This is from George MacDonald’s Unspoken Sermons. I have nothing to say about it except that it rings true, truer than anything in Dante.
I think I have seen from afar something of the final prison of all, the innermost cell of the debtor of the universe; I will endeavor to convey what I think it may be.
It is the vast outside; the ghastly dark beyond the gates of the city of which God is the light — where the evil dogs go ranging, silent as the dark, for there is no sound any more than sight. The time of signs is over. Every sense has its signs, and they were all misused: there is no sense, no sign more — nothing now by means of which to believe. The man wakes from the final struggle of death, in absolute loneliness — such a loneliness as in the most miserable moment of deserted childhood he never knew. Not a hint, not a shadow of anything outside his consciousness reaches him. All is dark, dark and dumb; no motion — not the breath of a wind! never a dream of change! not a scent from far-off field! nothing to suggest being or things besides the man himself, no sign of God anywhere. God has so far withdrawn from the man, that he is conscious only of that from which he has withdrawn. In the midst of the live world he cared for nothing but himself; now in the dead world he is in God’s prison, his own separated self. He would not believe in God because he never saw God; now he doubts if there be such a thing as the face of a man — doubts if he ever really saw one, ever anything more than dreamed of such a thing: — he never came near enough to human being, to know what human being really was — so may well doubt if human beings ever were, if ever he was one of them.
Next after doubt comes reasoning on the doubt: “The only one must be God! I know no one but myself: I must myself be God — none else!” Poor helpless dumb devil! — his own glorious lord god! Yea, he will imagine himself that same resistless force which, without his will, without his knowledge, is the law by which the sun burns, and the stars keep their courses, the strength that drives all the engines of the world. His fancy will give birth to a thousand fancies, which will run riot like the mice in a house but just deserted: he will call it creation, and his. Having no reality to set them beside, nothing to correct them by; the measured order, harmonious relations, and sweet graces of God’s world nowhere for him; what he thinks, will be, for lack of what God thinks, the man’s realities: what others can he have! Soon, misery will beget on imagination a thousand shapes of woe, which he will not be able to rule, direct, or even distinguish from real presences — a whole world of miserable contradictions and cold-fever-dreams.
But no liveliest human imagination could supply an adequate representation of what it would be to be left without a shadow of the presence of God. If God gave it, man could not understand it: he knows neither God nor himself in the way of the understanding. For not he who cares least about God was in this world ever left as God could leave him. I doubt if any man could continue following his wickedness from whom God had withdrawn. [. . .]
I suppose the man so left that he seems to himself utterly alone, yet, alas! with himself — smallest interchange of thought, feeblest contact of existence, dullest reflection from other being, impossible: in such evil case I believe the man would be glad to come in contact with the worst-loathed insect: it would be a shape of life, something beyond and besides his own huge, void, formless being! I imagine some such feeling in the prayer of the devils for leave to go into the swine. His worst enemy, could he but be aware of him, he would be ready to worship. For the misery would be not merely the absence of all being other than his own self, but the fearful, endless, unavoidable presence of that self.