imparts to each man the sentiment of spiritual things?
"There are fewer skeptics than you suppose. Many of those who, from pride, affect skepticism during life, are a good deal less skeptical when they come to die."The doctrine of moral responsibility is a consequence of the belief in a future life. Reason and our sense of justice tell us that, in the apportionment of the happiness to which all men aspire, the good and the wicked could not be confounded together. God could not will that some men should obtain, without effort, blessings which others only obtain through persevering exertion.
Our conviction of the justice and goodness of God, as evidenced by the justice and goodness of His laws, forbids us to suppose that the good and the bad can occupy the same place in His sight, or to doubt that, sooner or later, the former will receive a reward, and the latter a chastisement, for the good and the evil they have done. And thus, from our innate sense of justice, we derive our intuition of the rewards and punishments of the future.
Intervention of God in Rewards and Punishments.
963. Does God concern Himself personally about each man? Is He not too great, and are we not too small, for each individual to be of any importance in His sight?
"God concerns Himself about all the beings He has created, however small they may be; nothing is too minute for His goodness."
964. Has God to concern Himself about each of our actions in order to reward or to punish us?
"God's laws apply to all your actions. When a man violates one of those laws, God does not pronounce sentence on him by saying, for example, 'You have been gluttonous; I shall punish you for it.' But He has traced a limit to appetite. Maladies, and even death, are the consequence of overstepping that limit. Punishment, in all cases, is a result of the infraction of a law."All our actions are subjected to the laws of God; and any wrong-doing on our part, however unimportant it may seem to us, is a violation of those laws. When we undergo the consequences of such violation, we have only ourselves to thank for it; for we are the sole authors of our happiness or unhappiness, as is shown in the following apologue:-- "A father has educated and instructed his child, that is to say, he has given him the means of knowing how to guide himself in the affairs of life. He makes over to him a piece of land to cultivate, and says to him, 'I have given you the practical directions, and all the necessary implements, for rendering this land productive, and thereby gaining your living. I have given you all the instruction needed for understanding those directions. If you follow them, your land will yield abundant harvests, and will furnish you wherewithal to obtain repose in your old age; if you do not, it will bear nothing but weeds, and you will die of hunger.' And having said this, he leaves him free to act as he pleases."
Is it not true that the land thus given will produce exactly in the ratio of the skill and care bestowed on its cultivation, and that any mistake or negligence on the part of the son will have an injurious effect on its productiveness? The son will therefore be well or ill off in his old age, according as he has followed or neglected the directions given to him by his father. God is still more provident than the earthly father, for He tells us, every moment, whether we are doing right or doing wrong, through the spirits whom He constantly sends to counsel us, though we do not always heed them. There is also this further difference, namely, that, if the son of whom we have been speaking has misemployed or wasted his time, he has no opportunity of repairing his past mistakes, whereas, God always gives to man the means, through new existences, of doing this.
Nature of Future Joys and Sorrows.
965. Is there anything of materiality in the joys and sorrows of the soul after death?
"Common sense tells you that they cannot be of a material nature, because the soul is not matter. There is nothing carnal in those joys and sorrows; and yet they are a thousand times more vivid than those you experience upon the earth; because the spirit when freed from matter is more impressionable; matter deadens its sensibility." (237-257.)
966. Why does man often form to himself so gross and absurd an idea of the joys and sorrows of the future life?
"Because his intelligence is still but imperfectly developed. Does the child comprehend as does the adult? Besides, his idea of a future life is often a result of the teachings to which he has been subjected--teachings that are urgently in need of reform.
"Your language being too incomplete to express what lies beyond the range of your present existence, it has been necessary to address you through comparisons borrowed from that existence, and you have mistaken the images and figures thus employed for realities; but, in proportion as man becomes enlightened, his thought comprehends much that his language is unable to express."
967. In what does the happiness of perfected spirits consist?
"In knowing all things; in feeling neither hatred, jealousy, envy, ambition, nor any of the passions that make men unhappy. Their mutual affection is for them a source of supreme felicity. They have none of the wants, sufferings, or anxieties of material life; they are happy in the good they do, for the happiness of spirits is always proportioned to their elevation. The highest happiness, it is true, is enjoyed only by spirits who are perfectly purified; but the others are not unhappy. Between the had ones and those who have reached perfection, there is an infinity of gradations of elevation and of happiness; for the enjoyments of each spirit are always proportioned to his moral state. Those who have already achieved a certain degree of advancement have a presentiment of the happiness of those who are further on than themselves; they aspire after that higher happiness, but it is for them an object of emulation, and not of jealousy. They know that it depends on themselves to attain to it, and they labor to that end, but with the calmness of a good conscience; and they are happy in not having to suffer what is endured by evil spirits."
968. You place the absence of material wants among the conditions of happiness for spirits; but is not the satisfaction of those wants a source of enjoyment for mankind?
"Yes, of animal enjoyment; but when men cannot satisfy those wants, they are tortured by them."
969. What are we to understand when it is said that the purified spirits are gathered into the bosom of God, and employed in singing His praises?
"The statement is an allegorical picture of the knowledge they possess of the perfections of God, because they see and comprehend Him; but you must not take it literally, any more than other statements of a similar character. Everything in nature, from the grain of sand upwards. 'sings,' that is to say, proclaims the power, wisdom, and goodness of God; but you must not suppose that spirits of the highest order are absorbed in an eternal contemplation, which would be a monotonous and stupid would be a perpetual uselessness. They have no longer to undergo the tribulations of corporeal life, an exemption which is itself an enjoyment; and, besides, as we have told you, they know and comprehend all things, and make use of the intelligence they have acquired in aiding the progress of other spirits; and they find enjoyment in this order of occupation."
970. In what do the sufferings of inferior spirits consist?
"Those sufferings are as various as are the causes by which they are produced, and are proportioned to the degree of inferiority of each spirit, as the enjoyments of the higher spirits are proportioned to their several degrees of superiority. They may be summed up thus:--The sight of happiness to which they are unable to attain; envy of the superiority which renders other spirits happy, and which they see to be lacking in themselves; regret, jealousy, rage, despair, in regard to what prevents them from being happy; remorse and indescribable moral anguish. They long for all sorts of enjoyments; and are tortured by their inability to satisfy their cravings."
