Author's Note: If you are easily offended by religious material that is contrary to your own beliefs, you may not want to read this. If, however, you are easily offended and want to get over it in order to function in a very multi-cultural world, please, feel free to read this. Oh yes, all quotes are from the KJV and I believe I quoted C. S. Lewis in here. Oh, and I do not think I expressed this properly before-I am not using Heaven or Hell to prove the existence of God, I do not think it can be done. If you do not believe in God or some sort of supernatural state of affairs, I do not know why you would believe in either Heaven or Hell. In the same way, do not take this essay as an attempt at apologetics towards or for the unbeliever, rather it is an attempt at repairing traditional Christian doctrine to the one vacillating between Christian doctrine and other "nicer" viewpoints. The summation of my point is that God is not about being only nice: He is about Truth and He is about Love and He is about Justice.

Disclaimer: Original thoughts . . . there aren't many thoughts that are original, mine included. After all, in the words of Tolkien, there is no music or theme that does not have its uttermost source in Him and my only goal is to be his "instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which . . .{I have} not imagined."

"Behold the heavens, and the heaven of heavens"

It is nearly a universal consensus—all people want to go to heaven when they die. I have yet to come across a person that has said, "I want to go to hell and suffer after my death." To me, this phenomenon (for it does appear to be inherent in our nature) is very curious. After all, if one looks about and examines humans on an individual level, one does not always see this desire for heaven—for perfection, peace, and various—shining forth for all to see. One would think (with heaven being eternal) that a little more of this desire to abide there would be evident, or at least, more evident than it is. Perhaps then, this lack of apparent motivation or desire has something to do with how people see heaven itself. After all, it does not make logical sense, with the record our world has, that all people everywhere should desire to go to heaven. If this were true, it would stand to reason that our world, or at least a greater majority of the people in it, would be far more "heavenly" than it is and the people in it would act more "heavenly" than they do.

Let us presume for the sake of consistency that the Christian view of heaven, described in the Bible, is the true one, and all other ones, insofar as they contradict this particular view, are incorrect. Almost immediately, one runs into a camp of confusion in the person of a commonly held misnomer. In general usage today, the word "heaven" refers to two ideas or, more accurately, two places that are almost completely independent of each other. The first is the more precise application of the word heaven—what King David and St. Augustine calls the Heaven of Heavens. This is God's throne, what Isaiah describes a bit of in the sixth chapter of the book bearing his name, and what the apostle John describes in the book of Revelation. For a brief look at this, let us look at the following:

. . . and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald. And round about the throne were four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold. And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thrunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, were four beasts {living creatures} . . . . And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. And when those beasts give glory and honor and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, the four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. (Revelation ch. 4: 2-6, 8-11.)

This is what the Bible generally refers to when it speaks of heaven. However, the second, somewhat less accurate than the first, denotation is that of the paradisiacal land that people will live in forever after death. This speaks of eternal life itself, or rather, where we will be while we are living that life eternal. This land is really what Christianity calls the "new heavens and the new earth"—with "heavens" in this context being air—the atmosphere—and outer space. (In Biblical phraseology, there are three heavens: the first, air, the second, space, and the third, the throne of God. Hence, when Paul speaks about being caught up to the 3rd heaven in 2nd Corinthians 12, he was speaking of the throne of God.) This place, the new heavens and new earth, does not refer to a new throne of God, but a new reality for mankind to live in, much like the one we live in now, only perfected—in that place, there is no death, pain, suffering, war, or anything of the sort. This place does not yet exist—only after this earth has passed away, final judgment, the end of time, and all of that happens, will this new heavens and new earth come into being. In that place, God has prepared rest for His servants. Most people, when they speak of wanting to go to heaven after they die, speak of this second place, and of eternal life.

So I ask, why do people want to spend eternity in the place that we commonly call heaven? The most important thing, the central qualifying factor about the new heavens and the new earth, is this: it is all about God. God is not only the focus and center of the entire world (as it was originally meant to be in ours), but he will also making His dwelling place there, with us, His people. He will not seem at all distant, some far away presence that does not interact in our lives—He will literally and physically dwell among us in the new city Jerusalem. Then the light of the glory of the Triune God will be such that Jerusalem will have not night, nor for any need of the sun (Rev. 21:22-25). In the new heavens and the new earth, there shall be no more death, crying, or sin. No sin, in that there will never again be any evil thing done (or any evil desire). There will be no lying, selfish behavior, partiality, lust, injury, boasting, pride, rebellion, cynicism, sarcasm, unpleasantness, or even irritation. And, quite obviously, there will be no drunkenness, no smoking, no drugs, no gluttony, nor any fornication. This new earth will be characterized by the perfect love of charity (or, if you like, the terrestrial loves that we know now, the loves of affection, friendship, and eros, will be perfected in charity—as explained in The Four Loves) and willing submission to God. Inherently, there are two responses to this fact of reality. The first is, "Yes, this is my heart's desire; I cannot wait to be in such a place with my Lord." The second response, a response that I will deal with presently, is: "Blah. Hell, bad, and heaven, good with the being nice and all, but I don't particularly care about the God bit . . . in all honesty, I'd be perfectly happy without Him."

