By Crystal Lewis
After several years of soul-searching and study, I have come to a comfortable place of agnosticism concerning the afterlife. I simply don't feel that we have the information necessary to make definitive statements about what happens after death. However, there are some beliefs that I hold dearly, despite my uncertainty.
While I do not hold traditional Christian views about the afterlife, I do believe that our souls will survive death. This is because I cannot deny the various accounts of paranormal contacts with people who now live on "the other side." Likewise, there are people who have died on operating tables, only to return with stories that suggest consciousness after death.
Furthermore, I no longer believe that God will torture people or souls in a customized fire chamber called "hell." My perspective on this topic is rooted in my knowledge that "hell" is a placeholder for the words Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus. Sheol, according to the Jews, is a temporary place where the dead are cleansed for twelve months or less before spending the afterlife with their creator. Hades and Tartarus were underworlds found in Greek mythology, and these ideas entered Jewish thought through Hellenism. Gehenna was the location of a 1st-century heap of refuse that burned "eternally" to combat the disease and odor that emanated from the incinerating garbage and corpses therein.
I hold firmly to the belief that the Kingdom of Heaven is within and among us, and that we are responsible for prayerfully bringing it to the forefront for all to see. In doing so, we find intimacy with God and Christ. This, according to Jesus, is the "eternal life," or as the Greek translation more accurately says, "the aion" or "the life in this age" (John 17:3).
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