What happens when you die?

When I was a younger man, I used to carry a large, wheeled cross on my shoulder and pester people about God. Really. You’d be surprised how unpopular this made me with everyone. One of the things I used to open with was, “Excuse me. Can I ask you a question?” Once I had their attention, I’d ask them, “If you died tonight, where would you spend eternity?” It never failed to provoke an interesting discussion. There’s not much to do in our town, and there was even less in 1989, so I ended up with a lot of people listening to me.

I have to admit now that I don’t know the answer to my own question. Specifically, I’m not sure where people go when they die. I used to think that, like the thief on the cross next to Immanuel who repented, any believer would be granted access to Paradise the same day.

So, I don’t know what to do with passages like this:

John 5 :28 Marvel not at this: for the hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice,
29 and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment.

Two things stick out to me here;

1.) How do people in their tombs hear anything? Their ears are rotted away. Is it their souls that hear it? What have their souls been doing all this time? Just lying there? Sleeping?

2.) The good go to life, but the bad go to “judgment.” What is judgment? Death, or Hell? The opposite of Life is Death. But, if they are already dead, why resurrect them just to kill them?

Another thing that always bothered me-where did righteous people go before Jesus came? The Mormons teach that there is a holding area called “spirit prison.” None of the Christian churches I ever attended ever discussed this issue, but the Mormon doctrine is actually backed up by the Christian Bible- 1 Peter 3:19 and 4:6.

No one ever explained to me what “Abraham’s bosom” is, either. Immanuel tells a parable in Luke 16 about Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus was poor and died and went to Abraham’s bosom, but the rich man went to Hell. (I don’t know if this is the same Lazarus that he resurrected in John 11, but that would kind of suck, wouldn’t it? You die, you go to Abraham’s bosom, and then Jesus brings you back to life and you have to live on Earth again.) Interestingly, the only thing required of Lazarus to enter said bosom was to be poor. And the rich man didn’t immediately burn up in Hell-he was being tortured there, and was self-aware enough to remember his life and hold a conversation.

That brings up the question of eternal torment. Romans 6:23 says “The wages of sin is death.”

The wages of sin is death. Not hell, but death. “Wages” implies some type of standardized exchange of services and payment. I work, I get paid. I sin, I(eventually) die. It seems to revolve around a fairly just and equal rate of exchange. But Christians will (reluctantly) tell you that the payment for sin is eternal punishment. After having just established that God views sin and death as some type of business arrangement that is predicated upon ideas of fairness and justice that makes sense to us, He then proceeds to exact the ultimate penalty of eternal torture for 75 years of sin.

Theologians have attempted to remedy this in all sorts of ways, but none of them make any sense. To begin with, they can’t even explain why it says the wages of sin is death, not hell. They will try to say that “death” means separation from God, but I have yet to encounter any proof of this. Why would the Bible not make it clear by saying, “Hell,” instead of coming up with an arcane meaning for a word with a completely different connotation? Adam and Eve were promised death for disobedience, not an eternal roasting. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Ezekiel 18:4. Soul death seems pretty final.

And yet….

Jude 1:7 “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” Not much point in a fire being eternal if it doesn’t have something to burn. Unless it serves as a warning to those living in Heaven not to rebel, as Lucifer once did.

Malachi 1:4 “Edom may say, ‘Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins. But this is what the LORD Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the LORD.” In some versions, “always” is translated “eternally.”

Mark 9:47 “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.” I don’t know what my “worm” is, but I’m quite sure I don’t want it salted with fire. It sounds painful.

So we don’t go to Heaven right away, and whether or not there is a Hell is confusing. What’s behind door number three?

Your idea of Heaven is boring to me

What is your idea of what Heaven is like? Dressing in white? Choirs of angels? Fluffy clouds?

Ask most Christians and they will tell you that eternity will consist of us praising God, and that’s pretty much it.

This sounds boring to me.

Indulge me for a moment while I ramble…

The Universe is currently measured as being 28 billion light-years in diameter. This is because our telescopes allow us to see 14 billion light-years in either direction. As soon as we build larger telescopes, our idea of the Universe will grow even bigger. Also, our estimation of the size of the Universe is predicated upon the fact that we are using Earth as center point. If, as it turns out, the Earth is not in the center of the Universe (and it very likely is not,) our image of the Universe will expand even further. The Universe could be 100 billion light-years across, or a trillion, or a hundred trillion.

Discussing things in terms of light-years sometimes allows things to drift past us without truly grasping their significance, so let me just refresh your memory:

Light is the fastest thing known. It travels at 186,000 miles per second. It makes the journey from our Sun, located 93 million miles away, in about eight minutes. Therefore, a light-year is how far light can travel in one year. It is 5,865,569,000,000 miles. So the size of the known universe is how far light can travel in 28 billion years.

This is a staggering, almost incomprehensible amount of area. Now, remember that it is not empty space, but full of stars. It’s easy to think of stars as little pinpoints of light instead of what they are-suns. There are approximately 125 billion galaxies in the known universe, each containing (it is guessed) in the neighborhood of 100 billion suns apiece.

Try to imagine that. It’s difficult, but try.

Do you have that picture in your mind? Now, let me ask you….

Do you really believe that God made all of that for the sole purpose of showing His greatness because He wants nothing more out of man than worship for all eternity? That he is uninterested in any endeavor, any pleasure, any form of self-expression from mankind except perpetual flattery of His ego?

I think that Heaven is more amazing than we can imagine.

Think about the difference between being a fan and a worshiper. A fan maintains his/her own identity and sense of self while giving praise to a thing or person because of the qualities that the person or thing demonstrates. There may be moments where the fan loses themselves in the moment of enjoying the object of their adoration, but they always come down and are themselves again. It is the becoming of self again that makes the fan truly appreciate the thing they are a fan of; they have something with which to compare that altered state.

How could we fully appreciate God unless we had some “down time” that enabled us to rest and enjoy something else besides worship?

God is a creator, and He doesn’t change. He’s an artist that doesn’t stop making new things. And why would he do that if the things He’s making weren’t going to be enjoyed?

I have no doubt that when we see God face to face it will be so incredible that we will gladly fall down and praise and glorify Him….but what about after that? Eternity is a long, long time.

I can’t help but think of The Doctor in the Dr. Who series, the recent version with David Tennant as The Doctor. He loves humanity, and sees life as a big adventure to be enjoyed. Sure, he punishes evildoers, but they really had it coming. People who are basically good get the benefit of his blessing. I’d like to think of God that way, and of Heaven as just a big TARDIS machine-traveling through space and time in one adventure after another.