Last month I talked about consequences, ending on the depressing note of hell. Whether we like it or not the Bible is clear that the way to heaven is narrow and hard, and the way to hell paved with various things from good intentions, good deeds, decent ways, and religion that riddled with piousness that often hides great hypocrisy, lifeless religion, and a loveless heart (Matthew 7:13-14).
Like most people I prefer to talk about those things that leave us feeling good about God and our life, but the reality is we live in a world that is under a curse and those who refuse to choose life, find themselves under the curse as well. The curse is, that at the core of life is tragedy. There is toil that leaves one empty, sorrow that leaves one tasting bitterness, suffering and adversity that leaves one without resolve, despair that strips one of hope, and death that leaves one a confirmed agnostic or a total skeptic about all matters pertaining to God and life (Genesis 3:17-19; Deuteronomy 30:19-20).
It is for this reason that the God of the Bible is the only one who makes sense in this hopeless, dying world. Outside of Him is no hope or promise of life. Life here is temporary and the hope of this world is nothing but a fantasy that will ultimately leave a person disillusioned and bitter because it is constantly being deferred (Proverbs 13:12).
When I was growing in my new-found faith, I read a book by Dave Hunt called, Whatever Happened to Heaven? I knew the answer was that nothing happened to heaven, but when I read the book, I realized that even though heaven remains scripturally unchanged, man’s attitude towards God and the issues of life and death and heaven and hell do change. In fact, attitudes are like the waves on the ocean ever moving, sometimes becoming lost in the midst of turmoil and changes, proving to be fickle and untrustworthy (Ephesians 4:14).
Even my 45 years of being a Christian, I have watched people’s attitudes about both subjects change. They are often rearranged according to cultural trends and adjusted towards what a person will personally tolerate about any presentation of heaven and the casual or defiant insolences about hell. There was a time I heard about hell and occasionally about heaven in sermons and teachings, but now many people have a Universal attitude towards heaven, where everyone will make it there, and that for some it begins with a new-age light that leads to some beautiful garden, but when it comes to hell, I hardly hear a peep unless it is a cuss word or a joke.
I choose to believe Scriptures about both heaven and hell, but when it comes to hell, I have to admit I have a very distinct impression of it. The impression I have is very scriptural and when I encountered it back in the late 1980s, it made me sober. I had a vision of it in a church. I was attending the funeral of a young couple killed in a motorcycle wreck, and I didn’t know if they had made their peace with God through His wonderful provision of Jesus Christ. I remember asking the Lord if the one person I knew the best was in hell. In fact, I cried the question out in such vexation of my spirit. It was then that I was given a vision of hell. I have never forgotten that vision and it certainly cemented my understanding of it.
Today I don’t have to ask whatever happened to hell because when you talk to people about it, they do have an idea of it that lines up to an unpleasant reality that they may joke about, but at the same time, you sense there is fear about it. It is for this reason people do not want to seriously consider the subject.
How many people believe in heaven and hell? According to a Zion article (July-August 2022), amazingly 73% of US adults believe in heaven and 62% believe in hell. However, the question is how do people perceive what heaven and hell are like?
Jesus spoke more of hell than heaven in His teachings. Perhaps it was to warn, admonish, or contend with people about such subjects as sin, rebellion, and death. A good parent, family member, and friend out of love and concern will warn you of devastating consequences and how God is loving and committed to us. We are told that an earthly father will chasten his children out of love and the Heavenly Father only chastens those who are His children. We are also informed that the Heavenly Father’s purpose for such chastisement is for us to partake of holiness because without it we will not see the Lord (Hebrews 12:6-14).
Even though the Bible gives a clear presentation of both heaven and hell, many people’s ideas of them are not Scriptural. I personally don’t think about either one much because my main focus is Jesus, but since the Bible makes it a point to speak of them, I must not slide by either subject.
I guess the first question to ask is, is heaven and hell a state of mind or are they a place? Is heaven a place of reward and hell a place of consequences? The truth is both are places as well as a matter of personal choice and conviction. Most people wouldn’t actually choose hell up front, but when you begin to choose the ways of hell that include lies, wicked ways and evil intents, you are preparing yourself to be an occupant of hell. After all, a person who is prepared for hell would never fit or be comfortable in heaven, any more than a person preparing to live in Christ’s glory would ever fit in hell. If you reject the God of the Word, mock the Savior and Lord Jesus Christ of the Bible, and deny there is a need to be saved from your wretched self, why would you want to be in heaven? It is clear that most people want to live in a type of limbo that exists between heaven and hell, but is void of God’s glory and worship and is minus the torment and suffering of hell. In other words, they prefer to live on earth for eternity.
As I listen to most people concerning heaven, they believe it is a place. However, it is a place where they think the pleasures of earth continue. For example, so and so is up there fishing, playing golf, doing some other favorite activity, and there even was one Christian who equated heaven as being one big ongoing party.
