The spiritist doctrine, in regard to the consequences that await those who violate the divine laws, in the life to come, is therefore no arbitrary or fanciful theory, but is a logical deduction from the observation of facts made known to us by the statements of innumerable spirits; its principle points may be summed up as follows:
1. Each discarnate spirit undergoes, in the spirit world, the consequences of the various imperfections of which it has failed to cure itself during its earthly life. Its state in that world, whether happy or unhappy, is the direct consequence of, and inherent in, the degree of its advancement or of its imperfection.
2. Perfect happiness belongs, exclusively, to the state of perfection, that is to say, of the spirit’s complete purification. Every imperfection is at once a source of suffering and the privation of an enjoyment; and every acquisition of knowledge or of goodness brings with it an increase of enjoyment and diminishes the sources of suffering.
3. Every imperfection of the soul produces its own inevitable share of suffering; and every good quality produces, in virtue of the same law, its own natural, certain, share of happiness. The amount of a spirit’s suffering is thus exactly proportioned to the degree of its imperfection; and the amount of a spirit’s happiness is exactly proportioned to the degree of its intellectual and moral advancement.
A spirit who has still, say, ten imperfections to get rid of, suffers proportionately more than one who has only three or four; when it has succeeded in ridding itself of a quarter, or half, of those imperfections, it suffers proportionately less, and, when it has rid itself of the whole of them, the spirit has got rid of every source of suffering, and is perfectly happy. It is just as it is upon the Earth with our bodily ailments and imperfections; a person who has a complication of diseases suffers more than another person who has but one disease; and if a person were perfectly healthy, it is evident that such an individual would suffer no physical pain whatever. In the same way, the spirit who has acquired ten good qualities has a proportionally greater amount of happiness than one who possesses fewer good qualities.
4. In virtue of the law of progress – each spirit having the power to acquire the good qualities which it lacks and to rid itself of its bad ones, according to the spirit’s force of will and the amount of effort it makes for that purpose – the gate of hope and happiness is open to every creature. God repudiates none of God’s children; God receives them all into favor as they attain to the perfection of their being, thus leaving to all of them the merit of their deeds.
5. Suffering being indissolubly connected with imperfection, and enjoyment with excellence, the soul finds its own chastisement in itself, wherever it may be, and needs no circumscribed place as the scene of its suffering. “Hell” is, consequently, wherever there are souls that suffer, as “Heaven” is, wherever there are souls that are happy.
6. The good, or the evil, that we do is the result of the good or evil qualities possessed by our spirit. Not to do all the good which we have the power to do is evidently the result of imperfection on our part; and, consequently, as every imperfection is a source of suffering, a spirit suffers, not only for all the evil it has done, but also for the good which it might have done, but did not do, during its earthly life.
7. A spirit suffers through the evil that it has done, in order that, its attention being concentrated on the consequences of that evil, the spirit may better understand its disastrous nature, and be led to amend itself.
8. The justice of God being infinite, an exact account is kept, for each soul, of the good and the evil done by it in the course of its earthly life. No evil deed, no evil thought, however slight, fails to produce its own appropriate correction; but also, no good deed, however minute, no right feeling, however fugitive, no virtuous aspiration, however faint, is ever overlooked, or ever remains sterile, even in the case of the most depraved spirits; for they are the foundation of its reformation and progress.
9. Every fault committed, every evil deed accomplished, is a debt that must be paid; if it be not paid in the present earthly life it will be paid in the next one or in subsequent ones, because all the lives of a spirit form a consecutive series, a whole, all the phases of which are a part and parcel of each other. A spirit who pays its debt in the present life will not have to pay it in any future one.
10. A spirit undergoes the penalty of its defects both in the spirit world and in the life of the flesh. All the tribulations, all the miseries, which we suffer in the earthly life are at once the consequences of our own defects and expiations of faults that have been committed by us, either in our present life or in some of our former existences.
