As expressed elsewhere, I am convinced that this universe, and the life it contains, is the product of an intelligent creator. And that the creator was purposeful: the universe, and life, were created for a reason; a reason beyond his own amusement. I believe, based on the teachings of the New Testament, that life here, along with the whole physical creation, is simply a step along the way toward fulfilling the creator’s purpose. And that purpose seems to be the creation of offspring, children of God. And what we are now is only a temporary, preparatory stage on the journey towards his ultimate purpose for creation; similar to a caterpillars journey to butterfly-hood.
If the future is what its all about, why not just skip this phase of life and just immediately start off in heaven, or wherever our future place is. Since God is said to have known who would come to him before creation, it would seem like the present really serves no useful function. But is that true?
The following passage, from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, provides some connection between my life here, and what’s to come
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.
– 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 NIV
As a believer, the foundation that I build my life on is Jesus. I have the opportunity to build on that foundation using a variety of building materials, some good and some not so good. I build on this foundation by the way I live my life while in this physical form. When I live in obedience, I am building with gold, silver or costly stones. When I act in disobedience, I am using wood, hay or straw. At some point, as I leave this life, the quality of my work will be tested and rewarded accordingly. What I am doing here and now is important to my eternity. Matthew 6:19-21 expresses a similar idea using the location of our treasure.
And in the parable of the talents, Matthew 25:14-30, We find that the two servants who made good use of what the master has given them are judged, found worthy, and then rewarded with additional responsibility. Jesus appears to be alluding to a time of accounting for us at the end of this life. Have we been faithful with what God has entrusted us with here? If we have proven faithful, then we will enter into the masters happiness and be given additional responsibilities. In other words, how we respond to God here will have an impact on what we do in the life to come.
Life here would seem to be important because somehow it furthers our development, preparing us for what lies in the future. We are not just waiting for a spot in paradise. We are preparing for a job in the kingdom.
Am I a good steward of Gods creation? Do I follow the example that Christ set when he lived among us? Am I faithfully seeking to represent the kingdom of God in the place I live and work? God is not calling us to separate from the world, but rather to be its salt and light.
The New Testament teaches that what happens when this life comes to an end is dependent on your relationship with the creator. Those who have walked with him in faith will continue with him for eternity. Those who have not face destruction. But there are a lot of differing opinions as to just what is involved in those two final destinations.
While I have found few believers that will express in words that heaven will be whatever their vision of paradise is, it is apparent in listening to them talk about heaven that is what many are looking forward to: a time for tears to be wiped away, bodies to be made strong, families reunited, and no limit to the amount of chocolate that can be consumed. Praising God all day and night along with the heavenly choir. Visiting with Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, Paul and Mary. Having all of our questions answered to our complete satisfaction. Watching videos of our favorite histories.
But while some of that may be true, I have a hard time accepting that heaven is just a place of reward. I know for sure that I have done nothing that deserves reward. The only reason I have a place in his kingdom is because God has chosen me as an act of his grace. Nor can I imagine that watching video’s, eating chocolate or chatting with all the old hero’s of the faith would be very satisfying for all of eternity.
Instead I look forward to working in the kingdom, being a part of whatever function that God is preparing me for now. Here I am in boot camp, learning to be faithful and obedient. Then I will be doing my real job, a job that I was created to do and am in training for now. I cannot imagine what that job is now, but I look forward to doing it alongside my Father and creator.
What destination awaits those who are not among the elect of God, who have not walked with him in faith? The traditional response is that they will spend an eternity in a conscious state of torment. But I struggle with this response for a couple of reasons.
The first reason is that it is not really what I understand the Bible to teach. While it does talk about a fire that never goes out, and worms that never die, and that unbelievers will face that at the judgement, that is not the same thing as claiming the unbeliever will experience the fire for eternity. What generally happens to something that is thrown into the fire, or eaten by worms? It is destroyed, ceases to exist, vanishes: the fire and worms may not die, but what is thrown into them is consumed. And that aligns better with the more commonly described fate of the unbeliever: destruction or perishing. A time of judgement, potentially followed by punishment, and ultimately annihilation, fits the New Testament better than eternal conscious torment, at least to my way of understanding it.
The other problem I have with the traditional view of hell is that I can find no purpose in it. I do not deny that God has a plan that is beyond my understanding, and as God, he can do whatever he wants. But if his purpose in creation was to produce the church, the body and bride of Christ, and then the creation can be destroyed, what purpose is served by also preserving the damned in a place of torment. For the life of me I cannot see what that would accomplish. Just let them disappear with the rest of this material universe.
Just to be sure that there is no misunderstanding, I do not believe everyone is ultimately saved; far from it. Nor am I swayed by those who claim an eternal conscious punishment of unbelievers is immoral. God is God, and I am not. I do not question his right to do what he will with his creation. But, based on the scriptures, and my own understanding of his purpose, the traditional view of hell just doesn’t fit.
In short, I believe that all of this creation was for the purpose of growing the Bride of Christ, the church. And that when that purpose is accomplished, this creation will cease and his church will continue in whatever role he has created us for. And further, while I am here, I will do my best to be prepared for the future he created me for.