Pause and imagine a person with whom you disagree on fundamental issues of philosophy or morality. Now add to that person the fact that you don't really respect or care for him, but he's okay provided you have little to do with him. Next, picture you spending the next year in very close quarters with that person. You cannot escape him; you cannot go away; he knows you better than you know yourself and you can't forget that fact either. Worse still, this person is your superior and you basically have no choice but to do what he says. He makes the rules and he doesn't much care for your opinion on the matter. Perhaps worst of all, everyone else (or everyone that matters and is influential) loves this person and holds him in the highest regard. Anything you say that speaks against this person is frowned upon and gently or not so gently rebuked by your fellows. This, perhaps, is what a milligram of heaven would be like to a person who doesn't know God in life, and then would spend the rest of his or her days with God in eternity (if it were possible). Except, neither heaven nor the Lord Himself comes in milligrams. If one would be chafing and irritated under such a person for a year, I wonder what an eternity would be like. There is, I believe, a descriptive name for a place such as this. It's 'hell'.

My point is, if you don't like God now, you aren't going to like him any more 10,000 years from now. If you don't have that love now, you won't magically or supernaturally acquire it when you die. We all hear that people don't change—well, most of the time, if people change after they are adults and their personalities are somewhat solidified, they then begin to become worse, set in their ways. The Bible never tells us that physical death radically changes a person's spirit—from death to life or life to death (in fact in implicitly states that the latter is impossible). Instead, it tells us that we are all spiritually dead right now, and we have to change this in order to have eternal life. The Bible also tells us when we are to change us. It is now, in life. The Lord never said that we would die and get a second, third, or infinite number of chances to change our minds after death. His word tells us that it is given to man once to die, and then the judgment. In other words, when we die, the curtain drops and the show is over—there are no field trips from hell to heaven to see "what God is really like" as if that would change our minds.

Remember, the majority of us don't truly like God as we would like our friends. We do not have what C. S. Lewis would call an appreciative love for God like we have for a book or a song that is good for its own sake, independent of our connections to that goodness. God also knows that we don't naturally like him, and therefore wouldn't naturally like heaven once we would have arrived. Therein lies the point of the cross, so that whosoever believed in Jesus might have the chance to become the children of God. He has suffered and died for our sake—he has satisfied the justice of God so that we might be acceptable to him. And herein lies the grace of faith unto salvation: first, that we might be able to be conformed to the image of Jesus; and second, that our hearts truly become more like him, so that we truly gain (through grace) that appreciate love of God.

Although God made humanity to dwell with Him, that perfect peace and fellowship was corrupted the day that man Fell in the Garden of Eden. Henceforth, God's children have to be made anew, not of this world any longer, but of the world anew. This is what Paul speaks of when he says that Christians are "a new creation", what Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about being "born again" and "born of water and spirit", that it is not possible for flesh and blood to enter the kingdom of heaven, and that it is impossible for those without faith to please God. This isn't the Lord being "mean"—this is the Lord being holy and we being sinners. The old adage is true—we sin because we are sinners, by nature we have gone wrong, and the Lord must right us. In short, unless we are taught to please God, we will not, because we cannot do it on our own.

This learning to please God is another one of those things that Christians talk about with odd words. (Remember also that pleasing God is not a whimsical or arbitrary standard, but the standard. The Lord delights in holiness and goodness alone, and he hates evil with a perfect hatred. Therefore, if he is "well pleased" with you, you may know that you have conformed to this holiness and goodness.) Paul once mentioned that the cross is to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Gentiles, foolishness. So also talk of growing in faith is, at first glance, nonsense or mere "poetic language". But here our path rejoins that of the one who made the first response, "I do want to go to heaven to be with God." This desire to see the Lord stems from a love for God, and if this love is nourished, it will become that appreciation for God and a desire to please the Lord. The next question is, of course, how do we please God if humanity itself is so messed up as to make that naturally impossible? This is answered simply by this: submission to God. The initial submission to God is salvation, and we are called "to work out our salvation with fear and trembling." Thus begins the "nonsense" or "poetic language".