971. Is the influence exercised by spirits over one another always good?
"It is always good on the part of good spirits; but perverse spirits endeavor to draw aside from the path of repentance and amendment those whom they think are susceptible of being misled, and whom they have often led into evil during their earthly life."
-- Death, then, does not deliver us from temptation?
"No, but the action of evil spirits is much less powerful over other spirits than over men, because they no longer have the material passions of the tempted for auxiliaries." (996.)
972. In what way do evil spirits bring temptation to bear upon other spirits, since they have not the passions to work upon?
"If the passions no longer exist materially, they still exist in thought, on the part of spirits of slight advancement; and the evil ones keep up impure thoughts in their victims by taking them to places where they witness the exercise of those passions, and whatever tends to excite them."
-- But what end do those passions subserve, since they have no longer any real object?
"That is just what constitutes the tortures of the spirit-life. The miser sees gold which he cannot possess; the debauchee, orgies in which he can take no part; the haughty, honors which he envies, but cannot share."
973. What are the greatest sufferings that can be endured by wicked spirits?
"It is utterly impossible to describe the mental tortures that are the punishment of some crimes; even those by whom they are experienced would find it difficult to give you an idea of them. But, assuredly, the most frightful of them all is the sufferer's belief that his condemnation is unchangeable and for all eternity."Men form to themselves, in regard to the joys and sorrows of the soul after death, a conception more or less elevated according to the state of their intelligence. The greater a man's degree of development, the more refined and the more divested of materiality is his idea of them; the more rational is the view he takes of the subject, and the less literally does he understand the images of figurative language in regard to them. Enlightened reason, in teaching us that the soul is an entirely spiritual being, teaches us also that it cannot be affected by impressions that act only upon matter; but it does not follow there from that is exempt from suffering, or that it does not undergo the punishment of its wrongdoing. (237.) The communications made to us by spirits show us the future state of the soul, no longer as a matter of theory, but as a reality. They bring before us all the incidents of the life beyond the grave; but they also show us that they are the natural consequences of the terrestrial life, and that, although divested of the fantastic accompaniments created by the imagination of men, they are nonetheless painful for those who, in this life, have made a bad use of their faculties. The diversity of those consequences is infinite, but may be summed up by saying that each soul is punished by that wherein it has sinned. It is thus that some are punished by the incessant sight of the evil they have done; others, by regret, fear, shame, doubt, isolation, darkness, separation from those who are dear to them, etc.
974. Whence comes the doctrine of eternal fire?
"From taking a figure of speech for a reality, as men have done in so many instances."
-- But may not this fear lead to a useful result?
"Look around you, and see whether there are many who are restrained by it, even among those by whom it is inculcated. If you teach what is contrary to reason, the impression you make will be neither durable nor salutary."Human language being powerless to express the nature of the sufferings of spirit-life, man has been unable to devise any more appropriate comparison for them than that of flee, because, for him, fire is at once the type of the most excruciating torture, and the symbol of the most energetic action. It is for this reason that the belief in "everlasting burning" has been held from the earliest antiquity and transmitted by succeeding generations to the present day; and it is for this reason, also, that all nations speak, in common parlance, of "fiery passions," of "burning love," "burning hate," "burning with jealousy," etc.
975. Do inferior spirits comprehend the happiness of the righteous?
"Yes; and that happiness is a source of torment for them, for they understand that they are deprived of it through their own fault; but it also leads a spirit, when freed from matter, to aspire after a new corporeal existence, because every such existence, if well employed, will shorten the duration of that torment. It is thus that he makes choice of the trials through which he will be enabled to expiate his faults; for you must remember that each spirit suffers for all the evil he has done or of which he has been the voluntary cause, for all the good which he might have done and which he did not do, and for all the evil that has resulted from his having failed to do the good he might have done."
"In the state of erraticity, a spirit's sight is no longer veiled; it is as though he had emerged from a fog and saw the obstacles that intervene between him and happiness, and he therefore suffers all the more, because he understands the full extent of his culpability. For him, illusion is no longer possible; he sees things as they really are."A spirit, when errant, embraces, on the one hand, all his past existences at a glance: on the other, he foresees the future promised to him, and comprehends what he lacks for its attainment. He is like a traveler who, having reached the top of a hill, beholds both the road over which he has already traveled, and that by which he has still to go in order to reach the end of his journey.
976. Is not the sight of spirits who suffer a cause of affliction for the good ones? And, if so, what becomes of the happiness of the latter, that happiness being thus impaired?
"Good spirits are not distressed by the suffering of those who are a lower point than themselves, because they know that it will have an end; they aid those who suffer to become better, and lend them a helping hand. To do this is their occupation, and is a joy for them when they succeed."
-- This is comprehensible on the part of spirits who are strangers to them, and who take no special interest in them; but does not the sight of their sorrows and sufferings disturb the happiness of the spirits who have loved them upon the earth?
"If spirits did not see your troubles, it would prove that they become estranged from you after death, whereas all religions teach you that the souls of the departed continue to see you; but they regard your afflictions from another point of view. They know that those sufferings will aid your advancement if you bear them with resignation; and they are consequently more pained by the want of fortitude which keeps you back, than by sufferings which they know to be only temporary."
977. Spirits being unable to hide their thoughts from one another, and all the acts of their lives being known, does it follow that those who have wronged their fellows are always in presence of their victims?
"Common sense might suffice to tell you that it cannot be otherwise. -- Is this divulging of all his evil deeds, and the perpetual presence of those who have been the victims of them, a chastisement for the guilty spirit?
"Yes, and a heavier one than you may suppose it to be; but it only lasts until he has expiated his wrong-doing, either as a spirit, or as a man in new corporeal existences."When we find ourselves in the world of spirits, all our past will be brought into view, and the good or the evil that we have done will be equally known. In vain would the malefactor seek to avoid the sight of his victims; their presence, from which he cannot possibly escape, will be for him a punishment and a source of remorse until he has expiated the wrongs he has done them, while the spirit of the upright man will find himself constantly surrounded by kindness and good-will.
