One of the reasons why we rarely find ourselves longing for eternity—is that we have a distorted image of what eternity really holds for us. We picture heaven as a place where we will spend endless years doing nothing, or even worse, singing and playing a harp. The Biblical picture of eternity is far more compelling than what we normally imagine. Scripture describes a place of perfect community, meaningful responsibility, incredible beauty and unlimited joy.
For some people, a huge barrier to faith is the idea that God would consign unbelievers to a place of eternal punishment. Many find it impossible to reconcile the idea of a loving Heavenly Father and a God who would create a place called Hell. And yet – the Bible speaks clearly of such a place. What we must understand is that God doesn’t send anyone to Hell. He has done everything possible to make sure no one ends up there. God simply honors our free will; which means that those who choose to distance themselves from God in this lifetime will find that their choice is honored eternally.
There is a strong sense within our hearts that there must be more to this life than just this life. As the writer of Ecclesiastes says, God has “set eternity in the hearts of men.” The treasure-filled pyramids of ancient Egypt are a testimony to the power of this inner pull toward the eternal. We try to ignore this longing or bury it under a flurry of activity, but in our quietest moments, that still, small voice can be heard. Much of the depression and anxiety in our culture could be traced back to the loss of belief in Heaven. Having lost sight of eternity, we try to find heaven in this world. Ultimately, we become discouraged because life doesn’t work out the way we thought it should.
What are the entrance requirements for heaven? If asked, the average person would probably say that you make it into heaven by being “good enough.” To most people, this seems like the fair way to do things; after all – isn’t this the way life works? You do well in school – you advance to the next grade. You perform well at the try-outs, and you make the team. You do a good job at work and you get a promotion. We believe that heaven should work the same way. But – there are some significant problems with the “All Good People Go to Heaven” view. For instance, how do we measure how good is good enough? Is the standard for goodness Mother Theresa or Martha Stewart – do I have to be as good as Billy Graham – or only as good as Bill Gates? Perhaps the biggest problem with thinking that good people go to heaven is that it contradicts the teaching of Jesus himself. Perhaps the greatest rebuttal of this view is the response of Jesus to the dying thief when he said, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”