Theological Insights from a Modern Perspective

Heaven and Heaven?

Decades ago the Paulist Fathers produced a television show called Insights (I’ve mentioned this show before) that presented old concepts in a new light (like I try to do here), one of those episodes dealt with heaven and hell under the New Covenant. On the episode an elderly couple is sitting in a room enjoying the classical music playing while reading books they obviously enjoy. An angel enters with a new “guest” for the room, one who is obviously not enjoying the sounds as much, the angel leaves. Near the end of the episode the new person calls for the angel to return, at which time he complains about how terrible the room is, and whose idea of heaven is this? To which the angel responds, pointing to the elderly couple, that for them this is heaven. The episode ends. The meaning is clear, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2), and a special room for each of us is being readied. But, is that room your idea of heaven?

Jesus rarely referred to hell (sheol / hades) during his teachings, even so the eastern view of hell is not what westerners imagine. Hell was not a place of eternal damnation, but rather a place where the dead were to reside until the coming of the Messiah (at least according to those who believed in the resurrection). It was a place of torment for both the good and the bad, similar to the Roman idea of Purgatory. The dead were cut off from the glory of God. Afterwards, in the epistles, there is no mention of hell as a place that still exists, rather it is used as examples. James uses it as an example of the problems caused by an untamed tongue, Peter mentions it as a place where the wicked angels were cast for torment.
My point? That the western concept of hell cannot exist under the New Covenant. In western teaching hell is a place of eternal torment, cut apart from the presence and love of God. A place where the demons torment the damned for all eternity. A place made legend in Hollywood movies and television shows, and used as a threat by preachers of all denominations. This concept of hell does not exist in the eastern church and, in fact, cannot exist in the Kingdom of God.

Why? Because God is all encompassing love, a love that never ends and can never be taken away. According to the Eastern Fathers, when Christ rose from the dead he broke the gates of Sheol, allowing those who were imprisoned to rise again (Matt 27:52). Once the gates were broken they cannot be restored, so there is no hell for which man is to be imprisoned. The Fathers teach us that when the final judgement comes all men will have to stand in the presence of the Lord, a presence of pure love and forgiveness. To the saints this will be a marvelous thing, they will be baptized by the fire of the Holy Spirit, as the Apostles were, and will enter into the kingdom where they will bask in the Eternal Love.

But, it will be no different for those judged to be unrighteous. They will experience the same Eternal Love, they will experience the same fire from the Holy Spirit. This, for them, will be the eternal torment, for they will be unable to accept this love and forgiveness, unable to bask in the fire; rather for them the fire and love will be an unending torture. “For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29) who “dwells in unapproachable light.” (I Timothy 6:16). As in the story that started out this post, both the good and the evil will live together in the Light of God, with the saints sharing the forgiveness and love of God with the fallen, who cannot accept their gift. Rather than Heaven and Hell, consider Heaven and Heaven

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Comments on: "Heaven and Heaven?" (5)

  1. Very interesting insight. You are saying, in effect that heaven is being in the presence of God. For those who love Him, this will be wonderful but for those who don’t it will be unbearable?

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    • Exactly. How could it be otherwise? According to the Fathers there is no place where God does not exist, since he is the creator of all things. Remember the parable Jesus told about Lazarus and the rich man? The rich man is in Gehenna, yet he can still see and speak to Lazarus and Abraham.

      You are not in the US, so I don’t know if this analogy will make sense. One of the major battles going on here is between the religious and the true atheists (versus agnostics), a group involved in removing religion from all aspects of public life, not just governmental life. Some have legitimate concerns about undue influence, while other spew vile hatred of anything religious. Imagine when the latter people pass away and are confronted by an all loving, forgiving God. How will they react? Will they be able to accept Him, or will His mere presence be so intolerable that is would be considered torture?

      The Fathers say that this is what pure hell is all about. To be in the presence of such love, forgiveness, and understanding and not be able to accept it. Jesus tells us that we are to love everyone, even those wishing to do us harm. How hard is it on those who hate us for us to return to them unconditional love? Can they accept it, or must they reject it with every fiber of their being?

      “Go in Peace to Love and Serve the Lord.” My wife’s church ends every liturgy with this salutation. Most take it to mean that they are to love and serve the Lord, but to serve Him means not just to love Him, but to love as He loved, to love those whom we serve in His name.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This pov makes so much sense to me. It is how, after reading and studying Revelation, I have pictured it. Once I read the door to the New Jerusalem is always open, I could not ever conceive of an “eternal damnation.” Our loving God would never do that. Otherwise, why did Jesus come to restore all of creation to the Father?

    I also think it is what makes hell on earth for so many people now – the not being able to accept God’s love, forgiveness and grace. It saddens me to my core. And I agree with you completely we are to love as He loved with open arms.

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    • Thank you for the kind words.

      I write from the Eastern POV, different than most Westerners are used to. I don’t claim that the East is any better than the West, just different. The Western theology is more legalistic: rules, cannons, and structure. The Eastern theology is more spiritually oriented, with guidelines and ideals leading the faithful. All of Eastern theology can be summed in one prayer (someday I need to write a blog on it):

      Lord Jesus Christ,
      Son of God,
      Have mercy on me,
      A sinner.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think we need to get back to Eastern theology. It was, after all, Jesus’ origins as a human and where he lived out his ministry.

        I think we in the Western world have way too much ego invested in being right instead of in being a disciple.

        Again, thank you for your patience with me this morning.

        Liked by 1 person

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