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#67 Heaven and Hell

Summary:

Many people think that heaven and hell are the places God sends us to either reward or punish us.  But Orthodox Christians don't believe in this "two story" model of the universe.  We believe that God is "present in all places and filling all things," and that what we interpret as salvation or damnation is actually our response to, and experience of, God's unconditional love. 

Questions:

As you watch the episode, consider:

1. How does the Orthodox Christian Church view Heaven and Hell? How does it differ from the two or three story concept?

2. Are we rewarded with Heaven or punished with Hell? Is it more nuanced than that?

3. How are we judged at the end of our lives?

Check out these model lesson plans / retreat sessions for JOY and GOYA!

Links:

And here are some articles you may find to be helpful:

1. Bible Gateway, Matthew 5:45

2. Bible Gateway, Matthew 25:31-46

3. Antiochian Archdiocese, Why We Need Hell

Script:

Hey everybody this is Steve, and we spent the last couple of weeks talking about who Christ is and what He saved us from. The next step is to talk about what Salvation is. And we're going to start with some misconceptions about Heaven and Hell. Many people think that if we follow the rules God gives us He rewards us with an eternity in Heaven. And if we disobey those rules God punishes us with an eternity in Hell. So for lots of people Salvation is about going to Heaven and not going to Hell.

But that's not how the Orthodox Church sees it. My favorite summary of the Orthodox view comes from Father Stephen Freeman who has a blog and a podcast for Ancient Faith; links in the Doobly Doo. Father Stephen points out that many people see the universe as being made up of two stories or floors. So according to this view we're here in this world on the ground floor. And God and Heaven are somewhere above us on the second floor. People sometimes add a third floor to the mix, seeing Hell as somewhere down in the basement. They see Heaven as the place God lives, and Hell as a place God isn't, a place ruled by the devil, and this world as a place we eventually leave. But Orthodox Christians believe in a one-story universe where God is present in all places and filling all things.

We believe that God made the world and blessed the world and called it good. He didn't make it so that it could be abandoned or destroyed. He made it so that it could be transformed. He made it to be His kingdom. "It is this world (and not any 'other world'), it is this life (and not some 'other life') that were given to man to be a sacrament of the divine presence, given as communion with God and it is only through this world, this life, by 'transforming' them into communion with God that man was to be."

As Christians our goal is not to escape this life, to shuffle off this mortal coil and climb the stairs to the second floor where God is. Our goal is to offer ourselves and the whole world to God. Not just for the life of humanity but for the life of the entire world. So if this world is the kingdom or rather is in the process of becoming, being transformed into God's eternal kingdom, then Heaven and Hell aren't places we get sent to; they're not places at all. And what we interpret as Salvation or damnation is actually our response to and experience of God's unconditional love.

As we read the Gospels God makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." That very same sun, depending on our state, can either warm us or burn us. That very same rain, depending on our state, can either satisfy our thirst or drown us. It's the same sun, the same rain, the difference is our response. The difference is how we use the freedom God has given us, because every choice we make shapes who we are. And we'll respond to God's love differently depending on our spiritual state.

As Saint Isaac the Syrian wrote "Love... is given to all. But the power of love works in two ways: it torments sinners, even as happens here when a friend suffers from a friend; but it becomes a source of joy for those who have observed its duties." We can understand this debate better with an image a lot of church fathers use and think about God as fire. If we put a piece of dry wood in the fire it will be burned and reduced to ash. But if you put some gold in the fire it will get hot like the fire and glow like the flame. It will still be gold but by being united by the fire it will be transformed and have the heat and light of the fire. And this union and transformation are important because the world isn't God's eternal kingdom on its own. Just like we aren't immortal on our own. You see Salvation is also about transformation and as we'll see next week that only happens in our union with Christ. So lets be the bee, and see that we live in a one-story universe. Be the bee and live Orthodoxy. Remember to like and subscribe. I'll see you all, next week.

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