HEAVEN AND HELL
BY: DEAN FINNESTAD
SEPTEMBER 21, 2003
The traditional church teachings regarding heaven and hell have been handed down for generations. Most believers think that the church teachings about heaven and hell have been handed down from the apostles. Unfortunately this is not true. Current teachings regarding heaven and hell have come from through the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church as an entity and Augustine as an individual.
Let me say bluntly that Augustine was a heretic. A heretic is one who goes against the fundamentals of tradition. He did so when he formulated doctrines, which were not based on apostolic teaching and in most cases directly, opposed apostolic teaching.
A bit of history is in order. In the early part of the 4th century A.D. Constantine, the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, became a “Christian” and declared Christianity to be the State religion. Prior to that time Christians had been intermittently persecuted by the State. Suddenly, as a result of government edict, everyone was a Christian. Actual lifestyle meant little.
In the late 4th century A.D. along came Augustine. Strongly influenced by Plato and other Greek philosophers, Augustine devoted his life to combining Greek philosophy with Christian doctrine in order to make The Roman Catholic Church supreme in the then known world. His purpose was to create doctrine, which would strengthen the Church and make it the most powerful political organization in the world.
Augustine introduced teachings regarding heaven and hell, which reflect Plato’s view of the immortality of the soul. Plato taught that the soul is immortal and that the body is temporary. This teaching produced two “children”. One is hedonism, which teaches that since the body is temporary a person can do anything they want to without affecting their soul. The other is asceticism, which teaches that because the soul is of utmost importance and the body is nothing a person should abstain from any pleasures which the body might offer and they therefore punish the body by denying it pleasure.
Actually the Bible does not teach that the soul is immortal unless you change the definitions of the words of the Bible. Augustine changed the Greek word “aion” which in English means “age” to the Latin word “eternal” which in English means “forever”. An age, by definition cannot mean forever. An age is a limited period of time and is usually associated with 1000 years but not always. These kind of changes became very influential when they came out in the Vulgate Bible, an interpretation of the Hebrew and Greek texts into Latin. Later, the men working for King James to create an English version of the Bible incorporated these same mistranslations. Unfortunately all of our modern English translations continue to reflect these errors.
Augustine taught that sin must be paid for and invented the concept of purgatory — a temporary hell — a place to pay for “unforgiven” sins. A “good” person wouldn’t go to purgatory or wouldn’t spend much time in purgatory but would move onto heaven quickly where they would live “forever”. A bad person would go to straight to hell “forever”. Both of these concepts make heaven and hell a place for some time in the future after a person dies. Both of these concepts are essentially wrong.
God’s goal is not to get you into a place called heaven. God’s goal is to get heaven into you.
I believe that the Bible clearly teaches that heaven and hell are states of being or lifestyles, if you will, regarding how men live here and now on earth. I am not saying that heaven isn’t a place and that hell isn’t a place. I am saying that if you think of them as “places” you will miss their true intent and how their intentions affect your life here and now.
Heaven, or the kingdom of heaven, represents a way of life. It is a way of life which is lived by those who reside in heaven now. Who are the residents of heaven? God, His messengers (angels), and the spirit/souls of men resurrected by Him including the man, Jesus Christ, who sits on God’s throne. They live in heaven together and they live according to the principles of life which God has given to men on earth through His messengers.
His greatest messenger is His Son, Jesus. Jesus came to bring life as it is lived in heaven TO EARTH. He proclaimed the coming of the kingdom of God TO EARTH. He sent out His disciples to announce the coming of the kingdom of God TO EARTH. He taught that the kingdom of heaven cannot be seen, i.e. it is not a place. He taught that the kingdom of heaven is IN MEN. Evidence that heaven is in men is seen by how they live.
Most of the teachings of Jesus Christ were about how to live the heavenly life on earth. At the top of the list is love for others; love that goes far beyond the love found in this world; love that prompts prayer for enemies. Loving like God loves makes men perfect (mature) like He is. Another on the list is mercy. Mercy is having pity for those who deserve judgment and condemnation. God prefers His people to show mercy rather than judgment — just like He does. Another is forgiveness. Forgiveness is forgetting the offenses others have done to you. Forgiving others allows God to forgive you. Another is peace. Maintaining inner peace and influencing others to have peace brings an end to external conflict. Another is humility. Submitting to others is being humble and allows God to exalt you. Another is good works. Good works are an expression of God’s grace to others through you. Doing good works is putting the spiritual gifts God gives each believer to work for Him. Good works done in secret are rewarded by God openly. Doing all these things (found in Matthew chapters 5,6 and 7) is practical obedience and is accomplished by walking in the Spirit.