This submission has been called names, various and sundry: running the race, staying the course, pressing toward the mark, dying daily, being crucified with Christ. These strange terms are broken down into two concepts. Running the race, staying the course—all of those allusions speak to the winning of something. Paul tells his fellow disciples that they must run the race to win, to achieve the crown. He then goes on to explain that this crown isn't a corruptible crown that will decay or rust with the passage of time. This crown is an incorruptible crown of glory that the Lord will give to the person who has run the race and stayed the course. Now in order to run the race and stay the course, one must utilize this second concept—dying daily and being crucified with Christ. This means that daily a Christian must choose to do the Lord's will and not his own will. He must become like a dead person to his own desires, his own wishes and ignore them as if he had no will to do this. He must dedicate everything to God. In this sense, He is crucified with Christ, who said "not my will, but Thine be done" while in the garden of Gethsemane. This is how the Lord goes about conforming us to His image—we die to the image of the world, and the image of the flesh. And this is how the Lord prepares us for heaven and eternity with Him, by giving us a crash course now. There is no wishy-washiness about heaven or God—either you're in or your out. You have to decide what you really want to do for eternity—do you want to be with God, or do you want to be alone, away from God. The Lord himself will honor your choice, but He will take no delight in your death and disobedience.

On that note, do not actually think that one chooses between two equally valid states of being here. Hell is a miserable existence. It is tormenting; it is terrible. Why? Because hell is the very absence of God, and God is love, is goodness, is mercy, is peace, and is Life. Therefore, in hell, there is no love, no goodness, no mercy, no peace, and one is left with only death. In rejecting God, one rejects all goodness and hope of happiness, but still, he gives humanity that choice. A choice it is, but never one to be taken lightly. Remember, eternity is forever, and there are no second chances after death. "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts."

A little digression . . . .

On a side note, many people seem to believe that there is in fact, no hell. The central "logic" if I may call it that—for it is closer to emotionalism than logic—behind that belief is that God is infinitely merciful and He would not be harsh or cruel enough to send people to hell. We have already spoken of the fact that God does not send people to hell so much as allow people to be rid of Him if they so desire it. This takes care of most of the problem, but there are other arguments as well. One, the very thinking that hell is cruel is erroneous. If the Lord is just—and there is nothing in the Bible that suggests He isn't and everything to suggest that He is—then He cannot be cruel. Cruelty and justice are a contradiction and cannot exist in the same place at once. Either a sentence is cruel or it is just—it cannot be both at the same time. Harshness too is in contradiction with justice. Two, I am convinced that more people fear the mercy of God than His justice. The Lord's grace, His mercy, is awesome to behold, powerful, and humbling—even humiliating. It leaves one with no pride, no self-esteem, no confidence in the common senses of those words. It destroys the facades and constructions we have fabricated to allow us to live with ourselves. It smashes our independence, self-reliance, self-worthiness, and self-importance to bits. In this, the Lord's mercy is very terrible, very holy, and it is unrelenting. The Lord's justice may require your death—spiritually and physically—but the Lord's mercy requires your life and your very self. To us, to those "living" right now, it may appear better or easier to escape the Lord's mercy and just die. But even in death there is some semblance of life—or rather, existence without life. Perhaps the Lord's justice destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and wiped out the world in the Flood, but the Lord's mercy is what has changed this world forever—the life, cross, and death of Christ has left this world forever changed.

But still we have the fact that some people do not believe that God will send people to hell. I must ask this, what sort of heaven are you thinking of when you say heaven? If you tell me that it is like this world, only people don't die, then I tell you that what you are telling me of isn't heaven—it's a more terrible sort of torment, more cruel than how the Bible describes hell itself. Someone once argued that we should just leave Saddam Hussein alone because "dictators die". If there they would not, truly death and hell would reign and that world would be far more miserable than the one we have here. If you say that it will be like this world, only with "none of the bad stuff", I will ask you why. If you refer to a sort of quarantining the "bad people" so they can't make anyone else miserable I tell you that what you describe is hell, and I ask you to who's standard of goodness are we measuring these people. It would have to be God's (if it is to be a righteous standard). And He has already said that none but those who come to Him can ever be good enough, can ever be justified in His sight, so it all flows back around to Christianity's version of hell. If, on the other hand, you say that people can't do bad things anymore, I want to ask you about free will. Now, you have turned heaven into a camp of slaves. Unless you change the nature, the very essence of man, he will sin—and the point of this dissension argues against the necessity of changing man's nature. So, I ask again, how can you have heaven without hell and still enable heaven to remain heaven? There is one final answer that can be given: just "eliminate" the souls of people after they die. There is no afterlife for "the bad people" because God utterly destroys them. I tell you that this is probably infinitely worse than you think it is. God does not even "wipe out" Satan himself, nor the son of perdition. This, along with other facts, tells me that life is somehow, intrinsically better than 'unlife'. Remember, when God created the world, He saw that it was good. Now, if it were good, if it were better for the Lord to destroy that part of His creation that has fallen, do you not think He would have done it? I do not honestly think that the Lord "has not thought of that one". It therefore, makes sense to me that this is, in fact, not a good thing. So again, I ask you, what remains to be said here? What is so convincing about hell's non-existence that I am missing or do not understand?