Heaven or Hell

Heaven is a wonderful place —- filled with glory and grace — I long to see my Savior’s face — Heaven is a wonderful place.

That’s a chorus from a song we used to sing in College and occasionally in church. Naturally it’s upbeat and the song conveys the sweet, serene environment that awaits all Believers.

The opposite of course is Hell. People don’t enjoy talking about Hell – at least the Hell of the Bible. Hell, I don’t like talking about Hell. The Bible has nothing good to say about the place. It is described “as a place of fire and darkness (Jude 7,13), weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 8:12, 13:42, 50 & others), of destruction (2Peter 3:7 & others) (Reformation Bible, ESV, p 1432).”  And even though these descriptions may be symbolic, it is not a pretty place and may be much worse than the human mind could ever imagine.

In the news recently there is a story of a 93 year old man in MI who froze to death in his own home because he had not paid his utility bill and the company had cut his power. In the story it talks about the slow, agonizing death this man must have experienced as his body slowly shut down. Hell would be like that. A slow agonizing process – but having it never end.

Most Christians don’t like to think about that when it comes to Hell. We talk about it and make reference to it as the place where unbelievers will spend eternity, but then we don’t really contemplate the significance when cast against the concept of God’s love and grace. You know, never ending torment as a result of choosing not to believe in God through Christ. If we push the concept past our own sphere of relatives and friends to some far off continent and unnamed face, then it doesn’t seem so bad. But when it comes to a loved one, we somehow want to rationalize that a good and loving God would never do such a thing to a person who had lived a selfless life and touched the lives of so many, even without faith as we know or describe it. That person could be a parent, a child, or favorite teacher.

I would like to think my Dad will be in heaven and not in hell. He did not lead a perfect life, but he did touch the lives of  countless number of people. Also my Uncle Cliff, who never said an unkind word or did an unkind deed as near as I recall. There are others, but you get the point. Would an all-loving, all-knowing, compassionate God turn his back on such persons? Apparently so. Does that make God less loving, less compassionate? Not really, since it was not his choice, although (depending on your thoughts of predestination and election) he knew that would be their end from the beginning. Now, that’s something I struggle with mightily.

There is nothing comforting when the conversation turns to Hell. There is nothing compassionate when the reality of it’s domain is discussed in rational terms. In fact, most people would choose not to talk about it all. For it is a person’s choice, apparently, that determines their eternal abode in such a terrifying place. Whether it’s common grace or rejecting a personal witness, a person chooses to turn their back on God. Consequently, living in the absence of the presence of God is not enough, there are more severe and eternal consequences. Just like living in the presence of God is not enough, there are eternal blessings.

To be honest, I don’t think of either concept that much. I suppose I should. But they just don’t seem that significant in the present. Isn’t it enough to say believers enjoy the personal, peaceful, and joyful presence of God through Christ when they believe and unbelievers find themselves always searching for true peace and personal joy in the absence of that personal relationship?  Is “hell” a necessary element in coercing people to believe? Is it the one point that tips a person’s private scale to acknowledge and embrace the Almighty? If so, isn’t that kind of belief simply – as some would say – “life assurance” and not the belief of one who chooses to follow and learn from Christ?

If there is a heavenly home and I find myself there, I suspect I’ll sing praises to God with the rest. If, perchance, there is not a heaven, as we often describe it, then I doubt I’ll be banging the walls of my casket thinking I was cheated out of my room above the garage at the heavenly mansion.

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