Monthly Archives: January 2011

Hell, what is this place? Heaven, does everyone go?

There are multiple words that get translated as “hell” in the Bible. Sheol in the Old Testament, and Hades, Tartarus, and Gehenna in the New. Sheol does not have any clear meaning as the Hell as we know it today, but more like the Greek Hades, which was where all went where they died. Hades and Tartarus seem to be used in similar ways, but we get the idea that there is a divide somewhere in it, such as the story of Lazarus and the rich man, where the rich man is in torment and asks for a Lazarus to dip his finger in some water and touch his tongue, but Lazarus cannot due to the great chasm between them. This is commonly seen not as Hell proper, however. Rather, there is usually a distinction made between where the dead go when they die and the Heaven and Hell that come about after the Final Judgment and mass resurrection of all people. Gehenna seems the most strict of the terms. It seems to get its roots from the valley of Hinnon, which was outside the city of Jerusalem and was often on fire due to the garbage and waste that was there. Moloch and child sacrifice, and evil in general was associated both directly and indirectly with it. But the use of the word in the NT seems to have a more symbolic and figurative meaning than referencing the actual place, so a simple translation does not seem to fit.

So Hell proper seems mostly to come from a select few passages in the Bible where Gehenna is used, or where eternal damnation is mentioned, and then a few instances in Revelation, though I will not mention those here due to the nature of the book that is so hard to interpret. The main “proof texts” for Hell as eternal punishment are Matt. 25:41, Matt. 25:46, Jude 7, which actually don’t even have the word Hell in them, but merely speak of eternal torment or punishment. In Matt. 3:12, Matt. 5:22, Matt. 18:8-9, Gehenna is used in conjunction with sin and the punishment for that sin, so in conjunction with the other passages mentioned, the doctrine of Hell is established.

So what does that mean about Heaven? Well, we clearly see that in Hades in the Lazarus and the rich man story, that there is a divide between the righteous and the unrighteous. [On a side note here, the doctrine of imputed righteousness(often associated with Reformed Theology and Protestantism) or infused righteousness(often associated with Catholic Theology) has to be mentioned, since Christians do not claim to be righteous of their own accord, but that as forgiven people, are given the righteousness of Christ.] And if there is a divide in Hades between the righteous and unrighteous, and we combine this with the idea that some will receive eternal torment, it would make sense to say that these people will be the unrighteous. The other option would be to say that there is some sort of purgatory, or that Hell is like purgatory, insofar as Hell would be finite according to the punishment fit for one’s sins. While this may be the more likable idea, since then all would be saved and this seems more just than eternal punishment, it seems impossible to me to get this out of the Bible, especially given that we know that some will in fact be punished in an eternal manner with “the devil and his angels.” To me, this seems impossible to get around. I will concede that some passages are ambiguous about Heaven and who gets there, but these passages hat talk of eternal punishment are impossible to coincide with the idea that everyone could get into heaven, because if that were the case, then surely this would not have been said in the first place.

Laying out some of the alternatives for Hell:

Annihilationism: God destroys the souls of the wicked so they do not have to suffer eternal torment in Hell. To me, this sounds a lot like euthanasia. The purpose of this idea is that God prevents eternal suffering by taking one out of existence entirely. But is that really a better option? It seems that if one is abhorrent, the other would be as well.

Universalism: There are basically two types of universalism. Contingent and necessary. Necessary is more problematic in that it says that it is impossible for anybody to go to Hell, which would seem to fly in the face of a just God, and it also implies that no matter what one does in their life on earth, it has no affect on their afterlife.

Contingent universalism seems to be the nicest view. That while it is possible for some to go to Hell, none in fact do. The problem here seems minor, but ends up with the same problem that it was trying to solve, mainly, that God would not send anyone to Hell due to His goodness. What the universalist wants to say is that God can’t send people to Hell, that He won’t has no affect on His ability to, and it is His ability to that they have to object to.

Second chance: Many views here, but the main point is that while some go to Hell it is finite. Problem here: the passages listed earlier mention eternal Hell, and this is not compatible with that.

For some interesting comments regarding Hell and Heaven and the problems with annihilationism and universalism check out http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heaven-hell/#1.1

The objective or goal here is to have an internally consistent doctrine of Heaven, Hell, and God. In my opinion, the traditional view that Hell is eternal, some people will go there, Heaven is eternal and Good, but both only come about after the Final Judgment and mass resurrection of both good and bad, and that before then, we all go to Hades but that the righteous are with God in a good realm, while the wicked are separated in some manner from the righteous. I would go as far as saying that for an infinitely good God, that in order to maintain that attribute, He cannot be in the presence of any sin or unrighteousness, which is why forgiveness and imputed/infused righteousness is necessary for salvation and entrance into heaven. And those only come about after repentance and wanting to be forgiven. It is not that forgiveness apart from wanting to be forgiven is like rape by any means, but rather that it is a two way street, the main aspect being repentance and recognition that we are sinful and need to be better, and the sincere effort to improve and try to be good. This would allow for some non-Christians who recognize that they fall short of being perfect, yet strive anyways, and honestly seek truth to get a pass. Now, not being God, I do not say who fits in this category and who doesn’t. If someone is agnostic or atheistic and is 100% honest and pure in his seeking, then they may get in since God can see into out hearts and our thoughts. I do believe more certainly that this allows minimally for those who have never encountered the Gospel to begin with to get in if they fit into this category.