Everyone is concerned with his or her future destiny. These infinite, open-ended questions of the afterlife appear to us at random times. A death of a beloved family member, an emotional television program or a story told by a friend may provide the mind cause to bring thoughts like these into focus. What happens to us when this life is over? Are Heaven angels bearing wings and harps, sitting on the clouds? Is there a final judgment for individuals, holding them accountable for their actions in this life? If there is a Heaven, does that mean there is Hell also? How can God send someone to Hell instead of Heaven? Is Heaven as great as a Christian believes? Both believers and unbelievers continually wrestle with the reality of an afterlife, heaven and causation’s for an eternal destiny. The questions are real, worthy of asking and insisting of solid answers.
What happens to us after this life is over has been fiercely debated by the science and philosophy disciplines for centuries. Science, while excellent with providing a hypothesis in this area can do little to provide concrete evidence. The existence of heaven cannot be tested evidentially by a designed experiment as with other areas of science. It would follow that since science has little to add, philosophy or more specifically the philosophy of religion is the discipline of choice. Well known Italian physicist and philosopher Galileo Galilei stated, “…the scriptures tell us how to go to heaven, but not how the heavens go.” (Groothuis, 2013) Depending on your beliefs, Jesus of Nazareth is the only one that has been to heaven and returned. An explanation of heaven, the nature of what heaven is, and well-defined directives to gain entrance are contained in the scriptural New Testament account of Jesus and his teachings. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV) offers a sense of this life is not the end. “16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” This verse tells us that even with our earthly bodies “wasting away”, there is more. “The eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” describes heaven as a place where no association to anything in this life can be drawn too. Many have heard the stereotypical descriptions of heaven, and these thoughts come to mind; all white, with no distinguishing colors, drifting angels sitting of puffy clouds, softly playing harps and of course the “wings”. Verse 21:1 (ESV) in the book of Revelations offers insight as to how heaven will be upon the second coming of Christ. “1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” This is a tremendous statement. The weight of this shatters the myth of a placid, color neutral heavenly world, while a brand new heaven and earth is established. This would point to a fully restored earth, with real ground for God’s children to dwell and live within the magnificence of Christ and not drifting around on free-floating clouds. Revelations 21:3 (ESV) affords the believer another reason for excitement, as God himself will live in his newly created heavenly earth among us. 3 “…Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” The claim of no pain and crying, all former problems of this life will be gone offers a fantastic argument for belief in heaven. When this life is completed a gift is given. The gift of heaven is one of a new earth, where we will live among our Lord. Consequently, if we are to interpret these biblical texts correctly, no white clouds, wings and harps will be available.
Life on earth can be difficult and unjust. Humanity continues to act selfishly towards one another letting our own self-centeredness wound people we do not know. Even the people we hold closest to our hearts are not immune to unjustifiable hurt and distress. The cries for justice and fairness are heard constantly. As a community, we incorrectly look to government at all levels to protect us from ourselves. This is a misplaced hope, as hope ought to be in the one who created the heavens and earth. Naturally, with God’s promise of heaven also comes with the price of hell. This justice will befall on both believers and skeptics at the Day of Judgment. Each of us will be held accountable for our actions. Actions directed toward others, but also actions imparted on ourselves will be scrutinized. This is true justice. Justice divided fairly and in equal measure from a God fully outside the limits of a finite morality. It follows then if our actions and thoughts are true to God, heaven will be the reward but the opposite hell needs to exist for those who choose a life apart from God. How can a just and loving God send someone to an eternity of hell? How could God not send the unrepentant and unrighteous to hell? For God to unequally measure out justice would make God less of the God he is. God is the quintessential characterization of fairness. In this life, we desperately need him to be God in all of his immensity.
Sin is so horrendous to God, take into account the verse of Matthew 18:9 (ESV) “And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” The Apostle Matthew uses an incredibly strong analogy that if your eye sins, it would be better to remove the offending body part than continuing in that sin. In the book of James our spoken words are called into question, “And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” James 3:6 (ESV) These verses are two of many in the Gospels that repeat God’s command for belief in Him and requiring a change of your life for following the only sinless one, Jesus. These passages are direct calls to repent and do our very best to lead a sinless life. At this point, God has literally no choice but to disseminate judgments to hell, if after these declarations man still chooses to exercise his or her “free will” and live a life apart from Him. A one-dimensional definition of Heaven and Hell can be understood as follows:
- Heaven, an everlasting life living with God’s greatness and glory in his predestined creation.
- Hell is an interminable existence of deadness while living apart from God and all His creation.
Heaven is as great as a Christian believes! Luke 12:32 (ESV) 32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” God wants to invite us into the Kingdom of Heaven. “Good pleasure” is the phrasing used by the Apostle Luke. The Lord wants to offer us the pleasure of being in his sight. As discussed earlier, scripture does not give the impression of a heavenly space void of all color or a drifting space of clouds. Actually, scripture alludes to heaven as a great feast or party. Isaiah 25:6 (ESV) “6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” This verse is very powerful with its description of “great” wine and “rich” food alluding to a magnificent celebration. In addition, Revelations 21:18-21 describes, “walls built of Jasper and a city of pure Gold and Glass”. Other jewels are depicted as well, Sapphire, Emerald, Onyx, Carnelian, Beryl and Amethyst among others. All the colors, food and drink in their splendor are illustrated in these scriptural accounts of Heaven. What images come to mind? Perhaps this invokes a great earthly vastness, full of glory and significance grounded in a physical reality, with no pain and sorrow with endless amounts of hope. Contemplate the absolute greatest time ever in your life. Thoughtfully think about on how you felt inside. Now, wonder about what this feeling would be if it was momentously more than it was. The finite human mind can hardly conceive let alone dream of a “heaven” this tremendous.
All have been offered admittance to this heavenly world, whether is the offer is accepted is a choice everyone must make. Micah 6:8 (ESV) “8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God…”