We have been dealing with the difficult subject of death in these last few articles. No one likes to think about death, but it is a reality we must address. It is a subject hard to address because the only time we generally think of it is when we’ve just experienced it in some way, then it is hard because, well, face it, it is hard to see anything clearly when your eyes are blinded by tears. If you are a reader who has just experienced the loss of a loved one let me offer two thoughts: first, let me offer you my condolences and second let me say this series isn’t for you—at least not yet. Put them away for now, then, when you have had time to grieve dig them out and read them. I think you will find hope.
When my father with whom I was very close died suddenly, I found these words of wisdom and comfort: “Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come. For those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die.” (Isaiah 57:1–2, NLT).
Norman MacLeod said, “We picture death as coming to destroy; let us rather picture Christ as coming to save. We think of death as ending; let us rather think of life as beginning, and that more abundantly. We think of losing; let us think of gaining. We think of parting, let us think of meeting, we think of going away; let us think of arriving. And as the voice of death whispers ‘You must go from earth’, let us hear the voice of Christ saying, ‘You are but coming to Me!’”
That is not true for everyone. As much as we hate that, it is a fact we must face. Many commentators tell us that Jesus spoke more on the subject of hell than He did on the subject of heaven. I really don’t know. What I do know is that Jesus did reference both heaven and hell and He spoke of them as literal places.
C.S. Lewis, speaking on this difficult subject wrote that he finds the doctrine of hell horrifying and understands that it is “the basis on which many reject Christianity.” Then he writes, “In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell, is itself a question: What are you asking God to do? To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does.”
Lewis reminds us of two important truths in this statement. First, he reminds us that in the concept of hell is contained the concept of ultimate justice. We all want justice (particularly if we’ve been wronged). If God were only a God of love, everyone who died would instantly go to heaven. Hitler would be in heaven. Stalin, in heaven. The worst of the worst would be populating heaven’s streets.
The same writings that tell us God is love, also tell us He is just. We see the problem of a love-only God above; if God were only just, none of us would go to heaven! Heaven is not populated by “good people,” nor is it populated by deserving people; it is populated by forgiven people and that is what Lewis in the statement above reminds us.
How does one prepare for death? By accepting the gift of life Jesus offers to us. The Apostle John put it this way, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NLT).
When I stand before God and He asks me, “John, why should I let you into My Heaven?” My answer is not going to be anything I have done, but profession of what He has done; He died in my place paying the penalty I owe so I could enjoy a new life—both here and beyond the grave.