It’s pretty interesting to see how incredibly diverse and self-contradictory these suppositions can be among the various Christian sects. The Internet, of course, gives ideas that otherwise might be almost invisible a worldwide forum, and it’s a curious thing to see that they are all purportedly drawn from the same holy text.
Now, I had my moments of Christian religiosity during all these years, but it was always within the Congregationalist church. Heaven and Hell didn’t get a lot of discussion, but it always seemed that there were a whole bunch of ways to get to the first and avoid going to the second. “Heaven” was a kind of vague concept, with the basic idea being that when you get there, it’s all good all the time. A real, honest-to-goodness eternal reward.
One of the things that got me thinking about this was a story I read once about a young man asking a wise man “who gets to go to heaven?” It started off with one person who was perfect and worthy, who would be miserable if his loved ones were suffering in hell, so they got to go, too, then how their misery at the suffering of their loved ones would also make heaven less perfect for him, so they got to go, too, until everyone was in heaven and nobody was in hell. It kind of made sense to me, and it seems to a lot of practicing Christians to be the same – but for them, it presents a dilemma.
You see, just because someone who’s guaranteed a spot in heaven loves you, you don’t get a free pass. And people who are absolutely certain that heaven exists and life is an entrance exam are just as convinced that there’s a hell, and anyone who doesn’t follow their doctrine is going there no matter what. Obviously this could cause a problem with the eternal bliss thing, but some folks have come up with the answer:
How can we enjoy heaven with loved ones in hell?
God’s Word foretells that the Lord will wipe away all tears and sorrow for Believers –that all the things of the past, sinful world will be removed in some way. We infer from this that all memories that are painful –such as knowledge that we have family and friends who are suffering eternal damnation because of their rejection of Salvation through God’s son, JesusChrist, will be totally erased in the Heavenly dimension.A primary Scripture for this Truth is the following:
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: forthe former things are passed away.” (Rev. 21: 4)
There ya go. You’ll just forget they ever existed. You won’t notice the huge gaps in your memory of life on earth (which you need to remember, because you’re called upon to give an accounting of it to god. . .) and you won’t even know hell exists. Or will you?
That quote came from Rapture Ready, a site dedicated to the idea that a chosen few will be bodily assumed into heaven and the rest of us will be brutally hacked up and mangled by none other than Jesus Christ hisself, followed by an eternity in agony. They live for this – they can’t wait for nonbelievers to get their comeuppance, and pay for their “sins”. Ironically, a couple of weeks ago, Terry James of RR said, “You unsaved folks who happen to be reading this article and think it is total nonsense, you are pure gold to this cause. Once you meet your unfortunate end, you’ll cry out 10 times louder from bowels of hell than a saved person who might be distracted by the glories of heaven.” So. . .do the blessed souls truly enjoy listening to the screams? If they do, wouldn’t they equally enjoy the screams of their loved ones? Or does the enjoyment of suffering enhance the delights of heaven only if the sufferers remain anonymous? They sound like the audience at a dogfight.
Well, that kind of chips away at the eternal bliss concept for me. If so much joy comes from the suffering of others, it doesn’t sound all that appealing. But then, along comes another idea to make things even more confusing. You see, some groups hold proselytizing (oh, excuse me – witnessing) above all else, and want to use hell as a threat not just to the unsaved, but to the folks who aren’t making their quotas. This video shows the reprehensible tactic of this particular belief group: Letter from Hell
I’m assuming that if you go to heaven and feel this awful about some kid you hung out with not hearing your “good news” and therefore going to hell, imagine the absolute soul-crushing despair of knowing that EVERYONE YOU EVER MET and didn’t witness to is burning in hell AND IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!!!! Can you imagine? Why in the world would you want to go to this place for all eternity? I’m just thinking about all the times I was selling movie tickets, and the line was out the door – how many thousands of people said “two adults, please”, paid, and left without telling me about Jesus? How many of them are going to be suffering because of that? Can you think of anything suckier than doing everything you can to get into heaven, only to find that it’s a neverending guilt trip?
Then again, you could always hook up with one of those sects that believes that you could do everything absolutely, perfectly right, and still miss the eternal bliss express. You don’t even have to get as extreme as Westboro Baptist Church, with a god who really, really wants everyone to just die and go to hell and leave him alone, and makes you do all this stuff just to keep you out from underfoot. There’s a passage in the Bible that pretty specifically limits who’s allowed in to heaven. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are OK with this, accepting that only 144,000 souls will get in, and it’s a crap shoot whether they’ll be one of them. However, they’re not reading the fine print: the book of Revelation states clearly that it’s 12,000 virgin men from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. I’d say that leaves pretty much most of us out, but that’s sounding better and better the more I hear. It certainly solves the problem of feeling bad about your loved ones suffering in hell, since you’ll be there, too.
Of course, if I still believed in heaven, I’d like to think that it’s the place that all good people go, regardless of their religion and/or level of devotion, and I think that’s the version that many people who attended churches like the ones I did prefer that version, too. The problem is, though, that from that most liberal, love and forgiveness view of who gets to go there, all the way to the “I’m gonna point and laugh while you burn” one, there are Biblical verses to support them. In fact, while some Christians object to the “cafeteria style” method of picking and choosing which verses to believe, it’s something even the fundamentalists and literalists have to do, because the book contradicts itself about this throughout.
So who does get to go to heaven? You’re not going to get one definitive answer from the Bible, no matter how you try. The people who are most certain about it are making it up as they go – and a lot of them are not the type of person most of us would want to be with for eternity, either. After checking around and seeing some of the answers, I think the more important question is, “Who would want to go to heaven?”
It’s good to not have to believe in this anymore. It saves a lot of time and worry. I won’t be going, and it doesn’t bother me a bit.