Imagine theres no heaven. Above us only sky…

WARNING- sweary-words to be heard in the following clip.

Avoid if of a sensitive disposition- or if you are under/over the age at which knowledge of profanity should not be encouraged…

If like me, your tolerance for such things hints at your backslidden sinful state, then click on…

I stumbled across this whilst wasting time when I should have been DIYing (I now have water coming through the ceiling beneath where I recently installed a new shower. AGHHH!)

It set me thinking again about heaven, and hell, and what we might encounter when we die…

Oh, and I liked the accents too.

So what do we think about heaven and hell?

It seems that we Christians have two options to choose from-

Option 1- lots of soft clouds, harps and gold- HEAVEN

Option 1- lots of soft clouds, harps and gold- HEAVEN

Option 2- fire, smoke, eternal torment- HELL

Option 2- fire, smoke, eternal torment- HELL

Hmmmm- which one do you fancy?

This, I suppose has been the evangelical strategy of church for a long time. Even though it has always troubled me- (back to those old Chick cartoons again I suppose!) It was not really that this narrow view of our impending fate was questionable within the theological understanding I was part of, but more that it was usually played down by most, and perhaps OVERPLAYED by some others.

But questions about the essential truth of this equation were never encouraged. Some of this was about Biblical truth, and the unassailable network that had been constructed around particular meanings, and some of it was about POWER- and the in-out stuff that allows us to decide who is OK, and who is not.

My concerns have always been for the following reasons-

  1. Is it OK to SCARE people into the Kingdom? Or are we just telling it like it is?
  2. Will a God of love REALLY throw all these people- good and bad, kids and those who have learning disabilities- any who died without a profession of faith- into a lake of fire to burn in agony for eternity?
  3. What about Jesus? What did he have to say about this? These words are often quoted– 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. (Mark 9:45-45)
  4. And what about heaven? Does it not just sound slightly boring? A church service that never ends? (I have been in a few of those- or it seemed like it at the time!) Is this just the least-worse option?
  5. Then there is the ‘your-reward-will-be-in-heaven’ business. Do lots of good, as you will get a nice big mansion, with a throne view.

So where am I up to now?

Well I realised that lots of Christian traditions have different views about heaven and hell. Some people have always had the concerns above, and even dared to express them.

To give McLaren another plug, I read his book ‘The last word and the word after that‘ a few years51ez759rekl_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa240_sh20_ou02_ ago, and it was another one of those painful experiences, where I found myself confronting things I had avoided for fear of losing faith altogether.

But the end result was a deepening of the sense of who God might be, and how he might engage with us all.

In particular I was amazed to discover that the view of heaven and hell I had accepted as a fixed Biblical position appeared to have its origins outside the Bible, and perhaps even outside the Judeo-Christian world (this is not an idea original to McLaren, it seems, but is well understood by many Theologians, but ignored as irrelevant by others.)

A quote from Brian (pinched from an interesting blog post here)

One of the discoveries that led to the book came to me several years ago, but I don’t remember exactly how. I remember noticing that a number of Old Testament writers didn’t seem to believe in an afterlife. It was obvious in Ecclesiastes, but you know – that whole book seems odd. It struck me in some of the Psalms especially. Then I noticed this lack of belief in afterlife in other places, and I realized that Sheol wasn’t the same as hell.

Then I began to notice that Jesus talked about hell a lot, which let me know that something must have happened between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New. I was curious about what happened during that time.

What appears to have happened is that some Jewish sects/denominations (but not all) adopted ideas of heaven and hell from other religions- such as the Zoroastrians, and this synthesis of belief systems became the understanding through which the Jewish people engaged with God.

There were apparently significant differences in for example, the Pharisees understanding of heaven and hell, and that of the Saducees. The former believed in the resurrection of the dead and the latter did not. Interestingly, it seems that the Saducees rejected the Pharisaical views on an afterlife on the basis of a literalistic interpretation of the Bible, rejecting the exegesis and oral traditions of the Pharisees. Truth wars were raging then too!

It seems that these grouping effectively became political parties too- so religion was definitely mixed with politics!

Does this matter?

Well when you read again the questions put to Jesus in the form of tests by these groups, it seems at least possible that they were attempting to either bring Jesus within their own fold, or expose his theology to be outside their understanding of truth, and so reject him.

The wonderful thing about Jesus is that these attempts failed, because he saw the trap coming a mile away, and neatly stepped around it. He seemed to have no time for this way of seeing faith.

Is it possible then that at least some of the words of Jesus in relation to heaven and hell can be read in the light of the context in which he was engaging? Does this change our understanding of what he was saying, or how it was recorded?

STOP! I hear you cry. This is going too far- it is a liberal re-interpretation of the Bible that will end in heresy!

In my defense, I offer no fixed positions to invite you to join me onto, and thereby defend.

But I dare to believe that the life that goes on when we are done here will always remain to us a wonderful mystery.

And I dare to hope that Jesus may yet find a way to save those who we have lost.

Hell may or may not be the place that burns up that part of us that is unworthy and unwelcome in the presence of the Living God.

And I pray that by his mercy, I will fall into the arms of a loving God.

