The Bible may not be as clear as some think about heaven and what happens after we die. The word “heaven” appears the most in the gospel of Matthew. Jesus says the Kingdom of God/Heaven is coming in His audience’s lifetime (Mt. 16: 28). Thus, we today are living in the kingdom of heaven. The book of Revelation speaks of events in the writer’s lifetime (Rev 1:1; 22:6). The new heaven and earth spoken of in Revelation (21:1-2) is not speaking about a time in the future when God will destroy the earth and come down to reign. Revelation 21:4 that speaks of no more tears, death, crying, or pain is suggesting that the grave will no longer be our destination but instead we enter God’s presence immediately after death just like Jesus.
Paul does give hope to those who choose faith in God on earth as they are promised they will enter heaven after death (Philip. 3:20). For those who don’t choose faith in God for whatever reason while on earth, certain passages taken at face value suggest possibly all will enter Heaven with God after a judgment/purification time. We know hell as a place of eternal, sadistic torture does not exist in the Bible. No human much less a loving God would think this up. Hell, an invention over the centuries to scare people into submission and obedience, is not a translation but a substitution for certain Hebrew and Greek words. See here.
The Bible may not focus a great deal on the afterlife as such a focus may make us of little earthly good. Besides, how could God possible explain it until there? The Bible does seem to suggest all will face God one day for an accounting of their deeds – good and bad (Mt: 12:36, Rom. 14:10, 2 Cor. 5:10, Heb.9:27). When Jesus was asked about eternal life, Jesus encouraged beginning to live presently by loving God and loving others as yourself (Lk.10:25-27). Jesus did not focus on Heaven, being perfect, or the destiny of those who reject the pursuit of an unselfish life. Jesus came to convey knowing who God really is empowers one to shun evil and do good NOW!
What is the harm of hoping than despairing over life after death? We have lost nothing in this life by following the golden rule and living less self-centered lives. We are free to imagine a story:
Moral development and true love only develop with choices made. Not even God can create authentic love. Human parent who brings children into the world desire their children freely reciprocate their love as opposed to being forced. Our character developed on earth limits our ability to sin on earth and in heaven. Eventually, you won’t see any good reason for not doing good. Some may not choose a relationship with their Creator on earth for whatever reason – rebellion, poor role models, or their confused understanding of God. Some want nothing to do with a Heavenly Parent because of their earthly parents. After death God will continue to extend love and their desire to spend eternity with their children. Convincing may take longer for some than others to freely choose to enter heaven with God. God will be as patient as necessary. Can one really rationally reject God once all barriers are removed? God’s justice in the afterlife may have an educative component and cleansing effect. Victims will be vindicated as the guilty will face their sins. We like God may forgive our tormenters if they truly sought forgiveness and desired to make amends. Believers and unbelievers here on earth may go through the same process of justice, some having more regrets than others. Do you really think Jesus is going to invite a thief who warranted death on a cross to enter Paradise but not others with lesser sins simply because they weren’t next to Jesus right before their last breathe? I doubt any reading this or their loved ones would deny such an invitation by God. Is it possible this cleansing process will take longer for so to have its full impact, because one could suggest there can be no joy in heaven if just one person perishes. Such time may allow those who died prematurely here on earth to grow. One may remain in a state of separation from God until they are freely able to make moral choices for their good. But, a relationship with God here on earth can be our necessary nourishment in our battle against self-centeredness. Our Creator wants our meeting to not be full of regrets and as joyful as possible. Our suffering will not be in vain as this worldly journey can perfect our freedom to not choose evil in heaven.
- Can you fake God out and not truly be sorry? God is capable of seeing one’s thoughts. God can read what is truly on one’s heart. God surely will know when one is truly regretful and ready to live in Heaven where there will be no sin.
- Is there less urgency to change here on earth if there are second chances after death? We may want to tell an addict after the 100th relapse there is no hope, but this is not God’s nature. God desires a relationship here on earth so we can be the kind of person deep down we want to be while on earth. God desires the cleansing process after death be as less painful as possible.
- Will there be freedom and sin in heaven? I suggest we are free to be optimistic about there not being sin in heaven despite having freedom. One would assume freedom will be present in heaven because of the value God placed on freedom here on earth. If there is no freedom in heaven, why didn’t God create heaven on earth to avoid all the suffering we went through to supposedly perfect our freedom of choices. If one wishes to entertain the possibility of sin in heaven because of the presence of freedom, we can at least hope God’s presence will have a greater impact than earthly, human authority to dissuade selfishness. We thrive more under certain types of parental love and leadership because of their qualities such as integrity and understanding. Heaven will not have certain temptations such as poverty or negative peer influences as God can nip in the bud.