By the nature of the sufferings and vicissitudes that we have to undergo in our present life, we can judge of the nature of the faults committed by us in a preceding life, and of the imperfections to which those faults were due.
11. The expiation of wrongdoing varies according to the nature and the gravity of the offences committed; consequently, the same offence may entail different kinds and degrees of expiation in different cases, according as it may have been attenuated, or aggravated, by the circumstances under which it was committed.
12. In regard to the nature and duration of future correction, there is no absolute and uniform rule; the only general law is this, viz., that every misdeed shall receive its just and appropriate correction, and that every good deed shall receive its just and appropriate reward, exactly proportioned to the action of which it is the consequence.
13. The duration of correction depends entirely on the more or less rapid self-amendment of the spirit by whom it has been incurred. No spirit is ever condemned to any fixed term of correction. The only conditions required by Providence, for the releasing of a guilty spirit from the sufferings of expiation, are the spirit’s sincere return to a better mind, and its hearty determination to labor steadfastly for the acquisition of wisdom and goodness.
Each spirit is thus, and always, the sole arbiter of its own condition; the spirit may prolong its sufferings by hardening itself in evil, it may lessen them, or may put an end to them by its efforts to advance in the path of rectitude.
The sentencing of spirits to any fixed term of correction would be open to the double objection of prolonging, in some cases, the correction of a spirit after it has entered on a course of amendment, and, in other cases, of relieving a spirit from punishment before it has entered on that course. God, being just, corrects evil only so long as it continues to exist; God ceases to correct when the evil, that had necessitated correction, has ceased to exist. * In other words, moral turpitude being, itself, the cause of a spirit’s suffering, that suffering necessarily lasts as long as the moral turpitude, which is its cause, continues to exist, but, as necessarily, diminishes its intensity as the spirit’s moral state improves.
14. The duration of a spirit’s correction depending solely on its own delay in working out its own inner reform, it follows that, if a spirit persisted forever in remaining wicked, it would remain forever in a state of suffering, and that, consequently, in such a case, the spirit’s correction would be eternal.
15. One of the conditions inherent in a spirit’s moral inferiority is the inability to foresee the end of its suffering, and this inability leads the spirit to believe that it will last forever. Accordingly, guilty spirits are always found to be possessed with the idea that the chastisement they are undergoing will be eternal. **
16. Repentance is the first step towards improvement; but repentance, alone, is not sufficient to deliver the wrongdoer from the consequences of his or her wrongdoing; to effect this result, expiation and reparation are also necessary.
Repentance, expiation, and reparation are the three conditions necessary for the effacing of a fault and the suppression of its consequences.
Repentance mitigates the sufferings of expiation, because it opens the door to hope and paves the way to rehabilitation; but it is only reparation that, by destroying the cause of our suffering, can annul the suffering which is its effect; the granting of a free pardon to the wrong-doer would be merely the granting of a favor and not an annulling of the cause and consequences of the person’s wrong-doing.
17. Repentance may begin in the spirit-life or in the life of the flesh, and at any period; if a spirit’s repentance is tardy, it suffers for a longer time.
Expiation consists in the sufferings, both physical and moral, that are the results of a spirit’s wrong-doing – whether in the course of the same earthly life in which it has done wrong, or in the phase of spirit-life succeeding it, or in a new earthly life – until all traces of the spirit’s wrong-doing have been effaced.
Reparation consists in doing good to those whom we have wronged. Those who, through lack of power or of will, do not make reparation, in a given life, for the wrongs they have done in that life, will be brought again, in a new earthly life, into contact with the parties they have wronged in that former life, and under conditions which they will themselves have chosen beforehand, and which will have been contrived in such a way as to give them the opportunity of proving their devotion to them, and of enabling them to do them as much good as they formerly did them harm.
