What is the basic nature of the afterdeath? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Recently, an atheist told me of how they left Christianity and one large problem was Hell and ethics. A Christian has asked me about why it is that the Christian system of rewards and punishment seems arbitrary. These two are connected.
Let’s start with the second one. Is it being arbitrary? Let’s consider that the idea is that someone can repent on their deathbed and get eternal life whereas someone who does good all their life and never comes to Christ gets eternal death. Why is that?
God’s standard in righteousness is we must match up to Him. We must be seen to be on His side entirely. When we declare Jesus to be Lord, we are in essence siding with God and God declares us to be in the right then based on that. This meets his standard of perfection. That’s not an arbitrary standard. Holiness has always been required and one must have the perfect holiness bestowed on them from God.
What if one does not have that?
Well God is fair then. What does He do? He judges them by their works. Those works have to add up perfectly.
Let’s consider that the idea was simply more good than bed. This is vague and in fact arbitrary. If you have to do so much good, how much? Is it a point system? How many points do you have to have? How many points does each good act give? How many points does each bad act deduct? The whole idea would be entirely arbitrary!
What about the deathbed conversion? Yes. God will grant someone eternal life, but not the same eternal reward. There are degrees of Heaven and degrees of Hell based on how one responded to God overall. Yet the problem is those who say they will come to God in the end have no guarantee that they will do so. The more they live in rebellion against God, the harder it will be for them to bend the knee because each action is affecting the way that they will live their life.
We know this from experience. If you treat women as objects, you will be more likely to engage in watching pornography. If you watch pornography, you will be more prone to sexual behavior outside of marriage and with an allure of risk to it. This could even lead to greater evils like rape. No one becomes a rapist or a murderer or some great evil overnight. They start on a continuum. No one also becomes a saint overnight. They start with doing good in their own lives.
This is also why we have to act contrary to our feelings and desires at times. We all know if we all acted according to our feelings and desires we would live in a world of chaos. Road rage would be abundant as we all have strong feelings about “that idiot behind us and that idiot in front of us.” Wives would have to fear constantly being raped by their husbands since by and large, men have a much higher sex drive than women do. Dieting and exercise would be unheard of. Suicide would go through the roof when depression strikes. Part of being a person of virtue is learning to foster in oneself proper emotional responses (Insofar as its possible) and proper desires. Christianity also helps with this.
I do not want to give the impression that Christianity is determined by how Christians live or even that the great message it was meant to give us was an ethical system. Jesus is King and ethics is part of any Kingdom, but it is not primary. Being good persons will not restore creation or destroy the problem of evil. Yet we are told to be subjects of King Jesus and work to eliminate evil and that means fostering virtue in ourselves.
But what about the nature of Heaven and Hell? Well my view is a bit unique.
The view I hold at this point though not sold on it entirely, is that much of the language is apocalyptic in describing the nature of Heaven and Hell in the Bible. That part is not so controversial. The next part will be more so and what the end point view I see of Heaven and Hell is.
I actually think that God rules on Earth entirely in the end. We don’t go to Heaven. Heaven comes to us. For the unbelievers, I don’t think they go to Hell. I think Hell comes to them. How is this so?
Because the two are the exact same place.
Yep. We will all live on an Earth filled with the manifest presence of God.
Those who have been building in us the character of God and living as subjects of the King Jesus and seeking to serve Him will adore being in His presence. We will love it. We will be ecstatic. We will be around the greatest good in existence that we have sought all our lives!
That is Heaven!
And the others?
These are the ones that have been resisting God all their lives by not submitting to King Jesus. They may have done good works, and indeed all people do some, but they have not done the ultimate good of bowing the knee to Jesus. They have resisted God’s desire for them to reflect His image. In the end, they will be surrounded by the manifest presence of Him who they have sought to resist and avoid all their lives and there will be no escaping from His presence.
That is Hell!
Note that none of this means this system is true. Whether or not the question of Heaven and Hell is true depends on if Jesus rose from the dead. As I said to the non-Christian, the abandonment of the faith should only rest on the question of the resurrection. The only reason to not be a Christian is because you are convinced Jesus did not rise from the dead.
I understand people have a lot of ethical problems with Hell and there are a number of good works that can help with that, but let’s remember that it is not a primary question. N.T. Wright recently on Unbelievable? said that it is strange that America seems so obsessed with the devil and hell. Paul talks so much about righteousness and new creation and this is what we focus on. Most amusing was hearing him say “Come on people! Get a life! A biblical life!”
Heaven and Hell are important, but these questions are secondary and only matter after the primary question, the resurrection. Answer that first.