Child Soldiers

Struggling with the eternal hells….

How can hell be eternal? In an earlier post I discussed the beliefs that had “worked” for me in my life. Today I bring up a doctrine that I have always struggled with. I know I’m not alone. It’s one of the hardest things to understand, and that is the eternity of the hells.

Here’s how my thinking goes. I understand that evils, confirmed in action, life, and with delight, are much harder to route out. I observe that, in our world, confirming and delighting in evils without civil or cultural checks, does take on a life of its own and does not naturally “right” itself. I also get that, if C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce” is to be believed, that you cannot have it both ways. “You cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys,” he writes. “Evil can be undone, but it cannot “develop” into good. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound bit by bit ‘with backward mutters of dissevering power’–or else not.” 

But my life experience shows me how much good can be found in even a relatively short amount of time (years, months, even days) by imperfect human souls and organizations. Working with legal offenders of various stripes through an organization that was dedicated to their reintegration as I did for several years, I was struck repeatedly with the myriads of ways that life is turned into lessons for anyone who is ready to change, and when things get really tough, that’s often the best time.

My worst fears are for child soldiers. How can these children, who are systematically trained to do terrible acts, and to love them, long before their minds and brains are developed and rational, have a shot at heaven? Also, I read in Swedenborg that parents can “close heaven” to their children, and I think, “Really?How can this be!” even as I see how it could happen. 

I have come to see that I have to get away from the “fairness” concept. Life isn’t fair in virtually every way. Yet we all have a shot at heaven, which means we all have freedom, somewhere. 

I read “A Long Way Gone:  Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” by Ishmael Beah to really examine my fears around this. After years of escaping brutal soldiers and barely surviving in their early teens, Beah and his friends were captured and then taught, systematically and via drugs, movies, and other deprivations, to kill and then to love killing, to lust, to revenge…. I couldn’t actually read most of the details.  By the time they were re-captured and sent to a rehabilitation program, his friends were mostly dead and he was full of hatred.

And indeed, the rehabilitation program was far from perfect, though I got on my knees to thank those in charge for their heroic vision of buying the kids back and then healing them. It’s almost comic how naive they were to the depth of the boys’ trauma; everyone, boys and staff alike, were nearly killed in the first few days. But the staff did not give up, and they got some critical things right. Their methods mirror what might happen in the spiritual world, I’m guessing. A single woman met with Beah every day, building some sort of friendship despite all his sabotage, and one day he told her about the music he loved to hear in his previous life, and that he was a rapper. She found tapes of that music, and by playing it to him, woke up  “remains,” a happy, innocent memory. Slowly, slowly, he re-discovered good feelings, purpose, and life. He was lucky too–he had relatives who became his new, permanent family (his entire family was killed). He was not judged for his past. 

So, I see, it is possible that a child soldier is not wholly lost and given a heavenly surrounding for as long as it takes, could be brought back. So why not everyone? Wouldn’t even the worst person get bored of false fantasies after 10,000 years? 

So on I struggle. When I don’t understand, I consider this advice from Rainer Maria Rilke:  ““Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.” I pray to keep myself open so that someday I may understand this.  

Once Curtis Childs, on “Off the Left Eye” said, “Imagine this. You play a baseball game, you do your best, your team wins, it’s all great. Then you learn that your parents were in the audience and they bribed the opponent. The whole game was a farce. Wouldn’t you rather have played the real game, and lost, than won something fake?” Yes, I would. I would rather live the real thing even if it leads to pain and suffering and the seemingly impossible idea that some people cannot be brought back from hell.

About Katya Gordon

Katya Goodenough Gordon lives in Two Harbors, Minnesota, just a block from the north shore of Lake Superior. She has lived in this picturesque setting since 2008 when she and her family completed their first yearlong voyage living aboard a sailboat. Aside from home, marriage, and family, she is an author and reporter, a radio show host, a climate activist, and an active member of the United Church of Two Harbors. Born and bred in Bryn Athyn, PA, she is increasingly aware of and grateful for the ideas instilled in her childhood from Swedenborg's Writings, and always looking for ways to spread these life-giving truths in her community and beyond.

3 thoughts on “Child Soldiers

  1. Oh boy (and I say that to also include the grief for the boy soldiers). You brought me to tears and to laughter (“Wouldn’t even the worst person get bored of false fantasies after 10,000 years?”). I so appreciate your perspective and your query! It also made me wonder about the possibility of spiritual rehabilitation for those who TRAINED those boys to be evil. How deep must THEIR evil and hatred be? What is the hope and possibility for THEIR recovery? And it also makes me wonder what their past must have included that turned them so solidly to that path of violence and evil. How was their boyhood stolen?
    I feel like the question of the eternity of hell sits in “affirmative doubt” for me. I don’t understand it IF there’s a possibility for good. And… I trust that the Lord has the details and possibilities worked out somehow (in a way that I just can’t grasp).

    Thank you for all your writing and thinking (and loving)!


    1. Hi Val, yes! What about all those child soldier trainers? The boy in the book was basically already one (a trainer) when he was lifted out of the war. I suspect most of the trainers were still kids themselves…. one hopes. If they had been doing it for 30 years already it gives me less hope for them….

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