H – E – Double Hockey Sticks. Hell.
The place we want to send all of our enemies while avoiding it ourselves. And for many, a place imagined to be one giant endless debauched party. Woot!
Which is, of course, better than being bored in a heaven.
As absurd as it is to curse someone by telling them, “I’ll see you in hell!” it is equally absurd to imagine heaven as nothing but a bunch of silk-robed cloud-riding harp-strummers.
Sadly, for many, their views of heaven and hell are as wrongly skewed as their view of God. Or even Satan. What should be viewed with awe, respect, and fear has been made pretty and puny through trivialization and petty humor.
So, how does one reset and enlarge their understanding of heaven and hell?
Well, you could read some of the many recent books on hell, such as Erasing Hell by Francis Chan. And then a few from the many available on heaven, such as Heaven by Randy Alcorn.
Or, how about a basic primer that references these two books and many more while covering both heaven and hell?
While not exactly a Heaven and Hell For Dummies*” Christopher D. Hudson** has come close with his new book Heaven & Hell: Are They Real? recently released by Thomas Nelson***.
Divided conveniently into two sections the book addresses 61 intriguing questions people ask about heaven and hell. Many of the questions were apparently suggested by readers of Hudson’s blog and followers of his Facebook page and Twitter account.
Get a clue about heaven for heaven’s sake!
On the heaven side of things, you’ll learn about what happens right after you die, what life will be like in heaven, what your resurrected body will be like, and who you might see way up yonder.
Probably one of the biggest misconceptions of heaven is that it will be boring. Clearly those who believe this haven’t really paid attention to what the Bible actually says about the place.
Hudson quotes Hank Hanegraff, known as “The Bible Answer Man,” who explains “..heaven will be a place of continuous learning, growth, and development.” Hudson adds, “our activities will include work and relationships that are enjoyable and fulfilling.”
Speaking of enjoyable, another area covered addresses whether or not there will be sex in heaven. While we will be busy, sex won’t be the activity. Unlike some religions that promise 20 virgins per guy, our focus will be somewhere else once we are face-to-face with our Creator God.
To address the sex issue, Hudson leans on C.S. Lewis who reminds us that “heaven is more than earth,” that our earthly relationships will be “subsumed…with deeper intimacy unspoiled by sin,” and the issue is “not that sex is taken away, but taken up into something even greater.” In other words, “where we fear fasting, there is really feasting.”
The bottom line is that our life in heaven is going to be far above and beyond anything we can fully imagine with our tiny little creature minds.
Hell no you don’t want to go to there!
On the flip side, many pooh-pooh a fiery hell making it out to be the more interesting-than-heaven after-death alternative; a kind of party-central.
Not. Even. Close.
And as far as seeing anyone there, if that’s possible you won’t know them or even care.
You and they will be in wretched everlasting agony.
The book touches on the fact that hell is indeed a real place, that getting a ticket to hell is your choice, that once confronted with the reality of hell you’ll resist and be tossed in, and how God’s sending people to hell is entirely just.
Probably the biggest issue for some is the struggle to understand how a loving God can condemn people to hell, aka eternal damnation. Those who raise this question often have a limited understanding of who and how holy God really is.
To them Satan is a pipsqueak, God is a glorified Santa, heaven’s a myth, and hell is a fantasy.
They’ll often object to the consequence of sin that is hell by claiming it’s not fair to receive endless punishment for a few sinfully delicious indiscretions. But on the other hand, they have no trouble claiming that a life of trivial good deeds and smug niceness should win them an eternity in paradise.
The reality is, as Hudson points out, that hell is just and you will lose everything if you end up there. “There are no friendships and no relationships. There is no love or joy or anything that will make you smile.”
And unlike some who believe that annihilation and non-existence follows death, there are chapters that address the eternal nature of our souls and the persistence of punishment in hell for those who choose to reject God.
You don’t just stop being when you die.
In fact, Hudson reminds us of Jesus’ own words regarding the awfulness of hell where, “the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched, [and] everyone will be salted with fire.”
Jesus repeated emphatic warnings to avoid hell and the terrors it holds. The only after-death party will be the big one in heaven.
You’ve got to serve somebody
Hudson winds the book down by stating, “Hell is not a consequence for a specific sin or the list of sins we may commit over a lifetime. It is the eternal punishment and inevitable destination for those who have rejected God and his plan for salvation.”
Being good doesn’t earn merits for getting into heaven. There is only one way, and that is to accept, believe in, and follow Jesus who said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12, NIV).
As Hudson concludes, “By following Jesus, we travel a well-lit path that leads to heaven, a place where we will experience life to the fullest in the presence of God himself.”
There is no other path. No other way. No other light.
You may not believe in God and heaven or hell and Satan now. But you will one day. And then, it will be too late.
It’s your choice. Which will it be? Heaven or hell?
Choose wisely. You will spend eternity in one or the other.
The good, the odd, and the missing
This is a book that can be read from front to back, but also is designed to work as a reference of sorts. Using the table of contents, you can easily look up and read the parts you are specifically curious about.
Being an entry-level text on the topics of heaven and hell, this would be a great book for a new Christian or a serious seeker. It’s accessible and biblically grounded providing a good overview.
This would be an okay book for a group study but is better suited for individual use. If used in a group, it would be best to tackle it a subsection at a time. There are five subsections on heaven and six on hell, making for a decent 11 week small group study.
Each chapter ends with only a single one or two sentence question for further thought or as discussion generators if used in a group.
Included in the book are a couple of info-graphics and a smattering of art reproductions. Some of these are etchings which are fairly dense visually and barely hold up printed in black on the lightweight pages. And, oddly, not a single illustration is referenced in the text leaving the reader to ascertain their significance.
The book is primarily comprised of quotes, both short and extensive, from a variety of sources, all well footnoted.
Sadly, there is no bibliography, index, or list of suggested readings. To go deeper, you’ll need to take the time to look up the books and sources referenced in the footnotes. However, there is an appendix that lists Bible verses by topic.
Overall, the book will probably not definitively answer every question you may have about heaven or hell, but it is adequate for getting a good grasp on the essentials from a solidly Christian and biblical point of view.
***Disclosure #1 (to comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255): I selected this book to review and received it free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
**Disclosure #2: After receiving the book and doing a little research, I realized that Chris, the author, was the project editor for Inside the Mysteries of the Bible: New Perspectives on Ancient Truths (American Bible Society), to which I was a contributor. ‘Tis a small world.
*Disclosure #3: Not that it’s important, but I used to be a project editor with Wiley Publishing in the awkwardly named Consumer Dummies division. I shepherded the development of titles such as Seasonal Affective Disorder For Dummies,The Book of Revelation For Dummies, and U.S. Military History For Dummies (all excellent titles). I also unsuccessfully lobbied for the development of Heaven and Hell For Dummies, a title I still believe they should pursue.
What do you think heaven will be like? What do you think hell will be like? How have you come to these perceptions of heaven and/or hell? Share your thoughts on heaven and hell in the comments!NOTE: This was originally posted on my blog, FaithBraised.com, which was awarded top honors for a single author blog by the Evangelical Press Association in 2012 and 2014.