I am less concerned about whether there is a Hell or not, than I am about the supposedly agreed upon criteria for going – or not going – there.
Most people that I know with – or without – faith presume that there are at least two solid truths about eternity; first, if there is a heaven, they (and those who believe as they do) certainly will be there and second, if anyone knows the process, formula or strategy for getting there, it would certainly be them.
I am convinced of only one truth about Heaven – I am sure it will be full of surprises – especially in the categories of who is – and isn’t there.
I don’t know if absences will be noted in Heaven, but I am sure that many of those who took Heaven as their birthright will find themselves far from and even unwelcome in the presence of God.
In fact, many people of faith I know would find themselves uncomfortable, if not threatened by the presence or even the possibility, with a God of either ultimate love or unrelenting justice.
Ultimate forgiveness, after all, can be just as frightening and unsettling as any throne of absolute judgment.
Perhaps eternity is when – or where – we leave behind all that is not worthy of the atmosphere of eternity.
And who are we when our biases, our self-justifications, our insistence on being “right” about everything, drops off, is stripped off or even brutally torn off?
Who are we when our rules, our expectations of others, our relentless pursuit of what we want all fall away, and we see them as the suffocating burdens they always were?
Is our freedom from all this in the blistering yet healing presence of God Heaven? Or is it Hell?
C.S. Lewis, in his classic book on the subject, The Great Divorce (probably my favorite book on eternity), presents the possibility that we spend our earthly, temporal lives constructing ourselves, and the ultimate judgment is not by God, but by our tolerance – or even our capacity to survive in the presence of eternal, enduring, unyielding reality.
According to Lewis, and many other theologians and philosophers, the question when it comes to eternity is not, and perhaps never has been, is anyone “good enough?” Whatever “good enough” might mean.
But perhaps “Heaven” is welcoming, in fact the ultimate welcome, not to those who follow certain rules, or use certain words, but is, instead, the ultimate home for those who (literally) practice a restorative, healing life filled with mercy and forgiveness far beyond human comprehension; a level of knowledge and action, in fact, that can only come from God.
Perhaps, if it’s not too radical a notion, eternal life is much like the life we already know (God created both after all). Is it too much to believe that God might be consistent in character in both domains?
If this is so, it is, at least in a sense, up to us whether we make our way into Heaven.
Heaven, if it means anything, is a place of glory and wonder and restoration beyond earthly human existence.
I am sure that Heaven is dense with searing – and healing – forgiveness more than we have ever given or received, and thick with comfort, safety and a sense of belonging beyond any thing we have ever experienced.
We have the choice, I guess, of believing in a paltry heaven worthy of us, a place filled with people like ourselves, who believe what we believe, or, just possibly, a true Heaven, not worthy of us, but worthy of the Almighty who “judges” or even better, welcomes us based on how we have struggled with, battled with or even recovered from our own deceptions, betrayals, our fears and anxieties.
Perhaps, just perhaps, our entry to Heaven is not based on how fully we have followed arbitrary rules (many of our own making), but on how fully we have encountered and hungered for a practical eternity – in short, God’s kingdom on earth.
Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do. To pay his bills, he’s been a teacher for adults (including those in his local county jail) in a variety of setting including Tribal colleges, vocational schools and at the university level in the People’s Republic of China. Within an academic context, he also writes an irreverent ESL blog and for the Burnside Writers Collective. As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.