The concepts of Heaven and Hell have always been difficult to
precisely identify. None of us have ever been in either place.
Such explorations have generally resulted in a multitude of
speculations that different authors had personal ideas
about. Opinions, but few facts. Virtually always, with minimal
actual information to go on, such authors' conclusions have always
been almost entirely personal bias and speculation.|
The Bible, and the New Testament specifically, regularly makes it clear that we should not lust for wealth. Yet, the popular images of Heaven all include signs of disgusting material wealth. This seems incongruous. The Bible refers to Hell generally in indirect terms. References always indicate how unpleasant it would be to be in Hell, and often specify some particular behavior or thought that could cause a Soul to go to Hell. The Bible mentions Hell 56 times (KJAV). Other than vague descriptions of being an extremely unpleasant place and that anyone in Hell is trapped there forever, the Bible is actually silent on conditions in Hell. No fires or furnaces are generally mentioned. The New Testament mentions the phrase "hell fire" three times (Matt. 5:22; 18:9; Mark 9:47) but those references are presented more in the sense of punishment for improper behavior than in any specific representation of fires actually raging there. There are a total of four other Scriptural references to Hell where fire is involved (Deut 32:22; Mark 9:45; James 3:6; Rev. 20:14). The first three of these seem to suggest a bad consequence or threat rather than a real presence of fire. The fourth, as mentioned above, is in the extensive imagery of Revelation.
We shall examine the various references to aspects of the environment in Heaven that the Bible presents. As a result of that analysis, we intend to show the possibility of Heaven and Hell not necessarily being physically remote from one another. There is even evidence that the two are within view of each other. But there remains an EXTREMELY important difference in the two places.
We propose to show that there is GREAT value in working at being a GOOD person while still a mortal on Earth. It is not always necessary to succeed at that, but fairly continuously TRYING is very important. By repetitively acting "good" and "Christian" a person develops a pattern of naturally thinking and acting that way. We hope to suggest that there is both value in this while a person is living, because of the effects of brightening the lives of those around you, but also, far more importantly, after death. We hope to show that the spirits of departed loved ones MUST retain memories of their worldly lives and friends and family and their capability for feeling joy.
In addition, the personality that someone developed while mortal will persist into the afterlife. Those who learned consistent Christian behavior patterns as a mortal, will permanently be in an environment where everyone else shares those wonderful traits. Imagine being able to immediately and completely trust every single person you ever come into contact with. No thievery, no vandalism, no deception, no need or place for anger, hatred, jealousy. Doesn't that sound like it would be Heaven? There are likely to even be additional wonderful aspects of existence there. Mortals who learned consistent lying, cheating, stealing, and deception, would go into an environment where everyone else shares THOSE traits. Each being there continually lusts for material possessions, power, fame, wealth. Of course, every single OTHER being there ALSO continuously lusts for the same things. Everyone would permanently be in paranoia, knowing that everyone else intends to steal everything from him, and knowing that it will never be possible to even slightly trust ANYONE until Eternity. Do you realize the incredible unhappiness and permanent frustration that every being in that environment would always feel? Doesn't that sound like it would be Hell?
The two environments would not depend at all on gold streets or giant jewels everywhere or huge furnaces. In both cases, the environment would be a direct result of how well a person had learned Christian behaviors and thoughts while still on Earth. In principle, whatever kind of person one had developed into as a mortal, that's the kind of beings that every fellow resident would be in the afterlife. In the case of a truly evil person, that person would certainly be in an environment that would be the very definition of Hell in the afterlife. In the case of a truly saintly person, that person would certainly go to an environment that represented the very essence of what we imagine as Heaven. People that lived lives that were between these extremes would certainly arrive in Heaven (as long as Jesus was accepted as Savior), but per John 14:2 God has prepared MANY mansions for us in Heaven. This seems to imply that a variety of environments and populations exist in Heaven. This assures all Christians that ONE of those mansions will be ideally suited for each of us!
For those who achieved strong Christian Walks while mortal, that mansion must certainly be very near Jesus Himself. Now, it seems unlikely that God would have created a Heaven where Christians never did anything. They would experience a lot of boredom during such an existence that remained for thousands of years. Rather, it seems obvious that He would have had available extremely fulfilling Work. That might involve activity as Angels or other activities that He might wish. Imagine the opportunity to assist God in His work and the opportunity to be a sort of Guardian Angel for those still on Earth! Doesn't that sound like WONDERFUL goals worth striving for? Whatever your personal idea of what Heaven must be like, that's got to be close! Best of all, all of these benefits are available to EVERYONE, rich and poor, famous and unknown, powerful and meek. And, from some things Jesus told us in the Bible, the poor, unknown and meek are probably more likely to receive God's smile in these matters!
I think that it is interesting to note that traditional Christianity doesn't often discuss the environment in Heaven very much. Sometimes, a Minister might make reference to "streets of gold" because of a reference in Revelation (Rev. 21:21) that is certainly imagery. Such an ACTUAL environment would be incompatible with the Christian Lord because Christians are consistently taught NOT to overly covet riches and wealth. (A street of gold would NOT have any practical advantages either! It would be slippery and hard!)
