Thursday, December 27, 2007

Heaven and Hell

Okay, we can take these three questions together:

What do we know biblically about heaven and hell? What happens when a soul goes to hell? What happens when a soul goes to heaven? -Gordon

This is a HUGE subject. Randy Alcorn wrote a book called "Heaven", just working with the texts on that topic. An excellent book, BTW, I recommend it for the most part. But lets see if we can summarize, here.

First of all, there are a number of things that could be described as "heaven".
1. The spirit world where God rules, angels, Satan and demons live.
2. A limbo place that Jesus calls "Abraham's bosom" for souls accepted by God.
3. Under the altar, in Revelation 6, where dead souls cry out to God.
4. The kingdom of God, which many call "the millenium", where Jesus reigns on earth with his saints.
5. The eternal kingdom (which, depending on interpretation, might be the same as the kingdom) where God's people live at peace with God for eternity on a re-created earth.

When a person dies in the Lord, they are in a limbo state. They can communicate to heaven and make events happen. They are also aware of earth and all the troubles there. But they have not acheved their salvation yet. They are in comfort, Jesus says, but true comfort as a human is having one's spirit and soul embodied. This will not happen until the kingdom, when the dead in Christ will be risen from the dead, embodied and then ruling with Christ over the whole population on earth.
But the best utopia happens when God himself lives on earth and there is no more sea, but pleanty of water and food. This is found in Revelation 21-22.

Hell: Hell is problematic. Many people, including George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis' mentor, believed that hell would be emptied, eventually, because of God's love for humanity. Jesus, however, is pretty clear that hell is a real place and it is just no fun. Some believe that Jesus' language about hell is metaphorical (although I note they don't say this about heaven). But this is the minimum one MUST say about hell:
a. It was originally created for Satan and his angels (Matthew 25)
b. It is an exile from God ("they will be cast outside")
c. It is a place of regret and shame ("weeping")
d. It is painful ("fire" "agony" "gnashing of teeth")

Now, who goes to hell? This is a question you didn't ask, and you should have. Those who don't believe in Jesus don't necessariy go to hell, like all the revivalists say. Jesus was pretty specific about who will go to hell:
1) Satan and his angels (or "messengers", possibly those who cause people to stumble)
2) Those who oppress the poor (Matthew 25)
3) Those who claim to be of God, but are hypocrites (Matthew 13)
4) Those who cause others to fall away from God (Matthew 13)
5) The "lawless"-- those who have God's command, but ignore it (Matthew 13)
We have a pretty vague comment in Revelation about all the dead being risen and judged according to their deeds. What deeds? It's not mentiond, but I know that oppression or help of the poor is one of them. But note that belief in Jesus isn't the most important thing on the final day-- acting like Jesus is.

So what happens to the soul or body in hell? We're not sure. Punishment after death takes a number of forms:
Not being buried (Jezebel)
Having one's descendents killed (Ahab)
Having a bad reputation for all eternity
Having your body on display as an evil person (Isaiah 66)
Being resurrected in an incorruptable body which is thrown into fire (False prophet and beast) Wow, that's bad.
But this kind of hell, I suspect, is reserved for those whom Jesus describes-- the committers of the Big Four, which are mostly Christians, by the way. So my guess? Most inhabitents of hell are hypocritical Christians.

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