Death and the afterlife A* grade summary notes


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Rich man and lazarus

  • Bible story
  • A rich man ignored the pleas for help of a beggar called Lazarus.
  • When the rich man died, he went to hell and was tormented, he wanted to dip his finger in water to cool down, to warn his family, but was not allowed. 
  • Lazarus went to heaven and was separated from the rich man by a chasm.

Linking the rich man and lazarus story to the different questions:

  • Are Heaven/Hell/Purgatory physical/spiritual/symbolic

heaven & hell are described physically (water & chasm).

  • Are heaven and hell eternal?

Heaven and hell are eternal because you can’t leave.

  • Is heaven the transformation of creation into a perfect form? (new earth theology)

Heaven is not the transformation of creation into a perfect form at the end of time – because lazarus went to heaven while the rich man’s family was still alive – so heaven existed before the end of time.

  • Does god’s judgement (sorting us into heaven/hell) take place immediately after death or at the end of time?

They were judged into heaven/hell before the end of time

  • Does everyone go through purgatory?

Neither went through purgatory – showing not everyone goes through purgatory.

  • Who goes to heaven (Election: limited (some Christians to to heaven) vs unlimited (All good people go to heaven) vs universalism (all people will go to heaven))

It is suggested in the story that it is because the rich man failed to good that he goes to hell. This suggests unlimited election is true.


  • Luther argues that the rich man and lazarus story is just a parable designed to teach us a moral lesson.
  • We should not take it literally – it’s not a story about literal actual events that happened – and so it can’t actually tell us anything about the afterlife.

Optional further evaluation:

  • M. Luther argues that the rich man and lazarus story is just a parable designed to teach us a moral lesson.
  • We should not take it literally – it’s not a story about literal actual events that happened – and so it can’t actually tell us anything about the afterlife.
  • Luther points to the fact that the rich man wanted to warn his family – implying he could talk and had a physical body. However, that couldn’t be possible unless he had been resurrected. But, the resurrection doesn’t happen until the end of time. 
  • So, the story cannot make sense as events which literally took place. It’s just a parable. In that case, it does not have any of the implications for the afterlife that it seemed to when we viewed it literally.

Optional further evaluation:

  • The story cannot just be a parable because it includes a name – Lazarus. Other parables just have generic descriptions, like the ‘good samaritan’, not names. 
  • This suggests the story actually happened and is meant to be taken literally.

New earth theology

  • At the end of time, God will transform creation back into its perfect eden state.
  • The resurrected bodies of the righteous will then have eternal life there.
  • That’s what heaven is – it doesn’t exist now, it is a future state of the earth.
  • N. T. Wright argues for this view of heaven. He points to the lord’s prayer ‘thy kingdom come’ – this quote is showing that Christians are meant to pray for God’s kingdom to come to earth.
  • This suggests that at the end of time, God’s kingdom will expand to include earth and God will perfect earth again (after Adam and Eve ruined it).
  • Furthermore, in the book of revelation chapter 21, God shows John the future where there is a ‘new heaven and new earth’ in which there is no suffering.
  • This theory also suggests that heaven is a physical place.
  • It also suggests that judgement takes place at the end of time – since no one can enter heaven until it is created at the end of time.


  • There is lots of biblical evidence that heaven exists now, however.
  • For example, Jesus was crucified next to a thief who expressed regret about their sin.
  • Jesus said “Assuredly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise”.
  • So Jesus is saying that he and the thief will both go to heaven that day.
  • So, heaven exists now and is not a future state of the earth.

Physical view vs spiritual view

  • Physical view:
  • Heaven, hell and purgatory are physical places. 
  • The Bible describes them in physical terms (e.g. in the sheep and the goats, hell is described as ‘eternal fire’, people are described as on earth and ‘gathered before’ Jesus and separated to his right and left – all physical descriptions implying a physical resurrected state).
  • The Bible also suggests that the afterlife involves physical resurrection – the physical body rising from the dead but in a perfected immoral form.
  • So the afterlife isn’t just some state of the soul – it is a physical bodily state.
  • Jesus’ body was used up in his resurrection – his tomb was discovered empty. This suggests that resurrection involves our physical body and therefore is physical.
  • Spiritual view:
  • Heaven, hell and purgatory are not physical places.
  • They are spiritual places that our souls go to.
  • The Bible says we have souls.
  • The physical resurrection view doesn’t explain what happens to us immediately after we die – before the end of time.
  • It makes more sense to think that our soul goes to the afterlife immediately after we die.
  • St Paul (the Bible) says that when he dies he will have a ‘presence’ with Christ – suggesting that there is an afterlife involving our soul being with Christ. 


  • Criticism of the spiritual view:
  • There is so much biblical evidence for resurrection, and for resurrection being physical. 
  • Jesus’ body was used (empty tomb) in his resurrection. St Paul calls the resurrection the ‘first fruits’ – implying that it was a promise that we too will be resurrected at the end of time if we follow Jesus.
  • The sheep and the goats parable suggests that we are judged at the end of time and it implies we have a physical resurrected existence on earth, backing up the physical new-earth view of heaven. Jesus describes hell as ‘eternal fire’ and ‘eternal punishment’, also implying a physical state (fire is physical).

