From: Good Goats
Our Roman Catholic tradition and many other Christian traditions share two beliefs about afterlife. The first belief is that Heaven exists and people are there. (By “Heaven” we don’t mean a specific geographical place “up there,” but rather a state of loving union with God.) We all have loved ones – grandparents, parents, friends – who we are confident are in Heaven. Secondly, hell exists as a possibility, but we don’t know if anyone is there. (By “hell” we mean a state of supreme alienation.) If anyone is in hell, it is not because God sent that person there, but because he or she chose it. C. S. Lewis used the image of hell as a room with the door closed from the inside, our side. But, as theologian Richard McBrien writes, “Neither Jesus, nor the church after him, ever stated that persons go there or are actually there now.” We know only that we are not to judge, and we are to pray that all of us open our hearts to God.
What hope do we have that all people will open their hearts to God? What happens when we die? The Christian God is an expert at opening hearts. For example, we read how God, in Jesus, did thousands of miracles in just three years’ time. Many of them were with hard-hearted people, like Paul, who wanted nothing to do with Jesus. When we die, we will have not just three years but a whole eternity of God’s loving and healing initiatives. Even if we were to die as hard-hearted as Paul, God would spend eternity trying to love and heal us. We know this because God’s essence is love, (1 John 4:16), and love heals. God has no other choice but to spend eternity loving and healing us, (1 Corinthians 13). Hope in God’s healing initiatives to save everyone is central to the Gospel message:
And I – when I am lifted up from the Earth – will draw all people to myself. (John 12:32)
When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:28)
Perhaps because of Paul’s personal experience of being loved and healed as an unrepentant sinner, he (like other authors of scripture) includes the hope that God’s healing initiatives will ultimately bring all of us home (in addition to 1 Corinthians 15:28, see Romans 5:12-21, 11:30-32; 1 Corinthians 15:22; Ephesians 1:10; 1 Timothy 2:3-6, 4:10; Philippians 2:10-11; Colossians 1:19-20; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 2:9; John 1:9, 1:29, 3:17, 12:47b; 1 John 2:2; Revelation 5:13).
Some people say, “But we don’t have a whole eternity. We make a free definitive decision at death, when we choose either Heaven or hell forever.” Since none of us has died, none of us can know this with certainty. But let’s just imagine that what they say is true. This would mean that at the moment of death we would have to experience a whole eternity of God’s healing initiatives, because we cannot freely and definitively turn down what we have not experienced. Ultimately, our hope is not in the life we have lived, but rather in the healing initiatives of God who will spend eternity loving and healing us.