We’ve given a good run this week to questions about hell – and by implication, heaven. I think we’ve no choice other than to accept the position we’ve outlined that God alone knows who goes to hell, but I think we have given a good answer to those who argue that God must be a sadist for sending people to hell. That, we have suggested, is the choice of the individual, and it might well be, a C suggests, that for a proud and inveterate sinner, the sight of God’s mercy would, itself, be a form of hell. We know only that God’s mercy is without limit, and that his love is infinite – he loved us first; but not everyone will respond to that love, and those who don’t may well wish to blame others for their eventual plight.
Less has been said about heaven, and that’s not surprising, since we know even less about it. At the end of time, as I read it, Jesus will come again to the living and the dead and his kingdom will be established. I don’t read what the Bible says as implying some place in the sky with us all in night-shirts with wings. We are told we, and everything will be transformed, and we look forward to living in God’s presence for ever more; for that to be at all possible, we shall indeed have to have been transformed into that image of God in which we were made, so I am assuming that, too. But I can imagine that about as well as I can God – which is to say through a glass darkly.
Bosco responded to my post on ‘What is the point of Christianity’ with this: ‘Saved is short for”saved from the wrath of the great and terrible God’. I am sure he speaks for many here, and he would once have spoken for me, but no more. The ‘great and terrible’ God is omnipotent. He could have ‘saved’ us anyway he chose – if not, he’s not God because he’s not omnipotent. He did not choose to save us by coming down in all his terrible glory and making it perfectly plain to us that we either followed his commands or we went to hell. He could have done that, and given what is at stake – the eternal salvation of his children – we might well wonder why he didn’t? An appearance every generation or so and surely all but the most recidivist among us would be there saying ‘yes. God, I will do as I am told.’ But we’d be doing that because we were frightened. What father among us would want our children to do as they were told because they were frightened of our wrath. This line of thinking is why Dawkins and others think there is something wrong with Christianity and Christians, and if that was why I obeyed God’s precepts, they’d be right.
I obey them because I know God loves me and wants what is best for me. I know from simple observation that if I do what he wants, it is good for me and those I love, and that departing from them tends to lead to trouble. I am grateful that he will forgive my foolish ways when I err, but if I thought I was doing his will out of fear, I would wonder what sort of heaven it would be to spend eternity with such a being? But then such a being would not have become incarnate and been crucified, so I shall dwell with the Lord, and hope that at the end he will receive me.