The truth about heaven
The truth about heaven
24 May 2019
“I believe in heaven!” this is not a statement from the official beliefs (doctrines) of The Salvation Army, but it has been accepted Christian teaching since the New Testament writers began to record the life and teaching of Jesus.
It is a position whose foundation is based solidly on the resurrection of Jesus. But despite its history and traditions, the obvious question for today about any statement of belief is, “Why should I accept this position?”
The serious-thinking follower of Jesus looks to various sources to answer that question. They examine what the Bible says, what Christian leaders through the centuries have understood, and what believers both past and present have experienced in their own life.
There are many theories and explanations about the continuation of ‘life’ after a doctor pronounces that one is dead. There are those who say that such an idea is nothing more than wishful thinking – there is nothing beyond.
Others talk of a cycle of transitions from one plane to another in various forms or states of existence. Most Christians would agree with the two propositions in the Army’s doctrine statement: “We believe in the immortality of the soul ... and the resurrection of the body.”
These declare that there is life after death and that life is not some nebulous spiritual existence but contains elements of individual personality and recognisability. Paul’s explanation in 1 Corinthians 15 uses the metaphor of the seed and the plant it produces.
This helps us understand that we enter a different state of being but retain our individuality and recognisability. He further makes the point in 2 Corinthians 5:3 that “we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies”.
A Google search of ‘near-death experiences’ will produce over 13 million results and in every main-street bookshop there can be found a selection of titles that, in total or in part, refer to an existence which continues beyond death.
Some of these are quite fanciful and offer speculations based on ‘special insights’. Medically, we know that there is a timelapse between when the heart stops and the brain ceases to function. It is quite feasible that some reports of near-death experiences could be a function of the brain still working during this period before complete shutdown.
As with dreams, it is possible that what later might be remembered as over an extended period of time has actually been compressed into a few seconds of real time. However, not all such experiences can be explained this way and easily dismissed.
I do not propose to investigate and delve into the mountain of reports on these experiences, but one can’t avoid the absolute certainty with which some people subsequently affirm that Heaven is for real.
And often life priorities change after such an experience as someone ‘discovers’ that the death of the body is not the end of consciousness and life.
Despite various beliefs and experiences that people offer, the personal challenge is, ‘What do I believe is Christian truth about Heaven?’ The messages about life after death and Heaven may have been somewhat veiled in Old Testament writings, but after the resurrection of Jesus any uncertainty is completely removed.
As Paul emphasises, “If Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless” [emphasis mine] (1 Corinthians 15:14).
The preaching, and life, is not useless but full of hope for now and for eternity. “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children ... But he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears.
But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 5:1-3). Alongside these precious words we have the promise of Jesus: “There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? ... You will always be with me where I am” (John 14:2-3) – with the resurrected Jesus.
Yes, I believe in Heaven, and I look forward to being greeted by my two daughters who are already there.
But our statement of faith also reiterates the message of the Bible that not everyone will enjoy the wonder of entering Heaven; to be welcomed and enjoy its delights. Jesus describes a separation of people.
The alternative destination is described by Jesus as a place of “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46) and a place of “outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:46).
There are choices to be made in the here and now.
*All scripture references from New Living Translation.
Major Cec Woodward is a retired Salvation Army officer.