Other than in Revelation, nearly all Biblical references to Heaven involve happiness, peace, bliss, etc, without much comment on how these experiences are created. We will explore this later. It represents a very important consideration.
In addition to these matters, our lives on Earth occasionally include experiences that are not easily explained. Neither science nor traditional religion can solidly explain an assortment of phenomena that have happened FAR too many times to just be ignored. But, because they each have no explanation for such things, those phenomena are generally ignored. Such subjects include such ESP experiences as precognition (knowing something was going to happen before it actually does), clairvoyance (knowing something happening or someone else's thoughts at a distance), and other para-normal experiences, such as ghosts and apparent knowledge of details of the life of a person long dead (often [incorrectly] referred to as reincarnation).
None of these exotic phenomena has been absolutely confirmed by scientific investigation, but the fact that SO many people have had such experiences suggests that the phenomena might be real. If so, the following discussion provides a VERY logical explanation on how such experiences might occur. It ALSO makes clear why such phenomena cannot ever be consistently demonstrated in a laboratory, to a high level of scientific proof. In addition, it will also become clear why such phenomena and also PRAYER, are not ALWAYS fulfilled.
There are an assortment of OTHER unusual human experiences that heretofore have also been inexplicable, but which might have potential explanations within the context of this premise.
The Concept of Heaven
Nearly every religion of our world's cultures has some concept of Heaven. Sometimes, it is not called Heaven, but the environment described generally certainly resembles what most of us think of as Heaven. Even Eastern religions that don't specifically recognize a single God, have an environment to aspire to, such as Nirvana or transmigration of souls to a higher caste in a future life. I believe that the following (Judaeo-Christian) discussion has application to those religions as well.
We will continue the discussion of Heaven within the perspective of a Christian understanding. As just suggested, the conclusions we will arrive at should be very similar to the conclusions that would have been arrived at within any of the world's other major religions. Therefore, I believe these general comments apply to the Heaven of each of them.
Most of the Biblical references don't describe features of Heaven so much as the aspects of Heaven which are most spiritually important to people who aspire to getting there some day. For example, Psalms 16:11; 1 Peter 1:4; 5:10, 1 John 3:2 (and others) refer to the joy and pleasures forevermore available to residents there. Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 12:4; Rev 2:7 refer to Heaven as "paradise." These Scriptures make no reference as to how that joy and those pleasures will come about, or even specifically what types of pleasures they might be. These numerous indirect (and sometimes vague) references can still be quite helpful to us in developing an idea on just what Heaven must be like.
We can get some understanding by finding patterns in the Biblical references to Heaven. Details as to the environment there are unnecessary, such as whether the streets really ARE paved with gold or if everything is encrusted with jewels. We will see that it is possible to get a good general idea of the environment without worrying about these sorts of superficial details.
Once a person dies, there would appear to be only two possibilities about a person's persistent existence in Heaven, as a Soul. This essence of a person either vanishes at the physical death of the person, or it endures. If the first situation is true, then all of the world's organized religions are wrong, and the world is truly a cold, dark place! It cannot be proven that this situation is not true, but we will proceed based on the assumption that an enduring human Soul persists after physical death.
Now, there again appear to be only two possibilities. Either that Soul/person is in an environment where a physical reality seems to exist or in an environment where NO physical sense of reality exists. In this latter case, only Spiritual (and possibly intellectual) essences exist. A number of Biblical references to Heaven clearly imply that sensations of actual physical experience exist there.
Philippians 3:20 describes how we should (here on Earth) live and conduct ourselves as citizens of Heaven. That seems to imply some sort of social interaction exists between residents in Heaven. John says in Revelation 7:9 that he saw people in Heaven, and in Revelation 19:6 that he heard their voices. Luke 22:30 tells us that residents are invited to eat and drink at God's table. Matthew 8:11 describes sitting with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. John 14:2 refers to the many mansions of Heaven and that a specific place would be prepared for each believer.
These references appear to indicate that Heaven is an environment where a sense of physical reality exists. These considerations then bring up a next area to consider. What is the relationship between a person's existence as a mortal and that same person's later existence as a Soul in Heaven?
The Residents of Heaven
There are two succeeding questions to consider at this point, regarding the relationship between a person's mortal existence and his/her later existence as a Soul. The first of these is whether a dying person carries over his/her memory and general personality at the transition from living mortal to eternal Soul.
Our conclusion is that it seems that the memory-persistent, personality-persistent, (positive) feeling environment is the most likely environment in Heaven. Let's explore this further.
Keeping in mind that the place is called "Heaven", doesn't it figure that each resident's environment there would be tailor-made (actually God-made) for inspiring happiness and bliss in that specific person? With God's limitless capabilities, He could easily do this. John 14:2 refers to the many mansions of Heaven and that a specific place would be prepared for each believer. Doesn't this seem clear in describing that God has arranged a personal Heaven for each resident? In addition, doesn't this seem to imply something resembling a physical manifestation of an actual place?
