Heaven and hell

Published 6:00 am Friday, September 10, 2021

Ship of fools or lifeboat to heaven?

Did you hear about the man traveling from New York to Atlanta on a business trip? Upon arrival, he sent an email to his wife but somehow the message arrived in the inbox of a pastor’s wife whose husband recently died. She read the message and promptly fainted.

“Honey, I made it OK, but it sure is hot down here!”

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When the funeral is over and dirt is being shoveled onto your fresh grave, where will your soul be? Will you be in heavenly bliss or will it be a little hot? I know, I know. I’ve gone from storytelling to meddling. People cringe when talking about spiritual matters of any kind, but mention heaven or hell and most of us start looking for a polite way to exit the room.

On the other hand, people are also becoming fascinated with the topic. Like Job we are asking: “If mortals die, can they live again?” (Job 14:14) Movies and books about death and the afterlife are increasingly reaching the bestseller lists. One TV series mom, worried that her son would ask about the meaning of death remembered a statement from her father: “If you pull the plug on a refrigerator, does it keep running?”

I’ll never forget her next comment: “Between the ages of five and seven, I thought when you died the Goodwill truck hauled you away.”

Is that all there is to life and death? Absolutely not!

Lee Strobel, an award-winning journalist at the Chicago Tribune made the journey from spiritual skeptic to teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church. He investigated the truth of heaven or hell in his book: “God’s Outrageous Claims.” His central point is that if you can believe Christ rose from the dead, you can have faith in the existence of heaven and hell.

Lee, an experienced reporter, investigated the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. He questioned leading authorities of history, the Bible, medicine, law and psychology. Lee researched historical sources and even checked the reliability of eyewitness accounts. His conclusion:

“We can proceed with bold assurance, thanks to the evidence of history that establishes with convincing clarity how Jesus not only preceded us in death but also came back from the dead and blazed the trail to heaven.”

John said it best: “I write this to you who believe in the Son of God; so that you may know you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13) Christ rose from the dead so you can confidently believe in your own eternity secure in the knowledge that God loved you enough to sacrifice it all on the cross.

Paul promised in a letter to the Romans: “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Death can’t and life can’t. The angels can’t and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God.” (8:38-39)

Don’t take my word for it; investigate the claims for yourself. Once accepted, you are faced with some significant choices. Do you pursue heaven or hell?

I bought a neck tie recently to match a new suit. Later, I noticed the late Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead designed and named the tie: “The Ship of Fools.” According to newspaper accounts written shortly after his death, Jerry Garcia due to his exploits with women and drugs was often described as a wild and crazy party animal who knew no sensible boundaries. If true, than Jerry Garcia may have been on his own “ship of fools.”

What about you? Are you sailing on a “ship of fools” with no happy ending in sight or have you chosen “Christ’s lifeboat to eternity” full of promises that our fears for today and our worries about tomorrow will never keep God’s love away?

I’m praying you choose the lifeboat!

REV. LARRY E. DAVIES can be reached at larrydavies@vaumc.org.