Optional further conclusion:

  • However, it is actually possible to believe in both physical and spiritual afterlife.
  • First the afterlife is spiritual, then at the end of time it is physical.
  • Immediately after death, our soul is judged and sent to heaven to be with Jesus in a spiritual state, or sent to a spiritual hell to suffer. Then at the end of time, our soul is joined with our resurrected body and then either sent to the new heaven/earth or to hell.


  • Mainly a Catholic view.
  • The idea is that when Christians die in a state of mortal sin – they go to hell.
  • However if they die in a state of ‘venial’ sin – meaning a more minor sin – it wouldn’t be right for them to go to hell for that.
  • Yet, they also can’t enter heaven in a state of sin.
  • So, there must be a temporary place they go to be purged of those minor sins before going to heaven.
  • Purgatory means ‘purge’.


  • Purgatory is not in the Bible.
  • Furthermore, the Bible actually goes against purgatory.
  • The sheep and the goats – at the end of time Jesus sorts the sinners (goats) from the righteous (sheep). 
  • The sinners go to hell, the righteous go to heaven.
  • There is no middle-ground option between these two – nothing like purgatory is mentioned. People either go to heaven or hell.
  • So, the bible is against purgatory.

Symbolic view

  • Liberal Christians do not view the bible as the perfect word of God.
  • They think it contains mistakes and scientific/historical errors.
  • So, it is best to view the bible as a product of the human mind.
  • In that case, everything the Bible says about the afterlife has to be taken symbolically, not literally.
  • Heaven, hell and purgatory are just symbols – flowery language – for human psychological states while alive.
  • If you do good to others, you will have a better life while alive – that’s what the idea of ‘heaven’ is a symbol for.
  • If you are evil to others, you will have a worse life – that’s what the idea of ‘hell’ is a symbol for.
  • Purgatory is a symbol for our need to feel guilty and make amends for sinful actions.


  • If we take a liberal view of the Bible, it leads to a crisis of authority.
  • Everyone will have their own interpretation of the Bible.
  • We can’t tell whose interpretation is right.
  • So, every Christian will just believe whatever they want.
  • Better to think the Bible is the perfect word of God.
  • Furthermore, if there is no afterlife, then there is no punishment for sin or reward for virtue. For example, Kant thought that an afterlife was a necessary postulate for morality to make sense. 
  • There may be some temporary punishment/reward – where a bad person lives a ‘hellish’ life, but that doesn’t seem enough for people like Hitler, for example.

Augustine’s views on limited election 

  • original sin, grace & predestination
  • Augustine supports limited election.
  • Original sin damns us to hell. It is only if God grants us his gift of grace that we could ever get to heaven. 
  • By ourselves, because we are corrupted, we can never be or do good enough to deserve getting into heaven.
  • God either grants us grace, predestining us for heaven, or he doesn’t and our original sin damns us to hell.


  • It’s not fair or loving to condemn people to hell for the actions of their ancestors. 
  • We had nothing to do with Adam and Eve’s disobedience – so how is it fair to punish us with hell for their actions?
  • Predestination is not something a loving God would enforce.

Unlimited election:

  • The sheep and the goats & inclusivism 
  • Unlimited election is the view that everyone who has been good will get into heaven.
  • Potentially an unlimited number of people could go to heaven then, but only those who have been good will.
  • Sheep and the goats story.\
  • Jesus says that what makes people sheep who deserve to go to heaven is that they helped others.
  • The goats, those who go to hell, failed to help others.
  • This suggests that getting into heaven and avoiding hell is a matter of doing and being good.
  • This shows that unlimited election is true.


  • Unlimited election can be criticised for still saying that some people go to hell, even though they were bad people.
  • For punishment to be fair, it must be proportionate. It’s not fair to lock someone up for their rest of their life for stealing a mars bar, for example.
  • In that case, it can’t ever be fair to send human beings to hell forever.
  • No matter how bad a crime a human did, they did not do an infinite crime – because we are finite beings, we can’t do infinite things.
  • So, we can never deserve an infinite punishment, therefore.
  • People like Hitler did terrible things – but did not kill an infinite number of people. They might deserve a lot of punishment, but can’t ever deserve an infinite punishment.

Universalism: Hick (universalism, soul-making and purgatory)

  • Hick thought a loving God could never send anyone to hell.
  • Hell is eternal infinite torture which can never be loving or justice.
  • So, Hick argued everyone ends up in heaven.
  • However, Hick accepted that there were issues with this – it doesn’t seem right for Hitler to go straight to heaven, for example.
  • So, Hick proposed his own view of purgatory.
  • Bad people have to essentially live another life in a purgatory other world where they have another opportunity to become a good person (soul-making).
  • People can get endless opportunities to become good.
  • It might take Hitler a long time to become good – but eventually he will go to heaven too, once he’s actually and genuinely accepted his moral failures and become good.


  • Universalism goes against the Bible.
  • The Bible says people go to hell (sheep and goats etc).

Optional further evaluation

  • That evaluation assumes that the bible is the perfect word of God – but Hick and liberal Christians reject that due to its mistakes and errors.