HELL IN HEAVEN? HEAVEN IN HELL? (A-1)

(Posted in May, 2016. Scriptures quoted are from the New King James Bible, unless noted otherwise)

Part A, Part B, Part C

A-1: Introduction
A-2: Who Are God’s People?
A-3: The Book of Life
A-4: “Second Chance” for Unbelievers?
A-5: Death and Hell
A-6: Justified by Works or by Faith?
A-7: Resurrection and Rapture

A-1: Introduction

Sometimes we hear the question, “Where will you spend Eternity – Heaven or Hell?” From a certain angle, the question is positive; for it challenges us to reflect on the reality of life beyond the grave. From a different angle, though, the question could sound threatening. “Will I end up in Hell? …Oh-oh, I’d better get on God’s good side.”

A healthy fear of God is needed sometimes. But Christ came “that the world through Him might be saved” - not “to condemn the world”, not to intimidate or scare us into Heaven, but to prepare and lead us to Heaven, whose gates are wide open for whoever’s ready. (John 3:17) His desire is to heal and restore our relationship with God, to bring us into personal, direct, endearing fellowship with the Almighty. From that point of view, the “where will you spend Eternity?” question is not a very good fit.

The Bible tells us, “God is love.” (1John 4:8) He is not a cruel tyrant, not a monster who is trying to frighten everyone into hell, but a God who is trying to love everyone into heaven! – David Brandt Berg (Anchor, February 2017)

We understand, of course, that God exercises authority over the gates of Heaven and Hell and who goes there and who doesn’t and all that. But that sharp Heaven-or-Hell division, with no other options, is over-simplified. It overlooks certain realities about life in the Afterlife. Nor does it jibe well with God’s aim to “save the world” rather than “condemn” it. (John 3:17)

In the Christian playbook, there is a need for a more welcoming approach towards the non-believer – along with an understanding that there is room for growth, change, and deliverance, even in the Afterlife. True, there is much advantage and reward, and it is certainly preferable to come to know the Lord during one’s earthly lifetime. But to give the impression that this life provides the only or last opportunity for Salvation over-simplifies a reality that is broader-based and more multi-faceted than we could ever imagine. And it under-estimates the power and love of God.

If we assume that there is no chance after this life for salvation, then we are forced to ponder some difficult questions. Why would God shut out the innocent or ignorant (babies, children, or those who have not heard the Good News)? It seems terribly unfair to those who have tried to live decent lives but have not had a real opportunity to fall into the arms of the Savior during their earthly lifetimes; or even to those who did have the opportunity and refused but would turn to the Savior if given a second chance. Is there no provision for these people?

To promote such narrow-minded exclusivism has caused no small amount of disapproval from some Christian teachers who have worked hard to encourage a more openness and accepting attitude towards those outside of church congregations.

Why [have some denominations never told] us this when it’s so clearly in the Bible? Why did they never want to admit that there’s some other place to go besides Heaven and Hell? Why? Many an unsaved person or potential believer has been turned away by this false doctrine… and just couldn’t believe in a God Who would send everybody, including ignorant babies and children, into a fiery Hell! It’s terrible what some [denominations] are guilty of! Think how they’ve offended so many people’s understanding of God by their doctrines! – That “if you don’t believe just the way we believe, you are going straight to Hellfire, period! – No alternative, no in-between!” – When the Scripture makes it clear that there is an in-between! (“Heaven, Hell, and In-Between!” by David Brandt Berg, Treasures, pg. 786, published July 1987 by World Services)

And what about those who do land in Hell? They may deserve it and need it, but is there no possibility of release for them? Is the all-or-nothing-at-all view of the Afterlife more frightening than it needs to be? It almost makes Heaven appear as some kind of private club whose high walls protect its privileged membership while its closed gates make sure to turn away all the so-called riff-raff.

When one views a mountain range from a distance, it looks like one huge single block of towering rock. But as one travels closer, one finds all kinds of foothills and intermediate ranges. It soon becomes clear that there is a whole lot more variety and in-between stages than could be seen at first glance from a distance. And likewise, the Celestial Realm, the World Beyond, is much more complex than the simplified version we often hear – Heaven and Hell with nothing else in-between.

What we human beings can expect to encounter at the end of life’s road is no easy topic to address, but the following discussion on the subject, it is hoped, will help to clarify and broaden our understanding of what goes on in the Afterlife … and, during our earthly lifetimes, how we can better prepare for our final destiny.

Continue to A-2: Who Are God’s People?

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