Evangelist & Web Minister
Lamb & Lion Ministries
One of the benefits of hosting a conference is that I get to choose the topics, and I must admit I saved the best one for myself. My apologies to my fellow speakers for saving the best for last, but I don't feel guilty about it in the slightest because Heaven is what I'm going to talk about.
Heaven is an exciting topic because everyone of us holds inside us an innate knowledge that there is something more beyond this lifetime. We can confirm this from Ecclesiastes 3:11, "He has also set eternity in the hearts of men, yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." God has put inside of us a knowledge that there is something about us and about life that goes way beyond this existence. What that is, though, we are just too small to grasp. Yet, we are given an inkling in 1 Corinthians 2:9, "No eye has seen, no ears have heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those that love Him."
The reason that we cannot conceive of the eternal is because this life is much like when we were living in the womb. We think of this life only as it is now, and not how it was or could be. Think about it, a butterfly for instance has four stages: it is first an egg, then it turns into a caterpillar, then it turns into a cocoon called a chrysalis, and then finally it's a butterfly. Humans, too, have stages in our lifespan: we start out as a blastocyte, and then we turn into an embryo, and then we are a fetus, then we are a baby, toddler, elementary, and so on until finally we are adults.
But, there is another stage in our existence that is even beyond the adult stage, and I'm not talking about retirement. Unfortunately, not everyone recognizes the signs that demonstrate this further stage. I have this great story that demonstrates this. It's about these two fetuses who are in the womb and how they are kind of noticing things around them and how each of them responds to those signs. This story is written by Henri Nouwen in Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994, pp.19-20.).
The sister said to the brother, "I believe there is life after birth."
Her brother protested vehemently, "No, no, this is all there is. This is a dark and cozy place, and we have nothing else to do but to cling to the cord that feeds us."
The little girl insisted, "There must be something more than this dark place. There must be something else, a place with light where there is freedom to move." Still, she could not convince her twin brother.
After some silence, the sister said hesitantly, "I have something else to say, and I'm afraid you won't believe that, either, but I think there is a mother."
Her brother became furious. "A mother!" he shouted. "What are you talking about? I have never seen a mother and neither have you. Who put that idea in your head? As I told you, this place is all we have. Why do you always want more? This is not such a bad place, after all. We have all we need, so let's be content."
The sister was quite overwhelmed by her brother's response and for a while didn't dare say anything more. But she couldn't let go of their thoughts, and since she had only her twin brother to speak to, she finally said, "Don't you feel these squeezes every once in a while? They're quite unpleasant and sometimes even painful."
"Yes," he answered. "What's special about that?"
"Well," the sister said, "I think that these squeezes are there to get us ready for another place, much more beautiful than this, where we will see our mother face-to-face. Don't you think that's exciting?"
The brother didn't answer. He was fed up with the foolish talk of his sister and felt that the best thing would be simply to ignore her and hope that she would leave him alone.
Isn't it interested, the two points of view among the two fetuses? The baby girl who perceived there is a next stage is very similar to Christians. The little girl listened to the signs around her. She eagerly anticipates that there is something better by recognizing and confirming the signs around her. But the boy, he doesn't want anything to do with what he sees around him. He is comfortable where he is. He is happy where he is in his ignorance. But, even though he makes a good face of it, we can easily tell that he is frightened about where he is going, right? As we exist in this phase looking towards the next, do you see yourself as the little girl or the little boy?
Outlook of Fear
Why is the little boy so scared? Why is he scared of something beyond what he is used to? I think there are a few reasons for that.
For one, life is short. Psalm 144:4 says, "Man is like a breath, his days are like a fleeting shadow." Take a breath. That's it, that's you life. Really, think about it, our lives go by almost that quickly. Hebrews 2:15 says, "Those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." See, life is so short and death always looms on the periphery of our vision. We know that death is out there, but we spend most of our time trying to avoid it so as to not think about it.
The second reason why we are scared of death is because of misconceptions. I am personally convinced that a lot of the misconceptions we get about Heaven comes from cartoons. Really! We were raised on cartoons. How many times did you see the coyote chase the roadrunner until one of his plans would backfire, and then he would be squashed and all of the sudden he's in Heaven floating around playing a harp? Or, what about the Devil? He's portrayed having this pitchfork and he has a big pot belly and maniacally laughs, "Ha, Ha, Ha!" He's shown in Hell poking people with pitchforks and laughing hysterically. Or, look at movies. How about how we disappear like Yoda and become one with the Force? We've got all these ideas coming at us from all these different directions giving us different views. This commotion has left us quite confused.
