Do Heaven and Hell Exist?Rich Tatum
Calvary Church, Naperville, Illinois - Wednesday, July 27, 2005
(See "Resources" section at the end of this page, as well.)
Opening Remarks and Prayer
Before we begin, let us pray:
"Dear Father, we gather here tonight to seek wisdom from what you have revealed to us about matters of eternal and utmost importance. I have these requests tonight. Help us to begin to grasp the utter importance of our eternal destinies. Please focus our attention, sharpen our memory, heighten our awareness, and grant clarity not only to my speech, but to our minds as well. Break our hearts as we consider the fate of the lost, and ignite our passion as we dream of the inexpressible joy waiting for us in Heaven. Do not let me stand in the way of your Word, Father. Please let there be less of me, and more of you tonight. Amen."
As I thought about how to begin this talk, I briefly considered a humorous quip or joke to tell about Heaven or Hell, just to loosen everybody up and make you feel good about me standing up here. But I quickly dismissed that idea. It just seemed inappropriate.
ASI thought about it some more and I realized that this is one of the Devil's greatest successes: The fate of your eternal soul has become fodder for jokes, clichés, and tired Hollywood storylines.
I have a file of over 6,000 clichés I've collected from around the Internet. So, I dipped into it for some insight on Hell. Did you know, for instance, that the phrase which indicates a project is doomed to failure, "Going to Hell in a hand basket," actually originated as: "Going to Heaven in a hand basket." Two clichés for the price of one.
The phrase, "All Hell broke loose" was coined by Milton in Paradise Lost, but there it wasn't a cliché. It referred to the tragic consequences of the original sin. General Sherman, trivialized Hell and elevated battle when he told us, "War is Hell." The idea that "Hell has no fury like a woman scorned" comes to us from a play written in 1963, written by William Congreve. Mr. Congreve, apparently, never imagined that Hell is the fury of God scorned.
In the 16th century, St. Frances de Sales, the patron saint of Roman Catholic writers, told us Hell was full of good intentions. Samuel Johnson later informs us that now "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." So, apparently, we can avoid Hell as long as we make good on our promises.
But maybe clichés don't really reveal how important eternal destiny is to the modern man. I've heard that Hell is rarely preached on anymore, and I've seen that Heaven and Hell get very little treatment in the massive tomes of Systematic Theology I tried referring to. But, maybe things have changed in this day of terrorism, biological warfare, and nuclear disasters. Death seems so near at-hand. It seems like a religious topic graces the covers of Time or Newsweek every other month. Surely the conversation about Heaven and Hell have risen in recent years? Surely at least the DaVinci code has raised our awareness, hasn't it?
To find out how prominently Heaven and Hell figure in what we write about nowadays, I turned to the modern font of all knowledge: Google. The names for heaven, including Paradise, Abraham's Bosom and even "Cloud Nine," along with all the names for Hell are referenced only 66 million times out of a total of 8.1 billion pages that Google knows about. This doesn't even measure up to one percent. It's more like .9 percent. In comparison, other noble topics are far more frequently written about, such as, home, business and work, America, Microsoft, and love. Even the number of web pages talking about Chicago outnumber the pages discussing either Heaven or Hell combined.
The only conclusion I can draw from this is that the modern mind finds this topic not only uncomfortable, but difficult to even think about. When even the temporary issues of work life trump eternal life, it's another clear sign that, as a culture, we've all gone far off the mark.
What happens after you die should not be reduced to a joke. It should not be as easily dismissed as a trite cliché. Whether you are a believer or a non-believer, I want to issue you a personal challenge: Before you lay your head down tonight, please, please take a few moments and sort our your conclusions. If your soul is immortal, if your consciousness continues after death, and if you have any responsibility for its fate here and now, then doing something about eternity will be the most important thing you will ever decide.
Please do not leave here without weighing these matters carefully.
