Heaven: Is Heaven Our Default Destination?

This post is one in a series of posts on a Bible study I am doing titled Heaven by Randy Alcorn and Dave McCleskey. The focus of this study is to get a Biblical view of what heaven is really like.

Click HERE to see the previous post. Click HERE to start at the beginning.

Many people believe that they will live on after their physical death here on earth, and most of those people believe that they are going to heaven. For some reason, we have gotten it into our head that heaven is the default destination for people when they die. A Barna Public Survey found that less than 1% of people expect to go to hell when they die, and 64% believe they will go to heaven. That same survey found that 54% of people believe that it is their own good works that will get them into heaven. Another survey (George Gallup Poll on Hell, 1990) found that 40% of Americans don’t believe a hell exists, and of those that do, only 4% believe that they will end up there. So where do we get our ideas about the existence of hell and whether or not we will end up there? Are these survey results the product of a Biblical point of view? Not exactly.

My study today discussed the fact that most people are wrong in their beliefs about heaven and hell. The Bible doesn’t say that most people will go to heaven – in fact, it’s just the opposite. “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14, emphasis added). The truth of the matter is that God is so holy, He cannot be in the presence of sin. Habakkuk 1:13 says “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.” Therefore, if we are made to live on after we die our physical death on earth, and if we cannot be in God’s presence because of sin, another place must exist where we will go that is not in God’s presence. The Bible makes it clear that this place is hell. Let’s look at some Biblical truths about hell.

Hell Exists

The existence of hell is not questioned in the Bible. In fact, Jesus said more about hell than anyone else. In Matthew 13:40-42, Jesus says “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  And in Mark 9:43-49, Jesus warns “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ Everyone will be salted with fire.”  This, to me, doesn’t sound like Christ questioned the existence of hell in the least bit.

Hell Is Eternal

Jesus said in Matthew 25:46, when speaking of the separation of the righteous from the cursed when He returns, that the cursed “will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (emphasis added). This clearly states that hell lasts forever. As the author, Alcorn, put it “Thus, if Heaven will be consciously experienced forever, hell must be consciously experienced forever.”

We Need To Speak Out About Hell

For some reason, people have a hard time believing in hell. Perhaps we think we are being compassionate by not telling people that their eternal destination is a place of eternal destruction (see Matthew 13:40-42). Perhaps we think we are being humane be leaving out parts of scripture that describe hell as “a place of fire, darkness, weeping, and gnashing of teeth.” But just as a doctor doesn’t find it inhumane to tell his patients when they have cancer, we shouldn’t find it inhumane to tell people when they are cursed to hell by their own disease – sin. Alcorn says “…it is arrogant that we, as creatures, would dare to take what we think is the moral high ground against what God has clearly revealed.” So we might consider that, by keeping the truth of hell from people, we are playing a role in their destruction. This shouldn’t be.

Going To Hell Is Not Necessary

Instead of keeping the truth of hell from people, in order to save them from the terrible feelings it invokes in us, we should share the good news that there is a way to avoid going there. Alcorn puts it this way:

Given the reality of our two possible destinations, shouldn’t we be willing to pay any price to avoid hell and go to Heaven? And yet, the price has already been paid (see 1 Corinthians 6:20). The price paid was exorbitant – the shed blood of God Himself. Consider the wonder of it: God determined that He would rather suffer torment on our behalf than live in Heaven without us. He so much wants us not to go to hell that He paid a horrible price on the cross so that we wouldn’t have to go…The price has been paid; our lives have been ransomed. But still we must choose. Like any gift, forgiveness can be offered, but it isn’t truly ours until we choose to receive it. Christ offers each of us the gift of forgiveness and eternal life – but just because the offer is made doesn’t make it ours. To have it, we must choose to accept it.

Click HERE to see the next post in this series.

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6 Comments

Filed under Bible Study, Heaven

6 responses to “Heaven: Is Heaven Our Default Destination?

  1. Kim

    very interesting to see some stats on what people really think. I tend to envision hell as a black hole type place, where the torture is not necessarily literal burning, but the absolute lack of God.

    Scary stuff!

    • Jeremy

      Something Randy Alcorn said in my study:

      “Hell will be amazingly dull, small, and insignificant; without company, camaraderie, purpose, or accomplishment. It will not have its own stories; it will merely be a footnote on history, a crack in the pavement. As the new universe moves gloriously onward, hell and its occupants will exist in utter inactivity and insignificance, an eternal nonlife of regret and – perhaps – diminishing personhood.” He also says “I don’t believe hell is a place where demons take delight in punishing people and where people commiserate over their fate. More likely, each person is in solitary confinement, just as the rich man is portrayed alone in hell (see Luke 16:22-23). Misery loves company, but there will be nothing to love in hell.”

