Heaven & Hell Are Not Places

“We are made whole (healed) by the grace of God, and brought into a relationship with Him that is our true inheritance. Heaven and hell are not places created by God for those who were good, or bad, but rather about relationship. The Fire of God is heaven for those who have responded to God’s love, and hell for those who have remained in the darkness of sin (sickness), and whose ego has shut out God, for self. Heaven and hell are not places, but all about relationship.” Abbot Tryphon

I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth revisiting. Our culture’s understanding of heaven and hell is severely distorted. Too often, heaven and hell are viewed as future destinations either to reward the good or punish the bad.

However, as Fr Stephen Freeman is fond of saying, “Jesus did not come to make bad men good, but dead men alive.” What is at stake is the transformation of human nature, which is so fractured, distorted and sick that it’s dead. And in this dead state, we shut out God. That is hell. In our brokenness, we constantly live in hell.

So the issue isn’t ethics or morality. You can’t tell a corpse to behave better. The only hope is Resurrection. For the Resurrection is the inauguration of God’s Renewed Creation. And the power of the Resurrection brings life to all of us who are dead. This is the point of Ezekiel 37 and Jesus’ retelling of that vision in the Story of the Prodigal Son. The son wasn’t restored because he “got his act together” or because he apologized to the Father. He experienced Resurrection. He returned from exile and back into relationship with his father and his household.

When a person experiences the Resurrection, the process of transformation begins. And this is heaven. Heaven is being loved by God and being able to love him back, regardless of circumstance. Heaven is loving and living God’s will regardless of the pain or sacrifice one experiences. Heaven is being transformed into Christ’s likeness from the inside-out.

As Jesus hung upon the cross absorbing the world’s sin and evil upon himself, he was in heaven. In the midst of hell, he was in heaven.

So heaven and hell are descriptions primarily of our relationship with God. But are there future destinations of heaven and hell? I believe so. It’s called the New Creation. One day, God will renew his Creation. He will set all things right. Jesus’ prayer will fully be answered as heaven and earth finally overlap and God’s reign will be on earth (the human realm) as it is in heaven (God’s realm). And in the New Creation, God’s glory will cover the earth as the water covers the seas. This will be the ultimate and eternal experience of heaven and hell.

And on that day when God renews his Creation and drenches it with his undiminished glory, his very love and presence will be like an eternal inextinguishable lake of fire for those who shut him out. And that same love and presence will be indescribable joy for those who have been transformed into his likeness and live only for his will.

So heaven and hell begin now. Each of us is on that journey every day.

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Sin Can’t Sing

 

“All is blessed by the hand of God, and all things are the ‘songs’ of God’s glory: even things that humans find odd, and perhaps disgusting. Ugly insects are as much part of the song of glory as graceful trees. Sin alone is not part of the song of glory. Alone in the creation it cannot sing at all.”

John Anthony McGuckin, The Orthodox Church

I enjoy watching The Voice and The Sing-Off. Yet, I can’t stand American Idol. One reason is that I absolutely hate the initial auditions. The cringe-factor is too high for me. It seems too many people think they can sing, get furious when confronted with the actual reality by professionals, and then have their delusions broadcasted for all to see.

McGuckin’s quote reminds me of those awkward American Idol moments. Sin believes it can sing. Yet try as it might, it only screeches and shrieks. Painfully. Agonizingly. Sadly, sin compounds itself, forming a choir of clamorous voices, and very quickly, it can become the dominant voice in our ears.

But we don’t have to yield to sin’s delusions. If we listen carefully, we can hear the harmonies of God’s creation, resonating with the melody of God’s glory. And since the song is in the key of Incarnation, all of us can easily find our parts and join in the chorus.

Although sin can’t sing, we can!