The problem with Proving Heaven or Hell's Existence
Now, that being said, I predict that I would have a problem proving to your or anyone else's satisfaction the physical existence of either Heaven or Hell. The truth is, these places are transcendent. If they currently exist within the physical realm, we have not found them, and given the size of the cosmos, we are unlikely to. However, since God is Spirit, and after death if your souls continue on, that is also spirit, then it makes sense that, for now, the barrier between our eternal destiny and this world can only be passed through by death or divine revelation.
So, that's it then, right? If nobody can definitively prove Heaven or Hell exists, why are we here tonight?
Well, I want to say something about proof, and our what a proof or an argument is supposed to accomplish. I want to ask you a question, and I want you to seriously consider it for a moment: what level of proof would you require to believe in Heaven and Hell? Think carefully for a moment.
Would you require physical evidence?
If so, then, let me ask you this. If there are things you already accept in your life, and believe in without direct physical evidence, perhaps you would consider making a similar decision about Heaven and Hell?
For instance, say you know that you are not adopted and you grew up in a healthy, stable home. Do you believe that you are the product of your parent's marital relations? If so, is your belief based on direct physical, scientific evidence? Would you consider a DNA test?
Perhaps there are other beliefs you accept without physical evidence, like the fact that the Berlin Wall was torn down, even though you've never seen a single brick, or the fact that there is ice on the South Pole even though you've never had any of that ice in your cold soda.
Well, if there are reasons, witnesses, and other data you rely on for your beliefs in these and other areas, perhaps you can accept some of these other forms of evidence for Heaven and Hell as well?
See, the problem is, most skeptics regarding Heaven and Hell require a fantastically high level of proof that much of life would fail to stand up to. In fact, reasonable people routinely believe "scientific" theories such as macro-evolution, "pan-spermia", and "parallel universes" without batting an eye. (Panspermia is the theory that life on earth was seeded by life from outside our planet by interstellar travelers such as aliens or bacteria riding on comets or asteroids. The "parallel universe" idea imagines that every decision creates a new universe where in one universe you made the decision one way and in the other you decided differently.) And those are just a few theories out there. Have you ever considered how much money is spent on the search for hypothetical extra-terrestrial intelligence?
In the end, there are only two ways you can know something is true:
1. Direct observation
Those who practice the scientific method believe they are relying entirely on direct observation, and the skeptic hides behind this claim as his last refuge from God's truth. But in the end, even the scientists must make leaps of faith to buttress their theories and claims.
Tonight, I would ask you to do no less. Physical evidence and direct observation can only take you so far. At some point, you have to decide what to believe when the evidence fails you. I hope, and pray, we all make the right decisions.
Now there's another issue I need to discuss about proof. Arguments for the existence of Heaven and Hell are secondary to other more critical arguments, such as whether the universe was caused by a Creator, whether an intelligent Creator designed the universe as it exists, whether the Bible is a reliable document, whether Christ is indeed the Son of God, and whether Christ rose from the dead.
I had a very difficult time preparing this talk because the title of the course nearly requires me to argue for something which, on it's own, cannot be proven without several other issues already being established. So, really, what I need to say tonight is that if you accept that God created the universe, and ifyou accept that Christ was the son of God, and if you accept that Jesus was killed and then rose from the dead, and if you accept that the Bible is a reliable, trustworthy document, then the following arguments will prove useful for you when thinking about Heaven and Hell.
But if you don't accept any of these basic premises, then you probably won't be persuaded tonight.
I apologize if you came here expecting a dazzling and brilliant array of well crafted arguments to prove Heaven and Hell exist. Unfortunately, not only am I not as dazzling and brilliant as I would need to be to do such a thing, when I actually attempted to include that material in this presentation, it ran over an hour long before I even started talking about Heaven and Hell.
The Case for an Immortal Soul
I will, however, briefly touch on two arguments about the nature of man that I believe point to Heaven and Hell.
Argument from Desire
The first point I want to make is that throughout history, all societies have demonstrated a belief in and a desire for the afterlife. This desire, common to nearly all people in all cultures, is innate, it is natural, and is consistent from place to place. Like the desire for food, love, knowledge, and beauty, these desires are completely natural and arise in us at early ages.