Nearly everyone agrees that residents of Heaven do not have the sort of physical bodies we have on Earth. But the references cited above and many others suggest an existence that certainly offers the sensations resembling our Earthly existence. The Philippians reference above seems to imply some sort of social interaction between residents. John says in Revelation 7:9 that he saw people, and in Revelation 19:6 that he heard their voices. Luke 22:30 tells us that residents are invited to eat and drink at God's table. Matthew 8:11 describes sitting with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Obviously, there are a lot of uncertainties here. Without the sensation of some sort of physical bodies, why would one need to eat and drink at God's table? Perhaps for social reasons, and almost certainly, for reasons far beyond our capability for understanding. The Bible even alludes to this sort of apparent logical implication which are beyond our intellect in Luke 20:28-38, and assures us that there will actually BE no such complications or confusion in our minds, once we fully understand God's plan. 1 John 3:2 explains that we humans (as humans) will not know the details of existence in Heaven. (That rather denies some of the hope for value in this present article!)
Now, THIS sounds like Heaven!Dining at God's table. Meeting and socializing with long departed friends and relatives. Interacting with innumerable strangers, all of who treat you with utmost respect, consideration and love.
I suspect that He had even greater reason for wanting us to learn these proper behaviors and thoughts. God wanted to prepare us to be become part of the community of Heaven, to become citizens there! Hebrews 11:14,16 even describes that He prepared for them a "city" in Heaven.
Think of this another way. A brief analogy: The Queen of England is about to host a party. She's considering putting YOU on the guest list! Doesn't it seem likely that she would have someone check out your background to try to determine your likely behavior? And if that research suggested that you might come up to her, belch, and say "Hey, Queenie, how's tricks?" or to swear in her presence, that she would either have you sent to an "emergency finishing school" or otherwise just scratch you off the guest list? Many behaviors are just not tolerated in the presence of the Queen of England. Compare this example regarding an important but insignificant (human) monarch to the situation of being in the presence of God and Jesus. What kind of behavior, language and thoughts would be appropriate there? And considering that they already KNOW what's in your heart, do you think they would invite unrefined, selfish, crude, boorish, vile, unethical, or immoral people to join their Perpetual Celebration? It seems pretty unlikely!
This analogy helps emphasize an additional reason why the presence of the Holy Spirit is so important to us on Earth. The Spirit is here to train us to treat each other properly as humans, sure. But, far more importantly, the Spirit is also here to help train, educate and "finish" each of us so we learn the behaviors appropriate for someday being in the presence of God Himself. Not to learn to act in a certain way because of potential threats or rewards, but to do so because the Spirit has helped us to learn to act that way "naturally," even in the continuous presence (on Earth) of our inborn sinful nature.
This argument helps explain why the follow-up portion of the Salvation process, Sanctification (or training by the Holy Spirit), is as important as the first part of Salvation, Justification, where each Christian requests Jesus to be his or her personal Savior. A Christian is expected to continue sanctifying, or refining his/her Christian actions, behaviors and beliefs throughout life, such that, when physical death arrives, a solid Christian existence is in place.
Conclusion Regarding the Environment of Heaven
Heaven is likely to be an environment where each resident somehow can and regularly does visit and interact directly with God and Jesus. The residents regularly do good things for each other, which are always appreciated and enjoyed. Such actions have double blessings. The recipient of such considerate actions certainly is blessed by the thoughtfulness of the giver. But the giver, too, is blessed, by being able to do nice things for someone who will actually appreciate them!
Residents of Heaven sometimes see friends and relatives from their Earthly existence, and experience great joy in such visits. No bad things ever happen to anyone. Everyone spends much of their time worshipping God, but also has time available to experience other pleasures of existence, such as peace, pleasure, bliss and happiness in all activities.
Just what might all of these residents of Heaven do in their remaining time? Enjoying everything, for sure. But there seems like there must be more as well. I don't know if the concept of boredom could have any meaning in Heaven. However, think about when you went on a vacation to the most wonderful spot on Earth. The first hours were beyond words. The first week, it was exquisite. But, what if you stayed there for a month, or a year, or 50 years? Would that incredible intensity of experience still remain? I think not. There are some people who live in tropical climates on Earth who long to see an occasional snowfall!
Now consider spending the next hundred thousand years with Jesus Himself. And your existence would not be in doing anything other than Adoring Him. Do you see a possibility of a similar circumstance? I know you wouldn't actually get bored with Jesus, but the Heavenly aspects of your interactions with Him would seem likely wear off.
God knows this, because He knows what is in everyone's hearts. There is no doubt in my mind that He would provide for this situation. How would he do that? I believe that our Loving God would provide each of the residents of Heaven interesting and fulfilling things to do. I believe this gets to the core of the meaning of Heaven. Yes, the perfect environment would be great. But, as a mortal person, you must know the joy of doing something nice for a child or a stranger or anyone else! It is sometimes an exquisite feeling! A couple years ago, while I was pumping gas at a gas station, I noticed an elderly woman pumping gas at a car nearby, who was unusually elegant in the way she was dressed. I made a brief compliment to her. I still remember the giant smile she had for the following minutes! Just watching her reaction absolutely made my day!
