I've been working on a book over the past year or so called Pardon Me, Your Heresy is Showing. I think that we as a Church hold some very 'orthodox' (meaning 'right belief') beliefs that are not very Biblical ones. We hold certain beliefs that are accepted by many Christians, but are not biblical at all. So, I'm preaching and teaching an unorthodox orthodoxy.
One of these beliefs involves Heaven and Hell. Christians have been taught to believe that when we die, we will go to either Heaven or Hell. This is not what the early Church believed or taught, and this is not what is reflected in the Bible. This idea was given sanction by a Papal Bull in 1336.
The apostolic tradition actually holds to the idea of an interim state - a state in the hereafter, but before the resurrection of the dead at the Second Coming. It is only after the resurrection that a Heaven and a Hell will be created.
So where do we go when we die, since the resurrecion has not yet occured? The Bible talks about two places where the departed from this earth go: Paradise (Lk 16.22, Rev. 6.9) and Hades. Paradise has no darkness because the presence of God is there. Those who believe in Jesus' Gospel will be in Paradise when we die (Lk. 23.43) - awaiting entry into the yet-to-be-created eternal Heaven of God.
Hades is the underworld where there is gloom and darkness. It is consistent with the Old Testament idea of Sheol. This is where people go when they die - everyone in the Hebrew tradition, non-Christians in the Apostalic tradition. But Hades is not Hell. Hell is not only a place of seperation from God, but also a place of eternal torment - the firey lake. Jesus used the metaphor of Gehenna to refer to Hell. Gehenna was the refuse outside of Jerusalem were the city burned it's trash. Jesus used the images of this fire to show the torment of Hell.
The Heaven as many Christians now know it, as a state of perfection and newness, will be created at the resurrection. This is what is refered to as the new heaven-earth in Revelation. The Hell as we know it is not Hades, but a furture place of punishment. Both the new-haven and hell are future realities. The near hereafter are Paradise or Hades. Those in Paradise await entry into Heaven and those in Hades await entry into Hell (upon their respective creations) at the time of the resurrection.
While this concept is not taught in many modern Christian traditions, it is a very Biblical one. The Bible does mention four distinct places: Paradise, Hades, Heaven and Hell. The Biblical idea of an interim state (the time before the resurrection) when we die is one that should again be preached. Because I didn't know about it either.