And in every case these natural desires point to a real object or reality. There has never been discovered a natural, innate desire common to man that has been directed toward a nonexistent object.
Just so with heaven and our desire for enduring meaning and purpose in life. At some point everyone asks, "Is this all there is to life?" The fact that we ask this hints at a reality beyond this world. It would simply be un-natural to desire a thing which cannot and does not exist. This desire reveals reality. There is more. There is more beauty, more joy, more love, more peace, more desirability, more awesomeness, more satisfaction. There is more.
CS Lewis said it well:
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A dolphin wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which has no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world (Mere Christianity, Bk III, chapter 10.) .
Argument from Extraordinary Experience
My second argument is based on the findings of several respected doctors conducting research over the past two decades interviewing, verifying, and documenting hundreds of near-death experiences.
As implied by the words, a near death experience is when someone very nearly dies, or is actually clinically dead, yet is revived before becoming irrevocably dead.
I will show you a video soon to illustrate the point I am about to make. I don't want to examine NDE's too closely, because the fact is, these people didn't die. Only actual death completes your journey to Heaven or Hell … being nearly dead doesn't cut it. So, in my view, the visions that people recount after returning from a near death journey aren't reliable evidence to consider about the nature of life afterdeath. But these experiences can tell us one critical piece of information about the nature of life leading up to and near death. And that is this: your soul inhabits your body. When your body dies, your soul continues on.
Watch this brief clip, taken from a video produced and distributed by Grizzly Adams Productions, titled, "In Search of Heaven."
So, if near death experiences like this one, and many others like it, tell us anything about the nature of life, it's that something exists independent of our physical body, and that thing is persistent, it is self-aware, it continues your identity, it is you, and it is your soul.
And if this is true, then where your soul goes upon death is a matter of deep, and forgive me, grave importance.
The Case for Heaven and Hell
So, why do Heaven and Hell exist?
I believe that at creation, Heaven and Earth were coexistent. In http://Genesis+1:1Genesis 1:1 we read that in the very beginning, God created both the heavens and the Earth. Note that the plural for heaven is used here, "Heavens." In Hebrew thought, there were at least three different heavens, the first heaven would be considered the sky and whatever is directly overhead: Earth's atmosphere. The second heaven would be the cosmos, the stars and suns and planets throughout the universe. And the third heaven refers to God's dwelling place. Paul refers to this when he describes his vision of Heaven in 2 Corinthians 12, saying he was "caught up to the third heaven."
In Genesis, Adam and Eve enjoyed a physical, intimate relationship with God. God physically strolled through the Garden with Adam, and he physically brought the animals to Adam to name them. When they sinned, they hid from him because they knew he'd be dropping by later that day. But since that time, God's pure holiness and our sinfulness have been so completely incompatible that when Moses asked to see God's face, he replied, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live" (Exodus 33:20). And Paul tells us in Romans 8:18-27 that creation "waits in eager expectation" for the Day of the Lord, that it has been "subjected to frustration," that it will be liberated, and that it has been "groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time."
In Adam and Eve's fall, sin was invited into God's creation. Like pouring food dye in a fishbowl, everything is now tainted and stained by sin, and even creation can't wait for the re-creation when everything will be purged by fire and the City of God will descend to Earth and this fallen world we know now be heaven once more.
So, for now, Heaven remains pure and undefiled, and it is God's dwelling place (Deuteronomy 26:15; 1 Kings 8:30; 1 Kings 8:39; 1 Kings 8:43; 1 Kings 8:49). To be sure, it is still a part of creation—that's why all of creation groans as though in childbirth—like a mother in labor, creation can't wait for Heaven to be revealed at last.
Now, regarding the reason for Hell.
The easiest answer was told by Jesus, in Matthew 25:41. Here we learn that Hell was first created for the fallen angels. See the quote, here:
"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'" (Matthew 25:41, NIV)
We learn from this that Hell was not a necessary part of creation. It may not even have existed at creation, but was prepared for the fallen angels as a result of sin. And when Adam and Eve made their terrible choice, the universe was corrupted, and Hell became our default destiny.
