Do we go directly to heaven or hell when we die?

This question is of no importance to readers in this community, but for Christians it should be an interrogative of great concern.

While it seems a straightforward query it seems that Christian scholars cannot provide a "yes" or "no" answer. Instead, they usually start with multiple quotes from the Bible and with good reason, as there is no one place that answers the question directly.

At the death of a loved-one, I don't know how many times I've heard people say, "They're in a better place now" or "They're with God." Are they? Or, are these platitudes nothing but soothing words for the bereaved. Theologians and Christian apologist jump from chapter to chapter of the New Testament to make their case one way or the other. This piece mil approach never gives a direct answer but relies on bits of scripture to build an argument that does not answer the question.

The answer to the question is "no" or "yes" depending on who interprets the meaning of the tidbits taken from multiple places in the New Testament.

Verses from Hebrews 9:26-27, Romans 2:3-10, II Corinthians 5:10 and 2 Thessalonians 1:3-1 to show that Christians will not go to heaven or hell until the second coming of Christ when God "will render to each one according to his deeds." (Romans 2:3-10) Using that verse makes it seem the answer is "no" but that raises another question. Where have "each" been during the time until judgment day comes?

To answer that question requires a leap to another verse that says, ". . . So, it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades . . ." (Luke 16:19-31) which implies there is a holding station that is divided into two sections "torments" and "paradise." (Luke 23:43)

Using a "holding pen" and jumping from chapter to chapter winds up leading back to the original question, "Do we go directly to heaven or hell when we die?" The answer is still "no."

The frequent New Testament affirmations that Jesus was "raised from the dead" presuppose that the crucified one sojourned in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection[1].This was the first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ's descent into hell: that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there[2].[3]

Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, "hell" - Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek - because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God.[4] Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into "Abraham's bosom":[5]"It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham's bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell."[6] Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.[7], [8].

Jesus’ sojourn in Hell, Hades or Sheol clearly indicates there were other “souls” there waiting to be released. When he ascended from the depths of Hades three days later, the “souls” were still there and would remain until the dsecond coming of Christ.

"Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation" (John 5:28-29).

Whether "graves" is taken metaphorically or literally the phrase  " . . . all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth . . ." makes it clear that Christians will not go directly to Heaven or Hell until Christ returns. So, when Christians say, "They're in a better place now" or "They're with God" at the very least shows their ignorance regarding the Bible.

On the other hand, they can be forgiven for not taking the time to leap from chapter to chapter in order to make a case one way or the other. Who has that kind of time except biblical apologists or theologians?

In the final analysis, whether Christians go to heaven or hell when they die is a moot point. When you die, you're dead. What happens after that is open to debate as no one has come back to answer the question, including Jesus although it is alleged otherwise. Since no firsthand account exists, it is nothing but speculation or blind faith. Nevertheless, it appears that upon death Christian souls go to neither Heaven nor Hell, the answer is clearly “no.” Maybe.

"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust"[9]

The end?


(Next: Explanations of Purgatory and Limbo)

[2] Acts 3:15; Rom 8:11; 1 Cor 15:20; cf. Heb 13:20.

[3] Cf. 1 Pet 3:18-19

[4] Cf. Phil 2:10; Acts 2:24; Rev 1:18; Eph 4:9; Pss 6:6; 88:11-13

[5] Cf. Ps 89:49; 1 Sam 28:19; Ezek 32:17-32; Lk 16:22-26.

[6] Roman Catechism I, 6, 3

[7]  Cf. Council of Rome (745): DS 587; Benedict XII, Cum dudum (1341): DS 1011; Clement VI, Super quibusdam (1351): DS 1077; Council of Toledo IV (625): DS 485; Mt 27:52-53.

