For as long as I can remember I have been taught to believe in heaven and, more importantly in my mind, hell. Be a good boy to get to heaven, but more importantly to avoid hell which is a place of no hope, eternal torment, loneliness and worse than you can possibly imagine. And it was a one and done deal. You got one chance. Come here for a few years or several decades, but if you slipped up, you sealed your eternal fate.
As I’ve gone through the years, some version of that has always stuck with me. However around the age of 40 I just couldn’t reconcile a supposedly loving God who loved everyone at least as much as I loved my children (well even more supposedly) sending anyone to eternal torment. I began to explore alternatives within Christianity and came across the gospel of inclusion or universalism. There are various forms- some still believe in penal substitutionary atonement (the notion that God killed Jesus so His blood could cover our debts). Those who believe that believe that Jesus’ blood covered all of our debts and that is made abundantly clear if you read Paul’s works (correctly). Others believe in other atonement theories, but the bottom line is all are saved- at least eventually. God desires for no one to perish and God’s will will not be thwarted.
My personal view has come to this, similar to what a guy named Emanuel Swedenborg concluded from his visions and visitations in the late 1600s and early 1700s. There are hellish states of mind. There are heavenly states of mind. And, I think that people, after they die can enter either realm or possibly something in between. Hell is not a place made by God though. It’s a creation of our own mind. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce, the gates of hell are locked from within (and Jesus said the gates of Hell would not stand against His kingdom). Gates are defensive structure, keep in mind. So, people will and do experience hellish states, but God never gives up on them and no one will resist God forever. Others go to in between realms and some go directly to “heaven”.
And it’s not a one and done deal. Most of us have been here before and we do this time and time again. I don’t necessarily believe in the idea that we have to keep doing it until we can escape some sort of cosmic terminal velocity and permanently stick in heaven. I think we do it again to have new experiences and learn new lessons.
While I remain a universalist, more convinced than ever, I don’t believe death is necessarily a free pass to heavenly realms. A small percentage of people who have had NDEs have had hellish experiences. There is no denying that. But, every one I have heard has been rescued from that state even before returning back to this realm. It’s not permanent. But, why go there at all? I’m doing all I can to reach a heavenly state while here so the transition back Home is a smooth one.
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