But there are some other, more theological reason why Hell must exist. Let's review them.
First, God's holiness demands that there be a hell. Habakkuk 1:13 tells us that God is so holy that he cannot even look at evil:
Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. (Habakkuk 1:13)
I believe it's impossible for us, as fallen creatures, to fully comprehend the purity of God's holiness. As Jonathan Edwards has argued, even one sin deserves Hell, since sin of any sort stands in direct violation of God's holiness and his expectation that we be holy, too. We know from the creation account in Genesis that we were created in his image. Thus, we were created to be holy, just as he is holy, and when we are resurrected, we will be made incorruptible again. However, from the time Adam and Eve disobeyed God, sin separated us from God and the only place in God's created order for sin to exist eternally is in Hell with the Devil and the fallen angels.
If you die still a slave to sin and not a slave to Christ, the only place in God's created order for you to exist, with your sin, will be Hell.
Related to his holiness, God's justice also demands that there be a hell. As Habbakuk mentioned in the latter part of the verse we quoted earlier, sometimes God's justice is delayed in this world.
Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? (Habakkuk 1:13)
But we know from Romans 2, that God is just, and in his timetable, he will judge mankind in the end. Justice may be delayed now, but man's evil will be addressed. God does not show favoritism. His justice demands it. As Abraham said, "Will not the judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25) And, as Peter wrote: "So God knows how to rescue the godly from evil trials. And he knows how to hold the feet of the wicked to the fire until Judgment Day." (2 Peter 2:9, The Message).
If God did not address the evil committed by the Stalins, Hitlers, and Jeffrey Dahmer's of the world, his character, nature, and integrity would be as fickle as man's.
God's Love and Human Dignity
God's love, too, demands a hell. We know that "God is love" (1 John 4:16), and we know that he is not willing for anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9). But God created us with the freedom to choose, the freedom to love by our own choice, and the freedom to serve him willingly. He will not compel us or coerce us. He will not force our love. People ask, "How can a God of love send anyone to Hell?" Well, as my wife put it the other day, "God doesn't send people to Hell, People send themselves to Hell." As C.S. Lewis succinctly wrote, "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.'"
In the end, the only unpardonable sin is the refusal to bend one's knee to the Sovereignty and Lordship of God. Hell was created for those who reject God. And that rejection, in the end, carves out a home in the only place where God's presence will never be felt.
He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble. (Proverbs 3:34)
But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6)
All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." (1 Peter 5:5)
Just as in our societies with our courts and laws and judges, punishment is necessary for crime so that good might prevail. If God did not conclusively deal with sin and evil once and for all, he would be like a king who ignores crimes committed at the foot of his throne. We could only conclude about such a king that he is either immoral or weak, and the same would be true of God if he did not address that which offends his holiness, justice, love and sovereignty.
Hell and the Unbeliever
Now that we've gotten the basic argumentation out of the way I want to spend some time talking about the places themselves, a bit about Hell, and a bit about Heaven. I'll start with the bad news first.
The Default Destination
Due to sin, I'm sorry to say, your and my default destiny is Hell. Paul tells us in Romans 8:23 that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," and in 6:23, "the wages of sin is death." That's it. The bad news in a capsule: You're a sinner. You're going to Hell. Without Christ, that is.
If you walk out of here tonight and you have not made a decision to place your trust in Christ, repent, and make him Lord of your life … if you leave here and you are not a slave to Christ, and if you fall under a bus, or a plane drops out of the sky on your car, you will not be seeing a tunnel of light to a happy place in the sky.
Some of you might be cringing right now, feeling a bit uncomfortable. You're hearing echoes of the old fire-and-brimstone sermons you may have heard as a kid. And maybe you're thinking that this is a little over-the-top. But here's the deal: sometimes we need to wake up to reality. Without Christ and his gift of salvation, we are doomed.
