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Where will you spend eternity?

Where will you spend eternity?

Postby Theophilus » 16 Jun 2009, 17:07

It is a common belief among Christians that when a person dies he immediately goes either to heaven or to hell and remains there for all eternity. A careful study of the Bible shows that this is not correct, although it is very close to the truth.

When some one who has been forgiven thru faith in Christ dies he immeditely goes to be with Christ, and Christ is now in heaven. But the Bible teaches that one day Christ will return to reign over the earth, and when this happens all the believers will return with him. At the end of the book of Revelation we learn that God will create a new earth and that the new Jerusalem will come down from heaven to be its capital. God created humans to live on this earth. Because of sin we leave earth thru dying and if we are Christians we then go to heaven. But this is only a temporary dwelling place until God restores the earth to what he intended it to be. The new earth will be inhabited by new humans, who have been born again by faith in Jesus Christ.

All those whose sins have not been forgiven will be condemned to spend eternity in hell, but if you read chapter 20 of Revelation you will find that they will not go there until after the final rebellion at the end of the millenium. So where are they until then? In Luke 16 Jesus tells of a rich man who died and went to a place called Hades. This is a temporay place for the unsaved to stay until their final judgment. When Jesus spoke of hell in other places he used the word Gehenna, not Hades. Unfortunately some Bible translators have used the word "hell" for both of these places and this has caused some confusion about this subject.

In one sense, the popular belief is correct. Those who are saved go immediately to a state of eternal happiness and the unsaved go to a place of eternal torment. But when studying the Bible it is important to study all the details to make sure you are interpreting it correctly.
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Re: Where will you spend eternity?

Postby Stanley Anderson » 16 Jun 2009, 17:20

...to say nothing of Purgatory

(tries to re-seal the can of worms, to no avail...:-)
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Re: Where will you spend eternity?

Postby JRosemary » 16 Jun 2009, 18:33

If you asked this in my [Conservative] synagogue, I'm thinking you'd get one of three answers:

1. A minority of people would respond by favoring the idea of the resurrection of the dead--a popular notion in the Talmud even if it doesn't exist in the Hebrew Bible.

2. Another minority of people would respond by favoring some mystical Kabbalistic ideas about reincarnation.

3. The overwhelming majority of people would say something like, "There's no such thing as personal immortality. Get over yourself. Do the right thing because it's the right thing. And don't tell me you need the bribe of an afterlife to do the right thing!"

And then a lengthy argument between adherents of all three options would break out, in which at least ten more ideas about an afterlife or lack thereof would surface--before everyone agreed that there are more immediate questions to worry about. :toothy-grin:
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Re: Where will you spend eternity?

Postby nomad » 16 Jun 2009, 19:18

First off, a bleated welcome to the forums, Theophilus. There's been a great deal of discussion about this topic already, so you might enjoy perusing through some old posts.

The belief that people go one way or another for eternity is a foundation of much (though far from all) western, protestant thought. I think perhaps, viewed in a context enlarged both geographically and historically, it might be less common than it is within the modern, US context. There is certainly much biblical ground for doubt about it's correctness, as you've pointed out. One might also ask about Lazarus.
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Re: Where will you spend eternity?

Postby john » 16 Jun 2009, 19:25

nomad wrote:First off, a bleated welcome to the forums...


Bleated. :clap:
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Re: Where will you spend eternity?

Postby JRosemary » 16 Jun 2009, 19:50

john wrote:
nomad wrote:First off, a bleated welcome to the forums...


Bleated. :clap:


Lol--I didn't even catch that. Don't worry, Nomad. I think most of us casual readers will just see 'belated.' :smile:
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Re: Where will you spend eternity?

Postby wondawomen » 16 Jun 2009, 20:53

After years of studying different religions to make sure the Baptists have all the right answers( :lol: ) I began to think our God is much bigger than our little denominations think. I love jrosemary's reply. I did come to one conclusion. If all is confusion and there is no one truth; a life following the teachings of Christ is the best choice for me. There have been moments of heaven on earth when a clarity comes through. You can call it nervana, what ever! Just like the song, I Can Only Imagine. And I'll leave it up to God as to who goes, when they go, and where they go.
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Re: Where will you spend eternity?

Postby Leslie » 16 Jun 2009, 23:12

Theophilus wrote:
When some one who has been forgiven thru faith in Christ dies he immeditely goes to be with Christ, and Christ is now in heaven. But the Bible teaches that one day Christ will return to reign over the earth, and when this happens all the believers will return with him. At the end of the book of Revelation we learn that God will create a new earth and that the new Jerusalem will come down from heaven to be its capital. God created humans to live on this earth. Because of sin we leave earth thru dying and if we are Christians we then go to heaven. But this is only a temporary dwelling place until God restores the earth to what he intended it to be. The new earth will be inhabited by new humans, who have been born again by faith in Jesus Christ.

