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Blaze News original: Understanding hell — Part II
Engraving by Gustave Dore, Canto XXIII, Inferno. (Getty images)

Blaze News original: Understanding hell — Part II

Blaze News digs deep into infernal matters with the help of clerics, scholars, and others with penetrating views in this multipart series.

The leading polling outfits all indicate that the majority of American adults believe in hell. The trouble with that determination is that there is a wide range of views on what exactly the word "hell" means.

For existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, for instance, hell was apparently other people. As became clear in part one of "Understanding hell," the Jewish conception of hell, or Gehinnom, closely resembles the Roman Catholic conception of purgatory. Meanwhile, hell according to Catholics is an eternal place of torment effectively chosen over God and love by sinners.

Blaze News has endeavored to further explore the particularities of various views on hell.

In part two of "Understanding hell," a British Old Catholic priest, a professor of Jewish studies at the University of Toronto's Department for the Study of Religion, a Christian Universalist executive minister, and an Anglican bishop share their respective thoughts on and insights into the inferno.

Rev. Fr. Calvin Robinson

Rev. Fr. Robinson, formerly a deacon in the Free Church of England, was ordained a priest last year through the Nordic Catholic Church of the non-papal Old Catholic denomination and concluded his service in an Anglican parish in Harlesden, England, last month.

Fr. Robinson has served as a radio presenter, a television presenter for GB News, and as a political adviser, and has worked ardently in various media to defend traditional values in and outside the church.

Blaze News put questions to Fr. Robinson over the phone while he was visiting the Lone Star State.

Eternally apart from God

Fr. Robinson said that belief in the existence of hell is one of the "fundamental pillars of our faith." After all, "Christ came to earth as God incarnate to offer us eternal salvation from eternal damnation."

While through His death and resurrection, Christ has gifted mankind salvation, some may nevertheless opt out. This comes down to a choice: "We get to choose to live forever in Christ or to be damned forever without Him," said Fr. Robinson.

'It is up to us to accept it.'

Hell is the place where those who freely willed themselves into damnation reside for eternity.

Fr. Robinson indicated that we have but our short time on earth to make that choice of infinite consequence, telling Blaze News that "our lives here are so important because we have the opportunity to repent of our sins, to be baptized in water and the Holy Spirit, and to have faith in Christ — to accept the offer of eternal salvation that He gives us. It is up to us to accept it."

When pressed on whether human beings' eternal fates are sealed upon death, Fr. Robinson indicated, "That's what we don't know."

"We don't know what happens the instant we die," said Robinson. "We don't know when judgment takes place, which is why we pray for the souls of the faithful departed. It's why we pray that if they are in a purification process, if they are in some kind of limbo or purgatory, we pray that their journey is increased and they gain entry into heaven. That much is a little bit more vague."

Opposites in the hereafter

Fr. Robinson indicated that hell is the opposite of the Beatific Vision, which is the immediate knowledge of God.

'Hell is the absence of God.'

"If heaven is the Beatific Vision — if heaven is communion with God in ... praise and worship of Him, in an intimate relationship with Him — then hell is the opposite," said Robinson. "Hell is the absence of God. And fear and damnation is the opposite of love and hope."

While opposites in at least this respect, heaven and hell share this much in common: They are both places, said Fr. Robinson.

"[Hell is] absolutely a place. I mean, the words 'physical' or 'spiritual' lose relevance when we're talking about the afterlife," Fr. Robinson told Blaze News. "It's not a place as in like Texas versus Canada. It's not an earthly place. But it is a place that, well — Christ descended into hell to free souls before His resurrection."

Seizing upon Fr. Robinson's allusion to Christ's harrowing of hell, Blaze News revisited the question of whether the damned might have a shot, ultimately, at redemption.

Fr. Robinson clarified that Christ had not rescued the damned from hell after the crucifixion, but rather lost souls who previously had nowhere else to go.

"The word the Bible uses there for hell is 'hades,' right, rather than Gehenna. So, it seems as though that was a place of lost souls rather than damned souls because there was no entry into heaven after the fall — not in the way we have it now," said Robinson. "So basically, when Christ descended into hell, what He was doing was opening the gates of heaven for the lost souls and for the rest of us who have faith in Him."

In darkness, embodied

Blaze News asked Fr. Robinson whether the residents of hell would be conferred their bodies after the resurrection along with the saved in heaven.

"I don't think I've ever been asked that before," said Fr. Robinson, laughing.

Resuming a serious tone, the priest noted that "upon the resurrection, we know that Christ comes from heaven on a cloud and meets us, essentially, halfway, and we are resurrected for our glorified bodies and join Him. ... I think if we refer to Daniel, everyone gets a resurrected body. So, whether it's saved or not saved, everyone gets a resurrected body."

