As promised, here's a little summary of a few Christian views of hell. Each of these has been held by millions of people, and there are still other Christian views on eschatology (mankind's final destiny) that aren't represented here. I'm not trying to give an exhaustive list -- just a high-level look at four pictures of eternity in the Christian world.
I've got friends who fall in each of these camps, and it's been interesting to learn about the reasoning behind each view. That's one of the key takeaways for me -- each view of eternity is perfectly reasonable and can be supported in the bible and with logic. I'll post more takeaways in my next writing.
View #1 -- Endless Punishment
This is basically the traditional view that has been held by the majority of Christians for centuries, with one group of people (the saved) going to heaven to be in bliss with God, and the unsaved going to hell for eternal torment. Every human soul survives for eternity, but not in the same place. Many denominations have different interpretations for what it takes to become one of the saved.
1. Matthew 5:30 -- "And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. "
2. Matthew 25:41 -- "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."
3. Luke 12:5 -- "But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him."
1. Consequences are a part of this life, so is it unreasonable to believe that consequences continue into the afterlife?
2. God is perfect, and many people are sinners who have not asked for God's forgiveness -- how can God allow that in his presence?
3. The fact that this is the by far the most common Christian view of eternity is nothing to sneeze at -- can we not accept the scholarship and conclusions of thousands of previous teachers?
View #2 -- Annihilationism
Also known as destructionism or conditionalism, this view states that while the saved go to heaven, the unsaved souls will be destroyed and will cease to exist, rather than living forever in hell. Only the saved souls are truly eternal, in this view. As a random point of interest, one of the most active proponents of this view is an elder of the Church of Christ right here in Houston. He wrote this book detailing his interpretations. So eschatology is by no means agreed-upon even in my own denomination.
1. 2 Thessalonians 1:9 -- "They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power"
2. Phillipians 3:19 -- "Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things."
3. Revelation 17:11 -- "The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction."
1. If we believe that God is Love, how could he allow the vast majority of his human creation to live in eternal torment?
2. In the Old Testatment, when people disobeyed God, they were often killed with no mention of any afterlife. Is it possible that this type of judgment remains the same today?
3. God described himself in Deuteronomy 9 as a "consuming fire". Doesn't this mean that something is burned, consumed and ceases to exist?
View #3 -- Universalism
This view holds to the belief that eventually all souls will be in heaven with God. Perhaps all rise together at the time of judgment, or perhaps some souls will have a temporary phase of punishment that is remedial in nature -- opinions vary. But universalists agree that the final picture is the same -- all of creation together in the presence of God.
1. 1 Corinthians 15:22 -- "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive."
2. 2 Corinthians 5:19 -- "...God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation."
3. Colossians 19-20 -- "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."
1. If God is love, and love does not keep a record of wrongs (1 Cor. 13:6), why would God keep a record and then punish so harshly for it?
2. If humans are called by Jesus to forgive without ceasing, are we being held to a higher standard than God?
3. If the vast majority of people who have ever lived are bound for hell, why do we call the record of Jesus' life "The Good News"?
View #4 -- Hades as one place with multiple experiences
A friend in the Orthodox church helped introduce me to lectures on this view of eternity -- I had never heard of it until a few months ago. It is the belief that there is no such place as a separate "hell"; instead there is but one place we go after death, and that is the presence of God. For those who loved and served God in life, they will experience God's love as light and joy in the afterlife. Others will experience God's love as a darkness or overwhelming fear, too overwhelming for their comfort, just as they ran from God during their lives.
1. Daniel chapter 3 -- Nebuchadnezzar's strongest soldiers are burned to death merely by being close to a super-hot furnace, yet God's servants (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) go into the furnace without harm.
2. Luke 16:23 -- As noted two blog posts ago, in Jesus' story the rich man and Lazarus are in eyesight of each other in the afterlife.
3. Revelation 20:13 -- "The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done."
1. Why and how would God actually create a separate place of punishment for his creation that he loves?
2. Why are the proper nouns for afterlife in the Old Testatment (Sheol) and New Testament (Hades) translated into different words like "hell", "grave" and "pit"?
3. Don't other sections of the bible teach that God loves the whole world? Then how could he send so many away from himself? Wouldn't it be more consistent to believe that he continues his embrace in eternity, but some perceive it as overbearing and terrifying just as they did during their lives on earth?