If you died right now...?

If you died right now, would you go to heaven?

Have you ever heard that question? Ever asked it? When I was growing up in a wound-very-tight fundamentalist church, that question was at the heart of "witnessing." It was at the heart of "the gospel." We were expected to ask The Question of people we encountered. Few of us did that, but that's another matter.

Nevertheless, it's an interesting question. If I died right now, what would happen to me? What happens to anyone at the end of this life? Is our ultimate destination heaven? Hell? Neither? Does the Bible care? Should we?

I've written before that I'm reading N.T. Wright's book Surprised by Hope. I'm still reading it, and these are some questions he raises, and ties them to the question of the mission of the church. I think they're well worth thinking about. They're "rock the boat" sort of questions.

Just what will happen when I die? Sleep until some future event? Oblivion? Be present with Jesus? Will I be sitting on a cloud somewhere, playing a harp? What will happen to my body? It has its problems, but after all these years, we've gotten quite close.

Does it make difference? Will I live my life differently if my future includes some "sleep" state rather than being "awake" through the entire process, whatever that may be?

What does the Bible teach? Is heaven the ultimate destination of followers of Jesus?

I have become convinced that what I was taught - and what most readers were taught - is wrong. In fact, there is little New Testament support for an ultimate - eternal - destination for us in heaven.

Let me point out here that the Bible presents heaven as God's "place," full of his glory, and not a place of fluffy clouds with people sitting on them. Are there people in heaven? Yes. Revelation is pretty clear on that. Are they going to stay there? That's a different question. Revelation is not so clear about that.

Wright makes an interesting argument that our ultimate destination and dwelling place will be this earth. But it will be an earth renewed, glorified, and as comparable to what we know now as the present, resurrected and glorified body of Jesus is to his first body. Similar, recognizable, but way better.

So, if I'm going to have a need for this body - which God called good, incidentally - and an equal need for this earth - which God also called good - perhaps I should take better care of both.

The fact is, God gave me my body and placed me on this earth, and I live in the line of ancestors who were charged with caring for and protecting the earth.

Over the past few years of studying my Bible and thinking a lot, I have become convinced that Jesus-followers - and maybe others who don't quite fit with that name - will have their ultimate place of residence on a wonderfully restored, renewed and glorified earth. This earth made new.

So what? What difference does that make in my life?

Here's a big difference, as I see it. Churches tend to go to one of two extremes. Either they consider that the main question in life concerns whether one will go to heaven - or hell - upon physical death. And they are pretty sure they know who will and who won't. These folks are usually very conservative in their theology. On the other hand, there are those who insist there is no judgment, no resurrection, and no point in caring about any of this. They are generally on the liberal side of the continuum.

The truth lies in between. First, the Bible never makes heaven and hell The Big Question of life. In fact, it says surprisingly little about the subject, though the few things it does say are imperative, and should not be overlooked. Second, the Bible presents a redemption narrative that is first and foremost relational. It's about knowing and loving the one true and living God.

So what do we say about events associated with physical death? For my part, not much. I am not worried about it, and it's really no big deal.

I can say that with confidence, because of the relationship I have with Jesus. I am a branch firmly attached to the vine, and it is from him I receive my very life. Jesus is my Source, my Lord, my elder Brother, my Friend. And with that, he will be my Judge. But I'm not worried about that, because the Judge is my Brother and Friend, and our Father is very fond of us both.

What's to fear?

So the question, I think, is not about what would happen if you died right now. It's about who you know now, and who you will know when you die.

Jesus. He's the focus. He's the point of the story. And in him we can know, with no doubt, that what happens to us after our death will be very good, indeed.

8 Comments

nice

I have a question on the after life, a friend of mine recently read some of revelations and he talked to me about it. He says from what he reads that when we die our spirit doesnt go anywhere we simply just wait for the rapture and then rise. Something to that effect. I cant for the life of me think of scripture or anything that I can use to argue against this. I was raised Southern Baptist so I cant belive that. I am open minded but I cant argue against it so if you can help me out or give me some verses to look at I would very much appreciate it. This is not just for the (friendly) argument, I would like to educate myself better also.

Tim,

Thanks for your comment and questions. There's a good deal of speculation and disagreement on the subject of what happens after death. However, it seems that Paul believed that he would be immediately in the presence of Jesus. "...absent from the body...present with the Lord." (Don't have the reference right at hand, but it shouldn't be hard to find. I'll add it later.) Then there are the last chapters of Revelation, which seem to say that people have gone to heaven upon their death.

I think a good case can be made that heaven is a temporary stop for the redeemed, a place to wait for the resurrection, after which the "disembodied" people will be "re-embodied," and live again in a physical world, though one significantly different from ours. John writes somewhere, "Beloved, we are now the children of God, and it doesn't yet appear what we shall be. But we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him." At the resurrection -- which will be at the return of Jesus -- we will become like him: physical, but different.