Guaranteed ticket to hell

Fr. Robinson indicated that all sin separates humans from God, but mortal sin poses the greatest threat to their salvation. Fortunately, "We have the sacraments so we can be realigned with the graces of God."

'We also know that the gravest sin is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as well, so we should always be wary of that.'

"So, for example, if we have mortal sin on our soul, then we should repent of our sins to be reassured of our salvation because we can lose our salvation," said Robinson.

While any mortal sin could drag a person down, the priest cautioned against one sin in particular.

"We also know that the gravest sin is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as well, so we should always be wary of that," said Robinson.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is regarded by some Christian theologians as an unpardonable sin, citing various gospel passages, including Matthew 12:30-32 where Christ says:

Wherefore I say unto you, all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.

This warning is repeated in Luke 12:8-10 and Mark 3:28-30, and echoed elsewhere in the New Testament.

Augustine of Hippo said that it is "being unrepentant that is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will not be forgiven in this age, nor in the age to come."

Aquinas wrote that "in one way, to sin against the Holy Ghost is to sin through certain malice," specifically by "contemptuously rejecting the things whereby a man is withdrawn from sin." He noted further that it is unpardonable "by reason of its nature, in so far as it removes those things which are a means towards the pardon of sins."

"We should always avoid sin," reiterated Fr. Robinson, "but when we do sin, we should repent of our sins and realign ourselves with Christ."

When pressed on whether non-Christians — those who ostensibly never formally aligned with Christ — were hell-bound, Fr. Robinson responded, "It used to be said that there is no salvation outside of the church. However, we know that Jesus Christ died for all of us. So those who are ignorant of the faith, those who never had access to the faith — we can only hope and assume that God finds a way to reveal Himself to them."

While holding out hope for nonbelievers, Robinson added, "But we know the surest way to salvation is through the church, is through faith in Jesus Christ."

A chastening belief

Fr. Robinson indicated that fear of hell should help orient us toward heaven and God; that we should fear what separates us from God and the judgment that may make definitive that separation.

"We're going to stand there before Jesus Christ one day and atone for our sins. We're going to hope that we've repented of our sins enough and had faith in Him enough to be accepted into heaven," said Robinson. "We should be afraid of the alternative."

'Having fear of hell and having love of heaven go hand in hand.'

Fr. Robinson noted further that "we should be afraid of living out our lives focused towards hell because it's not somewhere we want to be. We want to be in heaven. Having fear of hell and having love of heaven go hand in hand. It's difficult to have one without the other."

A waning belief in hell may correspond with an increase in immorality because it takes consequence off the table, suggested Fr. Robinson.

"If there is no hell, you can do what you like — it doesn't matter. We center our lives on Christ and we do things out of love, of course, but we also have to do things out of fear of hell because if we don't, then we are passive. Then we have dead faith," said the priest.

Rev. Dr. Lance Haverkamp

Rev. Dr. Lance Haverkamp, executive minister of the Christian Universalist Association, studied at Denver Seminary and at the Wagner Leadership Institute, earning a master's degree and a doctorate in practical ministry.

The Christian Universalist Association is a "loose association of CU congregations, who provides needed coordination for things like military and hospital chaplaincy, globally recognized ordination."

Rev. Dr. Haverkamp shared some Christian Universalist insights into hell and salvation with Blaze News via email.

All are saved

In the first complete American translation of Italian poet Dante Alighieri's "The Divine Comedy," Canto III opens with a description of the vestibule of hell:

Through me the way is to the city dolent;
Through me the way is to eternal dole;
Through me the way among the people lost. ...
Before me there were no created things,
Only eterne, and I eternal last.
"All hope abandon, ye who enter in!"

Those Christian Universalists who believe that this antechamber sees regular traffic apparently believe there is ample cause for hope.

Rev. Dr. Haverkamp told Blaze News that Christian Universalists generally believe that "through the saving work of Jesus Christ, all people will ultimately be reconciled to God."

Accordingly, hell, should it exist, is not a place of eternal torment but rather a place for correction, not wholly unlike Gehinnom as described by Rabbi Aron Moss.

Rev. Dr. Haverkamp noted that while Christian Universalists largely see eye-to-eye on the big picture, there is "diversity of thought" on the specifics. He identified three main branches of Christian Universalist thought:

  • "Patristic Universalists, following the teachings of many early church fathers, believe that those who reject God in this life will undergo temporary correction in the afterlife, but will eventually repent and be saved. They see this correction as real, but not eternal. This was the majority belief, for the first 500 years of the early church."
  • "Liberal Christian Universalists tend to downplay the idea of any correction. Many believe all are saved immediately upon death, without any corrective period. Opinions vary on whether correction is literal or metaphorical. They tend to take Christ's statement that 'It is finished' literally."
  • "Charismatic Universalists, coming from Pentecostal backgrounds, retain a more fundamentalist view of a correction, and of the end times. However, they still see correction as temporary, and believe all will ultimately be restored through the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ."

