There exist doctrines in nearly every religion regarding an after-life torment of the soul. A thorough research of history reveals that most traditional beliefs have as their source ancient mythologies, even within Judaeo-Christian circles. Therefore, it must be prayerfully contemplated – to what degree have these mythologies influenced popular doctrines, and more importantly, what Scriptural evidence exists that legitimately support those doctrines?
To hopefully answer the question, I conducted an independent research of the subject. It was ‘independent’ in the sense that I approached the project void of neither preconceived ideas, nor bias to a particular persuasion. I conducted what I sincerely wanted to be non-sectarian and as objective a study as is possible.
My exhaustive search of Scriptural references to the terms hell, grave, tomb, death, soul, eternal punishment, outer darkness, torment, and the lake of fire resulted in this introductory two-fold answer:
1st, it must be determined whether these terms are to be interpreted as strictly literal, or merely figuratively. The term ‘literal’ can be applied to a scriptural definition ONLY if we understand it to mean, that what the term refers to is actual and real as it relates to any natural experience of life. Many doctrines stretch this beyond what Scripture actually says to include descriptions that convey a sense of a three dimensional physical form, NOT intended by the original definition. These are based on influences from ideas mixed with earlier suppositions and misinterpretations, primarily from oral traditions passed down from generation to generation.
2nd, eternal separation from God is what Scripture teaches regarding those who do not enter eternal life with God. What exactly this separation is however, Scripture is not definitive. To say such separation is an eternity in hell is only Scriptural if hell is eternal. Scripture says inevitably hell is cast into the lake of fire. While Scripture clearly indicates that the EFFECTS of such an end are eternal, it nowhere states that the lake of fire is eternal. While it may be rightly understood that separation from God is eternal for the lost, their continued existence is not necessary for their judgment, punishment, and separation to be rightly considered eternal. Scripture merely teaches that the saved enter eternal life; the lost do NOT.
As objective as we can be, we must go to the beginning of any true believers faith, to learn truth as it is revealed through God’s progressive revelation to each of His children. Only by going back to the principles of our faith, the building blocks upon which our faith is established, can we rightly learn what scripture teaches about the after-life. To properly do this, we must look to Scripture, believing it to be inspired by God and therefore the ONLY reliable source of sound doctrine.
Unless you’re among those who wrongly believe that they are Christians because their parents are believers, we all were introduced to the Lord by virtue of some form of evangelism. The most concise evangelical passage of scripture contains the entire gospel in a single verse.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever
believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life” – Jn. 3:16.
Immediately, several things are quite obvious about the message contained in this single verse. First, God the Almighty Creator reveals that He loves all humanity (the world). So great is His love that He gave (a free gift, the result of unmerited favor, something that can never be earned). The primary reason it can never be earned is due to its incomparable value. The gift is His ONLY begotten Son. There is NO other like Him; He is absolutely unique – making Him priceless. God’s reason is both simple and profound. It is to distinguish between two possible fates – PERISH or EVERLASTING LIFE. It is to determine each and every soul’s destiny. It is to provide the alternative to eternal separation from God. Whosoever believes in God’s extraordinary benevolence is granted eternal life, but those who do NOT – PERISH.
The heart of the gospel message is that. It is considered “good news”, but ONLY to those who receive it and accept the Son with the full understanding of what the Son accomplished on their behalf to provide them with EVERLASTING LIFE, thus preventing them from having to ultimately PERISH.
It is extremely important for us to realize the distinction between these two possible destinies. Scripture speaks throughout of ONLY two eternal destinations. One results in perishing, the other in everlasting life. ONLY one provides a continuation of life, the other results in destruction, elimination, exclusion, and separation from life.
If this is the introduction to a believer’s life with God, how fundamentally important is it then to comprehend the two distinct possible destinies? To assume that everyone will live forever, the difference being merely WHERE they shall live for eternity, misses the whole point of why God gave His only begotten Son.
Therefore, to properly interpret what Scripture actually teaches regarding the after-life, we must first understand what it is that will eternally separate ANYONE from God. Then we must evaluate based upon our conclusions from such research, to realize what eternal separation really is.
In the three prominent mono-theistic religions the idea of eternal separation from God is inexorably tied to some concept of a place called Hell. For further reading on this subject, please read my articles: The After-Life, Regarding the Soul, and Is Hell A Literal Place?.
Regarding the idea of eternal separation, consider this also: NOTHING related to separation insists or specifically implies that consciousness or life continues AFTER having been separated. Cut off a limb from a tree, it dies. Remove a limb from a body, it dies. Neither can be reanimated by some surgical attempt to reattach it.
Therefore, according to such consideration, it can rightly be said that once separated – the separation is eternal. In this case separation is a noun that describes the perpetual state of being moved apart – from GOD. Rather than focusing on the OBJECT of separation, the eternal nature of the declaration (the act of separation itself) is the central focus of Scripture.
As always, seek the Lord in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to guide and direct you into a proper understanding of this information. When you believe He has revealed the truth to you, share your results with other true believers who can confirm what the Holy Spirit is revealing, before allowing it to become a permanent conviction.
“…by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” – Mt. 18:16.
“…not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another…” – Heb. 10:25.