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Heaven and hell: Compelling (and surprising!) answers to your questions

April 15th, 2020 | 12 Comments | Posted in Miscellaneous

Have you ever wondered about the afterlife? What will heaven be like? What will we do there? Do we go straight there when we die or somewhere else first? And, a burning question for many, will our pets be there? (I admit I skipped ahead to find out the answer to that last one!)

These questions and more are answered in the book 40 Questions About Heaven and Hell by Alan W. Gomes. Gomes is a professor of theology at Talbot School of Theology in Southern California. He’s viewed as a first-rate theologian and was also one of my favorite professors when I was a student at Biola.

Simply put, his book is outstanding. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Neither can its reviewers, including respected Christian scholars such as Wayne Grudem, Michael Horton, and J.P. Moreland. They’ve called it “an outstanding analysis,” “a superb resource,” and “a masterpiece.” No doubt it will become the go-to resource for pastors, church leaders, and anyone else who’s interested in learning what the Bible has to say about the afterlife.

Below I list three things I learned while reading this book. Let me warn you that some of the things I share may, at first, seem shocking. But I assure you that Gomes’ chief concern is to be faithful to Scripture, and it shows. He grounds all his answers in God’s Word. As Grudem observed, the book is “relentlessly faithful to Scripture.”

My Personal ‘Aha’ Moments

Heaven is not Christians’ true eternal home. It’s common for Christians to speak of spending eternity in “heaven.” Pastors use this language during funerals. And so do many of our favorite hymns, including “Away in a Manger,” which implores God to “fit us for heaven to live with thee there.” But, in answer to Question 10, “What Fate Awaits Those Who Die, Immediately upon Death?”, Gomes explains that heaven, according to Scripture, is not our eternal home. It is the intermediate, temporary state where believers go when they die and experience a disembodied existence. In heaven, Christians enjoy direct and glorious communion with Christ. It’s a truly blessed state. But it’s not the best state — the eternal state that will occur after the Lord returns; gives us our glorious, resurrected bodies; and establishes the new heavens and new earth.

Prior to reading this book, I was aware that there is an intermediate state between death and our eternal life. But I mistakenly referred to our eternal home as “heaven.” Yet it’s more accurately called “the New Earth.”

Our eternal life will have more continuity with our present life than I had considered. When many Christians think of eternal life, they have in mind some unbiblical notions. As a result, it’s difficult for them to get too excited about it. While I didn’t imagine eternity to consist of clouds, harps, and baby cherubs, I also hadn’t considered it in the way Gomes describes in answer to Question 21, “What Are the New Heavens and the New Earth?”:

The traditional picture of the eternal state as an ethereal, floaty, intangible, interminable church service is frankly a bit weird and unappealing…. Contrast this, on the other hand, with the true biblical picture. Who would not want to live someday on a magnificently beautiful and lush earth, free of all pollution, floods, earthquakes, harsh climate extremes, decay, and everything else about this world that brings us dissatisfaction and pain? What if we could pursue activities that are similar in many ways to what we do now, only vastly better and purged of all defect and disappointment, including physical undertakings that allow us to work with our hands as well as with our minds? And, best of all, who would not want to have unbroken, perfect, and direct fellowship with God, and ideal relationships of consummate joy and love for one another, in this idyllic setting!

In other words, imagine all the best things about this present world — minus the bad stuff. Actually, that doesn’t go far enough. It’s way better than even the best we have now, quite apart from the bad stuff. For many, that is a different way of looking at eternity. And it makes me even more excited about it. Later, in answer to Question 25, “What Will We Do in the Eternal State?”, Gomes states it’s possible there will even be sports (if the physics of the new earth allow them)! I imagine the same would be true of many other things you and I currently enjoy doing, including cooking, painting, and (my own favorite pastime) reading. It’s fun to think about the possibilities.

All babies most likely will go to heaven when they die. Parents who have experienced the loss of a precious child will be eager to read Gomes’ answer to Question 11, “What Happens to Infants Who Die?” The answer he offers is not certain because the Bible does not answer this question directly. But he argues that it’s probable that all infants dying in infancy (as well as those born with a severely diminished mental capacity) go to heaven.