Imagine being able to do such nice things for others on a regular basis! And having such nice things done for you as well! As a result, you would certainly never be bored, and you would always be brimming over with happiness! I believe that this sort of regular activity is central to the concept of Heaven. Not so much the presence of gold and jewels, but of PEOPLE who were "gold and jewels!" Each resident in Heaven would likely have a daily routine that involved activities that he/she enjoyed on Earth, and in addition, these wonderful feelings of interacting with worthy other residents.
Let's say that while you are a mortal, you enjoy making and painting ceramics and pottery. I am certain that the "mansion" that John 14:2 says will be prepared for you will have a potter's wheel and a kiln! As you complete your pieces, you will then just give them away to people you know will appreciate them and appreciate your generosity! This general idea would apply to every single resident in Heaven, because each mortal person has some special talents, skills or characteristics that are "special." In Heaven, that person's Soul would be able to share that special feature with many others! It seems to me that such an existence would be the very definition of Heaven by anyone's standards!
Then, there's the possibility of even more! Being nice and generous and compassionate and thoughtful to the other residents of Heaven would be great in itself. But how about if God asked for your assistance? All of Heaven's residents would certainly jump at the chance of fulfilling the slightest request of God or Jesus! This seems to me to be an even enhanced concept of what Heaven is like. Not only is it an environment of peace, happiness, bliss and joy, with beauty everywhere, but each resident would (occasionally?) have the opportunity of personally helping Jesus or God Himself!
Since Heaven contains a "host" of residents, there are plenty of residents available to do God's calling. This would seem to be an excellent pool of resources for God to use to assist in doing His work. I submit that we could reasonably consider calling those Heavenly residents who assist in the Lord's work, Angels. Hebrews 12:22 refers to an innumerable company of angels in Heaven and Luke 20:36 implies that all residents of Heaven are Angels.
Let's reflect on this for a moment. God designed His Universe. God is extremely intelligent. He designed the Universe such that there were eventually likely to be many residents in Heaven. Doesn't it seem likely that He would have some purpose in that? That He wouldn't just set Heaven's residents "out-to-pasture" in an unfulfilling existence? That He understands the joy we can experience when we do something good for someone else? That He planned Heaven to be a, well, Heavenly, place to exist, for all of its residents? Somewhere that happiness would exist everywhere, even as a result of labors performed? Rather than arranging all of Heaven's residents to be inactive "consumers" of the situation, He provided that all could feel the fulfillment of being productive assistants in His work!
It is probably necessary here to address the question on whether all residents of Heaven are automatically Angels. The Bible has numerous references to Angels, but there is always great vagueness regarding their characteristics. As mentioned above, Hebrews 12:22 mentions an innumerable company of Angels. There are implied references that they come from Heaven, but there is no Scripture that indicates any possible relationship between the Angels in Heaven and the souls of departed mortals that are also there. I am conjecturing that at least SOME of those souls are chosen by God or Jesus to assist in doing Their work. This is an important point that will be expanded later.
Continuing on this logical strand, what would such a huge number of angels be needed for? Or, from a different perspective, how would God have provided enough to do to occupy and fulfill all of them, so that they could each experience the breadth of the joys of Heaven? I suggest that maybe only a few, maybe most or maybe all of the residents of Heaven are called on by the Lord to have some function as Angels.
If you think about how messed up our Earthly world is, there's clearly a lot of work that needs to be done down here, to counter-act the efforts of Original Sin and the devil and his legions. Maybe these many Angels assist somehow in the individual guidance and training of the many millions of mortal Christians and seekers under the guidance of the Holy Spirit? After all, as we discussed earlier, God probably arranged for the persistence of memory from Earthly life. (We must remember that He certainly has good reason for all He does). Maybe this is so that each Angel still personally remembers the numerous struggles experienced while still a mortal. That way, an Angel might feel extra compassion and connection while helping the Holy Spirit teach and aid some specific mortal in like circumstances. This extra closeness could assist in the effectiveness of the lessons of the Holy Spirit.
Angelic activity might also extend to having millions of ears listening for the quiet prayer of a young child somewhere. Or toward somehow helping achieve remission from some deadly illness, in response to a prayer. Or in helping allow the remarkable things we all occasionally experience that we attribute to remarkable strokes of luck. It may not be luck, after all. Your good fortune might be the result of the action of some Angel that happened to be looking over you.
It is appropriate to mention the concept of Guardian Angel. The Bible never refers to such a presence. The experiences of many individuals in many societies have engendered this concept. A large number of people truly believe in the existence of a so-called Guardian Angel. This present premise offers a possible explanation for such a phenomenon, within the context of accepted Christian belief. Recent Angelic arrivals in Heaven probably even personally know a few individuals still on Earth who could benefit from an additional focus by the Holy Spirit. This category includes ALL of us! It might be that this is the origination of the (generally Biblically unsupported) concept of Guardian Angel that many cultures believe. The bond between grieving families and friends and their dear departed ones might be closer than we think!
