What is Hell?
Far from being an outdated idea, Heaven and Hell are very much on the agenda today. Radical Islamic believers think that by committing suicide in their religious cause they will go to heaven where they will experience unlimited joy. Many believers of Christianity believe that one day they will be out shopping and suddenly God will pull them out of Asda and they will ascend through clouds to heaven in the rapture.
For many people the meaning of Hell is straightforward. After we die we are judged and those who do not go to heaven go to a place of eternal torment. These people are not necessarilly the worst behaved, they are the ones who are not fogiven by God. Forgiveness is believed to be achieved in various ways, but it usually concerns what the person does or does not believe about Jesus.
That is a huge over simplification but most of the discussion about Hell is usually very simplistic. The truth is that the church has never been in agreement about Hell and it is no more in agreement today. Rob Bell in America wrote a book called 'Love Wins' in which he questioned some of the common understandings of hell, because he is a pastor from the evangelical part of the church it raised a huge storm and he ended up on the cover of Time Magazine.
However Christians have disagreed about Hell for all time
- Some believe in Hell as a literal place of eternal torment for the wicked, for others it is a place of torment for time, after which we can be freed
- Some people believe we choose it ourselves by denying God, for others God closes the door himself
- For some God is kind and good and would not torment people for all eternity, for others it is because God is good that he has to torment people for all time
- For some we go to Heaven because we are good and Hell because we are bad. For others we go to Hell based on what we believe, not how we behave.
- For some God is the torturer, even if he doesn't like doing it he has to keep on day in day out, for others it is not so much that God wakes up each morning to go to throw more coal on the fire, we just sink into nothingess or anhiliation
Perhaps you can see how there would end up being so many different ideas. The Bible is confusing because it seems to have a bit of everything depending upon which passage you choose. God is seen to either be in favour of eternally tormenting the wicked, condemning some to annihilation or saying that all people will ultimately be reconciled to God.
Rob Bell might have caused a fuss with his book 'Love Wins' but Origen one of the early great theologians believed in the idea of the final and ultimate triumph of Christ, that Satan himself would submit to the love and power of God in Jesus Christ