What are “heaven” and “hell”? How does one arrive at one or the other? Do all religions define the afterlife in such a dichotomous way? Is there evidence of these two realms on Earth? Where can we find them?
In the second episode of this season of The Story of God with Morgan Freeman, the show answers these questions from its interfaith perspective. We checked in with bloggers from Patheos to see what they thought of the episode and the concept of heaven and hell.
Paul Asay of Watching God discusses his fascination with Assyrian Christianity mentioned in the episode. “…its theology of heaven and hell is remarkably, attractively simple: Heaven, Freeman explains, is when you’re close to God. Hell is when you’re far away from Him. I like that. It reminds me of Dante’s Inferno, where hell’s nine circles progressively sink farther and farther from God and heaven, finally terminating in the icy center of the earth.”
Asay also adds his definition of heaven: “Freeman suggests in the show that, for some people, heaven is found in home. It’s a place where you feel loved. Where you belong. I’d agree that ‘home,’ whatever that looks like, can give us a hint of heaven. But it’s because, I believe, heaven is our real home. Heaven is an eternal place. Our home, all too often, is not. And sometimes it can become a hell. It can feel far from God indeed.”
Chris Williams of Chrisicisms writes on heaven, “When the biblical writers describe it with images of jewelry and precious metals, it’s not because the streets are literally lined with gold but because earthly images are as close as we can get to understanding it. I believe that when followers of Christ die, they’ll be in a place with no suffering or fear and everything wrong will be made right. Rather than a disconnected, wispy place in the clouds, Christians believe heaven will come down to earth following Christ’s return, and we’ll live forever with him, serving him and using our humanity and gifts to their full potential, unencumbered by the effects of the fall.”
He continues with, “As Christians, we hope for heaven. But our hope isn’t in heaven; it’s in Christ. And maybe the reason we don’t have any earthly proof of it is because the whole point of our faith is not just to prepare us for the afterlife but to deepen our trust in Jesus.”
Daniel Scharpenburg of Bodhisattva Road discusses the show’s segment on the Buddhist tradition in Cambodia. “In this episode Freeman travels to the jungles of Cambodia to a place called Angkor Wat (City of Temples), the largest religious monument in the world. It’s been a Buddhist temple for hundreds of years; prior to that it was a Hindu temple to Vishnu. It’s included in this episode, not because of what it represents today, but because it was originally created to be a reflection of a Hindu heavenly realm.”
He adds on the temple, “Being the largest religious monument in the world, it took a lot of work. It’s an incredibly elaborate structure and a wonder to look at. It’s said that it was built to be attractive to the gods, to be a place they would want to come down and visit.”
Thanks to this week’s bloggers for joining in the discussion! We’ll be back next week to share thoughts from more Patheos bloggers as they explore our final episode of The Story of God with Morgan Freeman, “Proof of God.”
Make sure to check out the discussion guide for this week’s episode written by experts and scholars from OnFaith.
“The Story of God with Morgan Freeman: Heaven and Hell” airs Monday, January 23 at 9/8c.