Monday, September 22, 2008

Who Goes There?

This morning I read about a poll of 1,648 adults in the fall of 2007 who believe that at least half of Americans will "make it into heaven" according to a story in Religion Today. Which proves that, among those who expressed opinions, you and I have a better than even chance of making it. --That is, if you believe opinion polls have any effect on God's decisions.

But that poll opens up a bunch of other questions. For instance, where do people go when they die; why do you call it heaven; and how do you get to wherever the good place is? And do all Christians automatically get into the good place, or is there more to it?

Heaven is described in the Bible as the place where God lives, or the place of his immediate presence (1 Kings 8:30, Deuteronomy 26:15, Matthew 6:9, etc). Stephen "gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand" (Acts 7:55) Because of these verses, we could say that 'being with God' is the same as 'being in heaven.' To make matters more immediate, Paul said in Ephesians 2:6 that we are already "in the heavenly realms" with the Father and Jesus. So in some sense, because we are "in Christ", we are already "in heaven!"

So if you're here, and you're also there, where do you go when you die? Paul said he wanted to 'go and be with Christ' in Philippians 1:23, so he believed that after death he would be where Jesus Christ is. He's not clear in that passage whether he meant immediately in the sense of time as we know it, or whether he meant after Christ's return, when the living and the dead will meet the Lord together (1 Thess. 4:15-17, 1 Thess 5:10). And the timing is really a less important issue than the togetherness. However it turns out, we get to be face to face with God forever (1 John 3:2) and I don't think we'll be disappointed!!

But who goes there? If the people in the poll are right, not even all the Christians get to go. But I don't think they are -- for one thing, we know that salvation is a gift, not to be earned (Eph 2:8-10, for instance) so it's not the 'best Christians' who get to go, but everyone. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world (John 1:29) not just for the most obedient; and he reconciled the whole universe to the Father (Col. 1:20). The 'whole universe' would include you and me, even on our worst day.

Some nights you and I don't sleep well anyway. So I sure wouldn't lose any more precious sleep worrying about whether or not we get to be with God forever. He's already decided he wants us there, and I intend to let him get his way. How about you?

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