I wrote this for a discussion in one of my online classes at AMBS. I thought I would go ahead and share it here:
I do not believe in a literal hell. My reasons for this are as follows:
1. Heaven and hell are completely absent as concepts in the Old Testament. The only clear understanding of the afterlife was that when you died you went to Sheol (the grave). – see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheol
2. Ideas about heaven and hell became popular in Judaism long after the captivity (most likely being borrowed from the Greeks). I think the popularity of this concept came because it served the purpose of explaining the mystery of why God let evil nations conquer Judah and destroy the temple, with the explanation being that things will be made right in the afterlife.
3. I think Jesus used the popular ideas of Heaven and Hell as metaphors. By the time of Jesus most of the common people had adopted the Phariseean idea of the afterlife (in contrast with the Saddcean idea that the only life is this present one), but I do not think they were the main focus of his life and ministry. Rather he was very grounded in the earthy and messy here and now.
4. It is possible that hell might be a valid metaphor to explain the idea of separation from God or to describe the hell we put ourselves into when we do evil (or others around us do evil), but I do not think it can describe a literal place of eternal torment.
5. Jesus teaches us to forgive no matter what, however, traditional ideas of heaven and hell seem to teach that God loves only conditionally, in that God only is willing to forgive us if we are “saved.” I don’t understand why God would hold human beings to a standard that God does not abide by Godself.
6. It is incomprehensible to me to believe that God would condemn righteous Buddhists, Muslims, Jews or even atheists who live lives of integrity. A god who would do this would not be worthy of respect and worship.