This belief — in the ultimate reconciliation of all — is based on a scriptural understanding "of God's boundless love, Christ's victory over sin and death, and God's desire for all to be saved," said Rev. Dr. Haverkamp.

While Haverkamp alluded to other scriptural passages, he specifically referenced 1 Timothy 2:4, 1 Corinthians 15:22, and John 3:17 as verses bolstering the belief in universal salvation.

The first passage notes that "God our Savior ... wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." The chapter goes on to note that Jesus "gave Himself as a ransom for all people."

The second passage, in 1 Corinthians, notes that "for as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive."

The third passage states, "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved."

Blaze News staff writer Christopher Enloe highlighted several additional verses that hint at the salvation of all, including Romans 5:18-21, which states:

Just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Rev. Dr. Haverkamp said, "We understand biblical references to a correction for unbelievers as real warnings, but see them in light of larger themes of redemption and reconciliation."

Bishop Stephen Andrews

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Stephen Andrews is the principal of Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto. The American-born Anglican served as the bishop of the Diocese of Algoma from 2009 to 2016.

A graduate of Cambridge University and Wycliffe College, Andrews has explored the Jewish biblical interpretation of the Second Temple period and taught courses on the prophets of Israel, the Pauline epistles, the development of Christian thought, St. Mark's Gospel, and Christian worship. He is also a father of two, a grandfather, and a woodworker.

Bishop Andrews responded to Blaze News' questions via email.

The gray town once visited by Christ

Bishop Andrews indicated that there is "no consistent doctrine of hell in Anglicanism, but to the extent that we affirm the Creeds."

The Anglican Church, which does not define its doctrine in a single confession, affirms in multiple creeds and in the church's 39 Articles of Religion that Christ descended into hell.

The hell referenced in Article III in reference to the divine descent is "widely interpreted as 'the place of departed spirits,'" said Bishop Andrews.

When asked whether hell could be conceived of as a place, Andrews replied, "Of course it is 'conceived of' as a place because of the imagery the Bible uses to describe it. But many understand these images metaphorically, and hold that hell is better thought of as a state of being."

The bishop added that C.S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce" is "quite evocative in this way."

Lewis' hell is a gray town devoid of joy and subject to constant rain. While only a bus-stop away from the periphery of heaven, the souls inhabiting the place are more often than not self-made captives to pride, vice, and/or delusion.

'There will be a new heaven and new earth. But these are also understood as realms of the spiritual.'

"Once again, because of the images Scripture uses, earth, heaven and hell are conceived of as spatial," said Bishop Andrews. "Heaven and earth are also described in temporal language, so there will be a new heaven and new earth. But these are also understood as realms of the spiritual. Lewis's 'gray town' is a literary image that invite[s] us to think of the spiritual (and psychological) aspects [of] eternity."

The traditional view is that the occupants of the heavenly and hellish spaces both "inhabit resurrected bodies (Matthew 25), though theologians since the time of Augustine have struggled to understand this," said Bishop Andrews. The embodied in the latter camp may not be long for existence, according to some Anglicans.

Despite the variability in Anglican beliefs on hell, Bishop Andrews indicated that "many do believe it is eternal, though many would adopt a conditionalist or annihilationist reading of the biblical text."

According to conditionalism, the damned, having rejected the gift of immortality conditional upon belief in Jesus Christ, will ultimately be erased from existence rather than suffering eternally in hell.

Salvation beyond the grave

When asked about the apparent insinuation in the Rainer fragment of the apocryphal Apocalypse of Peter that the damned could ultimately be saved, Bishop Andrews clarified that "there is a section in this fragment where those who are saved see the torment of the damned and pray for their salvation. There is no biblical warrant for this, though the practice of praying for the dead comes from the earliest centuries of the Christian church."

"In this case, the teaching of the Catholic Church is that those being prayed for exist in purgatory (i.e., the fate of the damned is unalterable)," said Bishop Andrews.

The Anglican Church, meanwhile, discounts the existence of purgatory, stating in Article XXII, "The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Reliques, and also invocation of Saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God."

Bishop Andrews noted, however, that those Anglicans "who pray for the dead may have some vague idea of an intermediary state the dead inhabit for a time."

Such prayers would apparently be wasted on those who deliberately reject God. Bishop Andrews indicated such rebels "will not be forced to live with God for eternity."

Judaic roots and divine justice

While Jesus' description of hell was taken from the Hebrew Bible, Bishop Andrews indicated that the concept metamorphized in Hellenistic cosmology, where Sheol and Gehenna became Hades and hell.

"In the Hellenistic period, hell becomes more straightforwardly understood as a place associated with punishment," said the bishop.

'A balance of perspective is required.'

