Life, Death, Heaven and Hell

Life, Death, Heaven and Hell

Versión Español

This is the seventh part in a series called “Simple Faith”, examining the simple concepts of the Christian faith. You can read the previous posts by following these links: Simple FaithGodThe Bible,  Sin and Death, and Jesus, and Livin’ la vida… Christian.

Note: The picture above is me with our third son when he was born (more than a decade ago).

The final section in our simple faith series relates to what happens to us after we die. This is an incredibly complex topic, in no small part because we have no way to actually study the afterlife or to have any sort of objective certainty about what is coming next. Our ideas are based entirely on what is revealed in the Bible and the interpretations people put on that information. It is also the most difficult topic because of our emotional reaction against hell. In fact, these things have made this post incredibly difficult to write – this is probably my fifth or sixth version.

The simple concept that I want to explain is the following: We have hope of eternal life instead of death. This might seem like an odd way to address this topic. After all, I don’t mention heaven or hell or the concepts of sin and punishment or rewards. I do that for a simple reason – as much as we might speculate about heaven and hell, I think the Bible primarily offers a stark contrast between life and death, with heaven and hell sort of being the symbols of each (I say symbols without necessarily meaning that they don’t really exist). So what can we say about what happens after we die?

At one level, it’s very simple. In its simplest form, we could just say that the wicked will be punished and the good will be rewarded. The wicked will face eternal death and/or destruction while the righteous will receive life. It’s really just that simple. And yet, it’s hard to just leave it there – I feel the need to walk through how we got to that point. So here we go.

  1. God is the Giver of life. He created us and gave us life, and He is the one who sustains it in every moment. This theme runs through all of Scripture.
  2. Sin is basically the destruction of good and life that God created. So as we sin, we bring destruction and death into the world and our own life. Left to our own devices, even if we struggle to overcome sin, it will still eventually destroy us.
  3. Jesus came into the world to do multiple things: First, he accepted the punishment that sin deserves; second, he destroyed death through his perfect life and his resurrection; third, he made it possible for us to be connected to God through the Holy Spirit. This allows us to be connected to the giver of life, and will eventually be what allows us to be changed after our death. By accepting Jesus, we are basically saying that we hate the sin and evil in this world and in ourselves, and we want to be saved and changed. After our death, this change will be completed – whatever that looks like!
  4. Even in the New Testament and even in Paul’s works (Paul, who stridently declares salvation through faith), we are constantly told that God looks at our heart and that we will be judged for our works. This does not, I believe, negate Jesus at all. If anything, it is just a simple way of expressing the situation that takes into account the fact that many people will never hear about Jesus, or may be taught incorrect things about him, etc. We will be judged based on what we know (God’s power seen through nature, our understanding of morality, etc.) and whether we have responded to that in faith (believing and living according to what we have understood) or denying that and living our own way. But it’s still only Jesus who paid for our sins and Jesus who restores our relationship with God and saves us. And we still only are saved by faith – even if that faith is very incomplete.
    Note: I need to emphasize that although it seems likely to me that some will be saved even without knowing Jesus, it also seems incredibly dangerous to know about Jesus and not accept him. If he is God’s chosen path for salvation and we reject him, we are essentially saying that we do not need his help to obtain eternal life, or that we are good enough to save our selves. It is a way of rejecting God and saying that we would rather follow our own way. It is a highly inadvisable path to follow.
  5. In the end, God is the one who judges us. This is not a cruel tyrant making random decisions. It is a Father and King who is revealing what is really in our hearts responding in grace and love to those who desire and seek what is right, and anger and wrath to those who reject Him and His ways, choosing to seek only their own power, control, benefit, and desires. I hope it’s pretty obvious why people like that wouldn’t be welcome in heave. They would quickly turn heaven back into a world just as bad as the one we presently have. It is also important to note that many who seek only their own way can appear to be pretty good people, but what lies underneath is not so nice. In the same way, some can appear pretty ugly, perhaps for their upbringing, poor teaching, or bad life circumstances, but they honestly desire what is good. This is why we leave those judgments up to God.
  6. Heaven is spoken of as the place of life: all good, no sin, the presence of God, and the tree of life, among many other images. It is what we were created for. For those willing to acknowledge God as both their King and Father, it will be glorious. But many will never be willing to make that confession. Again, heaven would be hell for them, and they would make it awful for everyone else.
  7. Hell is consistently described in terms of darkness, gnashing of teeth, weeping, and destruction. It is hard to know how much of that is to be taken literally (as has been most common throughout church history) and how much is to be taken figuratively. Some Bible verses emphasize the concept of eternal punishment (Matthew 25:41, Revelation 19:20, 20:10-15), while others emphasize the concept of permanent destruction (Matthew 10:28, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). Perhaps it’s even a combination of both – punishment that eventually leads to destruction as sin slowly destroy our soul. There’s a lot of debate about the exact nature of hell. The main point, though, is that those who are “in hell” are not the poor innocent people begging for mercy, but those who have already set their hearts against God. They will not be begging to get into heaven – or if they are, it would only be so that they could do whatever they want and turn it into their own kingdom, not so that they could actually work with God in making something beautiful.

