Years ago, I met a man who had survived internment in a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War. Despite such an experience, he held firmly to his belief in God. Indeed, he told me that it was BECAUSE of the experience that he held to belief. If there was no God, he said, there was no afterlife, no judgment, no justice. Both those who committed such terrible crimes against humanity, and those who were their victims, all simply died. The criminals, in the eternal scheme of things, would be no worse off.
Of course, the desire for justice does not prove the existence of God, judgment, heaven or hell. We must look for more evidence than that. Furthermore, we must define terms. It seems that, for many, their perception of heaven has more to do with Hollywood and their own personal wishes. It is interesting to see the results of various surveys which show that people want to believe in some form of “heaven” but reject belief in a “hell”. They want one but not the other. A popular view is that “a loving God” would not possibly punish people.
The Bible firmly teaches that there is a God, that there will be a universal judgment, and that the outcome of judgment for each person will lead either to heaven (eternal life with God) or hell (separation from God). Yes, the Bible does make some use of figurative language in describing these realms and we must therefore be careful to identify what is figurative and what is literal. Nevertheless, it is clear that heaven is a realm to be desired whereas hell is a realm we should earnestly seek to avoid. Speaking of heaven, the apostle Paul spoke of “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2nd Corinthians 4:17). On the other hand, hell is of such a nature that it is a fate worse than mere death (Matthew 10:28). It is pictured as “eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41). The Bible also indicates that punishment for some will in some way be worse than that for others. (See such Bible passages as: Matthew 11:20-24; Luke 12:47-48; Hebrews 10:26-31; 2nd Peter 2:20-21.)
Why should a loving God cause such a realm as hell to exist? The answer is that love also calls for justice. How can a loving God simply ignore all the evil and injustice of which humans can be guilty? A key point is that God holds us accountable for our actions. He has given us all we need to make the right choices. God takes no pleasure in condemning the guilty. He would much rather save people (Ezekiel 18:23; 2nd Peter 3:9) and thus sent Jesus Christ to be our Saviour (John 3:16). Those who commit themselves to God through Jesus Christ need not live in terror of judgment (1st John 4:17).
In another article in this series we asked the question, how does a rational person develop faith in God? We pointed to various sources of evidence. Those same sources of evidence equally point to the reality of judgment, heaven and hell. The Bible is not merely a book of rules or theology. It is set in an historical and geographical context. The Bible’s accuracy in regard to these details supports its accuracy in regard to such matters as heaven and hell. As discussed previously, there is also historical evidence for the reality of Jesus. A careful study of the details indicates that he was executed, just as the Bible says He was, and that He did return to life on the third day as He predicted. The reality of His resurrection supports the reality of His other miracles. All these miracles together indicate that what He said about himself and many other matters is true. Hence, both the Bible and Jesus Christ are reliable. And therefore, what Jesus Christ and the Bible say about heaven and hell are also reliable. Heaven and hell are real. They are what God describes them to be, not what our wishful thinking wants them to be. God wants us to be with Him in heaven and has made it possible. The choice is ours.