For the Christian, existence is a tale of two lives. This notion cannot be proved, and has to be accepted on faith, but that belief is rooted in a profound logic that resonates with the deepest needs of the human heart. As such, Christians are joyful because creation is both good and hope-filled: we know where we are going, and that all will be well.
In this life of limited years, with its joys and woes, we have to accept that God appears to be absent if not actually non-existent. It is easy to suppose that there is no god, and no afterlife. Many believe this and live their lives as best they can, often with great charity and self-giving. The truth for Christians is not that God is non-existent, but that He is profoundly constrained, to the point where He cannot practically intervene, and must therefore allow things to happen – even bad and terrible things. God is almighty but is limited in this world precisely because He loves us and totally respects our freedom. The paradox here is that it is the very fact of His love for us that necessitates His seeming absence.
In the life to come, the eternal life, things will be very different. Almighty God will no longer be constrained by human free will. God will be completely in control, to the extent that all bad things will be no more: no more sin, no more misunderstanding, no more death, no more separation or breakdowns in relationships. We humans will be fully redeemed – by His power – and that is a scenario that it is really impossible to imagine here and now. As scripture says: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the mind of man what good things God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2: 9)
In a real sense, if we accept Jesus’ message, there is no comparison between life now and life to come. The former is the briefest moment whereas the latter is unending, everlasting, eternal. And yet, this life now is hugely important: this is where we exercise a radical freedom and make choices both great and small. What we discern and do now really does matter for our eternal destiny: do we choose to give ourselves in love or do we choose to grab and grasp for ourselves regardless of our sisters and brothers?
And so as well as a tale of two lives, we have a tale of two destinies: eternal bliss with God or eternal emptiness without God? Heaven or Hell…
Traditional Christian teaching would see those who consistently choose selfishness and hate as ending up in Hell, whereas those who choose love – real self-giving love – will enter Heaven. We may state that God does not send someone to Hell – rather the individual effectively chooses Hell, by their life stances and choices.
I have elsewhere said that, while Hell exists as the logical apex of our freedom, I doubt very much that there is anyone in Hell. I know that this opinion departs from much traditional Christian teaching but it is based on a simple principle: God is love, and love will not tolerate anyone being lost! As such, in the final analysis, it will be God’s tremendous mercy that will see us all home to live with Him and each other in eternal bliss.
In truth, there is a great mystery here, but it is God’s issue and He will solve it! All I know is that He is the greatest lover, the tenderest father, and what parent would ever rest easy if their child was lost? And so I say, it is not our effort that will ‘win’ Heaven – it is entirely His mercy that will see us home.
Perhaps the real point of our choosing love in this life is precisely that we can somehow ‘bring’ Heaven on earth? In other words we can actually start living the resurrected life here and now, although it will only find its perfection in Heaven. I have met people who are living this life here and now, and they are truly inspiring.