Even though infants are born guilty and corrupt because of Adam and Eve’s sin, they cannot yet commit acts of personal, conscious sin. Since God bases his condemnation of people only on their actual sins (Matt. 16:24-27; Rom. 2:6-11; 2 Cor. 5:10), then infants will not be punished because they are incapable of committing acts of sin (Rom. 9:11). However they, like all other people born both guilty and corrupt, do require salvation through Christ’s atoning work. This leaves an important question unanswered, according to Gomes: “How would an infant, who is incapable of faith, partake in Christ’s atoning work, given that faith is what joins us to Christ?” Scripture doesn’t say.  What we do know, beyond any doubt, is that our God is just and merciful, and we can trust Him.

I had often heard that all babies who die go to heaven. But I never knew the biblical support for this teaching, other than David’s seeming conviction that he would be reunited with his deceased son when he died (2 Samuel 12:22-23). However, the use of this single passage did not seem conclusive to me. Gomes agrees. He builds his argument not on a disputable interpretation of one passage, but on the whole teaching of Scripture, including teachings about salvation and original sin.

Other ‘Burning’ Questions

Other questions address hell, such as “Are the Fires of Hell Literal?” “How Long Does Hell Last?” and “How Can We Be Happy If There Are People Suffering in Hell?”

One of my favorite chapters is “Question 9: What Should We Conclude About Those Who Claim to Have seen Heaven or Hell?” The principles he gives for evaluating these claims are worth more than the price of the book. They can be used to test any claims of alleged supernatural experiences, not just trips to heaven and hell. This includes the alleged experiences of the “apostles” and “prophets” in the New Apostolic Reformation (including encounters with Jesus or angels).

I encourage you to buy this book today. You can read it through from beginning to end, or pull it out every time a new question comes to mind. I’ve been discussing it with my children, who are fascinated by the topics.

Sorry, I won’t spill the beans on whether you can expect to see Fido or Fluffy in heaven. You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Note: I did not receive any compensation for writing this review.

About the author

Holly Pivec is the co-author of A New Apostolic Reformation?: A Biblical Response to a Worldwide Movement and God’s Super-Apostles: Encountering the Worldwide Prophets and Apostles Movement. She has a master’s degree in Christian apologetics from Biola University.

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12 Responses to “Heaven and hell: Compelling (and surprising!) answers to your questions”

  1. Jeannette Says:

    For the question of children there’s Jeroboam’s son in 1 Kings 14:12-13. Of course we don’t know how old he was – probably not a baby. And Proverbs 20:11, though again there’s no hint of what age.

    And about animals is in Romans, but I won’t spoil the surprise there!

  2. Julia Pomeroy Says:

    Thank you for that Holly, I have been so encouraged but not for the reasons you might imagine but because I already hold to that which you have revealed above – that is what is encouraging. However I am disappointed that you have not addressed the most burning question of all – our pets!! This means I will have to buy the book after all!

  3. Tanya Says:

    Thank you so much for this resource! I can’t wait to share some of these answers with my own children who ask me these type of questions regularly. I appreciate your sharing it!
    Blessings, Tanya

  4. Gil Certo Says:

    Thank you, Holly, for the recommendation! I’m in the process of buying the book, and intend on sharing its contents with my wife, as well as others that may need encouragement during this season of trial and confinement.
    We often need to be reminded of the eternal kingdom of which we, as Christians, are a part of at this very moment, and of which we will be a part of physically, in the very near future. I can’t wait to see our King, face-to-face, and to live in a world where His perfect love permeates every aspect of that world; a world where death and sin have been vanquished, forever!!

    Keep up the good fight, and the good work!

  5. Ginger Hackney Says:

    Hi. I own this book and I’m working my way through it. So much good information! I’ve started highlighting as I read then I can go back and read it again, because there are times when I think,”wait, what did he say?” I plan on reading it more than once to let these truths soak in.
    Thank you for holding this book up for others to see.

  6. Holly Says:

    Hi Ginger, I’m so glad to hear that you’ve benefited from this book, as I have!

  7. John Winlow Says:

    I checked it out, gets great reviews, but kinda expensive!

