Ask and Eastern Orthodox Christian: What Is Hell?
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Commentary by Nicholas Damascus | FāVS News
What can you tell me about hell, because I am a convert from the Baptist church where they taught that was a literal lake of fire?
It is important to note that the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church teaches it is the original ancient Christian church that Christ and the Apostles established. The teaching goes on to explain, the EOC has preserved the faith without any alteration, addition or subtraction of the written Word and oral teachings that were given to all of us. Saint Paul said, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word [spoken] or our epistle [written] (2 Thessalonians 2:15).”
With that background, let me begin with a passage of scripture.
John 3:16-17 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”
According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, Western Christianity has over 45,000 denominations. In an effort to interpret the Scriptures, these denominations have altered much of the original faith and teachings that were given to us by the ancient church of Christ and the Apostles.
In Western Christianity, the concept of hell has morphed into a literal lake of fire, a final place of punishment for the ungodly. Hell becomes a noxious, burning, smoldering, sulfurous (fire and brimstone) garbage dump as in the description given to us about the physical place of Gehenna of ancient times.
In addition, in the West, God is seen as holding a person hostage to comply with the commands to love one another and to love God. Failure to conform to these demands results in the consequences of losing their ticket to slide into heaven and potentially ending up in what is referred to as a physical lake of fire (hell).
God Is Love
Why would God, who loves us unconditionally and constantly pursues to redeem us, reject, punish and torture us because of non-compliance to love Him and our neighbor? (Matt 22:37-40) This makes no sense at all, for it is our own doing in this life that condemns us.
Does not every good parent love and sacrifice at their own expense for the benefit of their children, even if a child’s attitude is hostile or rebellious toward their parents? Do the parents ever stop loving that child? Do the parents cease making every effort to redeem those children back into the fold?
In the Orthodox faith, there is no official doctrine or dogma concerning heaven or hell. However, they are defined and understood by a consensus of theological opinions and commentary of the saints and church fathers. Quite simply heaven or hell are defined by our relationship and attitude toward the consuming fire of God’s love.
The Orthodox belief is that God is everywhere, present and fills all things. There is no place in creation of divine absence, not even in hell. In the next life, all will be eternally in the presence of the Almighty consuming love of God. (Exodus 24:17)
For those who strive to willingly become more like Christ, to love one another, and to love “Love himself,” God will share and give us all that he is eternally, infinitely and continuously forever. This evolution and transformation to become even more like God was the original intention and purpose for our existence.
The Story of Adam and Eve
Unfortunately, Adam and Eve stole their inheritance of the knowledge of good and evil before its later intended purpose to be shared. As a result, Christ entered his creation to redeem us, offering the gift of salvation to once again walk with him in the eternal garden of paradise forever (heaven).
For those who are incapable of loving and who abhor and reject “Love himself (1 John 4:8), God stands in the midst of them in hell, emanating his ever-present eternal love for them. The rejection of his love becomes an eternal torment for them, as stated in the Scriptures as “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Luke 13:28)
God’s love for us is constant and never changes no matter what we have done, what we are doing or what we will do. We are never deprived of God’s love in this life or the next.
Hell is not a punishment from God; hell is our self-condemnation. God is not the cause of evil; we are! Evil is separation from God and your fellow man. The prison of self-centeredness is the road to spiritual death, for we are designed to love one another.
In 1 John 4:8, John points out, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is Love.”
The most interesting aspect of the final judgment is that the goats and the sheep are both surprised as to where they would spend eternity. Choose wisely and, if you can, love one another.
Ask an Eastern Orthodox Christian
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As an infant, I was baptized as an Eastern Orthodox Christian. However, I would say that becoming a Christian is a work in progress, and I often wonder would there be enough evidence to convict me of becoming a Christian. The Orthodox Church is the ancient Church that Christ and the Apostles established. It is not a religion but rather a way of life. It is not about rules and regulations but rather guide posts to make choices to transition to what we were designed to become. Becoming Orthodox is not a conversion but more so a transformation of self. It’s not about being right: it is about “right being.” In John 14:6, Christ says I am the Way (to love and serve one another), the Truth (there is only one reality), and the Life (that life source is love). I invite you to submit any topics or questions to “Ask An Eastern Orthodox Christian” on the website. Join me in finding our way back home to the original teachings of the Church. When you change the way you look at things, things change the way they look.