If so, what questions would you ask?
Alan Gomes has written the most exhaustive and scholarly book about heaven and hell that I’ve ever read, and given the pervasive interest in all things spiritual among people today, I think it’s well worth the hard work to study through it, whether or not you think there is an afterlife (which more than 70% of Americans affirm), and whether or not you think you’re heading straight to heaven after you die (which two-thirds of Americans believe is their destiny) or hell (which only 0.5% of Americans presume). And, what of the 30% who aren’t sure if there’s a heaven or hell—or if it’s even possible to know how to get to heaven if such a place exists . . . or if they’ll go to heaven or hell or nowhere after they die?
If you’d like to know exactly what the Bible has to say about heaven and hell, and how to get there, please read this book! I can’t begin—in a short post—to pass along the wealth of research that Gomes presents, but it was a book I had trouble putting down! (Which is saying a lot for someone who normally falls asleep trying to read a gripping novel. 🙂 )
In a systematic and thoughtful way, Alan Gomes presents the scriptures related to forty of the most commonly asked questions concerning our makeup as spiritual beings and the afterlife, including various theories from the major schools of interpretation. He starts by defining such common terms as “soul,” “spirit,” “heaven,” and “hell,” taking the various Hebrew and Greek words and walking us through how they are used in the Scripture. For instance, what do the various terms “hell,” “sheol,” “hades,” “gehnna” and “the lake of fire” mean and how do they relate? (Later he discusses many other words, such as “eternal” and “everlasting,” and how those terms help us understand the final state of those who have died.) He explains the concepts of “resurrection” and the basis for “eternal life.” He explains what the “universalists” and “annihilationists” believe, and whether or not all dogs (or any dogs) go to heaven. Seriously!
Here is a short list of some of the questions that most interested me:
*What happens to infants who die?
*Is it possible to communicate with the dead?
*Is there such a place as purgatory?
*Does God give people an opportunity for conversion after they die?
*On what is the final judgment based?
*How could a God of love send people to an eternal hell? (Does he?)
*What should we conclude about those who claim to have seen heaven or hell?
I wish I could answer all those questions simply in this post, but the answers are mostly stitched together after a thorough study of all relevant scriptures. Instead, I’ll just urge you to explore the book for yourself. However, I’ll confine this blog to sharing a few thoughts from the book on what heaven is and how to get there.
“Heaven” is not the final home of believers but is rather the abode of God where believers go when they die. “To be absent from the body” is “to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Rather than spending all day as disembodied spirits floating on clouds playing harps, the eternal state (ES) of believers is actually to live with Christ in a literal, physical “new Jerusalem” on a “new earth” with resurrected and glorified bodies that are sinless and immortal. But, this occurs after the Millennial Reign of Christ and the final judgment, not immediately upon death. (All of this is clearly detailed in the book.)
Although my next remark goes beyond the scriptures (and a bit beyond Gomes’ book), it sounds possible to me that we’ll be living life as ever expanding people who worship, fellowship, explore, create, learn, and progress in all things good and beautiful. I do know for sure that everyone will be supremely happy, and all sorrow will be gone: “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).
Is it possible to know we’re going to heaven when we die? If so, how can we know, given that there is to be a “final judgment?” We read in Revelation 20:12 about a vision the Apostle John had concerning the end of the ages: “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”
But, I thought we are going to be judged according to our faith, isn’t that true? “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? . . . For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:20,26). It is through our good works that faith is evident. So, if it’s a matter of good works, and we’re being weighed in the balance, what “good works” will weigh enough to declare us “good enough”? Will we just have to try our hardest and hope for the best when we stand before God at the judgment?
Thankfully, Jesus gives us the answer in John 6:29, “Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” It isn’t really our own personal good works that balance the scales or serve as some sort of golden ticket admission pass. It is utter dependence on the good work of Jesus, who died as a propitiation for our sins so that we can be forgiven for our sins and pass from death to life spiritually. Although our body will die, when we repent of our sins and surrender to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, our spirit is “born again” into the eternal life of Christ. At the judgment seat of Christ, when the books are opened, we will be judged as righteous, not based on our good works but on the merit of Christ, who lived a perfect life of good works and whose death was the complete payment for our sins.
So, according to the Bible, there is certainly a heaven to gain and a hell to shun. God made a way for every person in the world to be assured of passing from this life immediately into the presence of God and heaven if they so choose. The vicarious death of Christ for us provides everything we need to be assured of heaven, but we must accept this gift of eternal life. Not everyone will be saved, but everyone is offered the free gift of salvation. It’s as if there is a cure for cancer offered to everyone, but not everyone will be cured, because not everyone will believe the cure will work and will therefore take the cure. Except, it’s not cancer we’re talking about; it’s death. Not everyone needs a cure for cancer, but everyone needs a cure for death. This is it: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
For those who don’t take the cure, then they will be judged according to their own personal works, but the verdict is already out on whether or not anybody will be “good enough” to get to heaven on their own merit. “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). Who will be condemned? “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). However, “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).
Do all dogs go to heaven? Well, you might want to read Gomes’ book to figure that one out, but I will tell you, every person on this earth is invited to go to heaven based on faith in our Lord Jesus Christ: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Will you believe on Jesus?