There are faults of which individuals may be guilty, but which do not cause any direct and personal injury to other people; in such cases, the reparation of a fault is accomplished in one or other of the following ways: – by doing, in a subsequent incarnation, what they ought to have done, but did not do, in a former one, whether by discharging duties which they neglected or did not see to be incumbent on them, or by fulfilling missions which they failed to fulfill in that former life, or by practicing the virtues which are the opposites of the vice in which they then indulged; that is to say, by being humble if they have been haughty; gentle, if they have been harsh; kindly, if they have been unkind; hardworking, if they have been idle; helpful, if they have been useless; temperate, if they have been dissolute; setting a good example, if they have set a bad one; and so on. It is thus that a spirit progresses by turning to profitable account the experiences and the lessons of his past existences ***
18. Spirits of slight advancement are excluded from the happier worlds whose harmony would be impaired by their presence; they therefore remain in worlds of correspondingly low degree – where they expiate their faults, and purify themselves from their imperfections – until they have acquired the moral qualities which enable them to incarnate themselves in worlds of higher moral and physical development.
The conception of a circumscribed place of correction is admissible only as referring to the worlds whose low degree of physical advancement places them, for the time being, in the category of worlds of expiation, around which swarms of discarnate spirits of low degree are always found, awaiting the new existences that will allow them to repair the evil they have done and will help them to advance.
19. A spirit always possesses his free-will, and its improvement is therefore sometimes slow and its persistence in evil very tenacious. The spirit may, if it wills, persist in its wickedness for years or for centuries; but a moment always comes when that spirit’s obstinacy in defying the Divine justice breaks down under the continuance of suffering, and when, despite its foolhardiness, the spirit confesses that the power which masters it is greater than its own. With the first glimmerings of its repentance, a gleam of hope is sent, by the Divine pity, to console and encourage the returning prodigal.
No spirit ever finds itself in the condition of being permanently incapable of improvement; were it otherwise, some spirits would be fatally doomed to remain forever in a state of inferiority, and would thus escape the action of the law of progress that regulates the destiny providentially imposed on all the beings of Creation.
20. Whatever may be a spirit’s inferiority and perversity, God never abandons it. Every spirit has its guardian angel who watches over it, takes note of every movement of its soul, and endeavors to awaken in that spirit’s mind good thoughts and the desire to progress and to make reparation, in a new existence, for the evil it has done. But this protecting guardian usually proceeds in its task occultly, without bringing any pressure to bear on its ward. A spirit must work out its own betterment through the action of its own will, and not as a consequence of any external constraint. The spirit does right, or does wrong, of its free choice, and without its choice being decisively influenced either for good or for evil. If the spirit takes the path of evil, it undergoes the consequences of its error as long as it continues to follow the wrong road; as soon as that spirit takes a single step in the opposite direction, it begins, at once, to experience the beneficial effect of its change of course.
Observation - It would be a mistake to imagine that the certainty of arriving, sooner or later, at the state of perfection and happiness for which all spirits have been created, could encourage any spirit to persevere in evil, with the idea of repenting at some future period, in the first place, because a spirit of low degree is unable to foresee any termination of its present situation, and, in the second place, because each spirit, being the artificer of its own unhappiness, always comes to perceive in the long run, that it depends on itself to procure its cessation, that the longer it persists in evil the longer it will remain unhappy, and that, consequently, its suffering will endure forever unless the spirit, itself, puts an end to it. To go on sinning is, on the part of a spirit, to condemn itself, consciously and willfully, to a continuance of suffering. But if, on the contrary, the gate of hope were irrevocably closed, according to the doctrine of eternal punishment, against the suffering spirit, it would have no motive for repenting and amending, which could be of no avail for it.
The law we are considering triumphantly refutes the objection that the Divine prescience, in creating the souls that subsequently go wrong, cannot be allied to goodness. God, in creating a soul, necessarily foresees whether, in virtue of its free will, it will take the right or the wrong road; God knows that it will incur correction if it goes wrong; but God also knows that this temporary chastisement is only a means for enabling it to understand its error, and for leading it into the right road, by which, sooner or later, it will reach the goal. According to the doctrine of eternal punishment, God, having known beforehand that such and such a soul would go wrong, created it with the knowledge that, by calling it into being, God was condemning it, beforehand, to endless tortures.