Did you know that for every person who believes they're going to Hell you can find 120 who believe they're going to Heaven? Now think about that for a moment. That means, if the statistic holds true for a group this size, there may be—may be—one person here tonight who is in the minority: he thinks he's going to Hell. But the rest of us are sure we're going to Heaven.
Now, I hope, I truly hope, that every single one of us who think we're Heaven-bound are absolutely correct. But do you think it's likely? In any group this size, Christian or not, churchgoing or not, I expect there are more than a few who haven't sincerely repented of their sins and made a decision for Christ. Jesus himself told us "wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it" (Matthew 7:13). And elsewhere he says "small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matthew 7:14). Can anyone here possibly think, with these words, that Jesus is describing a reality where only 1 out of 120 people wind up in Hell?
Again, I'm not trying to be merely rhetorical or overly dramatic. But it is important for us to recognize the exceeding sinfulness of sin, that our God hates sin, and that there is no place in Heaven for the unredeemed who are not covered by the Blood of Christ's sacrifice. Without Christ and the gift of salvation, your and my destiny is Hell. Forever.
The Nature of Hell
But what will that Hell be like? Scriptural descriptions abound, of course. Time does not permit me to survey the various names for Hell, and the development of ideas about Hell throughout scripture. But here is a brief summary of New Testament descriptions of Hell:
Let us consider Jesus' story about the Rich Man and Lazarus, taken from Luke 16:19-31
"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
There are several things this passage teaches us.
According to Jesus, who, if he was truly the Son of God present before and at the act of Creation, who died, and rose again, we have here the most authoritative description regarding the implications of unbelief in this life we could ever hope for. Friends, if any of you here harbor doubts, do all that you can to settle them. Decide now, if not soon, to follow Christ, repent of your sins, and make him the ruler of your life and heart. There is no guarantee in life that you'll have the opportunity for a deathbed confession. You may not get a last minute chance.
And if you are a believer, tonight, do not take assurance in the mere fact of your belief, for James tells us that even the devils believe, and they tremble, knowing the power of God to torment. Every demon that met Christ face to face recognized his deity and his power, and begged that he not torment them. Your belief must lead to a natural consequence: Obedience.
Otherwise, your faith, without obedience is dead.
Heaven and the Believer
And now, I would like to give you Heaven, the Good News.
To illustrate some truths about Heaven, I'd like to consider a passage from John 14:1-7. Often, people will use other more symbolically rich passages, like passages from Revelation. But I'd like to focus on a little less-used passage to bring home something a little more personal.
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going."
These words from Christ are intended to comfort his disciples, and they immediately follow Christ's warning that he will be betrayed, that he will be led to his death, and that Peter will deny him three times. Christ's comforting words are intended to soften the blow of his absence. He reminds his disciples to trust in him, he tells them they will not be separated forever, but he will return for them. And immediately after this passage, Christ promises to send them the Holy Spirit to comfort them, counsel them, and live with and in them. He reminds them, one last time: "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you."
The overwhelming picture in this passage is the deep intimacy and love shared between Christ and his disciples, and Christ's awareness of the almost tangible pain their separation from him will cause them. Here, their friend who sticks closer than a brother, will be killed soon, and then taken into Heaven. It surely must've felt like Hell on Earth, and Christ goes to great lengths to not only assure them that he won't forget them, he'll return, but that the Holy Spirit will maintain his presence in their lives, despite his physical absence.
But Jesus does not want their attention focused entirely on the "here and now," and the pain and distress they are currently feeling. Instead, he gives them a simple vision to focus on, and within his words are a few key ideas about Heaven I want to leave you with. These ideas were powerful enough for Christ to leave as comforting words, and I hope they impact you as much as they have me.
First, I want you to recognize the reality of Heaven as Christ conveyed it. Christ started by saying, "You trust in God, now trust me." And, later, "If it were not so, I would have told you."
If Jesus is who he said he is, then we know Heaven exists because he came from Heaven, and was going back. He was in a place to know. But if we do not trust Jesus, then based on his words here, "trust me … if it weren't so, I would've told you…" we could only conclude that he was either deranged, deluded, or a dangerous liar.