God certainly has some specific jobs for new Angels to do, but they might also have some other time where they could choose to watch over favorite (still living) nephews, nieces, and other relatives and friends. If this is true, there might be some reason to find special comfort while grieving for a lost relative or friend. They may actually still be with you, in a manner of speaking. Accepting this perspective might help people get over the intense loss felt after the death of a loved one.
The Meaning of Life
The results described so far are really exciting. As in all Christianity, by following Jesus, by being saved, a person is assured of a future existence in Heaven, the most wonderful place imaginable. Of course, all modern Churches also encourage us to try to consistently live a Christian life-style, continually putting forth effort to learn to think and behave the way Jesus demonstrated for us, and applying those teachings in our interactions with others. But the effect of this guidance seems often to get lost in the hectic pace of life in the modern world. After all, a Christian has already been guaranteed admittance to Heaven, and the good or bad effects of his actual behavior only would seem to affect the other people he interacts with, right? WRONG!!
The implications of the previous parts of this presentation suggest that it would be prudent that we all put forth more effort into this pursuit. Rather than considering religion to be a once-a-week, brief activity, we should realize that it should be central to our existence and clearly carry our faith with us every minute of every day. In this way, we hopefully develop a strong, consistent Christian nature. That in itself seems like a worthy goal to strive for. But, in addition to that, IF we have learned proper Christian thought and behavior appropriately enough, we will have the chance to regularly apply those thoughts and behaviors for the benefit of the other residents of Heaven. In addition, the Lord might someday (in Heaven) call upon us to assist in doing His work! What an incredible opportunity to aspire to! Clearly worth working toward!
This is great in itself, but consider the even broader implications of all this for a moment. EVERY single one of us puny little mortals can DO this! We can spend our lives in developing and refining our Christianity, in order to develop and practice desirable Christian behavior patterns. (This does NOT mean that we all have to become Monks. A normal life with a Christian consciousness can be just as appropriate as a Monk's life) As a reasonably likely result of this consistent effort, we would be, not only in Heaven (as generally understood), but having an eternal existence aiding the Lord in His works!
Doesn't this pretty much define "the Meaning of Life" in the best possible sense for each of us? Isn't it crystal clear that there is astounding value in learning and demonstrating the lessons the Bible teaches us? That the distinction between good and evil is much more clear and obvious than it often seems in modern, hectic life? That we are responsible for learning to identify and respond appropriately to each? Don't the Ten Commandments seem more valuable and more clearly applicable in modern life now?
Frustrated people sometimes ask themselves "Why am I here? Why was I born? What POSSIBLE value do I have? Do I have ANY importance whatever?" If they have a darker perspective, they are convinced they have NO intrinsic importance and no value and no reason to have lived. The implications of the foregoing presentation are clear. YES! Every single one of us has the capability of being VERY IMPORTANT. Every one of us can choose to aspire to be an assistant to God, whether our Earthly existence was as a corporate executive or as a struggling single mother in the ghetto. What an exciting idea! YOU can feel hope and value in your life, no matter what circumstances might hold you down right now! By learning proper behavior and thoughts, ANY person can realistically become a dearly valued assistant to God Himself. FOREVER!! I hope you realize that such a position is FAR more significant than a mortal position as being, for example, the Chairman of Microsoft.
From some of the reasoning of the previous sections, it might turn out to be actually additionally valuable for Heaven's residents to have dealt with considerable adversity while still human. If a resident was chosen as an Angel to help or watch over some struggling mortal, there would be great value if the Angel could personally relate to and understand the distress of the mortal being helped. A Heavenly resident whose mortal life was that of wealth and plenty, where experiences were generally of having rather than needing, may not need to be called on as often to watch over mortals, since the appropriate "people skills" might be less developed. 1 Peter 3:4, Matthew 5:5, and Psalms 37:11 may be referring to this situation where God finds potentially greater value in those with meekness. He may actually find more benefit and usefulness in those who were the meek and the poor and the downtrodden. Interesting, isn't it!
With the benefit from this new perspective, it might even become a little easier for us to deal with the adversity that sometimes affects all of our lives. When bad things happen to us, they may not (only) be the devil attempting to have his way. They may not be God "punishing" us, as some people believe. They may not be "tests" to challenge our Faith. Instead, such situations may be learning opportunities for us. God knows how much we need to learn, and He also knows that sometimes we're pretty slow learners.
If you think back, you may realize that some of the greatest insights you have achieved about yourself or the world around you have come during or after some great adversity. A lost job, a failed personal relationship, a serious accident, or a financial setback, can sometimes cause productive introspection. In good times, we tend to not do such analyzing and we just "go with the flow." Maybe such incidents are necessary in our lives as learning opportunities.