Even upon the earth there is no greater torment for the wicked man than the presence of his victims, whom he does his utmost to avoid. What will it be when, the illusions of the passions being dissipated, he comprehends the evil he has done, sees his most secret actions brought to light and his hypocrisy unmasked, and perceives that he cannot hide himself from the sight of those he has wronged? But, while the soul of the wicked is thus a prey to shame, regret, and remorse, that of the righteous enjoys perfect peace.
978. Does not the remembrance of the faults committed by the soul, during its state of imperfection, disturb its happiness even after it has attained to purity?
"No, because it has redeemed its faults, and has come forth victorious from the trials to which it had submitted for that purpose."
979. Does not the prevision of the trials it has still to undergo, in order to complete its purification, excite in the soul a painful apprehension that must lessen its happiness?
"Yes, in the case of a soul who is still soiled by evil, and therefore it can only enjoy perfect happiness when it has become perfectly pure. But for souls who have attained to a certain degree of elevation, the thought of the trials they have still to undergo has in it nothing painful."The soul, arrived at a certain degree of purification, has already a foretaste of happiness. It is pervaded by a feeling of satisfaction, and is happy in all that it sees, in all that surrounds it. The veil which covers the marvels and mysteries of creation being already partially raised for it, the divine perfections begin to be perceived by it in their splendor.
980. Is the sympathic link which unites spirits of the same order a source of felicity for them?
"The union of spirits who sympathize in the love of goodness is one of their highest enjoyments, for they have no fear of seeing that union disturbed by selfishness. In worlds altogether spiritual, they form families animated by the same sentiment, and this union constitutes the happiness of those worlds, as in your world you group yourselves into categories, and experience pleasure in being thus brought together. The pure and sincere affection felt by elevated spirits, and of which they are the object, is a source of felicity, for there are neither false friends nor hypocrites among them."Man enjoys the first-fruits of this felicity upon the earth when he meets with those with whom he can enter into cordial and noble union. In a life of greater purity than that of the earth, this felicity becomes ineffable and unbounded, because their inhabitants meet only with sympathetic souls whose affection will not be chilled by selfishness. For love is life; it is selfishness that kills.
981. Is there, as regards the future state of spirits, any difference between him who, during his earthly life, was afraid of death, and him 'who looked forward to it with indifference, or even with joy?
"There may be a very considerable difference between them, though this is often obliterated by the causes which gave rise to that fear or that desire. Those who dread death, and those who desire it, may be moved by very different sentiments, and it is those sentiments which determine the state of a spirit. For instance, it is evident that, if a man only desires death because it will put an end to his tribulations, that desire is, in reality, a sort of murmuring against Providence, and against the trials which he has to undergo."
982. Is it necessary to make a profession of Spiritism, and to believe in spirit-manifestations, in order to ensure our well-being in the next life?
"If it were so, it would follow that those who do not believe in them, or who have not even had the opportunity of learning anything about them, will be disinherited, which would be absurd. It is right-doing that ensures future well-being; and right-doing is always right-doing, whatever may be the path that leads to it." (165-799.) Belief in Spiritism aids our self-improvement by clearing our ideas in regard to the future; it hastens the progress and advancement of individuals and of the masses, because it enables us to ascertain 'what we shall some day be, and is at once a beacon and a support. Spiritism teaches us to bear our trials 'with patience and resignation, turns us from the wrong-doing that would delay our future happiness, and contributes to our attainment of that happiness; but it does not follow that we may not attain to that happiness without it.
983. Does not a spirit, when expiating its faults in a new existence, undergo material suffering, and, that being the case, is it correct to say that, after death, the soul experiences only moral sufferings?
"It is very true that, when the soul is reincarnated, it is made to suffer by the tribulations of corporeal life; but it is only the body that undergoes material suffering?
"You often say, of one who is dead, that he is released from suffering; but this is not always true. As a spirit, he has no more physical sufferings; but, according to the faults he has committed, he may have to bear moral sufferings still more severe, and, in a new existence, he may be still more unhappy. He who has made a selfish use of riches' will have to beg his bread, and will be a prey to all the privations of poverty; the proud will undergo humiliations of every kind; he who has misused his authority, and treated his subordinates with disdain and harshness, will be forced to obey a master still harder than himself. All the tribulations of life are the expiation of faults committed in a preceding existence, when they are not the consequence of faults committed in the present one. When you have quitted your present life, you will understand this. (273, 393, 399.) "He who, in the earthly life, esteems himself happy because he is able to satisfy his passions, makes few efforts at self-improvement. Such ephemeral happiness is often expiated in the present life, but will certainly be expiated in another existence equally material."
984. Are the troubles of our earthly life always the punishment of faults committed by us in our present lifetime?
"No; we have already told you that they are trials imposed on you by God, or chosen by you in the spirit-state, and before your reincarnation, for the expiation of faults committed by you in a former existence; for no infraction of the laws of God, and especially of the law of justice, ever remains unpunished, and if it be not expiated in the same life, it will certainly be so in another. This is why persons whom you regard as excellent are so often made to suffer; they are stricken in their present life for the faults of their past existences." (393.)
985. When a soul is reincarnated in a world less gross than the earth, is such a reincarnation a reward?
"It is a consequence of its higher degree of purification; for, in proportion as spirits become purified, they reincarnate themselves in worlds of progressively higher degrees, until, having divested themselves of all materiality and washed themselves clean of all stains, they enter on the eternal felicity of the fully purified spirits in the presence of God."In worlds in which the conditions of existence are less material than in ours, the wants of their inhabitants are less gross, and their physical sufferings are less acute. The men of those worlds no longer possess the evil passions which, in lower worlds, make them each other's enemies. Having no motives for hatred or jealousy, they live in peace with one another, because they practice the law of justice, of love, and of charity and they therefore know nothing of the worries and anxieties that come of envy, pride, and selfishness, and that make the torment of our terrestrial existence. (172, 182.)