But the reality of Christ is inescapable. We have more historical evidence for Jesus and his life than for any other single historical figure of antiquity. But more than the fact of Jesus' historical life, we can also trust that Christ died, and was raised from the dead. We have the disciples' own testimony and teaching to that effect. We have nine different sources for followers and skeptics who saw Christ on multiple occasions after his death, and some who even ate with him after death—and not all those sources are from the Bible. Paul was an independent eyewitness to the disciples and their testimony, and his own personal testimony of his revelation of the risen Christ. Early oral tradition, circulating before the Gospels were written, confirms that Christ rose from the dead. His tomb stood empty, and there was never a corpse produced to prove any of this wrong. The Roman and Jewish authorities of the day were never able to counter the claim that Christ rose from the dead. And early followers of Christ were so persuaded of his resurrection that they willingly followed him to death, themselves, as martyrs.
In 1 Corinthians 15:14-19 Paul addresses this issue. He says:
"[I]f Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. … [I]f Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men."
Friends, Heaven is real, and I have it on the best authority. I have placed my faith and trust in Christ. I know that he died for me, rose from the dead, and now waits to welcome us in heaven. He said it, I believe it.
But so what? Heaven exists, Jesus lives there, what's the big deal right? How many times have you heard heaven described like one really long, boring church service where all we'll do is sit around the throne and sing endless stanzas of "Holy, Holy, Holy?" To most people, Heaven does not sound like a very interesting place. But let's look at something Jesus tells us that clues us in to a key idea of what life in Heaven will be like.
"In my Father's house are many rooms." and "I am going there to prepare a place for you."
Heaven will be our home. Christ has spent the last 2,000 years creating a home where we can live in fellowship and community with all the other believers with us, and with Christ himself.
What's that saying, "Home is where the heart is?" That's the big idea here about heaven. It's not about a big castle in the sky. Heaven will be a home, where my family can rest, friends can visit, guests can party, and deep intimate relationships can be built.
And this is what's so compelling about Heaven, to me. It's home. It's home like I've never been home before. It's home like nobody in the human race has experienced ever since that tragic day when Adam and Eve were barred from the Garden of Eden. We've never been home since, and I think there's an eternal hunger in our hearts that will never be fulfilled until we return home again, to be with Christ.
You know, there are degrees of being "home." I remember when I visited Mexico on a missions trip to help a missionary build a new church and to witness to folks in Guadalajara, Mexico. After two weeks trudging through the crowded, dusty streets there, I was sore, tired and sick for home. I remember when that bus drove past the gate at Customs, it felt like I was coming home. I was. I was home. But I wasn't fully there yet.
And then, on the airplane coming in to Albuquerque, New Mexico, as the plan began to descend for its final approach to the airport, I felt an easing of tension, not only in me, but in almost everybody else on the airplane that day. We were coming home. It was time to relax.
And then, after getting on the church van to thread our way down the familiar city streets, I once again saw the comfortable familiar places I recognized and which had become a part of the fabric of my life. I was even more home than before.
And, before long, I was lugging my suitcase through the door to the smell of a good home-cooked meal on the stove, the dogs leaping for joy at my appearance, my dad yelling, "Hey son!" My mom wiping her hands on a towel, hugging me and asking me if I was hungry. I was even more home than before.
And, finally, after telling my stories, putting away my luggage, and brushing my teeth, I lay down on my bed, closed my eyes, and sighed: home. I was finally home.
And this is heaven.
If you have a good home, then you may be catching a glimpse of what I'm talking about here. If you've had a bad day at the office, where do you want to go to rest? Home. After a good day at the office, where do you want to go to share the news? Home. After a football game where the winning team took the trophy, where do you want to go for post-game recaps? Home. Especially if there's pie! When you meet the man or woman of your dreams, what do you want to do? Marry him or her and build a home together!
At the end of the day, just as at the end of life, there is always home to go to, and God is personally preparing a special home, with all the attention to detail that God can bring to the task, and he's preparing them for you, and for me.