21. Each spirit is responsible only for its own wrong-doing; no spirit is punished for the wrong- doing of others, unless that spirit has been the cause of their doing wrong, either by leading them astray, through its evil counsels or example, or by not helping them to do right when the spirit had the opportunity of influencing them for their good.
For instance, those who commit suicide are always chastised for so doing; but those who, by their unkindness, drive their fellow- creatures to despair and to self-destruction, incur chastisement still more severe.
22. Although the chastisements of the spirit-world are infinitely various, there are some which are inherent in the backwardness of the spirits, and which, being the consequences of that state of inferiority, are, in the main, the same for all spirits of that degree.
The correction which is first experienced, especially among those who have attached themselves too closely to the earthly life while neglecting the interests of their spiritual advancement, consists in the slowness with which their soul effects its separation from the body, in the anguish which they feel on dying and which accompanies their awakening in the other life, and in the prolongation of the mental confusion so often attendant on dissolution, and which may continue for months and even for years. In the case of those, on the contrary, whose conscience is clear, who, during their earthly life, have identified themselves with the spiritual life and have detached their interests and affections from the things of this world, the separation of the soul and the body is effected rapidly and without painful shocks, the awakening into the other life is peaceful, and the mental confusion almost null.
23. Spirits of low moral advancement frequently fancy themselves to be still living the earthly life; and this illusion may last for many years, during which they experience all the wants, all the torments, and all the perplexities, incident to life in the flesh.
24. For criminals, the incessant sight of their victims, and of the places and circumstances of their crimes, is the most harrowing of tortures.
25. Some spirits are plunged in utter darkness; others are in a state of complete isolation, alone in the midst of immensity, tormented by the ignorance in which they find themselves with regard to their whereabouts and the fate that may be awaiting them. Those who are the guiltiest are the prey of torments that are all the more overwhelming from their being unable to foresee any termination of their misery. Many are chastised by being deprived of the sight of those they love. All, as a general rule, endure the sufferings they have caused others to endure, and with an intensity proportionate to the intensity of the suffering they have caused; and they continue to endure this retributive suffering until, through repentance and the desire to make reparation for the wrongs they have done, they obtain the relief which comes of their growing perception of the possibility of putting an end, through their own efforts, to the suffering they have brought upon themselves.
26. The torture of the proud is to see above them, surrounded and welcomed by the glorious spirits of the higher spheres, those whose superiority they failed to see, and whose humbler position they despised, when upon the Earth, while they find themselves relegated to the lowest rank; that of hypocrites is to see themselves pierced through and through by the light which lays bare their most secret thoughts, so that all may read them, without their having any means of hiding themselves, or their real quality, from other eyes; that of sensualists is to experience all the temptations, all the desires, without the possibility of satisfying them; that of misers is to see their hoards wasted and scattered, and to be unable to do anything to retain their hold on them; that of the selfish is to be neglected by all about them and to suffer all the hardships and mortifications they have caused to others; they will be thirsty, and no one will give them to drink, they will be hungry, and no one will give them food; no friendly hand will meet theirs, no compassionate voice will console them in their loneliness: they thought only of themselves during their earthly life; no one will think of them, or commiserate them, after their death.
27. The only way to avoid, or to lessen, the painful consequences that our defects may entail upon us in our future life, is to free ourselves from those defects, as far as possible, in our present life; and we must also make reparation now, if we would not have to make that reparation by and by, and in some way that will be far harder to bear for having been delayed. The longer we put off the work of getting rid of our defects and of making reparation for whatever wrongs we have done to others, the more painful will be the consequences of the former, and the more severely shall we have to suffer in accomplishing the latter.