986. Can a spirit who has progressed in his terrestrial existence be reincarnated in the same world?
"Yes; and if he has not been able to accomplish his mission, he may himself demand to complete it in a new existence; but, in that case, it is no longer an expiation for him." (173.)
987. What becomes of the man who, without doing evil, does nothing to shake off the influence of matter?
"Since he has made no progress towards perfection, he has to begin a new existence of the same nature as the one he has quitted. He remains stationary; and thus prolongs the sufferings of expiation."
988. There are persons whose life flows on in a perfect calm; who, having nothing to do for themselves, are exempt from all cares. Is their good fortune a proof that they have nothing to expiate from any former existence?
"Do you know many such? If you think you do, you are mistaken. Such lives are often only calm in appearance. A spirit may have chosen such an existence; but he perceives, after quitting it, that it has not served to bring him on, and he then regrets the time he has wasted in idleness. Bear well in mind that a spirit can only acquire knowledge and elevation through activity; that, if he supinely falls asleep, he does not advance. He is like one who (according to your usages) needs to work, but who goes off for a ramble, or goes to bed, with the intention of doing nothing. Bear well in mind, also, that each of you will have to answer for voluntary uselessness on your part, and that such uselessness is always fatal to your future happiness. The sum of that happiness is always exactly proportioned to the sum of the good that you have done; the sum of your unhappiness is always proportioned to the sum of the evil that you have done, and to the number of those whom you have rendered unhappy."
989. There are persons who, without being positively wicked, render all about them unhappy by their ill-temper; what is, for them, the consequence of this?
"Such persons are assuredly not good, and they will expiate this wrong by the sight of those whom they have rendered unhappy, which will be a constant reproach for them; and then, in another existence, they will endure all that they have caused to be endured by others."
Expiation and Repentance
990. Does repentance take place in the corporeal state, or in the spiritual state?
"In the spiritual state; but it may also take place in the corporeal state, when you clearly comprehend the difference between good and evil."
991. What is the consequence of repentance in the spiritual state?
"The desire for a new incarnation, in order to become purified. The spirit perceives the imperfections which deprive him of happiness; and he therefore aspires after a new existence in which he will be able to expiate his faults." (332, 975.).
992. What is the consequence of repentance in the corporeal state?
"The spirit will advance even in his present life, if he has the time to repair his faults. Whenever your conscience reproaches you, or shows you an imperfection, you may always become better."
993. Are there not men who have only the instinct of evil, and are inaccessible to repentance?
"I have told you that progress must be incessant. He who, in his present life, has only the instinct of evil, will have the instinct of goodness in another one, and it is to effect this end that he is re-born many times. For all must advance, all must reach the goal; but some do this more quickly, others more slowly, according to the energy of their desire. He who has only the instinct of good is already purified, for he may have had that of evil in an anterior existence." (804.)
994. Does the perverted spirit who has not recognized his faults during his life always recognize them after his death?
"Yes; he always does so, and he then suffers all the more, for he feels all the evil he has done, or of which he has been the voluntary cause. Nevertheless, repentance is not always immediate. There are spirits who obstinately persist in doing wrong, notwithstanding their sufferings; but, sooner or later, they will see that have taken the wrong road, and repentance will follow this discovery. It is to their enlightenment that the efforts of the higher spirits are directed, and that you may usefully direct your own."
995. Are there spirits who, without being wicked, are indifferent about their own fate?
"There are spirits who do not occupy themselves with anything useful, but are in a state of expectancy. In such cases they suffer in proportion to their inactivity; for all states and conditions must conduce to progress, and with them, this progress is effected by the suffering they experience."
-- Have they no desire to shorten their sufferings?
"They have that desire, undoubtedly; but they have not sufficient energy to do what would give them relief. Are there not among you many who prefer to starve rather than to work?"
996. Since spirits see the harm that is done them by their imperfections, how is it that any of them persist in aggravating their position, and prolonging their state of inferiority, by doing evil, as spirits, in turning men aside from the right road?
"It is those whose repentance is tardy that act thus. A spirit who repents may afterwards allow himself to be drawn back into the wrong road by other spirits still more backward than himself." (971.)
997. We sometimes find that spirits, who are evidently very touched by the prayers offered for them. How is it that others, whom we have reason to believe are more enlightened, show a hardness and a cynicism that no efforts can vanquish?
"Prayer is only efficacious in the case of spirits who repent; he who, urged on by pride, revolts against God, persisting in his wrong-doing, and perhaps going even more widely astray, cannot be acted upon by prayer, and can only derive benefit therefrom when a glimmering of repentance shall have shown itself in him." (664.) We must not lose sight of the fact that a spirit, after the death of his body, is not suddenly transformed. If his life have been reprehensible, it has been so because he was imperfect. But death does not render him perfect all at once he may in his wrong-doing, his false ideas, his prejudices, until he has become enlightened by study, reflection, and suffering.
998. Is expiation accomplished in the corporeal state, or in the spirit-state?
"Expiation is accomplished during the corporeal existence, through the trials to which the spirit is subjected; and, in the spirit-state, through the moral sufferings belonging to the spirit's state of inferiority."
999. Does sincere repentance during the earthly life suffice to efface the faults of that life, and to restore the wrong-doer to the favor of God?
"Repentance helps forward the amelioration of the spirit, but all wrongdoing has to be expiated."
-- That being the case, if a criminal should say, "Since I must necessarily expiate my past, I have no need to repent," what effect would it have upon him?
"If he harden himself in the thought of evil, his expiation will be longer and more painful."
1000. Can we, in the present life, redeem our faults?
"Yes, by making reparation for them. But do not suppose that you can redeem them by a few trifling privations, or by giving, after your death, what you can no longer make use of. God does not value a sterile repentance, a mere smiting of the breast, easily done. The loss of a little finger in doing good to others effaces more wrong-doing than any amount of self-torture undergone solely with a view to one's own interest. (726.)
"Evil can only be atoned for by good; and attempts at reparation are valueless if they touch neither a man's pride nor his worldly interests.
"How can his rehabilitation be subserved by the restitution of ill-gotten wealth after his death, when it has become useless to him, and when he has already profited by it?
