Some thoughts regarding alternative theology on hell. The hell I was taught was a literal place of burning fire and punishment. But I would like to present some other ideas here as well.
Throughout the history of the church there have been a number of differing beliefs on the afterlife and hell. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to state that differing beliefs regarding heaven and hell number in the hundreds. So consider these few that I present as just a sliver of the different opinions regarding hell and the afterlife.
I was taught that I was faith in Jesus that gave salvation. Any who did not believe in him were cast into an eternal lake of fire. You either believed or didn’t there was no in-between or alternative belief.
However there are many other beliefs in regards to heaven and hell even within the Christian faith. For instance, some believe that Jesus’ death on the cross brought about salvation for all. Rescuing all of creation unto g-d.
“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”Colossians 1:19-20
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”John 12:32
“It begins with the sure and certain truth that we are loved. That in spite of whatever has gone horribly wrong deep in our hearts and has spread to every corner of the world, in spite of our sin, failures, rebellion, and hard hearts, in spite of what’s been done to us or what we’ve done, God has made peace with us. Done. Complete. As Jesus said, ‘It is finished.'”Rob Bell – Love Wins
Some believe that g-d purifies man from his sin in order that he may be found worthy to enter heaven.
As Origen of Alexandria writes. “There is a resurrection of the dead, and there is punishment, but not everlasting. For when the body is punished the soul is gradually purified, and so is restored to it’s ancient rank. For all wicked men, and for daemons, too, shall be restored to their former rank.”
“If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”1 Corinthians 3: 12-15
This belief is in a kind of purgatory that restores the person to good standing with g-d. Some believe this is in a literal place in the afterlife. A type of stopping place before you are able to enter heaven. And others believe this to be a more metaphorical purification of the soul through the trials of daily life.
Others choose to interpret scripture in a more metaphorical way.
In regards to visions of heaven and hell that are recorded in scripture such as John’s Revelation. Jersak writes in Her Gates Will Never Be Shut, “Such visions of heaven and hell are symbolic descriptions of a state of mind and heart that we undergo, whether now or after death, not literal reports of what the afterlife will be like. The Church Fathers knew and taught that the flames, the worms, the brimstone, the jailers, the chains, and the garbage dump (Gehenna) were symbols pointing to spiritual realities or states of mind.”
To people like Rob Bell eternal life is not about some mystical afterlife. “Eternal life is less about a kind of time that starts when we die, and more about a quality and vitality of life lived now in connection to God.”
Many view hell as a time of suffering on this world. When people chose to abandon love, grace, and compassion towards others. Hell is furthering the cycle of preying on the weak and impoverished. This is viewed as hell on earth. Hell is viewed as suffering on this present world caused to us and by us.
I currently hold this view myself. As I struggle to find any evidence for a literal afterlife. That heaven and hell are more metaphorical than anything else. Following Christ’s teachings regarding compassion and love brings one closer to communion with the source of love and creation. And choosing to walk away from compassion and care for your fellow mankind furthers “hell” on this world.
I’ll close with a quote from Kevin Garcia. “If a theology leads you into a place of great pain, then it’s bad theology.” I would argue that the theological belief in hell has caused more harm than it has good. And for me it’s something I wish to leave behind entirely.
I highly recommend reading the book Her Gates Will Never Be Shut. The author does a great job of listing out all the different words and references to the afterlife and what we translate as “hell” in the modern bible. He presents multiple viewpoints on hell and universalism.