A recent survey in Canada shows that about 70% believe in heaven and some 30% believe in hell. This made me wonder where these people think they are going after their death? Do they think that they will go to heaven even if they lived according to their lusts and desires? Just because one does not believe in hell does not mean that it does not exist.
Truth is that heaven is open to everyone but not everyone choose to enter it. Another truth is that God does not put people in hell. Hell is a personal choice and people who go there, do so because they intentionally and consciously reject God.
Pope John Paul II gave a teaching on heaven, purgatory and hell. His teaching caused a lot of controversy specially from fundamentalist Christians who believe that heaven and hell are places. In that teaching, the Pope said that these three “places” are states and not places.
The Pope says that “In the context of Revelation, we know that the heaven or happiness in which we will find ourselves is neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity.”
The Pope also said that purgatory “does not indicate a place, but a condition of existence”. While hell is “the state of those who definitively reject the Fathers mercy”. The Pope further says that hell “is not a punishment imposed externally by God but a development of premises already set by people in this life. The very dimension of unhappiness which this obscure condition brings can in a certain way be sensed in the light of some of the terrible experiences we have suffered which, as is commonly said, make life hell.”
So even here on earth, we can experience hell when there is unhappiness. Unhappiness is the opposite of happiness. Happiness is sometimes translated as being blessed. So the opposite of being blessed is being cursed.
Deuteronomy 30 also says:
See, today, I set before you life and prosperity, death and disaster. If you obey the commandments of Yahweh your God, if you love Yahweh your God and follow his ways, if you keep his commandments ... you will live and increase, and Yahweh your God will bless you in the land that you are to enter.
But if your heart strays, if you refuse to listen, if you let yourself be drawn into worshiping other gods and serving them, I tell you today, you will certainly perish; you will not live long in the land you are crossing in the Jordan to enter and possess... I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then so that you and your descendants may live, in the love of Yahweh your God, obeying his voice, clinging to him! For in this your life consists, and on this depends your long stay in the land.
If we live in obedience to the Lord, we live under his blessings. If we reject him, we live outside of his blessings. If we live outside of his blessings, then we are outside of God's protection. We become vulnerable to whatever attacks us. The attacks that come are not punishments but the consequence of being outside of God's protection.
Notice that God did not say that he will curse us if we stray. He said that “you will certainly perish”. This means that if we reject God, we bring the curses on ourselves. If one goes to hell, that is the result of abandonment of God. It is the consequence of the rejecting God.
Let us then pray that we will be able to live holy lives fully obedient to the Lord's will. And should we reject him, let us turn back to him and repent of our sin.
For the complete text of the Popes teaching click here.