This is roughly the understanding that NT Wright sets forth, particularly in Suprised by Hope. I get the impression that he finds it very frustrating that many (most?) Christians have a hard time accepting this as biblical teaching.
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Re: Where will you spend eternity?

Postby deadwhitemale » 17 Jun 2009, 03:47

I wish I knew. Lately I've been assailed by many doubts. At times I find it hard to believe there is any afterlife at all anymore. It often seems to me that the dead are just dead and gone, just dead like a knot on a log, and that there is no continuation of consciousness at all beyond death. Just ... nothing.

At other times I can't shake the hunch (almost a conviction) that whatever there is beyond the grave, it's all bad for most people, for almost everyone, with the possible exception of a handful of saints.

I'd sure like to believe that what Lady Julian Of Norwich said -- "All will be well, and all manner of things will be well." I'd like to believe in some kind of universal salvation. But I just can't, quite.

I've heard people pose the question: "Is it easy or hard to be saved?" I have just about come around to the conclusion that it is hard, very hard -- so hard that hardly anyone will be saved. If anyone at all.

Letely I've been preoccupied with my own dead -- those I buried or saw buried in the past few years. Apart from a couple of bad dreams, I haven't had any sort of visitations from any of them, or much of any sense of their continuing existence at all in any form.

One of my mothers was cremated (against my wishes and over my protests), and I personally buried her ashes after everybody but the gravediggers and I had left the sweltering hot cemetery. My other mother was buried conventionally in the ground, after a funeral performed as much like she wished as I could arrange.

And I have been bothered, plagued, by morbid thoughts. Were her ashes even really in that little box? Anything could have been in there. And I have actually found myself troubled by mental images of her body being destroyed by the fire. And I have had mental images of Mom's body decomposing in the grave. I don't know which is worse.

At least cremation spares us corruption and the worm. There's a certain dignity in it. Yet, while as far as I know it is not explicitly forbidden by scripture, it never seems to have been the preferred method. I can't think of any good people in the Bible who were cremated, except martyrs killed by their enemies and persecutors.

And cremation retains certain non-Christian associations for me. It seems more like the way ancient pagans (Greeks, Romans, Norsemen, etc.) and present-day Hindus and Buddhists would treat their dead. And I think of the madness of Denethor in Lord of the Rings, and his last words -- something about "No long, slow sleep. Instead we shall burn like the heathen kings of old," or words to that effect. Wait, here it is verbatim:

"'Why? Why do the fools fly?' said Denethor. 'Better to burn sooner than late, for burn we must. Go back to your bonfire! And I? I will go now to my pyre. To my pyre! No tomb for Denethor and Faramir. No tomb! No long slow sleep of death embalmed. We will burn like heathen kings before ever a ship sailed hither from the West. The West has failed. Go back and burn!' "

And Mom's grave -- and Dad's still-empty one, next to hers -- are so near the side of the busy street. How can they rest easy so close to all that rumbling traffic? What sort of long slow sleep of death embalmed is that?

Last night and earlier today they were announcing an upcoming appearance on some TV show by that so-called psychic or whatever he's supposed to be, John Edwards. It kind of made me mad. My late mother used to show a little too much interest in some show that guy had on TV. I mean I think he used to have his own show. There was even a South Park episode ridiculing it, and him. I told her, "I sure wouldn't put my faith in someone like that."

I'm pretty sure almost all of these guys -- these so-called mediums or channelers or whatever -- are just fakes, except for a few that may be something a lot worse. At least I didn't waste years and a fortune on them like poor Houdini did before he saw through them and devoted himself to exposing them. But I share some of his anger and disgust.

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Re: Where will you spend eternity?

Postby Bluegoat » 17 Jun 2009, 15:45

I was under the impression that within mainstream Christianity, doctrinally, there wasn't a lot of debate about this. We go to Heaven or Hell or wherever after death, and when the world is made anew, we all get our "new" old bodies back, get a new Earth to live on, possibly are even reunited with Rover the dog. Questions about it include what kind of time is spent in the first state - do we really feel like we are waiting around? And what does it mean to be a person without a body? Do we really have any individuality in such a state, are we whole people, or some kind of shadow of ourselves?

Why this doctrine is so widely misunderstood among Christians I don't know, since my five year old daughter can explain it in some detail. I don't find it surprising that non-Christians would be hazy on the details.
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Re: Where will you spend eternity?

