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

(Posted May, 2016. Scriptures quoted are from the New King James Bible, unless noted otherwise; revised August, 2017; June, 2019)

Part A, Part B, Part C

A-1: Table of Contents and Introduction

A-1: Table of Contents and 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: Salvation by Works?
A-7: The Role of Grace

B-1: Resurrection and Rapture?
B-2: What about Evildoers?
B-3: What Purpose this Life on Earth?
B-4: Judgment Seat of Christ
B-5: “I will Give Thee a Crown of Life!”
B-6: Heaven’s Class Structure – No Envy or Comparing
B-7: Life – a Continual Learning Process

C-1: Fate of Judas
C-2: Rewards, Rehabilitation, or Both?
C-3: A Word of Comfort
C-4: “Everlasting Punishment. . . Forever and Ever” – Meaning?
C-5: Deliverance from the Lake of Fire? Society of the Future!
C-6: Lake of Fire – What Is It For?
C-7: Conclusion

Introduction

Following are the main concepts this study will try to clarify and bring forward:

1) A more flexible and inclusive view on who are God’s people.
2) A better understanding about the Afterlife, in particular, the possibility of salvation in the Afterlife.
3) The understanding that to be “justified by faith” includes being “justified by works”.
4) The urgency and responsibility of believers to bring the Good News message and way of life into the world of mankind.
5) The realization that salvation does not automatically rule out any form of correction or chastening in the Afterlife.
6) The understanding that Hell and the Lake of Fire are there for the purposes of refining and correction and are not necessarily permanent abodes.

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 sounds threatening, conjuring up fearful thoughts like, “Will I end up in Hell? How straight-laced do I have to be to win God’s approval? Is God upset with me?”

A healthy fear of God is needed sometimes. But Christ came “that the world through Him might be saved” “not to condemn the world”, 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 all-or-nothing-at-all, 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 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 in coming 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:

         What about the people who never heard the gospel, who never even heard the name of Jesus? How could a God of love send them into everlasting torment. . . when they never even had a chance to hear the gospel or know how to get saved?
        And what about the untold millions of people of different religions who are fairly righteous and are trying to do the best they know how, living up to whatever light they have? How could God send them to hell just because they never heard or understood the gospel or the love of God so that they would want to get saved? Are they going to be sent to eternal torment in the flames of hell, even if they were kind, sweet people who tried their best to worship and please God, even though they never really knew Him or His Word and truth?
        (“Heaven, Hell, and In Between” by David Brandt Berg (Anchor, February 2018)

To promote such narrow-minded exclusivism leaves a sour taste, to be sure: would God be so  unfair as to refuse 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? Thank God for those Christian teachers who are trying to encourage a more open and accepting attitude towards those outside of church congregations.

Why did they [certain Bible teachers] 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!. . . 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 extreme than it needs to be? It 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 long-term destiny.

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

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