[9] The Burial of the Dead: Rite I, Book of Common Prayer,

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Comment by Future on May 21, 2014 at 2:23pm
Who wants to continue through eternity as an extension of the same, inalterable consciousness? Frankly, I should think that the only just reward for living a life of virtue would be to wipe the slate clean and come back for another round, whether it be human or otherwise. Abrahamic religionists never consider what the term "eternity" really means. If they did, they would likely convert to some other religion that promises some sort of reincarnation. I can't imagine being a 500,000 year old soul, and never being able to forget shitty memories that I had been trying to forget for the last 499,975 years.
Comment by Donald R Barbera on May 21, 2014 at 8:15am

Joan--what you point out is why politicians with no qualification for governing get elected to office. Why businessmen with no more than prison sentences they escape are leading our businesses. Mediocrity is all we demand of our leaders. Do you believe in God? Yes. Mark up one for t he good although more than likely they're lying. Can you breathe unassisted. Unknown (qualified) Do you have a brain? Yes. Can you think? (Not applicable) Do you like people that like guns or pretend to like them. (Depends on what gets me votes.) Are you from this planet? (Who cares) 

Comment by Joan Denoo on May 20, 2014 at 6:34pm

I agree, Donald, rebellion is protection. In fact, I have been encouraging my daughter's daughters to rebel/question, with their mother's approval, because I can see them giving in to people and ideas that do not support healthy functioning. You know, the old "yield, obey, submit" notions that don't seem to get wiped out by having a strong mother and grandmother. They live in an environment of deeply religious people with very strong conservative and reactionary ideas. Peer pressure has a strong influence on them even as they reveal a strong appreciation of their mother and her accomplishments. Their Mom and Dad work together as equals, each having different skills that add to the quality of their shared business and home life. 

The turning of the wheel, from one generation to another, presents old challenges in modern dress. 

Comment by Donald R Barbera on May 20, 2014 at 6:05pm
Joan--I like "Thinking is far better than believing." Sadly, not just religionists are guilty. There are far too many people who never question anything. It is not rebellion to think. It is protection.
Comment by Donald R Barbera on May 20, 2014 at 6:00pm
Michael--Sounds like he was a late embracer of Pascal's Wager. LOL
Comment by Joan Denoo on May 20, 2014 at 12:53pm

Donald, It was the Apostle's Creed that made me realize I was putting my faith into a fallacious belief system. I could not affirm any one of the statements. I don't know when I lost my beliefs in those statements, but it was one day, reciting it as part of the service, that I said to myself, these statements make no sense. I got up, left the church physically and mentally and have found a whole new world facing me. Thinking is far better than believing. 

Comment by Michael Penn on May 20, 2014 at 8:49am

I knew a man who in his last days "came back to god." He told me that the reason behind it was that "he didn't want to burn." When you thinkon this it is damned near funny!

Comment by Donald R Barbera on May 20, 2014 at 5:12am

Joan--Thank you--wonderfully said.

Comment by Donald R Barbera on May 20, 2014 at 5:09am

Aleister--You are so right. Over, over and over and over, die and repeat! While I was in Catholic school, my friends and I found nothing particularly scary about Hell. In fact, it was kind of a joke like, "ooh, I'm going to tell your mother on you." Even then, dying and going straight to hell was of no concern. It was silly then and it is even sillier now. However, I know plenty of people who say they need to get right with God. Bullshit!

Comment by Joan Denoo on May 20, 2014 at 1:02am

Since the stories as told in the bible are fabrications of a Stone Age people to explain things they didn't understand, anything that is written there is irrelevant. God? Claims are not evidence of there being one. Heaven? Hell? They really don't matter because they are constructs created in the minds of a primitive people.

What if I am wrong? God, if there is one, knows my heart, that I work to awaken the public to the role of religion in maintaining and perpetuating violence in the home, and that false claims leave people feeling helpless, hopeless, depressed, anxious, and not doing the thinking that is required to solve problems and conflicts.

Living in the answer to Stone Age questions does not solve the challenges of the 21st century. We need more than obedience to a rule book from antiquity. Being submissive to a god, when there are so many gods, how is one to know which one is the correct one? If there is a god, then all the gods of the Earth would be giving a coordinated message. To say that the god of Abraham is the one true god, and if the followers of that Abrahamic god live to destroy each other, then that stands as adequate evidence that the construct is faulty.

Instead, come to full realizations that when a heart stops pumping blood to the brain, all the organs begin to shut down, one after the other. We can watch the closing down on technical equipment until all systems stop functioning. Death begins the alteration from blood, brain, skin, muscle, and sinew transforming them into dust. We become the stuff of stars from whence we came. What  remains are the people who loved us and knew us and remember us. 

The life cycle completes its course. 

Joan M. Denoo 

Monday, May 19, 2014

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