A common view of heaven is that it is a reward for being good. Be good in this life and then you can go and have a ball in heaven – no longer having the restraint of having to pass the entrance exam. Indeed, some believe that when a martyr gets to heaven he is immediately met by seventy-two virgins and promised everlasting happiness.
Maybe our parents said things like ‘be nice or you won’t go to heaven’, in the same way that they might have said ‘do your homework or you won’t go to university’. Perhaps we grew up thinking that the final test will be to weigh our good deeds against our bad deeds, and if the scales tip the right way we get in.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the film ‘Meet Joe Black’. Joe is ‘Death’, come to claim a wealthy American who it seems has led a ‘good and honest life’. Joe takes a short holiday with the American before he takes him to his final destination. When it’s finally time to leave the American asks, “Do I need to worry where I’m going?” to which Joe replies, “A man like you…. No”. His reward is heaven. He got there by his own efforts and he deserved it!
Then there is Pascal’s wager. Put simply, if you believe in God and he exists then you get to heaven, if you believe and he doesn’t you simply cease to exist when you die – no negative consequences, so a safe thing to do. If you don’t believe in God and he doesn’t exist then you simply cease to exist when you die, but if you are wrong you suffer in hell – a serious negative consequence, not a safe thing to do. As I’ve written it there is the implication that if you believe in God you get to heaven, which some take as the ‘entry requirement’.
A friend likes to turn Pascal’s wager upside down and say something like, “If I don’t believe in God and find out heaven’s real then I get a double bonus as I haven’t had to do all the religious stuff and I get to heaven as well”
Then there is the ‘Christian’ view that we can all go to heaven because of Jesus dying on the cross; he has bought our entry, we don’t have to do anything.
But is heaven like any of these concepts? Let’s apply some reason to the question.
I don’t invite people to my house as a reward for them being good. I invite them because I like them.
I don’t feel I have a right to go to someone else’s house because I’ve been good. I only go if I have an invite, and because I want to get to know them better because I expect to like them.
Heaven is God’s house. Wouldn’t we expect a similar situation to apply to heaven? Isn’t it a cheek to expect to go to his house just because we’ve done good deeds? Isn’t it reasonable to only go if we want to get to meet God? Would we expect to treat God with less respect than we would treat our neighbours?
And what of this idea that once we get there we can just enjoy all the things we’ve given up to get there? Seventy-two virgins…. Yet I wonder if they would consider it heaven. And that’s really the point. Heaven is not set up for me as an individual to live in wanton pleasure to the detriment of everyone else. Heaven must be a place where everyone lives for the good of everyone else – otherwise it wouldn’t be heaven. When I helped in prison, the chaplain used to say ‘Sin can’t get into heaven’. If sin was allowed, it would be no different to here; it would not be heaven.
Therefore, if you or I want to hold on to our selfish ways, if we want to hold on to any of our ‘sin’ then we cannot be allowed to enter.
We need a transforming of our mind to be able to enjoy heaven; heaven would be ‘hell’ if we didn’t enjoy and thrive on being selfless and loving.
It’s not about ‘be good and go to heaven’. We need to be willing to undergo complete transformation of our way of thinking if we want to be fitted for heaven, we need a new ‘heart’. That’s what so much of Christ’s teaching was all about – how to be completely selfless and loving, putting others before oneself, preparing ourselves for heaven.