"What benefit can he derive from the privation of a few futile enjoyments and of a few superfluities, if the wrong he has done to others is not undone?
"What, in truth, is the use of his humbling himself before God, if he keeps up his pride before men?" (720, 721.)
1001. Is there no merit in ensuring the useful employment, after our death, of 'he property possessed by us?
"To say that there is no merit so doing would not be correct; it is always better than doing nothing. But the misfortune is, that he who only gives after his death is often moved rather by selfishness than by generosity; he wishes to have the honor of doing good without its costing him anything. He who imposes privation upon himself during his life reaps a double profit, the merit of his sacrifice, and the pleasure of witnessing the happiness he has caused. But selfishness is apt to whisper, 'Whatever you give away is so much cut off from your own enjoyments;' and as the voice of selfishness is usually more persuasive than that of disinterestedness and charity, it too often leads a man to keep what he has, under pretext of the necessities of his position. He is to be pitied who knows not the pleasure of giving; for he is deprived of one of the purest and sweetest of enjoyments. In subjecting a man to the trial of wealth, so slippery, and so dangerous for his future, God placed within his reach, by way of compensation, the happiness which generosity may procure for him, even in his present life." (814.)
1002. What will become of him who, in the act of dying, acknowledges his wrong-doing, but has not time to make reparation? Does repentance suffice in such a case?
"Repentance will hasten his rehabilitation, but it does not absolve him. Has he not the future, which will never be closed against him?"
Duration of Future Penalties.
1003. Is the duration of the sufferings of the guilty, in the future life, arbitrary or subordinate to a law?
"God never acts from caprice; everything in the universe is ruled by laws which reveal His wisdom and His goodness."
1004. What decides the duration of the sufferings of the guilty?
"The length of time required for his amelioration. A spirit's state of suffering or of happiness being proportioned to the degree of his purification, the duration of his sufferings, as well as their nature, depends on the time it takes him to become better. In proportion as he progresses, and his sentiments become purified, his sufferings diminish and change their nature."
1005. Does time appear, to the suffering spirit, longer or shorter than in the earthly life?
"It appears longer; sleep does not exist for him. It is only for spirits arrived at a certain degree of purification that time is merged, so to say with infinity." (240.)
1006. Could a spirit suffer eternally?
"Undoubtedly, if he remained eternally wicked, that is to say, if he were never to repent nor to amend, he would suffer eternally. But God has not created beings to let them remain forever a prey to evil; He created them only in a state of simplicity and ignorance, and all of them must progress, in a longer or shorter time, according to the action of their will. The determination to advance may be awakened more or less tardily, as the development of children is more or less precocious; but it will be stimulated, sooner or later, by the irresistible desire of the spirit himself to escape from his state of inferiority, and to be happy. The law which regulates the duration of a spirit's sufferings is, therefore, eminently wise and beneficent, since it makes that duration to depend on his own efforts; he is never deprived of his free-will, but, if he makes a bad use of it, he will have to bear the consequences of his errors."
1007. Are there spirits who never repent?
"There are some whose repentance is delayed for a very long time; but to suppose that they will never improve would be to deny the law of progress, and to assert that the child will never become a man."
1008. Does the duration of a spirit's punishment always depend on his own will, and is it never imposed on him for a given time?
"Yes; punishment may be imposed on him for a fixed time, but God, who wills only the good of His creatures, always welcomes his repentance, and the desire to amend never remains sterile."
1009. According to that, the penalties imposed on spirits are never eternal?
"Interrogate your common sense, your reason, and ask yourself whether an eternal condemnation for a few moments of error would not be the negation of the goodness of God? What, in fact, is the duration of a human life, even though prolonged to a hundred years, in comparison with eternity? ETERNITY! Do you rightly comprehend the word? sufferings, tortures, without end, without hope, for a few faults! Does not your judgment reject such an idea? That the ancients should have seen, in the Master of the Universe, a terrible, jealous, vindictive God, is conceivable, for, in their ignorance, they attributed to the Divinity the passions of men; but such is not the God of the Christians, who places love, charity, pity, the forgetfulness of offences, in the foremost rank of virtues, and who could not lack the qualities which He has made it the duty of His creatures to possess. Is it not a contradiction to attribute to Him infinite love and infinite vengeance? You say that God's justice is infinite, transcending the limited understanding of mankind; but justice does not exclude kindness, and God would not be kind if He condemned the greater number of His creatures to horrible and unending punishment. Could He make it obligatory on His children to be just, if His own action towards them did not give them the most perfect standard of justice? And is it not the very sublimity of justice and of kindness to make the duration of punishment to depend on the efforts of the guilty one to amend, and to mete out the appropriate recompense, both for good and for evil, 'to each, according to his works'?"
"Set yourselves, by every means in your power, to combat and to annihilate the idea of eternal punishment, which is a blasphemy against the justice and goodness of God, and the principal source of the skepticism, materialism, and indifferentism that have invaded the masses since their intelligence has begun to be developed. When once a mind has received enlightenment, in however slight a degree, the monstrous injustice of such an idea is immediately perceived; reason rejects it, and rarely fails to confound, in the same ostracism, the penalty against which it revolts and the God to whom that penalty is attributed. Hence the numberless ills which have burst upon you, and for which we come to bring you a remedy. The task we point out to you will be all the easier because the defenders of this belief have avoided giving a positive opinion in regard to it; neither the Councils nor the Fathers of the Church have definitely settled this weighty question. If Christ, according to the Evangelists and the literal interpretation of His allegorical utterances, threatens the guilty with a fire that is unquenchable, there is absolutely nothing in those utterances to prove that they are condemned to remain in that fire eternally.
"Hapless sheep that have gone astray! behold, advancing towards you, the Good Shepherd who, so far from intending to drive you forever from His presence, comes Himself to seek you, that He may lead you back to the fold! Prodigal children! renounce your voluntary exile, and turn your steps towards the paternal dwelling! Your Father, with arms already opened to receive you, is waiting to welcome you back to your home!"