The promise of hell as punishment, as an expression of divine justice, can be beneficial in this mortal realm. Bishop Andrews said that this understanding of hell "can guide moral behavior and be the basis of social cohesion."

However, the "prospect of heaven can also be a source of hope for those who live in discouragement and despair," said the bishop. "But a balance of perspective is required, lest someone think that salvation is a matter of living a virtuous life."

Dr. Kenneth Green

Dr. Kenneth Green is a professor at the University of Toronto's Department for the Study of Religion where he specializes in Jewish studies and the philosophy of religion. Green has written extensively on the thought of Leo Strauss, whom he figures for one of the greatest Jewish thinkers of the 20th century.

Green, who earned his doctorate in Jewish philosophy at Brandeis University, is presently working on a book tentatively titled, "What Moses Saw: Maimonidean Meditations, or On the Torah as a Speculative Teaching." His latest book, "The Philosophy of Emil Fackenheim: From Revelation to the Holocaust," was published in 2020 by Cambridge University Press.

Green responded to Blaze News' questions via email.

Hell, depending on who you ask

Dr. Green indicated that "Jewish views on hell are a complicated matter" and that there is no "simple, single view of hell in Judaism." While there is certainly a concept of hell in Judaism, some faith groups give it more consideration than others.

The hell of the Jews, Gehinnom, derives its name from a valley surrounding the Old City of Jerusalem. Dr. Green noted that this particular valley, the Vale of Hinnom, was referred to in the Book of Jeremiah "as the location in which Jews who had succumbed to idolatry sacrificed their children (Jeremiah 7:31 and 19:2-6), which the prophet cursed as a horrifying deed."

While sharing the valley's name, Gehinnom is a spiritual locale, albeit possessing a "quasi-physical aspect," said Dr. Green.

"It is not precisely clear just how it stands 'geographically' in relation to heaven and earth, but it is clearly somehow 'beneath' the world, following the word 'Sheol' in the Book of Numbers, Job, and Samuel," continued Dr. Green. "It is unclear what happens in it, whether it is reward and punishment or only eternal sleep."

'Hitler and his Nazis would qualify for such a sentence.'

When pressed about Gehinnom's possible eternal nature, Dr. Green noted that "Hell is 'eternal' — for some. A theological debate has erupted at several points in Jewish history about whether it is 'eternal,' or only seemingly so, i.e., until the Messiah arrives = the redemption occurs, which will be a historical event."

Dr. Green indicated that some Jews believe that there are some sins "so great as to preclude a soul's ascent to heaven ever, hence guaranteeing one's permanent sentence of punishment in hell for eternity."

"In our era, Hitler and his Nazis would qualify for such a sentence, and probably some terrorists also," added Dr. Green.

Rabbi Moss, who spoke to Blaze News in Part One, and Rabbi Shana Goldstein Mackler, whose insights are featured in Part Three, have both expressed the alternative belief that wicked persons who have evidenced an unwavering commitment to evil may instead be annihilated for good.

Hell, under development

Dr. Green noted that the Jewish concept of hell has changed periodically over the ages.

"For the ancients, it was not as defined clearly or in detail," said Green. "Then it became defined clearly and in detail in the medieval era."

Now, the professor indicated it is "much vaguer" for most Jews, with some moderns even discounting the need for such a concept.

While the Christian concept of hell is rooted in the Jewish tradition, Dr. Green noted it still plays a much bigger role, "or at least in orthodox Christian belief."

Dr. Green noted that extra to having greater significance in some forms of Christianity, "It's also different in being defined in greater detail and pictured in Christian tradition almost from the beginning."

Another distinction is that whereas some Christians attest that entry to heaven is conditional on faith in Christ, "Heaven isn't believed to be reserved only for Jews," said Dr. Green.

"The most famous and authoritative statement on this point is that any Gentile who observes the basic religious laws (no idolatry allowed) and the basic moral laws ('the seven commandments of Noah') qualify for the reward of eternal life," added the professor.

The Noahide Laws prohibit the worship of idols, the cursing of God, the commission of murder, the commission of adultery or sexual immorality, stealing, and the consumption of flesh torn from a living animal. The seventh law requires the establishment of courts of justice.

Editor's note: This article originally stated that Old Catholics were of the high church Lutheran partrimony. It has been updated to reflect that they are non-papal Catholics.

In Part I, Archbishop Emeritus Cardinal Thomas Collins details the Roman Catholic views on hell and mortal sin, and Rabbi Aron Moss discusses the "kindness" of hell and the nature of Gehinnom.

In Part III, Rabbi Shana Goldstein Mackler provides some Reformed Jewish thoughts on the prospect of hell and the afterlife, and American conservative talk radio host and writer Erick Erickson goes deep on the Presbyterian Church in America's views on perdition.

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Joseph MacKinnon

Joseph MacKinnon

Joseph MacKinnon is a staff writer for Blaze News.
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