That’s the question I pose today, will you Go to Hell? Is it a physical or meta-spatial place of torment, in which human souls enter upon death? If so, is it an eternal chamber with no door, or are the doors, as C.S. Lewis says, “Locked on the inside”? Or perhaps it is not even contingently possible, maybe it doesn’t exist at all? After watching the movie Hellbound? I was intrigued by the fact that there is no universal doctrine of Hell, even within the mainstream Evangelical church.
There are Three different views commonly held:
- Heaven and Hell Traditionally
If you accept God and die as a Christian, you land in Heaven; if you don’t, you go to Hell
If you accept God and die as a Christian, you land in Heaven; if you don’t, you cease to exist
If you accept God and die as a Christian, you land in Heaven; if you don’t, you land in Heaven
Now of course there are plenty of sub-categories within these views. For instance, even if Hell is real and non-christians go there, are they eternally tormented? In universalism, is there still a time where everyone is tormented according to their sins? Is there a brief afterlife for those that are annihilated, and if so what does that look like?
People like to believe that their sect of Christianity has the correct view of eternity, and even will enforce it with scriptures, but doesn’t it seem odd to you that there are so many opposing views from people that claim to read the same 66 books?!
I think instead of endorsing any one of these common views, I’m going to give a brief history of Hell and then, just for kicks and giggles, create a new doctrine of Hell.
One scholarly view of Hell is based on a very natural evolution of the Jewish religion, one where Satan and Hell were adapted from perhaps the Zoroastrian view and then later became the orthodoxy of the mainline Jews.
In this view it is important to note that Jewish religion started, not as a monotheistic religion, not as a polytheistic religion, but a henotheistic religion. This identity means that while there was the one true God, the Creator God, there were also other deities that sat on a hierarchical council with God, whom did not deserve worship. As Mark Johnston puts it in his book Saving God, “Through the prophets, Yahweh primarily insists not on monotheism, the belief that there is but one god, but rather on monolatry, exclusive worship of himself because he is the Highest One.” This counsel be found within the Old testament in Job, in Psalms, and in 1 Kings. This view looks somewhat similar to Socrates view in the Tamaues, that there is one creator God and a multitude of lesser gods. However, it seems that somewhere along the lines, with the influence of the Zoroastrian perspective, God became one and Satan, the adversary god of the council, became his divine enemy. The authors of a neat little book, The Quest for the Historical Satan, make it clear that the Zoroastrian apocalyptic tradition has been detectable in all three of the Abrahamic faith traditions. “Many of the priests and adherents came to believe that at the end of time a final battle would be fought between the forces of light and goodness, represented by Spenta Mainyu and Ahura Mazda, and the forces of darkness and evil, represented by Ahriman and Angra Mainyu. As the story goes, it was prophesied that those who had chosen moral righteousness over sinfulness would ascend to heaven and join with Ahura Mazda and the good spirits in Paradise. Yet those who had chosen evil and lies over goodness and truth by siding with Ahriman and Angra Mainyu against the sons and daughters of light would be cast into a fiery pit for all eternity.” Sound Familiar?
So, hell, and eternity itself, as well as the makeup of heaven has evolved and adapted due to other influence than divine revelation. I’m not saying that this means that there isn’t a heaven or a hell, or that there isn’t a final judgement, but that the bible can be used to support opposing views on the same subject, and that if all taken in literally, would create an interestingly contradictive doctrine. To show this, I will create a fourth view of the afterlife from scripture:
The view of Universal Annihilism simply means that upon death, if you accept God and die as a Christian, you cease to exist; if you don’t, you cease to exist. Let’s look at a couple scriptures in support of this view:
- Job 34:14&15 “If he[God] should take back his spirit to himself, and gather to himself his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.”
- Psalms 146:4 “When his [man] breath departs he returns to the earth; on that very day his memory perish.”
- Genesis 3:19 “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
- Ecclesiastes 9:5&6 “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward; but the memory of them is lost. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and they have no more forever any share in all that is done under the sun.”
So, as you can see, I could justify a Universal Annihilism from scripture just as easily as someone might create one of the other Three perspectives. But, I think I’m wrong here, and perhaps the other Three views are wrong also. Perhaps eternity is more subtle than we can understand and that there is a different order in the afterlife, perhaps we lose our individuality and become one consciousness? I would suggest not getting so hung-up on the makeup of the next life, and focus on the actions and the deeds of this present one. Cause which ever view you hold, it doesn’t change how you act today, but how you act today will change eternity.