"Wars of words! wars of words! has not enough blood been already shed for words, and must the fires of the stake he rekindled for them? Men dispute about the words 'eternal punishments,' 'everlasting burnings;' but do you not know that what you now understand by eternity was not understood in the same way by the ancients? Let the theologian consult the sources of his faith, and he, like the rest of you, will see that, in the Hebrew text, the word which the Greeks, the Latins, and the moderns, have translated as endless and irremissible punishment, has not the same meaning. Eternity of punishment corresponds to eternity of evil. Yes; so long as evil continues to exist among you, so long will punishment continue to exist; it is in this relative sense that the sacred texts should be interpreted. The eternity of punishments, therefore, is not absolute, but relative. Let a day come when all men shall have donned, through repentance, the robe of innocence, and, on that day, there will be no more weeping, wailing, or gnashing of teeth. Your human reason is, in truth, of narrow scope; but, such as it is, it is a gift of God, and there is no man of right feeling who, with the aid of that reason, can understand the eternity of punishment in any other sense. If we admit the eternity of punishment, we must also admit that evil will be eternal; but God alone is eternal, and He could not have created an eternal evil, without plucking from His attributes the most magnificent of them all, namely, His sovereign power; for he who creates an element destructive of his works is not sovereignty powerful. Plunge no more thy mournful glance, Oh human race! into the entrails of the earth, in search of chastisements! Weep, but hope; expiate, but take comfort in the thought of a God who is entirely loving, absolutely powerful, essentially just."
"Union with the Divine Being is the aim of human existence. To the attainment of this aim three things are necessary--knowledge, love justice: three things are contrary to this aim--ignorance, hatred, injustice. You are false to these fundamental principles when you falsify the idea of God by exaggerating His severity; thus suggesting to the mind of the creature that there is in it more clemency, long-suffering, love, and true justice, than you attribute to the Creator. You destroy the very idea of retribution by rendering it as inadmissible, by your minds, as is, by your hearts, the policy of the Middle Ages, with its hideous array of torturers, executioners, and the stake. When the principle of indiscriminating retaliation has been banished forever from human legislation, can you hope to make men believe that principle to be the rule of the Divine Government? Believe me, brothers in God and in Jesus Christ, you must either resign yourselves to let all your dogmas perish in your hands rather than modify them, or you must revivify them by opening them to the beneficent action that good spirits are now bringing to bear on them. The idea of a hell full of glowing furnaces and boiling cauldrons might be credible in an age of iron; in the nineteenth century it can be nothing more than an empty phantom, capable, at the utmost, of frightening little children, and by which the children themselves will no longer be frightened when they are a little bigger. By your persistence in upholding mythic terrors, you engender incredulity, source of every sort of social disorganization; and I tremble at beholding the very foundations of social order shaken, and crumbling into dust, for want of an authoritative code of penality. Let all those who are animated by a living and ardent faith, heralds of the coming day, unite their efforts, not to keep up antiquated fables now fallen into disrepute, but to resuscitate and revivify the true idea of penality, under forms in harmony with the usages, sentiments, and enlightenment of your epoch.
"What, in fact, is 'a sinner'? One who, by a deviation from the right road, by a false movement of the soul, has swerved from the true aim of his creation, which consists in the harmonious worship of the Beautiful, the Good, as embodied in the archetype of humanity, the Divine Exemplar, Jesus Christ.
"What is 'chastisement'? The natural, derivative consequence of that false movement; the amount of pain necessary to disgust the sinner with his departure from rectitude, by his experience of the suffering caused by that departure. Chastisement is the goad which, by the smarting it occasions, decides the soul to cut short its wanderings, and to return into the right road. The sole aim of chastisement is rehabilitation; and therefore, to assume the eternity of chastisement is to deprive it of all reason for existing.
"Cease, I beseech you, the attempt to establish a parallelism of duration between good, essence of the Creator, and evil, essence of the creature; for, in so doing, you establish a standard of penality that is utterly without justification. Affirm, on the contrary, the gradual diminution of imperfections and of chastisements through successive existences, and you consecrate the doctrine of the union of the creature with the Creator by the reconciliation of justice with mercy."
PAUL, APOSTLEIt is desired to stimulate men to the acquisition of virtue, and to turn them from vice, by the hope of reward and the fear of punishment; but, if the threatened punishment is represented under conditions repugnant to reason, not only will it fail of its aim, but it will lead men, in rejecting those conditions, to reject the very idea of punishment itself. But let the idea of future rewards and punishments be presented to their mind under a reasonable form, and they will not reject it. This reasonable explanation of the subject is given by the teachings of Spiritism.
The doctrine of eternal punishment makes an implacable God of the Supreme Being. Would it be reasonable to say of a sovereign that he is very kind, very benevolent, very indulgent, that he only desires the happiness of all around him, but that he is, at the same time, jealous, vindictive, inflexibly severe, and that he punishes three-quarters of his subjects with the most terrific tortures, for any offence, or any infraction of his laws, even when their imputed fault has resulted simply from their ignorance of the laws they have transgressed? Would there not be an evident contradiction in such a statement of the sovereign's character? And can God's action be less consistent than that of a man?
The doctrine in question presents another contradiction. Since God foreknows all things, He must have known, in creating a soul, that it would transgress His laws, and it must therefore have been, from its very formation, predestined by Him to eternal misery: but is such an assumption reasonable", or admissible? The doctrine of punishment proportioned to wrongdoing is, on the contrary, entirely consonant with reason and justice. God undoubtedly foresaw, in creating a given soul, that, in its ignorance, it would do wrong: but He has ordained that its very faults themselves shall furnish it with the means of becoming enlightened, through its experience of the painful effects of its wrong-doing He will compel it to expiate that wrong-doing, but only in order that it may be thereby more firmly fixed in goodness thus the door of hope is never closed against it, and the moment of its deliverance from suffering is made to depend on the amount of effort it puts forth to achieve its purification. If the doctrine of future punishment had always been presented under this aspect, very few would ever have doubted its truth.