Your Behavior Tomorrow
With all this in the back of your mind, would you still "stiff" a fast food cashier for the extra dollar they accidentally gave you? Prior to this, some of you might have felt glee in "getting ahead" by pocketing the unexpected "profit." Wouldn't you now almost certainly bring it to their attention? And you'd feel good about it! Even though your net worth was now $1 less? Wouldn't you also generally try to be more considerate of others? And you'd try to be more thoughtful, and patient, and tolerant? And if everyone else also understood the connection between their day to day actions and an ultimate opportunity of assisting the Lord, wouldn't everyone else be nicer to you as well. All this, while pursuing Christian values and behavior. Doesn't this seem like the sort of usage of the Bible's teachings that the Lord probably intended?
These benefits would come to you, without you having to invest a lot of your time or money or effort. After a while of acting this new way, it will soon feel so natural that there will be no effort involved at all. You will find that you have a much-improved outlook on life, on others around you, and on yourself. All the time, you will be preparing yourself to be most valuable an assistant to God that you can be!
In the modern world, too many Christians try to use the Bible to justify their actions in a specific situation (in a rigid legalistic manner), rather than as a guidebook for every aspect of their existence. This common approach sometime tends to encourage "selective Christianity" where an individual optionally chooses to sometimes follow Christian ways and to sometimes ignore them. This is very bad although it is not at all obvious as a problem. It represents rather corrupt behavior. The presentations here are meant to remind us that God always knows what is in our heart and is aware of every single thing we do and say. YOUR judgment on what is a "little" sin or a "big" sin may be quite different from reality. Usually, you actually KNOW the difference but try to pretend it doesn't count. Often, it may turn out that your motivation for doing something might be as important as what you do. A lie to a small child regarding the Easter Bunny is quite different from a lie to a business associate regarding a product flaw, even though the bigger one might be somehow "justified" as appearing similar.
Long-Term Consequences for Society
If, someday, enough of us really accepted this Biblically based understanding of Christianity, fewer people would cheat each other in personal relationships or in business or steal or vandalize or hurt or kill each other. Over time, the world could get to be a safer, nicer, friendlier place! Then, after a few generations of these "nicer" people ascending to Heaven, there would be even more loving, caring guiding Spirits to watch over those still on Earth! There could eventually get to be less fights and gunshots. "Trust" between people might re-develop! Maybe some day, there might even be less war! (Well, maybe!)
As you hear the weekly messages from Ministry in any of the Lord's Churches, keep these perspectives in mind. Occasionally, you may find additional insights will occur to you regarding the implications and consequences of living and applying the Pastor's words. And gradually, a softer (more Christian) approach will grow in your dealings with others, whether parents, children, friends, co-workers, competitors or strangers.
This could easily become a self-perpetuating activity. WONDERFUL! The more successfully you are able to follow a Christian life-style, the happier and the more fulfilled you are likely to feel, as a Christian, of course, but additionally with the realizations of the extra ULTIMATE benefits that may arise from it. Life now having more meaning and being more enjoyable (as a result of your efforts at pursuing Christianity, and as a result of a gentler, kinder outlook attitude toward the difficulties in life and those people that cause them), it becomes easier and easier to actively live the life of a Christian.
As a result, you will gradually realize that you feel better and better about yourself. The Holy Spirit's effect on you is growing! The Spirit has always been there, but you are now more receptive to It's Messages (Christianity calls this "illumination"). Consistently treating others in a Christian manner certainly helps you know that you're on the right track, even if the recipient doesn't acknowledge or appreciate your effort. Knowing that you are becoming more and more Christian is nice, too. Additionally, you will feel a little more comfortable because you have a better idea of the "Meaning of Life" and just where YOU fit in!
And, finally, knowing that the Lord will likely reward His finest students by requesting their regular help as future Angels in Heaven, adds to the incentive to make the attempt! Given the Lord's tolerance with our failings, it is clear that He doesn't expect all of us to get "A's" in everything, but just to continuously make the EFFORT to try!
This last insight can be quite valuable. Christians all KNOW that the Lord expects us to regularly mess up. Unfortunately, some Congregation members seem to conclude from this that His standards are low, and that not much of an effort at Christianity is required. This new insight makes it clear that this tolerance is NOT a carte blanche to lower our standards. Instead, we should take it as additional incentive to INCREASE our efforts and our standards and to pursue our individual Christianity even more fervently. Even if we realize that we do not personally have the spiritual discipline of a Saint Augustine, we can feel assured that the Lord's expectations for each of us are unique. He will welcome ALL Christians into Heaven. He just wants us to each be "The best that we can be!" Without comparing your Christianity with that of anyone else or with any standardized scale, but on a scale of your own.
If you are capable of more full Christian behavior, and then choose not to make the effort, He would not be pleased. If, instead, your life situation is presently disadvantaged, such that survival or other important worldly considerations mandate your life choices, He will take that into consideration in the evaluation of your efforts at Christianity. In such case, He would expect you to later demonstrate to Him that you are serious in your beliefs. His recognition that we are often very shortsighted in pursuing worldly goals is wonderful. Such Tolerance and Patience should NOT allow or encourage us to consistently pursue such worldly goals at the expense of our Christianity. He expects us to eventually come to our senses and get back on track. Once that is the case, our Loving Lord will not carry any ill will for our previous shortcomings.