That's a quick and dirty response. If you want more, I will be happy to try to confuse things a little more.

God formed Adam's body from the dust of the earth. God breathed into Adam's nostrils the breath of life and Adam became a living soul. Everthing which is a direct part of God must be eternal therefore, the breath of life God breathed into Adam created the eternal living soul inside Adam's body made of earthly dust.

At Adam's death, Adam's eternal living soul left his body and went before God and God decided if Adam's eternal living soul would enter Paradise or enter Hell. At this point in time Paradise and Hell lay side by side in the heart of the earth.

Just before Jesus died on the Cross Jesus took all the sins of mankind upon him and God had to turn his back on Jesus because God cannot look upon sin. Jesus gave up the ghost or his eternal living soul and carried all our sins with him into Hell and while his earthly body layed in the tomb, the eternal living soul of Jesus was in Hell where Jesus took the opportunity to preach to the eternal living souls of all the unbelievers who perished in the Great Flood because of their disobedience to the preachings and teachings of Noah during his building of the Ark which took close to 100 years.

After 3 days and 3 nights God brought the eternal living soul of Jesus out of Hell and it reentered his body lying in the tomb and after Jesus met Mary and Martha and told them not to touch him for he hadn't ascended to the Father, Jesus ascended to Heaven and went into the Holiest of Holies Room in Heaven and performed a blood sacrifice with his blood which would last for eternity because Jesus is our High Priest. Then Jesus returned to earth and it was ok for him to be touched when Thomas thrust his hand into the side of Jesus.

When Jesus left earth in plain sight of Peter and John, the eternal living souls in Paradise and the eternal living souls Jesus preached to in Hell who chose to believe as well as the few who had gotten up from the graves which had opened from the earthquake at Jesus's death, all went to Heaven with him to await the Rapture. Let me clarify one thing please, the eternal living souls which belonged to those bodies in the opened graves outside of Jerusalem reentered their bodies at the time of Jesus's Resurrection and they got out of the graves and walked into Jerusalem.

I say all of that to say this, when a person living today dies their eternal living soul leaves their body and goes before God and God decides if that eternal living soul stays in Heaven or must go to Hell.

This is a complete lie.
Jesus claimed it on the cross.

Check back with God on this one Larry.
You are leading many astray and also will be held accountable for it.

CAN,

Thanks for your thoughtful and articulate comment. I'm a little unclear, however, about one thing: Just what, specifically, do you consider a lie? Care to elaborate, so we can talk? I really do want to be accurate in what I write.

If people do good only because of the fear of going
to hell are they good? What about people who are
good who don't believe in god. Some of us are
blessed throughout life, while others are
consistently burdened yet we only have two places
to go after death. The question is why must some
suffer through life while others coast through
their charmed lives, and both end up having he same
afterlife experience? That's total bullshit, if
there is a god, then it forgot about some of us...
Why should it be forgiven or even liked by us?
Shearly because he isn't human and possibly
omnipresent? And if he is omnipresent then why does
he let so many live in pain.

Thanks for your comments, rosebud. You raise some good questions, ones that philosophers and theologians have struggled with for many centuries. Here's my thought on it:

The basic question you are asking, it seems to me, is how can there be a good, loving, all-powerful God in light of the unspeakable pain and evil in the world around us, and indeed, among us?

In many conversations, the common solution proposed is to "wipe out the evildoers." Just get rid of the bad people. Sounds pretty good. This would be a much more pleasant place to live, right?

I think of it this way: If I were God, what would I do? My first response is the one above: get rid of the bad guys. Okay, where do I begin? Well, you know, Hitler, Stalin. There are many obvious candidates. Okay, then where do I stop? Do I wipe out everyone who is more than a certain amount of evil? Or who is in any way evil? Who survives such a test? Not me. Have you never told a lie? Never snitched some candy as a child who knew better?

In fact, God has done something, in the person of Jesus. And ultimately, those who will accept it will indeed live in a world free of pain, suffering and evil. But we have to accept it. Even God can't force us to accept so great a salvation from so evil a place.

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  • Larry Baden said:
      Thanks for your comments, rosebud. You raise some good questions, ones...
  • rosebud said:
      If people do good only because of the fear of going to hell are they ...
  • Larry Baden said:
      CAN, Thanks for your thoughtful and articulate comment. I'm a little ...
  • CAN said:
      This is a complete lie. Jesus claimed it on the cross. Check back wi...
  • david hollon said:
      God formed Adam's body from the dust of the earth. God breathed into A...
  • Larry Baden said:
      Tim, Thanks for your comment and questions. There's a good deal of sp...
  • Tim Hensley said:
       I have a question on the after life, a friend of mine recently read s...
  • david b cote said:
      nice...

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