The word eternal is often figuratively employed, in common parlance, to designate any long period of duration of which the end is not foreseen, although it is known that it will come in course of time. We speak, for instance, of "the eternal snows" of mountain peaks and polar regions, although we know, on the one hand, that our globe will come to an end, and, on the other hand, that the state of those regions may be changed by the normal displacement of the earth's axis, or by some cataclysm. The word eternal, therefore, in this case, does not mean infinitely perpetual. We say, in the suffering of some long illness, that our days present the same "eternal round" of weariness; is it strange, then, that spirits who have suffered for years, centuries, thousands of ages even, should express themselves in the same way? Moreover, we must not forget that their state of backwardness prevents them from seeing the other end of their road, and that they therefore believe themselves to be destined to suffer forever; a belief which is itself a part of their punishment.
The doctrine of material fire, of furnaces, and tortures, borrowed from the pagan Tartarus, is completely given up by many of the most eminent theologians of the present day, who admit that the word "fire" is employed figuratively in the Bible, and is to be understood as meaning moral fire (974.). Those who, like ourselves, have observed the incidents of the life beyond the grave, as presented to our view by the communications of spirits, have had ample proof that its sufferings are nonetheless excruciating for not being of a material nature. And even as regards the duration of those sufferings, many theologians are beginning to admit the restriction indicated above, and to consider that the word eternal may be considered as referring to the principle of penality in itself, as the consequence of an immutable law, and not to its application to each individual. When religious teaching shall openly admit this interpretation, it will bring back to a belief in God and in a future life many who are now losing themselves in the mazes of materialism.
Resurrection of the Body.
1010. Is the doctrine of the resurrection of the body an implication of that of reincarnation, as now taught by spirits?
"How could it be otherwise? It is with regard to that expression as to so many others, that only appear unreasonable because they are taken literally, and are thus placed beyond the pale of credibility; let them only be rationally explained, and those whom you call free-thinkers will admit them without difficulty, precisely because they are accustomed to reflect. Freethinkers, like the rest of the world, perhaps even more than others, thirst for a future; they ask nothing better than to believe, but they cannot admit what is disproved by science. The doctrine of the plurality of existences is conformable with the justice of God; it alone can explain what, without it, is inexplicable; how can you doubt, then, that its principle is to be found in all religions?"
1011. The Church, then, in the dogma of the resurrection of the body, really teaches the doctrine of reincarnation?
"That is evident; but it will soon be seen that reincarnation is implied in every part of Holy Writ. Spirits, therefore, do not come to overthrow religion, as is sometimes asserted; they come, on the contrary, to confirm and sanction it by irrefragable proofs. But, as the time has arrived to renounce the use of figurative language, they speak without allegories, and give to every statement a clear and precise meaning that obviates all danger of false interpretation. For this reason there will be, ere long, a greater number of persons sincerely religious and really believing than are to be found at the present day."Physical science demonstrates the impossibility of resurrection according to the common idea. If the relics of the human body remained homogeneous, even though dispersed and reduced to powder, we might conceive the possibility of their being reunited at some future time; but such is not the case. The body is formed of various elements, oxygen, hydrogen, azote, carbon, etc., and these elements, being dispersed, serve to form new bodies, so that the same molecule of carbon, for example, will have entered into the composition of many thousands of different bodies (we speak only of human bodies, without counting those of animals); such and such an individual may have, in his body, molecules that were in the bodies of the men of the earliest ages; and the very same organic molecules that you have this day absorbed in your food may have come from the body of some one whom you have known; and so on. Matter being finite in quantity, and its transformations being infinite in number, how is it possible that the innumerable bodies formed out of it should be reconstituted with the same elements? Such a reconstruction is a physical impossibility. The resurrection of the body can, therefore, be rationally admitted only as a figure of speech, symbolizing the fact of reincarnation; thus interpreted, it has in it nothing repugnant to reason, nothing contrary to the data of physical science.
It is true that, according to theological dogma, this resurrection is not to take place until the "Last Day," while, according to spiritist doctrine, it takes place every day; but is not this picture of the "Last Judgment" a grand and noble metaphor, implying, under the veil of allegory, one of those immutable truths that will no longer be met with incredulity when restored to their true meaning? To those who carefully ponder the spiritist theory of the future destiny of souls, and of the fate that awaits them as the result of various trials they have to undergo, it will be apparent that, with the exception of the condition of simultaneousness, the judgment which condemns or absolves them is not a fiction, as is supposed by unbelievers. It is also to be remarked that the judgment which assigns to each soul its next place of habitation is the natural consequence of the plurality of worlds, now generally admitted; while, according to the doctrine of the "Last Judgment," the earth is supposed to be the only inhabited world.
Paradise, Hell and Purgatory.
1012. Are there, in the universe, any circumscribed places set apart for the joys and sorrows of spirits, according to their merits?
"We have already answered this question. The joys and sorrows of spirits are inherent in the degree of perfection at which they have arrived. Each spirit finds in himself the principle of his happiness or unhappiness; and, as spirits are everywhere, no enclosed or circumscribed place is set apart for either the One or the other. As for incarnated spirits, they are more or less happy or unhappy, according as the world they inhabit is more or less advanced."
-- "Heaven" and "hell," then, as men have imagined them, have no existence?
"They are only symbols; there are happy and unhappy spirits everywhere. Nevertheless, as we have also told you, spirits of the same order are brought together by sympathy; but, when they are perfect, they can meet together wherever they will."The localization of rewards and punishments in fixed places exists only in man's imagination; it proceeds from his' tendency to materialize and to circumscribe the things of which he cannot comprehend the essential infinitude.
1013. What is to be understood by Purgatory?
"Physical and moral suffering; the period of expiation. It is almost always upon the earth that you are made by God to undergo your purgatory, and to expiate your wrong-doing."What men call purgatory is also a figure of speech, that should be understood as signifying, not any determinate place, but the state of imperfect spirits who have to expiate their faults until they have attained the complete purification that will raise them to the state of perfect blessedness. As this purification is effected by means of various incarnations, purgatory consists in the trials of corporeal life.
1014. How is it that spirits who, by their language, would seem to be of high degree, have replied according to the commonly-received ideas to those who have questioned them in the most serious spirit concerning hell and purgatory?
