Fr Stephen & “Is Hell Real?”

Fr Stephen has a great post today about the “reality” of hell. Throughout much of my Evangelical life, I had simply embraced the assumption that heaven and hell were places. It wasn’t until I began my theological deconstruction and reconstruction several years ago that I began to realize that neither were places at all. Heaven is something much more. In fact, one of the many beautiful things that has drawn me to Orthodoxy is their understanding of heaven and hell. Here’s a quote from Fr Stephen’s post:

“But in Orthodox spiritual terms I would say that hell is a massive state of delusion, maybe the ultimate state of delusion. It is delusional in the sense that (in Orthodox understanding) the “fire” of hell is not a material fire, but itself nothing other than the fire of the Living God (Hebrews 12:29). For those who love God, His fire is light and life, purification and all good things. For those who hate God, His fire is torment, though it be love.”

The very fire of God — his light, love and purification — is heaven or hell. for those who love God, his light and love are heaven! But for those who hate God (and this is the amazing thing), his very love and light are hell!

Some thoughts from one of Fr Stephen’s subsequent comments from the same post are also worth noting:

“I don’t think of them [heaven and hell] in terms of places but in terms of our relationship with God. We use place metaphors for that’s what we know, but the reality of heaven certainly transcends anything we currently think of as place. I do not mean to describe them as merely figurative either.

“But neither can they be somehow compared as having a comparable existence. It might seem like something for a philosophy class, but it is also something for a theology class, at least as we know theology in the Orthodox Church.

“Literalism is the bane of Scriptural understanding. Not that there aren’t plenty of “literal” things described. But many times we have to push beyond the literal to arrive at the truth. At least this is the case in many of the Eastern Church fathers.”

Heaven is not a destination that I hope to get to when I die, nor is hell a destination I want to avoid. Rather, heaven is ultimately my participation in God, who is the fullness of being, life and reality. 

Take a few moments and read Fr Stephen’s post in entirety HERE:

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3 thoughts on “Fr Stephen & “Is Hell Real?”

  1. Absolutely. This is one of the things I like about Eastern cosmologies: their willingness to push beyond the literal, to not weight “literal” more heavily than “mythic” or “allusive,” and to recognize that truth has a lot less to do with material correspondence and a lot more to do with spiritual relating “beyond sight.” The Western view has its own value but boy the imbalances can be tiresome!

  2. This is a very intersting notion. While I understand that the essential qualities of Heaven and Hell are the way they are because of God’s presence and absence respectively, I am not so sure if we can discount the physical aspect of them. After we are dead physically, we will be raised on the Day of the Lord with a new body that is different from the earthly body, nevertheless a body. Therefore, whether one is in Heaven or in Hell, one cannot ignore the physical aspect of the bliss and torment which will be felt both spiritually and physically. We are both physical and spiritual creatures now and forever.

  3. Hi KM. I too have grown weary of the western imbalances and dualism in the Christian faith.

    Hi Sung. One of the things I’ve blogged about, even before exploring Eastern Orthodoxy, is that evangelical Christians define their ultimate destination with the ideas of “heaven and hell,” and often in conjunction with medieval images of such places. Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t speak enough about life-after-death to really formulate substantial theology. What we do know from passages like Romans 8 and Revelation 21 and 22 is that the ultimate destination of creation is its complete renewal, not its destruction. In fact, in Revelation 21, we witness this renewal. St John sees the new heaven and new earth. And the centerpiece of creation’s renewal is that the two dimension of creation — earth (humanity’s dimension) and heaven (God’s dimension) — are finally merged. The veil between the two overlapping dimensions of creation is finally removed as the Lord’s prayer is finally realized — God’s kingdom finally and fully comes to earth. His throne is no longer just in heaven, but also on earth. And with this renewal is the resurrection of our bodies, which Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 15. Our “psychikos” or soul-animated physical body will be renewed and transformed into our “pneumatikos” or Spirit-animated physical body. In fact, our physical bodies’ transformation is what the entire creation will undergo itself. So in light of creation’s ultimate destination, I believe “heaven and hell” are more realities rather than destinations. This world will one day be renewed and filled with the presence of God as his kingdom fully comes to earth. As humans dwell in that ultimate reality, it is heaven for those who love and adore God and hell and torment for those who hate God. In fact, those realities have begun even now. Jesus speaks a lot about this in the Gospels when he alludes to Gehenna or the “garbage dump” outside Jerusalem. Anyone hating God and living outside of his will is already experiencing hell, torment and destruction. And anyone loving God is experiencing heaven, love and life.

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