Orthodox Church of the Mother of God

Joy of all the Sorrowful - Mays Landing, NJ (f. 1966)

Heaven and Hell in the Afterlife According to the Bible

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Roman Catholic and Protestant Understanding

It is clear from the Scriptures and the Church Fathers there is no room in the afterlife for Purgatory, limbo, or any place apart from God, nor for Calvin’s idea of predestination and “divine justice”.

Neither in scripture, nor in the writings of the Saints do we see any such innovation as Purgatory or even of Hell as a place of torment apart from God.

Purgatory, according to the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” article 1030-1031, is defined as the place of

“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified…after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”  The more purging that is necessary, the longer one must spend in purgatory.

Further, in article 1032,

“The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead…” presumably to hasten how quickly one may complete this purging.

Built into this uniquely Roman Catholic doctrine is the assumption that in the afterlife we would experience time passing the same way we do in the physical world.  This is a mistake because there are enough hints in Scripture that time as we know it does not exist in the spirit world.  For example:

“… one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day”.  (2 Peter 3:8).

Also the idea that the return of Christ is immanent, in addition to the prevalent use of the word ‘eternal’ throughout the Old and New Testaments.  In the Revelation of St. John many scholars believe that St. John is not describing sequential events (which would be nonsensical, since the narrative jumps around so much) but the Saint is rather seeing all the events occurring simultaneously.  It is like he is in a room with all this activity happening at once, and he says

“then I turned and I saw…”.

He is describing the sequence in which he sees the visions, but that is not necessarily in the order that the events occurred.

Even modern science tells us that time and space are connected.  Without physical space [i.e. creation], there is no time.  Without a physical body you can not experience time.  Without time, you can not change.  This would also preclude the ancient heresy of Origin that speculated that in eternity eventually everyone will be saved.  This “restoration” of all, know by theologians as Apokatastasis [meaning “out from your previous standing”], also called Universal Salvation in modern times, presumes that those in “hell” will eventually change their minds and come to salvation in the next life.  This is not only unbiblical, it presumes the ability to change when in the presence of an unchanging Almighty God.  The same Greek word for “eternal life” is also used for “eternal torment”.  You can not argue that the word really means “age” (a fixed period of time) when there is no time, and since it means “eternal life” would also only be for a fixed period of time.

So it is very speculative to assume that time passes outside of creation the same way it does here.  No sound doctrine can be built based on this assumption.

The Orthodox believe, from Scripture and the writings of the saints, that because God is perfect he does not change.  However, imperfect humanity continues to change.  So when someone in an imperfect “forever changing” condition comes into God’s pure unchanging presence, it is experienced as darkness and torment.  Presumably, at the time of death we lose the ability to change, since our condition will be “consolidated” by being “caught” in the pure, unchanging presence of God, which will also occur to the living at the Apocalypse.  The idea of changing in Purgatory is incompatible with the timeless, changeless nature of the afterlife.

Furthermore, nowhere in the original language of the Bible does the Calvinistic idea occur of a place of “hellfire” torment, created especially by God so He can punish those he judges for eternity. Why would a God who loves us unconditionally torment us for eternity, because of an equally unbiblical notion of Divine Justice?  In fact nowhere in the Bible does it explicitly state that it is God that punishes the sinners.  If you put your hand in the fireplace, is it the fire’s intention to punish you?  Or is the torment you experience caused by your own foolish action?  It is merely the nature of the fire to burn your unprotected skin.


 

 

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