"They speak according to the comprehension of those who question them, when the latter are too fully imbued with preconceived ideas, in order to avoid any abrupt interference with their convictions. If a spirit should tell a Moslem, without proper precautions, that Mohammed was not a true prophet, he would not he listened to with much cordiality."
-- Such precautions are conceivable on the' part of spirits who wish to instruct us; but how is it that others, when questioned as to their situation, have replied that they were suffering the torture's of hell or of purgatory?
"Spirits of inferior advancement, who are not yet completely dematerialized, retain a portion of their earthly ideas, and describe their impressions by means of terms that are familiar to them. They are in a state that allows of their obtaining only a very imperfect foresight of the future; for which reason it often happens that spirits in erraticity, or but recently freed from their earthly body, speak just as they would have done during their earthly life. Hell may be understood as meaning a life of extremely painful trial, with uncertainty as to the future attainment of any better state; and purgatory as a life that is also one of trial, but with the certainty of a happier future. Do you not say, when undergoing any very intense physical or mental distress, that you are suffering 'the tortures of the damned'? But such an expression is only a figure of speech, and is always employed as such."
1015. What is to be understood by the expression, "a soul in torment"?
"An errant and suffering soul, uncertain about its future, and to whom you can render, in its endeavor to obtain relief, an assistance that it often solicits at your hands by the act of addressing itself to you." (664.)
1016. In what sense is the word heaven to be understood?
"Do you suppose it to be a place like the Elysian Fields of the ancients, where all good spirits are crowded together pell-mell, with no other care than that of enjoying, throughout eternity, a passive felicity? No; it is universal space; it is the planets, the stars, and all the worlds of high degree, in which spirits are in the enjoyment of all their faculties, without having the tribulations of material life, or the sufferings inherent in the state of inferiority."
1017. Spirits have said that they inhabited the third, fourth, and fifth heaven, etc.; what did they mean in saying this?
"You ask them which heaven they inhabit, because you have the idea of several heavens, placed one above the other, like the stories of a house, and they therefore answer you according to your own ideas; but, for them, the words 'third,' 'fourth,' or 'fifth' heaven, express different degrees of purification, and consequently of happiness. It is the same when you ask a spirit whether he is in hell; if he is unhappy, he will say 'yes,' because, for him, hell is synonymous with suffering; but he knows very well that it is not a furnace. A Pagan would have replied that he was in Tartarus."The same may be said in regard to other expressions of a similar character, such as "the city of flowers," "the city of the elect," the first, second, or third "sphere." etc., which are only allegorical, and employed by some spirits figuratively, by others from ignorance of the reality of things, or even of the most elementary principles of natural science.
According to the restricted idea formerly entertained in regard to the localities of rewards and punishments, and to the common belief that the earth was the center of the universe, that the sky formed a vault overhead, and that there was a specific region of stars, men placed heaven up above, and hell down below; hence the expressions to "ascend into heaven," to be in "the highest heaven." to be "cast down into hell." etc. Now that astronomy, having traced up the earth's history and described its constitution, has shown us that it is one of the smallest worlds that circulate in space and devoid of any special importance, that space is infinite, and that there is neither "up" nor "down" in the universe, men have been obliged to cease placing heaven above the clouds, and hell in the "lower parts of the earth." As for purgatory, no fixed place was ever assigned to it.
It was reserved for Spiritism to give, in regard to all these points, an explanation which is at once, and in the highest degree, rational, sublime, and consoling, by showing us that we have in ourselves our "hell" and our "heaven," and that we find our "purgatory" in the state of incarnation, in our successive corporeal or physical lives.
1018. In what sense should we understand the words of Christ, 'My kingdom is not of this world"?
"Christ, in replying thus, spoke figuratively. He meant to say that He reigned only over pure and unselfish hearts. He is wherever the love of goodness holds sway; but they who are greedy for the things of this world, and attached to the enjoyments of earth, are not with Him."
1019. "Will the reign of goodness ever be established upon the earth?
"Goodness will reign upon the earth when, among the spirits who come to dwell in it, the good shall be more numerous than the bad; for they will then bring in the reign of love and justice, which are the source of good and of happiness. It is through moral progress and practical conformity with the laws of God, that men will attract to the earth good spirits, who will keep bad ones away from it; but the latter will not definitively quit the earth until its people shall be completely purified from pride and selfishness.
"The transformation of the human race has been predicted from the most ancient times, and you are now approaching the period when it is destined to take place. All those among you who are laboring to advance the progress of mankind are helping to hasten this transformation, which will be effected through the incarnation, in your earth, of spirits of higher degree, who will constitute a new population, of greater moral advancement than the human races they will gradually have replaced. The spirits of the wicked people who are mowed down each day by death, and of all who endeavor to arrest the onward movement, will be excluded from the earth, and compelled to incarnate themselves elsewhere; for they would be out of place among those nobler races of human beings, whose felicity would be impaired by their presence among them. They will be sent into never worlds, less advanced than the earth, and will therein fulfill hard and laborious missions, which will furnish them with the means of advancing, while contributing also to the advancement of their brethren of those younger worlds, less advanced than themselves. Do you not see, in this exclusion of backward spirits from the transformed and regenerated earth, the true significance of the sublime myth of the driving out of the first pair from the garden of Eden? And do you not also see, in the advent of the human race upon the earth, under the conditions of such an exile, and bringing within; itself the germs of its passions and the evidences of its primitive inferiority, the real meaning of that other myth, no less sublime, of the fall of those first parents, entailing the sinfulness of their descendants? 'Original sin,' considered from this point of view, is seen to consist in the imperfection of human nature; and each of the spirits subsequently incarnated in the human race is therefore responsible only for his own imperfection and his own wrong-doing, and not for those of his forefathers.
"Devote yourselves, then, with zeal and courage to the great work of regeneration, all you who are processed of faith and good will; you will reap a hundredfold for all the seed you sow. Woe to those who close their eyes against the light; for they will have condemned themselves to long ages of darkness and sorrow! Woe to those who center their enjoyment in the pleasures of the earthly life; for they will undergo privations more numerous than their present pleasures! And woe, above all, to the selfish; for they will find none to aid them in bearing the burden of their future misery!"