However, when I study heaven, there is joy but it is not based on earthly pleasures or fleshly activities. It is a place of peace and beauty, but the two things that distinguish it the most is God’s glory and the ongoing worship that takes place around His throne (Revelation 4 & 5). Heaven is clearly about giving God what He is worthy of, and not about man’s pleasure being realized. Saints will glory in His presence, praise Him for His great works, and worship Him in His glory. Ephesians 2:7 tells us we will be discovering His grace for ages to come.
God’s glory makes up heaven and it is associated to His holiness where the seraphim cover their eyes and cry out, “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). As Isaiah learned, for fleshly man to stand before God, it will make him feel naked because of God’s penetrating light, undone because of His glory, and unworthy because of His holiness, and that his lips must be purged before he could even speak on His behalf as a prophet. Was the purging of Isaiah’s lips in heaven a prelude to the cloven tongues on the day of Pentecost before the disciples were sent forth to preach the Gospel (Isaiah 6:5-6; Acts 2:1-4)?
Moses had to take his shoes off in the presence of God and he had to be hidden in the cleft of the rock in order for God’s glory to pass before him so he could see the “back parts” of it without dying. The people of Israel could not touch Mount Sinai due to God’s presence. Only the High Priest could go into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement where he would sprinkle blood on the Ark of the Covenant after he made atonement for himself and the people of Israel, and took incense into the most sacred place that housed God’s Shekinah glory (Exodus 3:5; 19:11-12; 33:19-33; Leviticus 16).
It is clear that heaven is not of this world. Man in his flesh will not stand in it and in his best imagination he would never be able to paint a true picture of it (1 Corinthians 2:9). As noted, there is joy in heaven but it is attached to repentance and salvation not because there is one big party going on (Luke 15:6-10). The problem with making heaven more like earth is that people will lack a proper attitude towards God that would ensure true worship. In fact, an earth-like heaven implies God has been in some way stripped of His glory in the minds of people and is not worthy of worship done in the right way, or consecrated service that brings Him the deserved recognition. Is it no wonder we are warned in Romans 1:21-23 that there are those who when they knew God refused to glorify Him. They were unthankful towards Him and became vain in their imagination and their foolish heart was darkened as they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image that can be found in His creation. We are told in Romans 1:24, God gave these people up to their imagination to do as they will but in the end, they no longer retain any real knowledge of the one true God.
It is interesting to note only 34 percent in the survey said hell is a real place and the rest believe it is a state of mind. I’d like to see them convince those in hell not to worry because it’s all in their mind. One has to wonder where these people will be spiritually located since hell is all in people’s mind?
People are in hell for a couple of reasons. The biggest reason is because they tripped over one man into hell. That one man is Jesus Christ. Those who reject the true Jesus and His work of redemption will be judged according to the holy law of God and will stand condemned, required to pay the wages of spiritual death or separation from God (Romans 6:23). The second reason is because they chose the ways of hell and God simply turned them over to their worldly preferences, fleshly desires, and wicked practices. For this reason, hell is a place of outer darkness and why not because its inhabitants prefer darkness, for their deeds are evil, and God is light (Matthew 8:12; John 3:19-21). It is a place of torment, and why not because for the most part its inhabitants either ignore the torment and suffering of the present world such as the rich man in Luke 16 or were the tormentors themselves, as they oppressed the vulnerable, persecuted the righteous, lorded over the poor, and sacrificed the innocent. They provided no real relief and they will not find it in hell while being continually consumed (Ezekiel 16:47-50). And why wouldn’t they be consumed, for they heaped all on themselves according to their fleshly lusts, corrupting everything around them and now they are being continually consumed by lusts that they have been turned over to in their previous existence. They scream without being heard, and why not since they didn’t choose to hear the cries of those being victimized. They rage against what will be, and why not since their rage had previously attempted to silence truth, intimidate the weak, and mock righteousness. They will gnash their teeth and why not for there is no recourse to change their hopeless plight for God is honoring their preferences to have nothing to do with Him, the Creator of the universe.
It is not God’s will that any enter into destruction. It brings Him no pleasure that people die in their sins. In fact, it broke God’s heart on the cross, knowing He provided a way of salvation but there are those who refuse it and will not enter through the narrow entrance that leads to life (Ezekiel 18:32; 2 Peter 3:9).
Heaven or hell is a choice. Man has two possibilities and he will ultimately make the choice. I have made my choice and it is heaven, and everyone who reads this I am sure has made their choice. It is clear there is no place where a soul can do a balancing act between heaven and hell in order to avoid worship of the true God or torment of the soul, while enjoying the vain things of this world. There is only a line in the sand, casting an indelible shadow, a dividing point for all ages to wrestle with its message or wrestle before its great act of love. And, what is this looming shadow? It is an old rugged cross (Ephesians 2:13-18).