28. The situation in which a spirit finds itself on its entrance into spirit-life is exactly what it has made for itself by its action in the earthly life it has quitted. After a time, another incarnation is granted to it in order that it may expiate and make reparation for the past by undergoing again the trials of the life in flesh; and that spirit will derive more or less profit from this new incarnation, according to the use it makes in it of its free-will. If it fails to make a good use of its new existence, it will have to begin the trial over again, under conditions more and more difficult and painful; so that the spirit who suffers much in the present life may be very sure that it has much to expiate, and, on the other hand, those who enjoy a seemingly prosperous life, notwithstanding their vices and their uselessness, may be equally sure that they will have to pay dear for their defects and their wrong-doing in a future existence. It was to the purifying and reparative effects of the earthly life that Jesus alluded to when he said, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
29. The mercy of God is, undoubtedly, infinite; but it is not blind. The guilty ones whom God forgives are not exonerated from the necessity of making reparation for their evil deeds; and, until they have paid their debt to justice, they continue to undergo the consequences of those misdeeds. The assertion that the mercy of God is infinite must be understood as meaning that the Divine justice is not inexorable, and that it always leaves the door open to the prodigal who has returned into the homeward road.
30. The Providential corrections of wrong-doing being temporary and subordinated to the repentance and reparation which depend on the free-will of the wrong-doer, those corrections are at once the chastisement of wrong-doing and the medicines which will cure the moral malady to which that wrong-doing is due. The spirits who, in the spirit-life or in their new subjection to the trials of the life in flesh, are made to undergo those chastisements, are, therefore, not like galley-slaves, condemned to a fixed term of punishment, but rather like patients in a hospital, who suffer both from the malady they have contracted and also from the course of treatment required for their cure (and which is often extremely painful), but who have the hope of being cured, and whose cure will be all the more rapid in proportion to the fidelity with which they follow the prescriptions of the physician who watches over them with enlightened solicitude. If, from negligence or obstinacy, they prolong their malady, they will also prolong the period of their suffering; but, in that case, this prolongation is not the fault of their physician but their own.
31. To the sufferings of the spirit-world, which wrong-doing brings upon spirits on their return to that world, succeed the sufferings of the life in flesh; sufferings which are, at once, the consequence of humankind’s imperfections, of their passions, of the bad use they make of their faculties, and the expiations of the faults committed by them in their present life and in the past. It is always in the life of flesh that a spirit repairs the evil it has done in its former corporeal existences, and that it puts in practice the resolutions it has formed in the spirit-life; a fact which explains and justifies the sorrows and troubles of human life which, at first sight, seem to be undeserved and uncalled for, but which are seen to be just and necessary, when we have learned that they are both payments of debts contracted by us in the past and the indispensable condition and means of our future advancement. ****
32. “But would not God,” it is sometimes asked, “have given proof of greater love for God’s creatures, if God had created them perfect, and consequently exempted them from the sufferings attendant on imperfection?”
To this query we reply that, in order to have exempted the beings of the universe from suffering, God must have created them perfect to begin with, having nothing to acquire in knowledge or in goodness. Undoubtedly, God could have done so; if God did not do so, it is because, in God’s wisdom, God has willed that the law of progress should be the law of creation.
Human beings are imperfect and, as such, are subject to vicissitudes more or less painful; this is a fact that we must accept, because it exists. But to infer from this that God is neither good nor just, would be to rebel against God.
It would evidently have been unjust to create some beings more favored than others, endowed with privileges denied to those others, and enjoying, without their having worked for it, and as a free gift on God’s part, a degree of happiness that those other beings could only acquire through long and painful effort, or, perhaps, could never acquire at all. But the justice of God is triumphantly vindicated by the explanation of God’s Providential action, which shows us that all spirits are created on a footing of entire and absolute equality; that they all have the same starting-point; that no spirit, at its formation, is more favored than others; that the upward march, which has to be accomplished by all spirits, is not rendered exceptionally easy for any of them; and that the spirits who have reached the highest degree have passed upwards, as all the others are now passing, from the same point of initial imperfection, by the same path of trial and effort.