      I think these descriptions bothered me more than the thought of eternal burning. If God is good and God is love, and hell is the absolute lack of God, then there will be nothing good nor anything to love about being in hell. That might be the worst kind of torture ever!

  2. No, if you believe in Hell, if you actually think God is going to torture billions of people…then you have rejected EVERYTHING Jesus originally taught!

    And, no, Matthew 25:46 is no excuse to take all else recorded in the existing copies of the gospels and cut them all out of your bible.

    Think about it! There is just no way, after a very long story in which Jesus tried so hard to explain how much he empathizes with human suffering, so much so that he says we ought to think of even the “least” as if s/he were him…that he could turn right around and all in the same breath say, “Oh, but one day I’m going to be the direct cause of the worst suffering ever!”
    That makes no sense, does it?
    Well, the explanation for this contradictory statement is simple–Jesus never said it!!! It’s an interpolation that was, in all likelihood, inserted by a Greek Christian scribe while making a copy of the text, totally distorting the message of the originally inspired autograph!
    Sadly, though, because these few verses that place Hell on Jesus’ lips serve the interests of people who feel threatened by the real message of Jesus–that we ought to care for those in need, those suffering, even those who made big mistakes that landed them in jail, even the “least”–they would have us believe that God is ultimately going to give up on most of humanity and let them have it big time! From there, it makes it easy for them to deceive believers into thinking it’s not all that bad to get a head start on hurting people, or at least, not helping the hurting.
    I’ve actually written an entire book on this topic–Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There’s No Such Place As Hell, (for anyone interested, you can get a free ecopy of Did Jesus Believe in Hell?, one of the most compelling chapters in my book at http://www.thereisnohell.com), and it in, I explain that Jesus was, indeed, consistent in his message that God cares for all, loves all, wants to heal all, and is never going to give up on anyone until the very last, lost sheep is saved.

    • Jeremy

      Hey Rick,

      Thanks for commenting on my post. I completely respect your right to have the opinion you have, but I do disagree with you. I will admit that I don’t like thinking about hell, and I don’t like thinking about anyone going to hell. But I can’t deny something just because it makes me uncomfortable. I, personally, do not believe that God wants anyone to go to hell – “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, emphasis added). I also disagree that Jesus did not talk about hell. Matthew 25:46 is one example, but there are many other times when Jesus talks about eternal punishment other than in that verse. I will spend some time studying this weekend and try to get a comprehensive list up by next week. I, personally, cannot say that there are errors in my Bible as you suggest – I’m not talking about small typographical errors or even small changes in meaning – I’m talking about the blatant inclusion of a theological concept such as the existence of hell. I believe that my God is powerful enough to ensure that His word is without error.

      Now, I will say that I agree with you on one point – I think we should focus more on the things you listed: caring for those in need, those who are suffering, and even those in prison. Widows, orphans, and the “least of these”… That is the most important thing. But if we don’t also believe in hell and some kind of judgment and eternal punishment for sin, then why have faith in Jesus at all? What would we be saved from if we did?

      • Mark Colquhoun

        I have to agree with Ricks Comment ( ” Think about it! There is just no way, after a very long story in which Jesus tried so hard to explain how much he empathizes with human suffering, so much so that he says we ought to think of even the “least” as if s/he were him…that he could turn right around and all in the same breath say, “Oh, but one day I’m going to be the direct cause of the worst suffering ever!”
        That makes no sense, does it? ” And I don’t believe that he has said this because it makes him feel good. It lines up with the love of God to see how far Christ went to bring all to Himself. The cross shows the ransom from sin. We see in His death what sin does and God has taken the sins of all men upon himself. For those that don’t recognize they put Christ on the cross are still lost. God remains a loving Father who will continually seek the lost. Christ spoke on our level when he said what Father when asked for a fish would give a stone. Is death of our body the cut off point and last chance to call for mercy from God.

        • A.W. Tozer once wrote “The vague and tenuous hope that God is too kind to punish the ungodly has become a deadly opiate for the conscience of millions.” What he means is that this doctrine that there is no hell, that here is no such thing as punishment for sin, is nothing more than a numbing drug used by those who are uncomfortable with their sin and the Biblical truth that eternal and infinitely severe punishment is real. To deny this eternal and infinitely severe punishment is to deny the eternal and infinitely holy nature of God.

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