But there's more, there's something beyond even this. Say we accept that Heaven is real because we know Christ rose from the dead and is preparing a home for us, is that all there is? Suppose you had a horrible family life growing up, and you never really enjoyed being at home. Maybe you spent every waking moment plotting ways to get away from home? The promise of Heaven's reward being more like home than your Earthly home may not hold much in store for you. How about this? Heaven promises joy, comfort, and love like none you've ever known before.
Jay Adams tells the story of a guy who was a terrible worrier. His reputation preceded him for the burden of worries he carried every day. He walked around with his head bowed, his brow furrowed, his feet shuffling. He was joyless and everybody pitied him. One day Bill saw his worrying friend bouncing along as happy as a man could be, whistling and humming and wearing a huge smile; he looked as if he did not have a care in the world. Bill could hardly believe his eyes, so he had to find out what had happened.
"Joe, what's happened to you?" he asked. "You don't seem worried any more."
Jesus told his disciples:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me." And "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am."
This passage reminds me of something Paul wrote in Philippians 4:4-9
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Focus for a moment on the words Paul uses: "Rejoice! Rejoice! … The lord is near." Then remember the words Jesus used: "Do not let your hearts be troubled … I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am."
Have you ever had a friend, a loved one, or a family member who was just good to be around? Think of the kinds of people you know who are a joy. These are the people who, when you are around them, make you a better person. Maybe it's their perspective on life that gives you comfort, or helps you see life in a different light. Maybe it's their inner peace that somehow also brings you comfort when you are troubled. Maybe it's their sense of fun, their ability to find something humorous in almost any context. Maybe it's their integrity and devotion to God, and their example is inspiring to you, and the more you're around them, the more you want to be near them.
Now, imagine, if there's anybody even remotely like that in your life, and that person is a sinful fallen creature like you or me, imagine what kind of a person Jesus is! Jesus is God's love in the flesh. Every disciple who met Jesus, the moment he met him, dropped what he was doing, changed his career, changed his professions, left his home town, and followed him for the rest of his lives. Even the Apostle Paul, who hated Jesus and everything he stood for, who persecuted and caused the deaths of many believers, the moment he came face to face with Christ, could do nothing but follow him, and long to be with him in heaven.
Just as heaven is more like home than any home we've ever known, Jesus is more like a friend than any friend we've ever known. Paul says that in the Lord's presence there is no need to worry, or be anxious. Jesus promises the same thing. In his presence there are no worries. No anxieties. No troubles.
In Christ's transfigured, resurrected, eternal presence is joy never-ending. There will be no sorrow. There will be no tears. There will be no anxiety.
The difficulty is, now, when we are still muddling through this vale of tears, how do we realize that joy? Well, that's why Christ promised to send the Holy Spirit to live within us as Counselor and Comforter. Christ said:
"But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you."
Until we stand side-by-side and face-to-face with Christ, and he comes into our new homes to eat with us, we have the Comforter who, as Paul says in Romans 8:26, "helps us in our weakness [and] intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express."
So, Heaven is real, and it's more like home than any I'll ever know, and when I arrive, there'll no sorrow but only joy and growing in fellowship with Christ and other believers. But how do I get there?
It's not possible, really. You can forget about it. The truth is, heaven is closed to sinners like you and me.
God's holiness is toxic to sin. It is impossible to stand in God's presence and survive if there is even a hint of sin within you. Nobody has ever seen the face of God and lived. Even Moses, who asked to see God's face, could not be exposed to more than just the back of God and even that reflection of God's glory had to be veiled from the people for its radiance. (Exodus 33, 34).
The sad truth is, we were created for heaven. We were created for fellowship with God. But once sin entered creation at our invitation, we and all of creation have become targets of God's wrath. At some point, some day, God will open the doors of heaven and his wrath against sin will come pouring out, and everything will be burned up in the presence of his holiness. It's inescapable. All have sinned, and everything in creation is tainted. And there's no way our sinful lives would survive exposure to God's perfect holiness, his perfect justice and his perfect wrath.