This view of creation once admitted, what could be more perfectly just than the freedom of action that is accorded to each spirit? The road of happiness is equally open to all; the goals to be reached, and the conditions for reaching it, are the same for all. God has ordained that happiness shall be the result of effort, and not of favor, in order that each may obtain it as the result of his or her own individual merits; each is free to labor diligently, or to do nothing, for his or her own advancement; those who work hard and quickly gain their wage sooner; those who misemploy their energies, or lose their time, are longer in gaining the promised reward, but have only themselves to thank for the delay. The choice between good and evil is free to all; gifted with free will, human beings are not fatally drawn to either.
33. Notwithstanding the diversity of the kinds and degrees of suffering which imperfect spirits undergoes, the penal code of the future life may be summed up in the three following propositions:
1. Suffering is a condition of imperfection.
2. All our imperfections and all our misdeeds (which are the practical outcome of those imperfections) find their appropriate and necessary adjustment in their own natural and inevitable consequences – just as every excess is corrected by the malady which is caused by it, and as idleness is corrected by the disgust of life to which it leads – without the need of any special sentence being passed on each particular fault of each individual.
3. All human beings have the power of freeing themselves from their imperfections through the exertion of their individual wills; all human beings, therefore, are able to avoid the sufferings that are the consequence of those imperfections and to ensure their future happiness.
Such is the law of the Divine justice; “To each, according to the deeds done by his body:” a sentence which receives its execution both in the spirit-world and upon the Earth.
* Vide chap. VI, No. 25, the quotation from Ezekiel on this point.
** The word eternal is synonymous with perpetual, and both words mean, not an endless duration, but merely a duration of which the end is not foreseen. We say “the region of eternal (or perpetual) snows,” “the eternal (or perpetual) ice of the Poles;” we also say “The Perpetual Secretary of the French Academy,” which does not mean that the scientist occupying that post will continue to occupy it forever, but merely that he has been appointed to it for an unlimited period. The words eternal and perpetual are therefore employed to express the idea of indefinite, undetermined. Thus explained, the future punishment of the wicked may be said to be “eternal” in as much as the punishment has no fixed and defined duration, so that it appears to be “eternal” to the spirit who is undergoing it, and who does not foresee any termination of his suffering. – Vide “The Spirits’ Book,” Nos. 973, 1009.
*** The requiring of the wrongdoer to make reparation for the evil it has done is so evidently just in principle that it may be safely accepted as the true law of moral rehabilitation. Yet the necessity of this reparation has never been proclaimed, as a doctrine, by any of the religions of the world.
The spiritist announcement of this necessity, as a providential law, has met with opposition on the part of persons who think it would be more agreeable to do away with our misdeeds by the mere profession of repentance, at the cost only of a few words and with the aid of certain formulae. Such persons are free to imagine themselves to be able to escape, thus cheaply, the consequences of wrong-doing; they will see, by and by, whether the Divine Justice is satisfied by the mere admission, on the part of the wrong-doer, of having done wrong. Those who reject the spiritist doctrine of expiation should ask themselves whether the principle of expiation is not admitted, and rightly so, by human legislation, and whether the justice of God can be less than that of humankind? They should ask themselves whether they would be satisfied with the person who, having ruined them by a betrayal of their confidence, should simply tell them that he or she is sorry to have ruined them. Why should any one who has wronged another draw back from the obligation – fully accepted as a duty by all honest people – of repairing the wrong that has been done, to the very utmost of his or her power?
When the certainty of having to make reparation for everything we have done amiss shall have become established in the minds of all human beings, it will prove to be a rein far more effectual than the threat of hell-fire and of eternal punishment, both because the idea of Providential retribution, when thus presented, is seen to be altogether just and rational, and also because it explains the painful circumstances in which we find ourselves as being the result of our own wrong-doing, in our present life, or in a former existence.
**** Vide chap, VI. Purgatory, No. 3 and on; and Chap. XX. Instances of earthly expiation: “The Gospel According to Spiritism,” Chap. V, Blessed are they that mourn.