Postby Kolbitar » 17 Jun 2009, 16:48

3. The overwhelming majority of people would say something like, "There's no such thing as personal immortality. Get over yourself. Do the right thing because it's the right thing. And don't tell me you need the bribe of an afterlife to do the right thing!"


To this majority I would say, why is it myself I have to "get over"? Such a reply completely misses the point of Christian charity. As Lewis said, "It may be possible for each of us to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour." It is in that sense that the bribe and the right thing are inseparable: "The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation."

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Re: Where will you spend eternity?

Postby Tuke » 17 Jun 2009, 17:23

JRosemary wrote:.... the idea of the resurrection of the dead--a popular notion in the Talmud even if it doesn't exist in the Hebrew Bible.
No? What about Elijah and Elisha each raising the dead? And then there's the valley of dry bones resurrected.
3. The overwhelming majority of people would say something like, "There's no such thing as personal immortality. Get over yourself. Do the right thing because it's the right thing. And don't tell me you need the bribe of an afterlife to do the right thing!"
What about justice for the wrong thing? Shakespeare's Undiscovered Country (Hamlet III.i.77) is a rubbing deterrent for many would-be Hitlers, Stalins, Maos and Ahmadinejads, right down to the neophyte street thug. If not a deterrent, certainly a portent of torment.
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Re: Where will you spend eternity?

Postby JRosemary » 17 Jun 2009, 17:55

Kolbitar & Tuke,

No less a Christian than C.S. Lewis (I believe in Letters to Malcom, but I'm not at home and thus don't have my books at hand) pointed out that the idea of going to heaven would always operate as a bribe until a person reached a certain spiritual level. And it was certainly in Letters to Malcom that he made it plain that he would remain a Christian even if it turned out there was no afterlife--even if God said that to give him immortality was not in His power. (Lewis characteristically likened it to a Viking going off to fight with Odin against the giants in the Ragnarak, knowing he was bound to die.)

Edit: That quote about a bribe is right in the essay I mention below--Religion Without Dogma. Here it is: "Until a certain spiritual level has been reached, the promise of immortality will always operate as a bribe which vitiates the whole religion and infinitely inflames those very self regards which religion must cut down and uproot." Hmmm--that sounds suspiciously like he's saying that a religion or an inidividual that's all about immortality best get over themselves! (He's also arguing that Christianity is not all about the afterlife. I'd agree--although I've known some Christians who talk as if it is.)

In an essay called Religion Without Dogma, Lewis refutes the idea that a notion of personal immortality is a necessary component in defining what religion is all about. He uses Buddhism and Judaism as his examples. "The system [Buddhism] which is meaningless without a doctrine of immortality regards immortality as a nightmare, not as a prize. The religion [Judaism] which, of all ancient religions, is most specifically religious, that is at once most ethical and most numinous, is scarcely interested in the question."

He's right--Buddhism doesn't see personal immortality as a prize, and Judaism, despite periodic speculations (which are all over the map), is scarcely interested in the question of personal immortality. He may be right, too, to worry that the idea of going to heaven will sometimes operate as a bribe...although that's less likely in Judaism, since it's not much interested, and as for Christianity--well, I'd think most Christians would agree with Lewis that they would remain Christians even if there was no such thing as personal immortality.

And, yeah Kolbitar, I'd think that anyone who joins any religion only to 'get to heaven' (or some equivalent) might, indeed, need to get over themselves. :wink: (I also think such people are few and far between.)

Tuke, there's no afterlife at all in the Torah (I wouldn't count references to the dead in Sheol, since they seem to be, ya know, dead) and very little notion of it in the rest of the Hebrew Bible--Elijah's story not withstanding. There's no formal doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, which doesn't (in Judaism) become firmly established until the Talmud. As for the dry bones--when I hear that chanted as a Haftarah in synagogue, my mind automatically goes to Israel reborn in 1948.
Last edited by JRosemary on 19 Jun 2009, 01:35, edited 9 times in total.
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Re: Where will you spend eternity?

Postby JRosemary » 17 Jun 2009, 18:19

P.S. With all the options Judaism has put out--no afterlife at all (and/or no personal immortality), Sheol, the resurrection of the dead & world to come, reincarnation and what have you, my own opinion is the same as Wondawomen's:

Wondawomen wrote:And I'll leave it up to God as to who goes, when they go, and where they go.


And that's common enough in Judaism and, I'd guess, many other religions. Worry about what you can do here and now--and let God look after the rest.
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Re: Where will you spend eternity?

Postby Tuke » 17 Jun 2009, 18:59

Of course the New Testament has much to say about self-righteousness and works (bribes). Our righteousness is no stairway to heaven, only Christ's righteousness. He alone is our propitiation.
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