  8. Marc Says:

    Hello Holly.
    Thank you for sharing your articles with us. They are so informative.
    Through them I’ve learned a lot about the NAR.
    This book-review is also really interesting. I intend to buy the book too.
    But I still have a question concerning your statement:
    “… Gomes explains that heaven, according to Scripture, is not our eternal home. It is the intermediate, temporary state where believers go when they die and experience a disembodied existence. In heaven, Christians enjoy direct and glorious communion with Christ…”.

    According to Acts 2:34
    “For David ascended not into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand…”, it seems David dit not whent to Heaven. Peter preaches furthermore in a NT-context (the Church was just founded… the “Real Apostolic Refomation” maybe?! 🙂 ).
    So was it his spirit, his body, or the two of them that did not “ascended into the heavens”?

    Thank you for your view, your answer.

  9. Tanya Says:

    Not to preempt Holly’s reply but if it helps I believe that Peter was making the distinction that David had not ascended bodily into heaven as Jesus had and Peter had been a witness to Christ’s bodily ascension.
    Acts 2:29 confirms that point. “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. (Acts 2:29, ESV)
    Acts 13:36 says this:
    36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption,
    37 but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. (Acts 13:36, ESV)

    So scripture is speaking specifically about David’s body not ascending to heaven. If David served the purpose of God in the earth as this verse says, then I think it is safe to say that David’s spirit is in heaven. He waits as do many other saints who have ‘fallen asleep’ for the second coming of Christ when the promise of resurrected glorified bodies will be fulfilled.

    And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.” Luke 20:34-36

    For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

    For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself”. Philippians 3:20-21

  10. Julia Pomeroy Says:

    I am not totally clear what you are saying but when you are referring to Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 he does NOT say David had ascended to heaven, he was referring to Jesus’ ascent and in fact he makes that quite clear in verse 29. He does refer to Psalm 110:1 “The LORD says to my Lord . . . “ which, roughly translated means: “YAHWEH says to my Adonai . . . . which could be taken to mean that David is writing about Father God speaking to Jesus!
    With regard to all those who die believing in God but prior to Jesus’ resurrection their spirits are now in heaven but they will not receive their immortal bodies until the end of the Tribulation along with the Tribulation saints.
    For those of us who have died in Christ, as Paul shows us, we are instantly in the presence of Jesus, however it is only our spirits, when the Rapture occurs then we will be furnished with immortal and perfect bodies and we will then be as God had originally designed us to be before what happened at the Garden of Eden brought sin and death into the world. We who are alive will be instantly changed at the Rapture we will no longer have our earthly bodies but we will have our perfect bodies and we will join with those who had died in Christ. We then celebrate our ‘marriage’ to Jesus!
    However we do not live in heaven for long, just until the Tribulation has finished then we come back with Jesus to rule and reign with Him. This is why Gomes says that heaven is only our temporary location, our permanent home is to be where Jesus is and He returns to earth with His Bride – us!
    It is good to hear your negative reaction to NAR, my beloved and I were sucked into that movement, unwittingly soon after we put our faith in Jesus in the mid 1970s. Thanks be to God, the enemy of our spirits, as ever, overplayed his hand and we finally realised we were in completely the wrong ‘church’ and got out, leaving a lot of friends behind, alas! This occurred only a few years ago but then NAR did not fully start until the 1990s!

  11. Tanya Says:

    I am sorry but I think you have misread what I wrote.

    If you read my post again the very first thing that I said was that David did NOT ascend bodily into heaven.

    I agree Peter was making it clear that David did NOT ascend in his human body into heaven but saw ‘corruption’ but Jesus DID ascend in His glorified body to sit at the right hand of the Father, which Peter was an eyewitness to. That is why I quoted those scriptures confirming that David DID NOT ascend bodily into heaven.

    I was also saying, as you are, that those saints who have died before the second coming of Jesus are with Him in spirit until He returns to gather the resurrected believers and those believers who are alive at that time and gather them together unto Him.

  12. Shane Says:

    Hi. Just wondering why you don’t write anything about the NAR and their links to the 7 noahide laws. NAR is kundalini/kabbalist coming together with the pope to give their allegiance to the mystical rabbis in israel. Thanks

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