But, here's the good news. Here's the really good news. While it's impossible for a man to enter heaven on his own merit, we can gain entrance through the one relationship that makes it possible. Through friendship with Jesus.
"You know the way to the place where I am going." And, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
Without Christ, we truly are doomed. But with Christ there's the promise of life, joy, happiness, an eternal home, and all the good things that come with it. There's much much more that Christ said about the after life, and much more throughout the rest of the testimony of Scripture, but none of it matters at all without Christ as your friend, your Lord, and the Master of your life.
You remember I said there are two ways to know truth? One is to have firsthand experience, and another is to trust, or have faith? In Christ, both avenues of knowing truth are combined, and both are necessary to enjoy this Heaven.
You cannot just know the truth of Christ. As Jesus' brother, James, reminds us (James 2:19), the devils believe. They tremble in their belief, for they know the power and reign and holiness and the wrath of God against evil. When demons recognized Christ, they shouted, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!" (Mark 5:7, Luke 8:28)
No, belief in Christ the objective way to heaven is a start, but it's not enough. Christ also said he's the way. If you're going to drive to Springfield and you go to Mapquest or your trusty Rand McNally atlas and get directions on the way to get there, what good does it do you? You know the directions are reliable. I looked up my home address on Mapquest and, sure enough, there's a little X right where my house is supposed to be on the map. So, objectively, I know the truth of Mapquest, the truth of Rand McNally. I know they will get mere where I want to go. But unless I put my foot to the road. Unless I point my car in the right direction and press the pedal to the floor, I… will … never … arrive.
You must submit to Christ's direction as the way, and that means obedience. You must assent to the Christ's reality as the truth, and your life must demonstrate your assent. Then, and only then can you experience the fullness of Christ as life.
"If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love." (John 15:10)
But here's the promise for here and now … when you believe and follow Christ, you enter into that life now. You don't have to wait for heaven to enjoy life. You don't have to wait for heaven to have your sorrows comforted. That begins now. But the access is only through Christ. There's no other way.
I stand here in weakness knowing that I cannot adequately communicate the glory and joys of heaven. I know this because it's hard for me to fathom it myself, much less communicate it. But if there's anything I beg you not to ignore today it's this. Listen: If heaven is not your hope … if heaven seems dull and uninteresting compared to the life you have now …. If the home and joy Christ has for you in eternity seem weak and lifeless then know this: Your experience of Christ is too shallow. You have not yet truly met Christ.
You must know Christ in his fullness. You must turn your attention to him for it's only in knowing and following Christ that you shall enjoy not only eternal life, but this life, here, and now.
Dear Father. If there are any here today who have not made a decision to trust in and follow Christ, I beg you to pierce their hearts, and bring them to repentance soon. Break our hearts father, for the sacrifices you made in giving up your son to die for our sins so that we could be restored to heaven with you. Help us keep our eyes always focused on Jesus, help us see the realities of heaven become more substantial even as the temporary things of this Earth begin to fade away. Help us be more heavenly minded, Father, so that we can be the evidence of the Good News of your Kingdom on Earth. Amen.
Online Resources for Further Research
The Mystery of Persons and Belief in God
This article lays out a good argument for the use of cumulated reasons to build a rationale for belief. In the same way that even a legal case does not require proofs to be absolute, perhaps certain theological cases can be made without resorting to unreasonable standards of proof. Here are some important points:
Stephen Hawking, The Big Bang, and God
Dr. "Fritz" Schaefer is the Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry and the director of the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry at the University of Georgia. He has been nominated for the Nobel Prize and was recently cited as the third most quoted chemist in the world.
The Teleological Argument and the Anthropic Principle
This is a good article outlining on of the major arguments for an intelligent Creator causing the Universe to exist.
Twenty Arguments For The Existence Of God
This is an excellent survey of 20 basic arguments.
This article presents a basic framework for defending the Christian faith.
The Case for Life After Death
Argument From Desire
Evidence for the Resurrection
Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ
The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus