Am I going to heaven?
Part 1: What's the difference between heaven, hell, and purgatory?
Stairway to heaven
There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold.
And she's buying the stairway to heaven.
When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed, with a word she can get what she came for.
Ooh, ooh, and she's buying the stairway to heaven.
Stairway to Heaven by Led Zepplin is one of those really well known songs that I just don't understand. Great piece of music, but the lyrics are a complete mystery to me. There's something in there about "a bustle in your hedgerow". I mean really, what's that supposed to mean? I don't have a clue here. But I am intrigued by this idea of a stairway to heaven. I imagine somewhere there's this massive staircase you can walk up, through the clouds, until you get to the top and there's this whopping big sign that says "Welcome To Heaven!" I really doubt that the stairway exists but it is a fascinating idea.
Questions about heaven
I have a lot of questions about heaven:
- How do I get to heaven?
- If there's no stairway, is there an elevator?
- What will heaven look like?
- Will it be all clouds with guys in funny dresses and wings?
- What will I look like in heaven? Will I look like myself or do I get to join the funky halo club?
But the biggest question for me, the question that takes precedence over all the other questions is: am I going to heaven?
All the other questions are trivial really. I'll find out the answer when I get there (if I get there). I mean, how can I be sure that God will let me in? Why should he let me in? I'm just some nobody and he's God. Is there something I can be doing now, in this life, to ensure I get into heaven? For me, this is a really important question, because one day I'm going to die - and then what? I want to go to heaven. I'm told it's the best place to spend the afterlife. But I have some doubts. Am I good enough? Have I met God's selection criteria? Do I need to hand in an application form with a photo ID and three references?
In this series I'm going to be tackling a big question: How can I be sure I'm going to heaven? I'll be investigating the afterlife options, God's entry criteria for heaven, and finally, what God has done to change the rules of the game. At the end of the day, you can be sure about where you're spending eternity. And it all has to do with Jesus.
What are my after-life options?
When I take my wife out to dinner, it usually begins with us trying to work out which restaurant to go to. I'll start by asking her where she wants to go. She'll say she doesn't know. And then I'll say I don't know. Then she'll ask me to give her some options to choose from. And then we'll narrow it down to one choice. And then, knowing my luck, the place will be shut and we have to go through the whole process again.
It's good to know your options before you settle on a decision. Especially when the decision is where you are going to spend eternity. I want to go to heaven, but before I get my heart set on it, I really should investigate the alternatives.
So the way I see it, just looking from the Christian point of view, there are three possible destinations when we die:
- hell, and
- purgatory (a place between heaven & hell).
This purgatory place is worth investigating. From what I understand, people believe it's some kind of waiting place. The idea is that if you're not good enough for heaven when you die, and not bad enough for hell, then purgatory is where you end up. Some people say it's a boring place where nothing much happens. Others say it's a place where you get punished, but only for a short time. So you hang out in purgatory until you burn off all those little nagging sins until you're good enough to get into heaven. That doesn't sound too bad. I understand the appeal. It's good to have a backup just in case I'm not good enough to get into heaven. Here's that second chance that everyone loves.
The problem is, while this sounds all well and good, purgatory is not a real option. It's not even a real place. You won't find it mentioned anywhere in the Bible, and that's not just because the writers of the Bible forgot to mention it. The Bible is very clear: there are only two places you can go after you die. In John 3:36, Jesus says "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."
So there's two options here. Either you get eternal life with God (heaven) or you get God's wrath and anger (hell). There's no middle option. No fence sitting. No loop holes.
So when I die, I'm either going to be spending eternity with God or I'm going to hell. And I'm sure I don't want to go to hell. Heaven, I'm told, is where it's at. But how can I be certain God will let me in?
We'll have a look at that in my next article!