During our earthly existence, we live between the concepts of Heaven and Hell. I once heard it said that this life is as close to Heaven as a non-believer will ever get and that it’s as close as a believer will ever get to Hell. I suppose that’s true. Nevertheless, I’ve observed that some days seem to be heavenly while others are like going through Hell itself.
One of our problems in all of this is perspective. While we have certain images floating around in our tiny brains about what Heaven and Hell are like, we really don’t know much about either. The Bible gives us little hints here and there, but there is no definitive description of the hereafter. Much of what it says on these subjects can be viewed as parabolic or analogous—mere indications as to the nature of these states of being.
Tossed Onto the Heap
Jesus compared Hell to the Valley of Ben Hinnom (or Gehenna). This was a place just outside of Jerusalem where garbage was thrown. Like all dumps, it had occasion to burst into flame through internal combustion. The idea of being set out to the curb with the morning trash is, at the very least, an unpleasant thought. We tend to think of our lives as being worth far more than that. If we throw them (our lives) away in non-belief, we are consigning ourselves to a rubbish heap existence. I’ve spent enough time setting out the refuse to know I don’t want to do that for eternity. The stench alone is worthy of the term, Hell.
Then there’s Heaven. The closest ideas we get of eternal glory are the fleeting descriptions and references to the Garden of Eden and the fascinating portrayal of the New Jerusalem coming down from the sky to the New Earth (Revelation 21). Interestingly enough, there is no mention of people floating around on clouds playing harps.
The best, and probably most informative, depiction of Heaven is not so much about the place of Heaven but more about the mindset of Heaven (Revelation 21:3-5). In it, John is told that God is remaking everything and that the new dwelling place will be a sanctuary from things like death, tears, mourning, and pain. The actual thing that makes it heavenly is that God will be living there with his people—undoubtedly in a way that he isn’t present with us now.
Whatever descriptions and ideas we have derived from all that (whether mythical or real), two things are for certain. Hell is an existence I’m more than willing to forego, and Heaven is my desired preference after a life of uncertainty here on earth. It sounds like a no-brainer to me.
The real question then becomes, “How do we get there?” Some folks think it’s from living a life of goodness—that we can earn it. To the contrary, the Bible says we are chosen. One thing seems certain. Jesus is the key. Our best bet is to answer his call.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]