The descriptions of the afterlife throughout the Bible are
consistent. This belief is supported by the King James Version of the Bible in which some very different destinations after death are all translated into English as "Hell."
Every person has eternal life.
God has created two locations (Heaven and Hell). Everyone will spend eternity in one of these places after
death and judgment.
It is a glorious location where there is an absence of pain, disease,
sexual activity, depression, anxiety, etc.
People live there in new spiritual bodies, in the presence of Jesus Christ and God.
According to a growing number of religious conservatives, Hell
is a place where one is simply isolated from God.
According to many fundamentalist Christians, it is a place where people will be
intensely tortured without any hope of relief, for
Some religious conservatives believe in conditionalism
or annihilationism: that those in Hell will be punished for an
interval proportional to their sins on earth, and then totally
annihilated so that they exist no more in any form.
Those who have repented of their sins and have trusted Jesus as Lord and Savior are
"saved." They will go to heaven. This represents a
minority among those North Americans who identify themselves as Christians.
Those who have heard the Gospel and have not been saved will be tortured without relief
in Hell after they die. Most North American Christians will share this fate; all non-Christians will as well..
There is a debate over the fate of people who have never been learned about Jesus, been aware of Christianity or exposed to the gospel
message. Thus, they have not been able to either reject or accept it. This group probably
represents the majority of the human race, since about 2 out of 3 humans follow either no
religion or a non-Christian faith group. In the past, they were all believed to be destined
to live for eternity in Hell. Recently, there has been a softening of this position among some conservatives, as they have sarted to move towards the ancient Universalist heresy.
This topic is covered in detail in another essay: "Salvation:
can non-Christians be saved?"
The Southern Baptist Convention Home Mission Board conducted a study in
1993 which estimated how many Americans have had been born-again. They concluded that 70% of adult Americans have not been
"saved" and thus are going to Hell.9 During
the last decade of the 20th century, the number of Americans affiliated with Christian churches has dropped
significantly, and the number of Americans who do not follow a
religion, have rapidly increased. Thus, if the SBC were to repeat the
study today, the number of Americans that the Convention feels are
destined to Hell would certainly increase.
Nobody can earn their way to heaven by doing good deeds. Our behavior during our
lifetime does not influence in any way God's decision whether we will go to heaven or
hell; only our beliefs matter. Hell is, in essence, a punishment for a thought
crime; for holding the wrong beliefs about the nature of Jesus. It is the ultimate form of religious intolerance.
Good deeds are a natural consequence of being saved, but have no bearing on a person's
Even if a person has been saved, they will not have eternal life
in heaven if they engage in certain forbidden
activities without later sincerely asking for forgiveness. Of the
many such forbidden behaviors that are referred to in the Bible, the
only one that is commonly mentioned in church is a homosexual act.
People who have been saved and make it to heaven will not
necessarily all be treated equally. There are passages in the Bible
which mention that believers can lay up treasures in Heaven during
their life on earth. Some conservative Protestants interpret these
passages as implying that believers who have done many good deeds will be rewarded more in
heaven; believers who
have led an evil life will be rewarded less. For example, Mother Theresa and
Albert Schweitzer, perhaps the most remarkable Christian humanitarians
of the 20th century, would be generously rewarded in Heaven, if they
had been saved on earth. A mass-murderer who was saved while living on
earth would also be welcomed into heaven, but would receive fewer rewards.
(Actually, we are aware of no evidence that either Mother Teresa, a
Roman Catholic, and Albert Schweitzer, a Unitarian, were saved. Thus
their eternal destiny may well be Hell, according to many conservative
Conservative Christians believe that the natural tendency of every human is to reject the Gospel and thus be destined to
spend eternity in Hell. However God grants his grace to a small percentage of the human
race so that they are receptive to the Christian message. God chooses who will receive this
gift using unknown criteria. It cannot be race, or God would be a racist; it cannot be gender because then God would be a sexist. Whether God is homophobic and thus does not extend grace to lesbians and gays, or is transphobic and does not extend grace to transgender persons and transsexuals is unknown.
The role of other life factors is also unknown.
Timothy George, dean of the Beeson Divinity School at Samford
University in Birmingham, Ala. commented:
"Historically, hell has
been portrayed in evangelical sermons as fire and brimstone. The most we
should say is that hell is a place of unexplainable mystery. The reality
is probably far worse than our most vivid imaginations can conjure up.
The reality of both heaven and hell are both greater than we can
express...While it's very important to teach and preach about the
reality of hell, it should be done only with evangelical tears. There is
sometimes a kind of gloating that people are broiling in hell. I don't
think that honors God or reflects the love of Jesus. We should shed
tears over those who are perishing. Sometimes that's been
missing...Heavenly happiness offers a better approach to evangelism than
how hot it is in hell. We ought to focus on heaven and not lose sight in
focusing on what the temperature is in hell. We ought to not lose sight
of the alternative, which is eternity with God in heaven." 9
Many liberal and progressive Christians recognize that the writers of the Bible held
a variety of beliefs concerning Heaven and Hell. The earliest books of the Bible
described Sheol: an underground cavern where all people, good and bad, spent eternity
after death, leading a thirsty, shadowy, energy-less existence isolated from God. Borrowing some ideas
from the Zoroastrian religion, some later Jewish writers saw the faithful being
resurrected and living many years in a purified earth before dying a second time. After
the Greek invasion, some Jewish parties picked up the Hellenistic concept that some individuals will
go to Heaven for eternal reward, while the rest go to Hell for eternal punishment. The
book of Daniel, which most liberals believe was written by an anonymous author in the early 2nd century BCE, and the Christian Scriptures from the 1st and
2nd century CE describe this Hell. It is pictured as either a place of annihilation, where
people simply cease to exist, or as a place of eternal punishment with worms, flogging, unbearable heat, unbearable thirst, and no hope of mercy or an end of the pain. Although they recognize the gradual shift in the Bible authors's understanding of the afterlife, liberal and progressive Christians do not necessarily fully accept the authors' beliefs.
Generally speaking, religious liberals:
Reject the reality of Sheol.
Reject the reality of Hell as either a place of annihilation or eternal punishment.
Most look upon Hell as a concept, not as a place of punishment. Some suggest that people experience Hell while alive on Earth.
They view the various concepts of Hell in the Bible as myths. Although the writers of
the Bible sincerely believed in Sheol and Hell, most liberals believe that it does not exist.
The concept of an eternal punishment for a single oversight, error,
thought crime or sin during life is
unjust and unworthy of a loving God.
Punishment of an individual because she/he had never heard the Gospel is irrational, unjust, and unworthy of a loving God.
Punishment of a person because they hold different religious beliefs is unjust, or because they have not been "saved".
Believing that God is capable of behaving in this way is blasphemy.
They feel that a loving God would be incapable of creating a Hell. Even if He did, the
concept of an infinite sentence is incompatible with elementary justice. They would
view such a deity as profoundly immoral, uncaring and intolerant.
Bishop John Shelby Spong discusses his radical view of Hell:
Bishop Spong is the former Episcopal Church Bishop of the Newark, NJ. He discusses his liberal views about Hell on Ideapod.com. See: https://www.facebook.com/
Greg Garrison, "Heated debate: Do hell's fires still burn? Theologians
argue over nature, definition of Bible's destination for the wicked," The
Holland Sentinel Archives, at: http://www.hollandsentinel.com/