How important is living what we say we believe (expressed by some as walking the talk)? How important is living life as it is lived in heaven here and now on earth? In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus says that those who fail to live the heavenly life will be rejected as unfit to remain in the kingdom when it is bought to earth in its fullness. It is possible to perform miracles and yet live in disobedience. Those who don’t walk the talk do not truly know their Lord and Savior regardless of the number of miracles they see or do.
People who do the will of the Father aren’t even conscious of the fact that they are living in heaven now. Their love and mercy and forgiveness and peace and humility and good works are done unconsciously and they are surprised by the praise of Jesus. But they live and move in relationship with their Lord to accomplish all that God wants done on earth.
Just as heaven is a way of life for here and now on earth, so too is hell. The essence of hell is torment. Torment is the inability of the spirit to rest. People create their own hells to live in here and now on earth. The torments of hell are not for some future place and time. The torments of hell are found in everyday living.
People enter this world cut off from God because they are born with a sense of self and desire to please self. Unless they change their minds for this attitude and turn to Jesus as Savior they will never know the peace of God. Being cut off from God, they will be restless in their spirits without even knowing why. This restlessness prevents them from knowing peace and increases the very conflict, which makes them unable to find inner peace.
In Matthew 9:42-50 Jesus teaches about hell. He says is it better to “cut off” an offending member of your body which leads you to sin than to keep the member functioning and enter hell. It is better to enter life, i.e. heavenly life, without an offending member than to be exposed to torment. Jesus is not talking about some future event. This is about here and now on earth.
The “cutting off” of a sinful member is a spiritual action, which keeps that member from leading you into spiritual unrest or torment. To be able to cut this offending member off a person must have the Holy Spirit residing within. Without God’s help through the Holy Spirit a person cannot accomplish this action.
An offending member is any body part that raises the ugly head of desire to please self. Desires to please self are the object of temptations. Temptations are promoted by Satan and his army of demons. God will never tempt a person in this way because the purpose of these kind of temptations is to cause men to sin and God doesn’t want men to sin. Recognizing how this works is the first step in “cutting off” that body member.
Dealing with sin is not an easy task. It takes discipline and control. It requires being mean to body members that want to sin. Paul stated that he was tenacious in his battle against fleshly desires. He constantly put down the flesh, i.e. shut off (cut off) desires that lead to sin. Jesus also teaches that believers must stay awake and watchful. Being aware of temptations and their purpose helps believers to cast off these thoughts that turn into sin. Men who want to please God rather than self must take up this same attitude to stay alert and be tough on themselves.
We are living in a day and age when sin is running rampant in the church. People are actually living in hell without even realizing it. Yes, they are being tormented every day and unable to find the rest that Jesus promises to those who come to Him and THEY DON’T KNOW WHY!
Jesus also teaches that people in hell are being exposed to fire — fire that is never extinguished. This is because hell was created by God and fire is His cleansing agent. Men who are exposed to hell fire are living in pain and torment because they choose to reject God and the life He offers. Eventually they are going to wake up and realize the salvation which God offers through His Son, Jesus. When they hit bottom they are going to see the life which God offers to them in the lives of God’s people who are living the heavenly life ON EARTH.
Revelation 20:11-15 is a picture of the final judgment of God. In verse 14 we see death and hell being thrown into a Lake of Fire. I do not believe that the Lake of Fire represents “eternal” punishment as much as it again reflects the fact that God Himself is a Fire and that He cleanses men and this world of sin as a Fire. The Lake of Fire itself is eternal because God is eternal. But the purpose of fire is to cleanse, not to utterly destroy.
God’s goal in punishing sin is not to destroy. In fact, in Greek there is not one word, which translates into the concept of destruction as obliteration or annihilation. The word used the most for destruction comes from the Greek word luo which means to nullify or void. To destroy, apo-luo, in this sense is about loss of function. When God puts a soul into hell for “destruction” His purpose isn’t to do away with the soul. His purpose is to cause it to lose its function. The soul links the physical with the spiritual. The soul is what enables men to appreciate life as the five physical senses feed our spirits. When this function is “destroyed” men fail to appreciate life. This is what living in hell is all about.
God puts men into hell so that they can see how they are living and what they are missing by failing to live with Him. When people who are living in hell witness the love and grace that abounds in believers they will change their minds and turn from sin to God.
All men are given a choice. Sooner or later God confronts everyone. Sooner or later sinners will start failing to appreciate life because they are living in hell. Sooner or later they are going to meet believers, hear the good news about Jesus Christ, and see that heavenly life in action. Sooner or later they are going to repent and seek God’s salvation. Sooner is better. The sooner the people of God get out of the hells they are living in, enter into holiness, and begin living life as it is lived in heaven, the sooner this world will be conquered by Jesus Christ and presented to God the Father as a complete, perfect and holy place for Him to dwell forever!
HEAVEN AND HELL [Dean Finnestad] 9-21-03 1