The physical environment in Hell may be of minimal importance. Rather, the learned behaviors and attitudes of a corrupt mortal existence would forever haunt the residents there. For example, a businessperson who consistently cheated customers and others, just to achieve a monetary gain, would wind up in a place where money had no importance whatever. Yet, that person's Soul would only remember the developed skill of cheating people to get "ahead". This would be incredibly frustrating for this person in Hell. He would and could never succeed at "profiting" from his deceit and duplicity. He would spend his eternity in continuing to forever trying to cheat other residents of Hell, while never once succeeding. In addition, since all of the other residents of Hell would have similar learned behavior patterns, he would also continually feel that he was in a position of being cheated himself. For someone who valued money so highly as a mortal, the frustration of NEVER succeeding at cheating anyone in Hell and the paranoia of always having to worry about others there trying to cheat him, would seem to define unique Hell existences for each resident there.
Whether it was hot or cold, or physically comfortable or barren, would be of minimal importance. The continuous and permanent psychological turmoil of only knowing and being capable of bad behaviors would be the real Hell.
As we each are children, our parents and other mentors continually try to teach us proper behavior patterns and socially acceptable thinking. Different parents have varying success at this endeavor. When children ask why the parents are so hard on such matters, the parents often just say it's part of their "job" as a parent.
Those parents might not fully know just WHY they are supposed to teach such things. Everyone does it, so it must be right. I'm sure that many realize that many of those lessons will be important in their children's later lives. After all, they were children once, and they now realize why THEIR parents insisted on teaching them certain things. Making sure the kids are socially compatible with the world they will eventually have to live in. It all has to do with being good parents, right?
Well, yes. But, there's even more. As presented in this essay, there are consequences of learning to live a righteous life that extend beyond the grave. Parents who are very strict about their rules, and who teach the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments, are preparing their children to not only be good adults. They are initiating the training they will need to be some day chosen as assistants to God and to Jesus. At that point, the joy and bliss experienced will be beyond imagination! Being continuously in the company of kind and thoughtful neighbors. Watching over individuals of mankind. Assisting God Himself. Giving of oneself. How could it ever get any better than that? What do they call the place again? Heaven? HEAVEN, for sure!
We refer again to Matthew 6:20, which recommends that we lay up for ourselves treasures in Heaven. We earlier pointed out how these treasures could not be material possessions. Is it obvious now just what these treasures might be? They are clearly the fully developed Christian characteristics that Jesus explained to us. Those wonderful treasures are actually the Christian traits that we are all supposed to be practicing and developing.
Comments on Some Loose Ends
These are almost universal attitudes. Unfortunately, they are slight distortions of what the Bible actually tells us. Yes, no one will be rich or poor, and there will be no social classes, as such. But the Bible clearly tells us that there is NOT absolute uniformity in Heaven.
Variations in Heaven
There are at least three distinct aspects of Heaven that are NOT absolutely homogeneous.
I think Acts 20:32 is particularly informative. " ... give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified." He didn't say saved (justified), he said sanctified. This gives great insight into the environment in Heaven. ALL who accept Jesus as their Personal Savior are guaranteed entry into Heaven. However, ONLY those who are sanctified (the follow-up process of practicing and refining and improving Christian behavior) participate in this additional inheritance treasure. Given the context of this essay, this implies that only Christians with well-developed Christianity will be granted the inheritance of being allowed to help the Lord do His works.
None of Heaven's residents would ever feel jealousy for another, no matter what possessions or environment they had, because that person ALSO was in an environment that represents Heaven for him/her.
When People Sometimes Die Apparently Before Their Time
Mankind has always been mystified and distressed when young and innocent die. Whether that death comes as a result of disease, accident or malicious intent of another human, it always seems terrible. Does this mean that that person's life was meaningless? Not at all! As a matter of fact, it just might be evidence of a special importance in their lives. Consider the assistance mentioned earlier that is given to the Holy Spirit in watching over the billions of mortals living on Earth. Remember that we have established that there is great likelihood of persistence of memory from the mortal existence that is carried over to the Heavenly presence. Now consider a frustrated or troubled four-year-old child on Earth. Would a Heavenly Spirit who lived to age 92, and who has now been chosen to assist the Holy Spirit, be a suitable source of spiritual support and guidance for that four-year-old? Possibly not! Wouldn't it seem much more beneficial if that source of spiritual strength and guidance came from a Heavenly being who still REMEMBERS being a child of that age? I think this might even be extended to extremely young babies. It is true that they have not developed verbal abilities. But, anyone that has been around babies knows that there are intangible communications that they are capable of. Obviously, this is sheer speculation, but if this extra premise is true, then there is great specific value to the Lord of every age and type of person, including babies. I would like to think that parents who have lost a small child might find some comfort in the belief that their child's life definitely had great meaning. The Lord NEEDS some young Souls for doing His important Work!
