Although Christians are confident they will spend all of eternity in Heaven, many of them don’t seem to give it much thought. This is very strange to me. If Heaven is forever, then Christians will spend virtually all of their existence there. In fact, their time on Earth will seem like a blink at the beginning of their infinitely long lives. Aren’t they curious what they’ll be doing for the next googolplexian years? Surely they don’t think they’ll be playing harps and singing the whole time.
Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t say much about Heaven. Why doesn’t it go into more detail? You would think a better description would persuade more people to accept Christ. To be fair, the Bible does offer some details about the materials that will make up the new Jerusalem.
According to Revelation 21, Heaven is actually a city that will descend onto a new Earth. The gates will be made of pearls, the streets will be paved with gold, and the walls will be covered with all sorts of precious jewels such as emeralds and sapphires. Very luxurious. And a little confusing, because wouldn’t that stuff be worthless in Heaven?
The Bible makes Heaven sound like Scrooge McDuck’s wet dream. If you think about it, this makes no sense. Jesus frequently railed against greedy people, so why does the Bible’s only description of Heaven appeal to people’s greed? The poor aren’t supposed to be jealous of the rich; they’re supposed to be happy without riches. And yet the last book of the Bible essentially says, “Don’t worry, someday you’ll live in greater luxury than even the richest men on Earth.” It all seems so petty.
A couple other details are worth mentioning. The city will apparently be 1500 miles wide, 1500 miles deep, and 1500 miles tall (Rev. 21:16). Weird, right? Apparently it will be in the shape of a giant cube. The Bible also says there will be no night there because God will shine brighter than the sun 24 hours a day (Rev. 21:23-25). Sucks for stargazers.
Many of these details make Heaven sound… well, made up. There’s not a word about how people will spend their time (other than worship God), and the physical description is all gold, jewels, and light. Other than the Borg cube idea, it’s not very imaginative. I’d expect more from God.
I think this is why most people focus on Revelation 21:4: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” But this is the part that bothers me the most.
Let’s not forget that Hell is also supposed to be eternal. Matthew 25:41 calls it “everlasting fire,” Matthew 25:46 calls it “everlasting punishment,” and 2 Thessalonians 1:9 calls it “everlasting destruction.” So a trillion years from now while Christians are living it up in the new Jerusalem, unbelievers will still be burning in the lake of fire. How will Christians be happy knowing billions of people are suffering?
Some Christians have told me they simply won’t think about the people in Hell. Frankly, you’d have to be a sociopath to not think about the billions of people weeping and gnashing their teeth (Luke 13:28), but let’s consider a more specific scenario.
Imagine, if you have to, that you’re a Christian and your mother is an atheist or a member of some other religion. You love your mother very much, but despite your efforts she never accepted Jesus as her savior. Eventually she dies, and a few decades later you die, too.
So there you are in Heaven, perhaps swimming in a pool of gold coins with Jesus and Pat Robertson. After a few months, Mother’s Day rolls around and you’re reminded that at this very moment your mother is literally on fire, screaming and writhing in pain. You ask God if you can at least send her a card, but of course that’s not allowed (the card would burn up, anyway).
How could you possibly be happy knowing your beloved mother, along with many other friends and/or family members, are burning in Hell? I’ve heard seven different answers from Christians (none of which come from the Bible, by the way). Here are my responses.
1. “You won’t remember those people when you’re in Heaven.”
How awful! The memories of your mother would be erased? If you love your mother, then she is more than just a memory; she is a part of you, a significant influence on the content of your character. If that part is cut out, then the person you were on Earth is not in Heaven. Besides, the story of the rich man and Lazarus suggests that people in Heaven will be aware of people in Hell.
2. “People are in Hell now but we still lead happy lives.”
Okay, but surely you’re not happy when you think about those people. In Heaven you’re supposed to be happy all the time. How will you continue to be happy when you think about what’s happening to your mother?
3. “God can do anything, so he will make sure we’re happy.”
I suppose, but that still sounds awful. Someone could tie you to a chair, give you a steady intravenous drip of heroin, and “make sure” you’re happy, but that sort of happiness would be completely artificial. Is that really what you want?
4. “You shouldn’t love people more than God, anyway.”
This doesn’t really answer the question. Just because you love God more than your mother doesn’t mean you don’t still love your mother. It seems callous to suggest that love for one’s mother isn’t important.
5. “We will no longer love those people when we are in Heaven.”
A very disturbing thought. If you believe God will remove your love for your mother, then as I pointed out in my first response, you will no longer be the same person. Are you really okay with that?
6. “In Heaven we will fully understand how evil sin is, so we won’t feel sorry for people in Hell.”
This is similar to the last response, but it’s even more disturbing. Even the crime of genocide doesn’t warrant nonstop torture for millions of years. Are you saying your mother’s “crime” of unbelief is infinitely worse? So bad, in fact, that you won’t even feel sorry for her? That is hard to believe. It sounds like Christians will be sociopaths in Heaven.
7. “People in Hell are stripped of all the good qualities God gave them, so in a way they’re not even the same people they were on Earth.”
So that person being tortured in Hell isn’t really your mother? This definitely answers my question, but it opens a whole other can of worms. If all good qualities are God-given, then people don’t really have free will. They’re just evil creatures that never do good unless God imbues them with a quality that allows them to do good. But if no one has free will, then why are people rewarded and punished? Is it all just for God’s amusement? (If you’re a Calvinist, you might say yes. And I would point out that your god is evil.)
And again, not one of these answers comes from the Bible. They were all invented by Christians trying to make themselves feel better about the idea of Hell. So I have to ask: Why did God leave us in the dark about this very important question?
Fortunately, the question doesn’t need to be answered because there is absolutely no evidence that Hell exists. A lake full of fire and brimstone is just a fantasy made up by men who wanted to see their enemies punished.
There’s also no evidence that Heaven exists. A city made of gold and jewels is just a fantasy made up by men who wanted to be rich. Despite the claims of hallucinating children, Heaven isn’t for real.