Heaven was mentioned as far back as Genesis 1:14, “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night…” Mankind has since become less docile and more skeptical at everything that is inexplicable. Many intractable conundrums have been raised in line with that. Where is heaven? Where is hell? What are the characteristics of heaven and hell? Is it easy to get to heaven? Why can’t God just create everyone in heaven?
Without going into an inane and protracted discussion, let’s dive straight into these conundrums, one at a time.
WHERE IS HEAVEN?
Deuteronomy 26:15, “Look down from heaven, your holy dwelling place, and bless your people Israel and the land you have given us as you promised on oath to our forefathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.” It would be a fallacious inference to say that heaven is physically above the earth since anything above the North Pole would be beneath the south. However, the bible must not always be taken literally.
For example, it was stated in Isaiah 11:12, “And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” This does not mean that the author had a flawed understanding of the shape of the earth. Factors such as the style of writing during those times must be taken into account. Hence, there are times where the bible must be read metaphorically for it to be congruous with the time being written.
WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF HEAVEN?
It may not even be physical to begin with, contrary to many literal readings of the scriptures, such as Genesis 11:1-9 in relation to the Tower of Babel being able to reach heaven. To confute the literal readings, it is necessary to dwell into an epistemological discussion on the elements of the soul, and whether only the soul will “go to heaven”, leaving the body behind.
“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” — C.S. Lewis
While the famous quotation from C.S. Lewis is not an abstruse concept, the implication is far greater than just establishing that we are living souls in addition to what is already stated in Genesis 2:7, that a man became a living soul after God breathed life into him.
If C.S. Lewis was right, then Aristotle’s philosophical theory on the subject of the soul must be wrong. Aristotle theorized that one’s soul ceases to exist once the body is dead. There have been experiments on the study of soul on an empirical level, and anecdotal evidence tends to be congruent with C.S. Lewis’s view.
At the very least, the common axiom is that the soul is not physical. Hence, it is lightly that heaven too is not a physical place for the soul to occupy. Epistemologically, it is also extrapolated there is a purpose in the embodiment of a soul. If a soul is embodied while it is on earth, along with the conferred freedom to sin, then it would be illogical to embody the soul again once it reaches heaven, without giving the freedom for the soul to sin. This is in line with many scriptures in the book of Revelation and Matthew which describes heaven to be a place without death, sin, corruption, sorrow etc.
WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF HELL?
If the above proposition is true, then hell cannot be a physical place too. Matthew 13:50 and Mark 9:43-47 seem to paint a rough picture of hell where it is burning hot with flame, filled with a preponderance of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Akin to many of the other scriptures as aforementioned, these verses must be read metaphorically too. A literal reading of these passages will lead to insuperable contradictions.
Firstly, if a soul that is unsaved goes to hell, it needs to be embodied again to suffer physical pain from the fire. Second, and more importantly, if hell was created with such capacity to inflict pain, it will undermine the purpose of going to heaven. It is stated in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, “Then we which are alive [and] remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” This means that the main purpose, and the greatest joy of going to heaven, is to be united with God. If this is the ultimate joy, then the ultimate suffering must be the total opposite.
In other words, if the ultimate joy is to be with God, then the ultimate suffering must be the deprivation of the opportunity to be with God. This will also explain the colloquial question of “If God is omnipotent, why did He allow us to go to hell?” The reason is simple, because if we choose not to be with God, which is the ultimate suffering, then it would be, in colloquial terms, “immoral” to force us to be with Him.
IS IT EASY TO GET TO HEAVEN?
There is probably not a Christian who is not familiar with John 3:16, “16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” However, many are also wary of Mathew 7:21, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” In addition, there is also the whole conundrum on predestination.
Fortunately, faith is not a convoluted concept that is difficult to grasp. To a believer, the answer could not be any simpler; as long as we believe in Jesus, we are saved. To a skeptic, however, Matthew 7:14, “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it,” seems to always be a favored riposte.
Matthew 7:14, of course, does not lend verisimilitude to the idea that it is difficult to be saved. In fact, they are both reconcilable. The latter scripture merely states the fact that many who claim to believe in Jesus are actually skeptics. Especially in our modern culture where empirical knowledge is prevailing, there is a propensity to only believe in what can be empirically proven.
This does not mean that God will inflict pain and suffering upon those who do not wish to be with Him eternally. As aforementioned, the ultimate suffering, or rather, hell, is His absence. Hence, there is absolute freedom for one to choose between ultimate joy and suffering, with no coercive pressure whatsoever.
WHY CAN’T GOD CREATE EVERYONE IN HEAVEN SO THAT THERE WILL BE NO POSSIBILITY OF US BEING IN HELL?
In order to answer this question, the value of freedom must be accentuated. Consequently, it becomes essential to first expound any doubts in relation to the omnibenevolence of God.
If God is good, why did He allow sin to exist? It is a meretricious explanation that God did not create sin but the Devil did. Firstly, this would then imply that the Devil is more powerful than he had created something that God did not, and would thus undermine the omnipotence of God. Secondly, anything other than God is a creation. God is the only eternal source that one can trace back to, as far as origin is concerned. Hence, a creation cannot sub-create something that is non-existent. Lucifer was definitely created by God. If Lucifer had the capacity to sin, it must have been given to him by God, in order for him to rebel.
A dilettantish atheist would probably be screaming for joy, for that would seemingly answer his question of “whence cometh evil?” in order to refute God’s omnibenevolence. So does that mean that God’s omnipotence and omnibenevolence cannot be reconciled since evil must come from Him as an eternal source?
The answer is, God can still be omnibenevolence, despite Him being the source of evil. To be more precise, God did not imbue evil into His creations, including Lucifer, but He confers us the capacity to be evil. There is a fundamental difference between the two.
Why would an omnibenevolent God give us the capacity to do evil then? This is because there is value in freedom. Only with the capacity to do evil can we have the freedom to choose. We cannot take one away from the other. It is, in fact, paradoxical to say that we are given the freedom to choose but we cannot sin. The meaning of “sin” means “missing the mark”. Hence, even if there are 2 choices between “good” and “the best”, it is a sin to disobey His will and choose the former. “Evil” must be seen as a metaphysical concept, instead of a sociological one, since it is within the context of a metaphysical discussion of God.
With that in mind, we should be grateful that God did not create us as mindless puppets. It would be totally pointless for Him to also send His only begotten Son to die on the cross for us, if we do not have the freedom to believe. There will not only be any value in our salvation, but there will also be no value in mankind whatsoever.
If one is confounded by the intricacy of the theological or philosophical concepts, perhaps the most allaying knowledge that one can learn from this is that one only needs to believe in Jesus for him to go to Heaven.