Heaven & HellJohn 10:1-14
By Dr. Charles Bidwell
Jesus said, "I have come that you might have life and have it in abundance." [John 10:10]
Jesus also said, "The realm of God is at hand" [Matt 10:7]. If you consider the realm of Godís infinite love to be heaven, then heaven is at hand; heaven is within reach of all of us Ė but so is Hell. Hereís how I see it.
Heaven and Hell are not what the poets and painters have imagined in the past; they are ever-present realities and we donít have to die to experience them. Our daily language shows this understanding although we may not have thought so or have expressed it that way. Listen to what we say. "Iíve had a hell of a day/week." "Iím in heaven when Iím in your arms!" "It was a living hell." "What a heavenly place/time."
We can and do experience heaven and hell in this life and especially in certain periods of our lives. We can hardly live a year without experiencing one or both of these states of mind. Most of us spend most of our year in a sort of limbo where everything is not heavenly or hellish, but my prayer for us all is that we experience more of heaven in our lives Ė to have life and have it in abundance.
I believe that we are all "going home" to our Creator and that in that state of reunion there is no punishment or reward system. Concepts of eternal punishment or reward are constructs of human desire to control.
Creator loves us infinitely and wishes the best of all possible lives for each and every one of us.
We reap the benefits and dire consequences of our thought and actions here on Earth. We reward and punish ourselves in as much as we harm or care for others Ė in as much as we love the least powerful among us.
Traditional images of Heaven and Hell as geographical places above or below Earth are sources of many jokes, but I do not believe that they are locations anywhere with Limbo forming their neat separation.
When Jesus commented on the life of a person who was not helpful to others or loving, Jesus said that life was worthy of being cast into Gehenna where the fires burn eternally. Jesus was referring to the village dump where, as any of you who have been to a dump know, fires are always burning in the rubbish. Jesus was saying that that person was wasting their life Ė it was like garbage. Jesus was not telling us that after death we will be burning in the eternal fires of Hell Ė thatís for readers of Dante and fundamentalist preachers who thrive on putting fear into people. Well, if the only way someone can be good and live a loving life is out of fear of hell-fire, then I pity their shriveled soul and mean spirit. I hope all of us can find a better reason for being loving to ourselves and others Ė "love your neighbour as you love yourself". Some of those mean-spirited folks donít love their neighbour because they donít love themselves. Letís leave that image of Hell in the stories and find one we can believe in that is created by a loving Creator.
Heaven and Hell, I believe, are states of sensation and we experience them here and now.
I believe Creator made us that way and hopes we learn from them.
I also believe that our Creator is infinitely loving and wishes us to be striving to be as loving.
Whether we achieve anything close to unconditional loving or not, we will return to our loving Creator after this life and we will judge whether or not we learned to be more loving or not in this life.
In the meantime, I live my life as if the punishment and rewards are experienced here and now.
Do you know of others who seem to be living in such a restricted, confined, mean-spirited state of mind that you would find it some form of hell to be in that prison of fear and hatred and possessiveness?
I sense that they are possessed by, or bedeviled by, a belief that this is a dangerous world and no one is to be trusted. They have corrupted the axiom of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" into a credo that states "Do others before they do you." So they are in hell already. I assume that sometimes they wish they could die to get out of that state of mind, but they fear that what comes after death will be even worse.
Do you also see others living in what seems to be a heavenly state of mind? Even if they do not claim to be religious (perhaps because they arenít confined to religious doctrine and dogma) they seem to be living in a loving state and to be experiencing heaven on Earth.
Can you recall having experienced heavenly states? I tend to live much of my life in a heavenly state of peace with my neighbours, loving others and working for justice and their freedom to become all that they were created to be. I hope you experience that too.
I believe Jesus to be the window on divinity and the mirror to humanity. I name myself as a Christian, but I donít believe what many Christians believe. I donít believe that eternal reward or eternal punishment awaits me in the after-life. I do not believe in an eternal life in Heaven or Hell or Limbo after death. I do believe that I can experience these states of mind at any time here and now and I live my life to increase the love and reduce the unloving. I believe that the life after death is wonderful beyond our imagining.
I also believe that I will be the one reviewing my life I am living now. In that life review, I will be pleased with what I have accomplished or sad at how I have wasted this experience or I will be pained by sensing all the pain I caused to others.
But I act with care, respect and integrity here and now not out of fear for my eternal future, but out of a conviction that Jesus calls us to live in such a way as to experience heaven on earth and live in abundance or live and love fully.
You always have a choice over your life or else how you will respond to your life circumstances.
You can be bitter and vengeful and feel wronged over and over.
Or you can see the world as peopled with souls who are your companions.
You can look around you here and see others who are trying to be the best person they know how to be.
You can feel that you are not alone in your attempts to become better and to live with more love.
Can you believe that we are all going home to a loving Creator?
Can you believe that most people are friendly and helpful and not out to make your life miserable?
Can you believe that you can have an abundant life and experience heaven here and now?
Can you believe that that is what Jesus said you could have and that it is what Creator wants for you?
Believe it and it will be so. And I pray that it become a reality for you this week.
http://www.auburn.edu/~allenkc/davbaug1.html - Eternal Torment Vs Reconciliation
http://www.joyfulheart.com/manifesto/lesson4-e.htm - Lesson 4 - Matthew 5:21-26 - The Spirit of Reconciliation by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
The reverend Dr. Charles Bidwell is an ordained clergy with Metropolitan Community Church.