I think that about sums it up. At then end of all of that, we still come back to the simple concept – that the good will be rewarded and the evil will be punished. Those who seek God and life will find it. Those who seek their own way and follow the ways of death will also find that. And while God seems willing to judge people on what they know, He earnestly desires that all would know about Jesus – the one who conquered death so that we may have life, the one who took the punishment for our sins, the one who offers us a relationship with God. He is our Saviour, and the one who makes eternal life possible. Through him we have hope for eternal life instead of death.

Sin and Death

Sin and Death

Versión Español

This is the fourth part in a series called “Simple Faith”, examining the simple concepts of the Christian faith. You can read the previous posts herehere, and here.

As we continue our journey of the simple truths of Christianity, we come to the second concept: We disobeyed God (sinned) and all sorts of problems arose – in particular death.

To say that there is debate about every aspect of this concept would be accurate. There is the debate about whether God exists and whether there is actually someone to whom we are accountable. Then there is endless debate about the nature of humanity – are we a mix of both good and bad (like the famous yin and yang symbol)? Or re we good at heart, or evil? There is an outright denial by some that sin even exists, and even when people acknowledge that humans often do what is wrong, it is often quickly downplayed or blamed on other causes, such as society, our childhood, hurts inflicted by others, etc. And of course, there is debate about whether death is something natural – a simple biological reality to be embraced – or an enemy to be fought against with everything in us.

Christianity addresses each of these topics in depth, with complex discussions about God, the nature of humanity, morals and ethics, and the nature of death in our world. But the concept as I laid it out above is quite simple: We sinned, the world is broken, and death is the result. A few words about each of these will suffice for the purpose of this project.

If we accept as our starting point that God exists, then it is the most natural thing in the world that He would have guidelines and expectations for us. Every parent in the world has expectations of how their children will behave. Every boss of a company has expectations of his employees. Every person in charge of something has guidelines for those under them. If God created us, then of course there are guidelines for what is right and wrong.

And despite all the debate about what is right and wrong, I dare say most people are actually pretty closely aligned in identifying the things that will cause hurt and damage. While we can argue about things on a theoretical level, we can usually identify them pretty quickly if we experience them. Someone steals from us? That’s wrong. Someone mistreats us? Wrong. Cheats on us? Wrong. Is arrogant and looks down on us? Wrong. Is greedy? Wrong. In fact, if we were to look at classic Christian descriptions of right and wrong, such as the 10 commandments, the 7 deadly sins, lists in Paul’s letters (such as Galatians 5:19-21), or other comments in the Bible, we will discover that most people will look at them and recognize how those sins are hurtful, especially if we put ourselves in the position of the offended party. (This is the best viewpoint, I believe, because we are more likely to justify our own actions if we consider doing these things, but we recognize their destructive and hurtful nature if we consider someone committing them against us).

As well, we all know that breaking the rules leads to negative consequences, especially in relation to other people. The child who lies will, sooner or later, discover the destruction of trust and relationships that that causes. And if they refuse to change their ways, that destruction will grow. In fact, if they continue to disobey, they will discover (or reveal) not just external consequences such as broken relationships, but internal consequences such as a character that is misshapen and unworthy of trust. So it is with all sin – it causes not just external damage, but internal damage. This is why the world is broken – we are all sinful people who constantly hurt ourselves and others. Sometimes unintentionally, but at other times quite deliberately.

Which leads us to our final point, death. Sin is destructive, and its end point is death (both physically and especially spiritually, which is what physical death seems to warn us about). This is what we find in the book of James 1:14-15: “Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.” In the Christian view, death is not part of God’s creation – it is something foreign, the result of the destructive power of sin. Life is what God created us for, and death is the enemy.

I think most people agree that we were created for life, even if they express it differently. Nearly every person has some idea of what they think will come after death, whether reincarnation, going to a better place, becoming one with everything, etc. We all agree that we want to live or continue in some way, shape or form. Even those who truly deny life after death, such as certain atheists, will often express discomfort with the idea of ceasing to exist. Death is “normal”, but not natural or welcome.

And so we see that each concept is both simple and logical. If God exists, He has guidelines. We are generally aware of those guidelines, and if we break them, there are both external and internal consequences of a destructive nature. Because we all disobey these guidelines, the world is broken. We are broken – and not just broken, deliberately rebellious at times. And since sin is destructive, it inevitably leads to death – both physical death and spiritual death.

It is certainly true that this particular concept is not exactly comforting, but it is simple and makes perfect sense. And it fits in with our own experience – sin exists and it is destructive.

But I think it’s also important to make it personal: 
I generally know what is right and wrong
I choose to do what is wrong far too often (I’m broken and/or rebellious)
I know that it has a negative, destructive effect on my life, and
I know that death approaches, and that this sin is a problem – both because of how it destroys me, and also because of the potential of standing before God, the One who set the guidelines that I so often ignore.

And I think it leads to one other conclusion:

I need some help to get rid of this sin in my life.

Once again, keeping it simple can bring a lot of clarity – even if what it reveals is less than exciting.