QUESTION: It seems to me that the images of Heaven and hell depicted in books we read and films we view are extremely primitive. Yet they have come into secular culture out of Christian tradition. Can it be that Christianity also holds to such primitive views of life after death?
True, in contemporary secular books, and particularly in films, the images of Heaven and hell differ greatly from the true, hardly primitive, Christian understanding of those realities. Heaven and hell are things having no analogue in the secular world. To be able to evaluate them requires that you have corresponding experience, which can be granted only by the Holy Spirit, and in no way can this be acquired by looking at cinematic constructs. Sacred Scripture does not describe man’s condition after death; it only hints at, and makes reference to it. There will be nothing earthly, nothing material, either in the state of eternal bliss or in its opposite. How it will be there, we do not know. In communion with God, we will experience the full, maximally possible, degree of happiness, but what that is, is impossible for us to say. The same applies to the measure of sorrow experienced by one who as the result of his life on earth finds himself outside of God.
But even here on earth, Christians know, if but partially, what Heaven and hell are. Heaven is when the heart touches the hand of God, and one experiences indescribably peace, joy, calm, and humility, sees the true meaning and true value of everything, feels mercy, love and sympathy for all people, and even for all creation. This is what happens when the Holy Spirit enters into the soul, and with all his strength, and like a child, one reverently comprehends that he is not alone, and that God is with him. Every Christian knows and feels this, if only in small measure and only from time to time. Extrapolate that feeling to infinity, bring it into eternity, into an indissoluble maximum, a constant growth in that condition, and there you have some true conception, however faint, of Heaven…
When someone gives himself over to the passions, and consequently the Holy Spirit cannot enter into his soul, when the heart is filled with lust, cruelty, pride, an unquenchable appetite for glory, power, possessions, when everything about him is permeated with enmity, hypocrisy, and vanity, he is bereft of peace and tranquility…. Extrapolate that state into eternity, and there you have hell…. However, to understand and feel that, you need to try at least a bit to live in a Christian manner, rather than to make baffled guesses, and use Hollywood films as your source of information.