Misconceptions arise from our womb perspective because we just don't have enough data and are left guessing on some of the details. But, we don't have to totally guess, for God has revealed a good number of details about what the afterlife is like. He put those details in the Bible. Don't forget that 1 Corinthians 2:9 confirms for us that, "God has prepared." God has prepared our life for living now and for living after this life, and He shares a taste of that in the Bible.
Let's go through some of the misconceptions about what life is like after death.
How about annihilation? You hear that misconception when an atheist comes by and tells you that there is just nothing after this life. When we are done we are out of here, we are gone, they claim. But now, really, how exactly would they know? Where exactly did they get the information that this is all there is to existence, that this is all there is? Contrary to what they're claiming, Jesus explained that there is an afterlife and we can find His teaching of this in Luke 16 and Revelation 20.
How about reincarnation? It's the Eastern philosophy that we come back again and again after death. We keep coming back trying to get rid of the bad karma, the bad energy that's supposedly around us, so that eventually we will become the god force. No! Hebrews 9:27 tells us, "Just as man is destined to die once and after that to face judgment." The Bible teaches that we are destined to die only once.
How about Purgatory, a Catholic teaching that you have to suffer in some place of torment to purge yourself of your sin before God will let you into Heaven? No! Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves it is the gift of God, not by works so that no one will boast." Also, 1 John 1:17 tells us that, "The blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from sin." It's Jesus that cleanses us and not us burning our sins off for a time somewhere.
How about this one — Soul Sleep? It could be called the "Big Nap." This popular misconception claims that when you die you go into the ground and there your soul remains unconscious until someday when you rise again. Well, I'm terrified just by the thought of having to spend eight hours a day unconscious, much less spending decades or millennia unconscious. No! The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:8 tells us, "To be away from the body and at home with the Lord." So, no, we will not be unconscious upon death.
Becoming an Angel
How about you becoming an angel? We see this all the time in cartoons. This misconception says that when you die you become an angel. You will be given wings and you will get a little halo. But, no, Hebrews 1:14 tells us, "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation." Or, look at 1 Corinthians 6:3, "Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of life." Angels are a totally separate creation from us. We don't become angels, and actually we'll see later, we become something better.
How about existing in an ethereal world? This misconception sadly teaches that we'll end up in a spiritual world where we sit on clouds and play harps all day long. How boring! I think that this is one of the best deceptions Satan uses to warp our idea of Heaven in saying that Heaven is just dull. If you have ever seen that movie, All Dogs Go to Heaven or All Dogs God to Heaven 2, the dog spends the entire time running from Heaven because he's worried he's going to be bored to death. But, no, the idea that Heaven is a place where spirits float around on clouds is just not in the Bible. It's actually a heresy which came latter to be taught in Church history.
All Roads Lead to Heaven
I believe that clearly the greatest misconception we have about Heaven is how we get there. We are told that we are all traveling down the road of life the minute we are born and that we will all reach Heaven together. But, that just isn't true. As soon as we sinned, as soon as we became imperfect, we fell under the Fall and God's curse and remain subject to His wrath.
No, since you were born you don't automatically go to Heaven. You were instead born traveling right on the road to Hell. It is Jesus who saves us from that road to Hell and pulls us in the direction of Heaven. That is why it is called "being saved." He is rescuing us from something. He is rescuing us from our sins which send us to the final destination of Hell.
Let's say you were out in the ocean and drowning. Wondrously, you see a boat drawing near. The boat captain throws out to you a life preserver. You know that if you grab hold of that life preserver it will save you from your terminal destination which is drowning to death. It'd be a huge misconception if you thought you were already pre-saved and wouldn't eventually drown. Grabbing hold of that lifeline of salvation is a choice that you and me and we all have to make. It is a choice, our own decision, on whether we choose God's eternal rescue or not. If you were swimming out in the ocean and you pushed the life preserver away, it is you who choose to die. It is you who choose to drown. It was your choice. Jesus in John 3:36 teaches this reality, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. But whoever rejects the Son will not see life, because God's wrath remains on him."
So, there are a lot of misconceptions about Heaven and how we get there that are meant to confuse the reality of it all.