This understanding of Christianity's close and continuous relationship with each of our lives can help us understand quite a number of other social and psychological subjects as well. For example, the concept of having a "conscience" makes more sense now. The actions of the Lord, the Holy Spirit and the Angels do NOT directly cause us to have consciences, but their presence, and the implications of regularly doing wrong when you know what's right, causes most of us to apply a "conscience" to most of our thoughts and behavior. WE actually cause or create our own conscience, but we do it because we have (hopefully!) previously learned proper (Christian) behavior patterns and choose to follow those (Christian) teachings. By doing this, we enable the Holy Spirit (and It's assistants) to offer us each moral and spiritual guidance. An understanding of this is related to the subjects of this presentation.
Given our original sinful nature and our numerous mortal shortcomings, we can each greatly benefit from the behavior enhancement available (by learning better Christianity) to each of us through the personal presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. So, PAY ATTENTION and don't ignore It's guidance. Learn to think and behave in more and more Christian ways, as you allow the Spirit to better and better guide your life!
As Christians on Earth, we are encouraged to be loving, patient, tolerant, considerate, and to apply many other Christian teachings. Jesus demonstrated the Perfect way of living in this way. We flawed mortals struggle with such efforts. Our built-in Original Sin makes us tend to want to be selfish, arrogant, and intolerant of others. An important point we're making here is that developing a pattern of such thinking and behavior is what is important in developing and building one's Christianity. Such patterns will (hopefully) eventually become natural, where Christian behavior and thoughts just occur (most of the time! We still have our sinful nature!) This is different from a ruthless businessperson that donates a million dollars to charity as a Christian gesture but then goes back to non-Christian methods to prosper in business. But that's a different matter.
Why Aren't ALL My Prayers Answered?
A conclusion that could be made from the presentation above is that EVERY single one of each of our Prayers should be answered and fulfilled. This is obviously not the case. Why?
The answer to this must necessarily be speculation. Are there not enough Angels to be aware of your situation? The evidence stated above suggests that is not the case. There would seem to be large numbers of Angels in Heaven. Some of them even are personally aware of you and your life. Are those Angels too busy with more important work to pay attention to your situation? Almost certainly not. The Bible tells us that the tiniest Prayer of the smallest child is heard. OK. That implies that some Angel ALWAYS is aware of your personal adversities. Why, then, are Prayers sometimes not answered?
I look at it this way. Let's say EVERY Prayer ever made was answered. How long do you think it would be before we became spiritually lazy and spoiled and rotten and put NO effort into being a good person? I think that for this reason, only a limited number of Prayers are answered. Just how many or how it is determined just WHICH ones are to be answered, I have no clue. God works in mysterious ways, FAR beyond my capability to understand.
A few years ago, when OJ Simpson slaughtered his ex-wife Nicole, we all grieved and the loss of a young and relatively innocent life. However, did you ever realize the huge amount of publicity regarding wife-beating that occurred as a result? That subject would not have gotten so well known if it hadn't have been for her death. Afterwards, many women have had the confidence to come forward about abuse they personally experienced. Without Nicole's death, they probably wouldn't have. Is this the actual reason why God allowed her to be killed? How does her death compare to the many women whose lives are better as a result? These are tough questions that none of us can answer. I only mention it as a potential case where God might have seen greater value for society in her death than in answering Prayers she certainly made that night. I'm pointing out that we don't necessarily understand why some Prayers are answered and others are not, but that God knows what He is doing at all times.
Other Religious Belief Systems
We have presented this essay primarily from within a Christian perspective. However, as was mentioned earlier, an extremely parallel presentation could be made with the belief system of virtually ANY of the world's religions. As long as there is belief in the continuation of the human soul, and as long as the belief system lauds socially acceptable behavior, this is true. Some of the words and subjects will be slightly different, but the end result will still be that there is great and good importance to every single person on the Earth, and that no lives are meaningless.
Christ calls it his "Father's house" (John 14:2).
It is called "paradise" (Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 12:4; Rev. 2:7).
The heavenly Jerusalem" (Gal. 4: 26; Heb. 12:22; Rev. 3:12).
The "kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 25:1; James 2:5)
The "eternal kingdom" (2 Pet. 1:11)
The "eternal inheritance" (1 Pet. 1: 4; Heb. 9:15)
The "better country" (Heb. 11:14, 16)
The blessed are said to "sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," and to be "in Abraham's bosom" (Luke 16:22; Matt. 8:11); to "reign with Christ" (2 Tim. 2:12); and to enjoy "rest" (Heb. 4:10, 11)
In heaven the blessedness of the righteous consists in the possession of "life everlasting," "an eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. 4:17), an exemption from all sufferings for ever, a deliverance from all evils (2 Cor. 5:1, 2) and from the society of the wicked (2 Tim. 4:18), bliss without termination, the "fulness of joy" for ever (Luke 20:36; 2 Cor. 4:16, 18; 1 Pet. 1:4; 5:10; 1 John 3:2)
The believer's heaven is not only a state of everlasting blessedness, but also a "place", a place "prepared" for them (John 14:2)
Quotations from the Bible used in this essay are from the KJAV Bible.
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Pastor, A Christ Walk Church
Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago