QUESTIONS FOR GOD
ARE HEAVEN AND HELL REAL PLACES?
PASTOR ED YOUNG
MAY 3, 1992
A couple of years ago, when I was at the height of my shark-hunting phase, some friends of mine and I would leave Houston and make the short one-hour trip to Galveston. We’d set up camp on the beach in the afternoon. We had a unique way of fishing for sharks. We would take large, big-game reels that were too big to cast, and one of my friends would stand on the edge of the beach, and we would get in this small rubber raft—it was daylight, of course—and in the raft we would put a 20-pound, bloody stingray, the shark’s favorite bait. We’d take the bait about 700 yards offshore, dump the bait, then turn the little raft around, make our way back to shore, and wait all night. All of a sudden, in the quietness and the stillness of a salty evening, the big one would come by and grab the bait, and it is excitement! It gets me fired up just talking about it.
One afternoon, we left a little late, we made it to the beach when the sun was just setting. It was nighttime, and we’d never taken the bait out at night. I said, “Who’s going to take the bait out? Here’s the bloody stingray that weighs 20 pounds. Who’s going to take the bait out?” And my friend said, “No way, Ed. I just got married. No way! I’m not risking my neck! No way. I saw the shark we caught last week. I’m not going to touch this. I’ll stay on the beach.” And children, please do not do this at home, but your pastor said—this is nine years ago, before I got some gray hair—I said, “I will take the bait out.” Dark, coffee-black waters off Galveston Island, shark-infested waters.
So I jump in this 8 foot rubber, inflatable raft, a little 1.75 HP Sears outboard motor on the back, and I make my way through the strong currents, the giant waves, these razor-sharp hooks, the bloody stingray going back and forth, no life jacket, a little paddle. I’m out about 700 yards, and I’m saying, “Whoa!” So, I look back and see the lights of Galveston. I can see no one on the beach, of course, and I take the bloody stingray and throw it overboard. But in my excitement, I didn’t realize that the big game line and aircraft cable leader got caught around the prop and I’m stuck out there, the motor shuts down and I’m like a human fishing cork.
Here’s my friend, 700 yards on the beach, the line all the way to the raft, 10 feet of big game fishing line and leader dangling under the raft, razor-sharp hooks, a bloody stingray, big tiger sharks and bull sharks looking. Hmmm, the table was set. I’ll be honest with you, I was frightened and I thought about death. I really did. I thought about death. The currents were taking me out. I was trapped, and all of a sudden, I had a super surge of adrenaline. I bit through a 120-pound test line and freed the raft. The stingray floated away, and I turned and paddled my way back to shore a mile down the beach. As I was paddling against the currents, I thought, “Lord, is this it? Please don’t let me die or be eaten by a shark. Maybe some other way, God, but I don’t want to drown or be eaten by the great fish.”
Have you ever had a situation where you faced death or you thought about death? That night when I thought about death, I checked my readiness factor, and I was ready to die. I had peace about my death. I wasn’t exactly fired up about dying in that particular manner, but I was at peace because my eternal security was in my relationship with Jesus Christ. I had put my trust in Christ because He forgave me of my sins and I knew where I was going.
This past week, I was talking to a gentleman about life insurance and we talked about this and that, important matters, like our wills, who will get the shark-fishing equipment, things of that nature, but we never discussed the after-life. We never discussed life after the grave because that’s a settled issue for me. What I want you to think about this morning is how is your readiness factor? Are you ready to die? Do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt if you were to die right now, where you would spend eternity?
Now some of you are skeptics and you’re saying, “I don’t believe in life after death, Ed. I believe once you take your last breath on this earth, that’s it. The candles are blown out. It’s over. Period. Finished. History.” But over the next couple of moments, I would like to give you seven rational reasons for the existence of life after death. Seven rational reasons for the existence of a heaven and a hell because you need to do some homework. You need to have this issue settled. I need to have this issue settled. Where will I spend eternity?
I’m in the third segment of a series entitled, “Questions for God.” The first week we asked God this question, “God, did Jesus really rise from the grave?” Last week we asked God, “God, is your Bible trustworthy? Is it true?” Today we’re saying, “God, are heaven and hell real places? You mean there’s life after the grave, God?”
We can see this in the natural realm. The first rational statement concerning the afterlife. We can look at nature. We can examine the cycles of nature and see that death gives way to life. You take a seed. A seed dies and it will germinate and grow a beautiful plant. An acorn shrivels up, you have an oak tree. The cycles of nature. How about a caterpillar? He’s cruising around. One day he makes a cocoon, a tomb-like structure and a little bit later he bursts forth from this tomb-like structure as a gorgeous butterfly.
Plato observed this. Plato checked out Nature and said, “This cyclical way that nature dies and something else lives because of the death I believe is a pattern, is a sign, is a symbol of what happens to human beings after they die.” So first rational reason: Look at Nature.
Another rational reason: Study the laws of physics. Albert Einstein and later others argued, and I quote—and this is the first law of thermodynamics—“Matter may change states, but it probably will not be created or destroyed.” Many people have studied this first law of thermodynamics and again they say, “This could be a pattern. This probably is a foreshadowing of what occurs after a human being dies. Matter is not destroyed. It continues in some shape or form.” So, study the laws of physics. Study nature.
Also, read the words of philosophers, the third rational reason. There’s a gentleman by the name of Immanuel Kant who is no lightweight speaker and here is what Immanuel Kant says. I quote, “All people on planet earth seem to have a concern for ethics.” Why do we have a concern for ethics? We have a built-in concern for ethics. He says through a long, involved philosophical process, the only explanation for this inherent sense of ethics is something he calls justice. Now, check this last statement out. He argues, “Because justice is not applied fully in this life, it must be applied in the after-life by a judge who finally settles all accounts. There must be, Kant says, an after-life, if for no other reason for justice once and for all to be served. The philosophers. Study philosophers. They say, “There’s life after death.”
How about the built-in sense of eternity that we have? Anthropologists have discovered this long ago in every culture, every nation, every nationality. You name it, we all have a sense of the eternity built within our lives. I read LeeBeth books all the time and these books at night always end “…and Bert and Ernie and Big Bird lived happily ever after;” “and the Berenstein Bears lived happily ever after.” We love those few words, don’t we? Happily ever after. A built-in sense of eternity. We want things to last. We think there’s life after the grave. So, how about the built-in sense of this eternal longing that we have? It seems as though mankind cannot get away from thinking about, “There must be something else. We must live forever.”
How about the fifth rational reason? The fifth rational reason for believing in life after death. Yes, ethics is important, but look at near-death experiences. You realize over 8 million Americans have had near-death experiences where they have reported they saw the other side of life after death? Bruce Geyerson, a professor at the University of Connecticut and an expert in studying near-death experiences states that when these people come back, when they are resuscitated, their lives are never the same. They have a concern for morality, a concern to help other people, they are less materialistic.
My grandfather became a Christian, a believer, later in life; he was in his fifties and he suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage and he was rushed into surgery and he died on the operating table. But fortunately, they brought him back. After that experience he related this story time and time again to the grandchildren, to everyone he saw. He said, “I saw heaven. I was in heaven and when I was in heaven, Ed, I was a little baby. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a new Christian or what, but I was a little baby. The streets of gold, the city was beautiful, and I didn’t want to come back. But I heard voices calling me “Come back. Come back, Mr. Young. It’s not through for you. I have plans for you.” And he said, “I didn’t want to go back, but someone in heaven told me, “Go back on earth and finish out your plan.”
My grandfather. He was a changed man. Not someone to make up some kind of hokey story or kind of talk about stuff like that all the time—a hardworking, country Mississippian. My grandfather. A near-death experience that changed his life.
But we also have to look at the Word of God, the sixth rational reason for believing in life after death. We have to look at the infallible, inspired Word of God because the Bible speaks with greater clarity, with greater authority on the after-life than any other book ever penned. It’s a major theme of the Bible: We will live forever in one of two places the Bible says, in heaven or in hell. The Bible talks about this and God encourages us through the Scripture to read the Scripture, to study the Scripture to know about your eternity, to understand about life after death. So the Bible, another rational reason.
But the final rational reason—and this reason we’re going to land on just for a while—we’ve got to look at what Jesus said concerning the after-life. What did Jesus say about life after death? He spoke about it more than any other particular person in history; and we can summarize Christ’s thoughts, His teachings on the after-life in four different principles.
The first principle is that Christ said the moment we close our eyes in death, we will immediately open them in eternity. So Christ taught, first of all, a universal, immediate resurrection. Take your Bibles and turn to the book of Acts, Chapter 24, Verse 15. The book of Acts says, the last part of Verse 15, “and there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.” There will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, what you own, immediately we close our eyes on this planet, we open them into eternity.
Nadal, Jeffrey Dahmer, Lee Harvey Oswald-type folks, word on the street says that God will put the hammer-lock on them, God will slam dunk them to hell. And we’re going to say, “Alright, God! Double pump those people into hell. They deserve it. They committed those crimes and they’re sorry individuals.” That’s what word on the street tells us.
Word on the street also tells us that to good people like us—moral people, people who never thought about crimes like these folks have committed—God is going to be like the friendly security guard in the apartment complex, “Come right on in.” And we can say, “Hey God, I know you have tickets for me at will-call in heaven right there on the front row. I’ll have two, yes, one for me and one for my wife. Thank you.” “Ed, you’re a great guy, come on in!” Kind of like the benevolent, grandfatherly figure. “I know you tried real hard,” and kind of slap us on the rear, “Good job. Get on in heaven. Everything is fine. You deserve it because you did so many good things.”
That’s what word on the street says. But Jesus says that word on the street is wrong. He said that the word on the street is incorrect. It’s false! It’s a lie from the evil one! Jesus said God will ask us one question. Not what did you do; what didn’t you do? God will say, “Who do you know? Who do you know? Have you trusted my Son, Jesus Christ as your Savior?” And the Bible says many, not a few, “Many will say on that day”, in Matthew 7, “Lord, Lord, I did this in your name.” “I taught in your name. I was baptized in your name. I took communion in your name. I taught that Sunday School class. Iwas right there at The Fellowship of Las Colinas. Lord, I believe you are the savior of the world.” But God’s going to say, “That’s great. That’s fine. But is my Son your Savior? Not the Savior; I know that. But is He your Savior? Have you trusted Him? Have you let Him come into your life to change your life?” That’s what God’s going to ask. One simple question.
There will be change. You won’t turn into Billy Graham overnight, but you will see a difference in your life. Jesus tells us over and over throughout Scripture, “I will be able to tell my believers by the fruit they produce.” I know a lot of people who go by the label of Christian, they say “Praise the Lord,” “Hallelujah,” “I love you, God,” and sing all the songs and say this and do that and don’t do this and do that; but they don’t know the Lord. They don’t know Him. They’ve never come to that point where they have received Christ. They think they’re going to swing into heaven on the coat tails of a family member who started a church long ago. Or “My father was a good pastor,” or “My mother was a godly woman.” They think, “Well, I can get into heaven that way.” Or “Because I have more good marks than bad marks, God will say, ‘Okay, come on in. That’s a high five for you.’” But the Bible says we are saved by grace through faith. I cannot repeat this enough to you! We are not saved by works! You are not saved by works!
“But how about Aunt Ethel?” you say, “Sweet Aunt Ethel. Boy, she reared four beautiful children. She gave $1 million to The United Way. She volunteered at the hospital. How can a good God throw Aunt Ethel into hell?” Frankly, I’ve had it up to here with that question. I want to jump down someone’s throat when they say that to me. You know what the Bible says about God loving people? John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His Only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish.” That’s God’s agenda. That’s God’s focus. God says, “I want you to know what heaven’s about. I want you to experience eternity. I don’t want anyone to perish.” 2 Peter 3:9, God tells us, “I’m patient. I’m waiting. I want all to repent because I don’t want anyone to perish.” So don’t say that God slam dunks Aunt Ethel into hell.
Let me tell you what heaven and hell are. Heaven is God granting us in an expanded capacity what we yearned for on this earth. That’s what heaven is. If you know Jesus Christ, your number one yearning is to follow Him, to love Him, to express love to Him. When we get to judgment, God will say, “Ed, that was your yearning. Yes, you were limited. Yes, you are a sinner. Yes, you messed up, but I will give you an expanded capacity to love me and heaven will be an awesome place.”
The Bible says in heaven we will have perfected bodies; relationships will be beautiful. Take the best feeling you’ve ever felt folks, multiply it by a million times to the millionth power, and you won’t even have a sliver of what heaven is about.
John described heaven in the book of Revelation using anthropomorphic literature, a linguistic technique. He tried to describe the supernatural in humanistic terms. He calls heaven a city. Now is heaven a city? Population 2.4 million. Get on the heavenly tour bus and tour the beautiful lakes and the rivers. It means heaven is a place somewhere. It’s perfect relationships, fellowship with believers and with God.
John, another example, says we will have white robes and that makes those who are fashion-conscious kind of shudder. “Well, will it be double-breasted? Will it flatter my figure? I’m not sure I want to go to heaven…white robes and everything.” The word “white robes” in Revelation in the Greek means “the glory of God.” Perfection—we will be sinless. John also says heaven will have eternal rivers of flowing water. That again talks about the fact that it will go on forever and ever and ever. Our need to be stimulated, to be excited, to have adventuresome tasks will all be fulfilled. That’s heaven: an expanded capacity of what our number one yearning is here on earth.
But how about hell? What’s hell like to the unbeliever? Aunt Ethel will come before God and God will say, “Aunt Ethel, you’re 81 years old. You spent most of your life trying to stiff-arm the Bible, kind of do the Heisman Trophy on the church, easing away from that spiritual word. Someone invited you to church, you backed away from them. Yes, you may be a fine and good person, Aunt Ethel, but thousands and thousands of times the Holy Spirit tugged on your heart. I whispered in your ear, and Aunt Ethel you said, ‘God, you can take a hike.’ Aunt Ethel, I’m going to grant to you in expanded capacity what you yearned for on this earth, which is isolation and separation from me. So I won’t bother you anymore,” God’s going to tell Aunt Ethel. “I won’t tug on your heart anymore. I won’t love you anymore.” Hell is a real place.
“But I don’t want to go to heaven, Ed. The harp music…what about an electric guitar, maybe a synthesizer? That’s what the Bible says, harp music. I’m not into harp music.” Again, that’s figurative language. John is talking about the fact that there will be worship.
Do you remember a couple of years ago when the Pittsburgh Pirates won the World Series? Remember the theme song? “We are family.” Remember that? 50,000 people rocking back and forth, “I’ve got all my sisters with me.” Remember that? I thought about heaven because millions and millions of Christians, we’ll have worship and we’ll be saying, “We are family.” We will worship the Lord and it will be a perfect environment. Expanded capacity—that’s heaven.
But hell, the Bible says, refers to utter darkness. That means isolation. You won’t know if your friends are in hell. You say, “My friends are going to hell. I want to be with them.” You won’t even know it. You will be isolated. Solitary confinement. The Bible says, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. You know what the words “gnashing of teeth” mean? It’s like you’re playing golf. You have a two-foot put, and you’re finally going to beat this guy who’s beat you for the last two years. Instead, you kind of pull it to the right. You go [grinding sound]. That’s gnashing of teeth [laughter]. Gnashing of teeth. You’re in hell and you realize, “How could I be so stupid? I had all the evidence. I had evidence galore to receive Christ. I saw the rational arguments for the validity of the Bible, what Christ did. Using the classical historical method, seeing that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, rose again. I felt the tug of the Holy Spirit but I said, “No. I’m going to do it my way!” That’s gnashing of teeth.
This past week I gnashed my teeth because we forgot to roll up the windows in our 1985 Suburban before the hailstorm occurred. I walked outside and I looked inside the Suburban and there are puddles of water about that deep. I had the gnashing of teeth. But a better definition of “gnashing of teeth” would be when you’re walking down the corridors of the hospital and you hear someone crying out in pain. Again folks, that is hell.
So Christ says there will be immediate resurrection. There will be a judgment. Thirdly, He’s going to separate those who know Christ from those who do not know Christ, and finally, He will assign individuals to heaven or to hell.
Again, the judgment is not going to be God slam-dunking. God’s going to say, “What was your yearning?” He’ll be able to tell our yearning. “Hey, I’m going to give you an expanded capacity of what your yearning is.” And folks, I ask that question of you: What is your yearning? What turns you on? What motivates you? The marketplace? Success? Power? To get all the glory for me, me, me! To climb the corporate ladder. For pleasure? Is that your yearning? If that is your yearning, there’s no need to talk any further because God’s going to say, “I’m going to give you an expanded capacity of that yearning.” If your yearning is first for the Lord and seeking Him, an expanded capacity for that.
Well, what if your yearning is away from God? I’ve got great news for you because the salvation message, the gospel, is good news. You can say right now before God, “God, I want to turn my back on my yearnings and I want to follow you. I want to yearn after you. I want to follow Jesus Christ. I know Christ wants to meet me right where I am. Lord, I give it all to you.” You can take and make that decision right now, today, and know beyond a shadow of a doubt where you’re going after the grave.
Years ago, a very successful attorney was talking to a junior in high school. This successful attorney said, “Son, tell me about your plans.” The young man said, “Well, after I graduate from high school, I’m going to enroll in this Ivy League institution.” The attorney said, “Well, that’s great! What next?” “After that—because I’ve watched you, sir—I’m going to enroll in law school.” And the man said, “That’s great. What’s next?” “Well, after law school, I’m going to get into a law practice and one day, I want to be a senior partner of a law firm.” This gentleman said, “Great. What next?” He said, “Well, then I’ll get married and have children.” “What next?” Eventually, it will be time to retire. I will have a nice nest egg, maybe a house on Lake Fork to do some bass fishing.” The successful attorney looked at him and said, “What next?” He said, “Then, well, I’ll probably die.” He said, “What next?” He said, “To be honest with you, I haven’t thought about that.” And this wise, Christian attorney looked at him and said, “Young man, you are very foolish. You are not ready to live until you’re ready to die.”
Are you ready to die? Do you know if you will spend eternity with Jesus Christ? I pray that you do.