11 thoughts on “Imagine theres no heaven. Above us only sky…

  1. Are you not missing the whole point?
    Life without JESUS is hell.
    You are either with HIM or without HIM.
    The only thing standing between us and the Judgment Throne is the Cross. As the LAMB of GOD, HIS Sacrifice, HIS shed Blood is the ultimate expression of the LOVE of GOD.
    The message I get from hell is …
    Judgment is eminent, the WORD say so, so I FEAR GOD and keep HIS Commandments, it is the beginning of Wisdom.
    I choose to bow now.

    Anyways that my 2 cents.
    ps… nice pictures.

    • Hi Wayne

      Thanks for the comment. In what way are the pictures ‘nice’ though? Or representative of the love of God? And since when is admission to heaven dependent on the keeping of commandments?

      I am tempted to dig into some of the statements you made, but I am not sure there is a lot of point, as I suspect that you did not comment in order to engage in any kind of discussion.

      See you up there!


  2. I think the religion was born only because one guy “Jesus” was bored to look all the killing and raping in his homeland, so he had awesome idea. “Lets draw up 10 rules (They are the main laws today, don´t kill and stuff but they are performed in different form. Well, to have people to follow those rules he had to made up something horrible so no one wouldn´t refuse them, he made up “Hell” and those nice people his “Father” would revard by eternal trip to “Heaven”
    I think the whole bible was just a way to have people follow the humanitary rules ” no more killing, no more stealing” people was enough stupid then so they scared hell and followed those rules.

    • Hmmm- that’s the theology all sorted out then!

      Except- they did not follow the rules did they?

      And To be fair- Jesus shortened the list from ten down to two. And as you might have understood from reading the post- when the 10 commandments were written, the Jews seemed to have no idea of Hell.


  3. Hmmmmmm, it seems we are missing God’s original intention of hell, which was to have a place to punish satan and the rebellious angels. Since, God is just, he must send those who are rebellious (ie. refuse Christ’s gift on the cross) along with the devil. As Christ said, “You are either for me, or against me.” (there is no purgator-ial in-between).
    Christ also said, no one is good besides God, and basically our righteousness, to be seen as good, yes, once again comes from Christ’s gift on the cross, making others goodness ineffective as it is still seen as dirty rags compared to Christ’s gift (and let’s be frank, my goodness looks pretty bad compared to some of the first century Christian martyrs).
    As far as the mentally impaired goes, the word also says that those who die without hearing the good news (or in their case a lack of understanding) are subject to judgment of the heart ie. they will be judged by their conscience. Beauty!! (John claps for himself…..doh!!…there goes my goodness again! See, filthy rags mang, filthy rags!)

    • Hi John

      I think you spell out the traditional ‘evangelical’ version of hell very well. it is a version i am very familiar with, having grown up with, and for many years believed it to be incontrovertible truth.

      However the point of the post was to dig into the origins of this view a little deeper. To ask how we came to the view that hell was part of some big master plan by God. To look at some of the key verses, and ask again what might be some of the other ways of understanding and engaging with them.

      For example- the place of hell as a prison for Satan. which comes from Revelation. There is a whole debate about the nature of 1st C apocalyptic literature, and the authority of Scripture which i can not get into here (and also simply do not know enough about.)

      There is also an interesting thing about what we might mean by ‘the word’. For many in our tradition, this simply means the Bible (thereby underlining the place we have given the written word, and those who interpret it for us, within our faith.) But when you read ‘the word’ in the Bible it always means- Jesus.

      But I am right there with you on the filthy rags stuff! Mine are flapping in the breeze!



  4. what a relevant blog to stumble on while im searching for “heaven pictures” for my VBS class. hehe.
    anyway, i think there has been centuries of misinterpretation that needs to be corrected on the part of Christians (evangelical or Roman catholic). the idea of hell plainly as a place of torment and the abuse of this idea to convert people is just plain heartbreaking for me. Jesus was all about “the Kingdom of God.” we can all agree that that’s the focus of his message. the Gospels may have different perspectives of what Jesus is saying about the Kingdom, but it all boils down to God’s love. Heaven, as we read Revelation 21, is that point in His Salvation Story where all His faithful children are ultimately reconciled with Him…”He will wipe our tears”… isn’t that amazing enough for us Christians to just breath and be overwhelmed by the thought of it?
    Mr Chris, i deeply appreciate the thoughts that you shared. we should always discuss heaven (or any aspect of Christian theology) in a more open manner, not confining it to what one group says. If God can’t be put in a box, then we cant do the same thing about heaven or hell.
    Oh, and to Gorgoroth,
    I hope you’ll REALLY read the Bible first before you blurt out comments. we’d all be happy to help you understand the things that bother you. ^_^

  5. God is love but he is also consuming fire.
    Many will perish and very few will have eternal life. God says choose life, and enter trouhg the narrowed door.
    He loves us and no kids do not go to hell. God is JUST and he knows our hearts like NO ONE does. He knows exactly who we choose to praise/follow/spend eternity with.

  6. As christian I must accept that scientists have proved that there is no heaven in the sky. Heaven lies beyond the sky, beyond the universe. It’s like a shell around our universe. And hell I mist say, there is no hell. Hell is eternal death, nothing else.

  7. Pingback: Magi… « this fragile tent

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