Not long ago a reporter for a Chicago radio station took a survey at O’Hare Field. He stopped about thirty people at the airport and asked them: “Do you know for sure that you are going to heaven when you leave this world?”

The response was unanimous: “No.” One or two even became indignant, and several others said, “Why of course nobody could know such a thing as that.” Human destiny! What an awesome thought to cross the mind. After we have lived out our lives in this mortal tent, then what? Is there some element in man that does a leap-frog over death and continues on and on?

People used to reflect on these matters more than they do now, what with the results of the last race at Santa Anita just coming in. The survey at the airport (and I am indebted to Dr. James Kennedy for this story) showed that we are attempting to answer a question that no one today is asking.

Modern man (I speak now of the male) is in many ways just about where ancient man was before the birth of the Messiah. He expects nothing from history, sees no meaning in the dizzy course of events, and so makes up his own meaning, whether it be working or altruism or boating or jogging or wenching or chemical dependency. To be on the safe side, he indulges in a few well-worn superstitions: knocks on wood, avoids row thirteen, and tries like his ancient prototype to appease fate.

Death he would like to dismiss as a normal event of organic nature, something he can approach as the animals do, without dread. But to tell the truth he is scared of it.

Recent scientific dialogues on death have usually avoided what were once known as “the consolations of religion.” Modern medicine and allied disciplines are making a serious attempt to dissipate the fear with which millions face the prospect of death. After all, they tell us, death is inevitable, so why not accept and even welcome it? Whether anything is “out there” is presumably a matter for para-psychologists and others to explore.

Nowhere does the gulf between Christian faith and the modern world seem wider than at this point. The ultimate questions of the naturalist become the primary assurance of faith. What seems an insoluble riddle, existentially speaking, is cause for the believer to shout, “Hallelujah!” For him the things said in Holy Scripture about human destiny are beyond dispute. Consider four of them.

1. God is sovereign and intends to fulfill his purpose in creation. The universal purpose of God is the heart of the message of the Gospel. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “God … wishes all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” Israel was chosen not to be God’s favorite but to be a light to the Gentiles. Jesus came not only to die for our sins and to rise for our righteousness but also to send his Spirit into the Church and to send his Church into the world. Jesus’ first words in Galilee indicated that God’s purpose was about to be accomplished: “The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Good News.”

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The New Testament’s broad message is not a summons to human effort but a declaration of God’s intention. To think of the New Testament as a manual for ecclesiastical expansion is to think wrongly. Nowhere does the word “plan” appear in Scripture.

The biblical word is not “plan” but “purpose.” God does indeed have a purpose, and he is moving to fulfill it with “all deliberate speed.” Trials and joys, suffering and glory are bound up in that purpose. A day will come when Jesus Christ will return and establish his reign, and the love of God will cover the universe as the waters cover the sea. Scripture tells us that all creation is groaning, waiting for that event.

2. Human life is conditional and probationary; therefore it will not be fulfilled here on earth. Life is not what Lady Macbeth called it, a brief candle; life is for keeps. We didn’t ask to be born; God asked it, and God intends to prepare us for our eternal destiny. Here again the gap between Christianity and modern thought is great.

Many people look upon the debate over life beyond death as one-dimensional; either existence goes on or it doesn’t. They prefer to think that it doesn’t. Christian faith, however, declares that immortality has a qualitative aspect, and the quality depends upon what takes place in this life. In other words, during our lifetimes we are being tried and tested and fitted and proved for a greater role after death. Here we are but “pilgrims and strangers” passing through.

Such a concept is alien to the pragmatic modern person. He couldn’t care less about heaven or hell. He will take the cash and let the credit go. He wants to enjoy the here and forget about the hereafter. Life as a proving ground for eternity is a thought that the modern mind rigorously repudiates. Still less is life to be considered a field tournament in which the winners will be announced in the next life. The drunken old Dutch skipper in a Somerset Maugham South Seas yarn put it succinctly: “Life is short, nature is hostile, and man is ridiculous.”

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So what should we do? Why, make the best of it, says the modern. Live it up and get what kicks we can out of a sordid mess. Then when things catch up with us—as they will—we can go out cursing our fate. The last words to be recorded on the tape of the KLM jumbo jet that crashed in the Canary Islands last March were, “God damn!”

3. A glorious future is certain for those who make the right choices in this life. It is a sobering fact that the choices of time are binding in eternity. A fatal decision during a battle can never be replayed. A climactic quarrel, a car accident, a murder—the moving finger writes and moves on. A hunter shoots the last of a dying species of fowl; that bird will never be seen again. An author writes a pornographic book that destroys the character of a hundred children; that book will never be recalled.

The Christian Gospel is based on the premise that each person’s destiny depends on what he or she does here on earth. You and I hold in our hands, under the sovereignty of God, the power to determine our everlasting futures. It is a free choice. Its components are what we confess with our mouths, what we believe in our hearts, and what we validate with our lives.

The alternatives offered us are indescribable bliss or banishment forever from the presence of the Lord. The bliss of heaven is not to be identified with the fleshly pleasures that are pursued so rapaciously on earth. It is a bliss of love, of koinonia in the Spirit, of reunion, of praise and worship, of the joy of being with Christ, and perhaps of some form of divine service. Since God is the Creator and Source of all energy, it is hard to think of him as one who would prepare his servants for a lifetime and then never use their skills again. But the Bible tells us we shall see Christ and shall be like him; and for the Christian that is enough.

How foolish, then, to dread death. How needless to think of dying as a fearsome prospect. The Apostle Paul tells us that because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, death has lost its sting. When a creature such as a scorpion or sting ray loses its stinger, it ceases to be a problem. So far as we are concerned it becomes just another part of the natural environment. It can’t hurt any more.

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That is what has happened to death. The empty tomb is proof that death has lost its stinger. It is still with us but is simply a part of the natural environment. What is there to dread? As Malcolm Muggeridge says, Jesus has changed death from a door that slammed to, into one that opened to whoever knocked.

And when we walk in, what delight! What pleasures! What a destiny for humankind, totally undeserved by us planet-spoilers but made possible for us by the Cross, where Jesus of Nazareth bore our sins and fit us for heaven.

The only accurate information we have about heaven is found in the Word of God. If we accept that authority, we may not know all we want to about heaven, but we can be certain of some facts that are clearly taught in the biblical record: Heaven is reality. Heaven is beauty. Heaven is joy. Heaven is freedom. Heaven is worship. Heaven is communication. And heaven is where Jesus is.

What greater destiny is possible? Heaven is, to be sure, only part of the Christian life, but it is the last part and, from what we hear, the best.

4. Hell is certain for those who make the wrong choices.

If heaven is a certainty for those who make the right choices, hell is equally certain for those who choose some other way. Scripture tells us that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. If we ignore him, deny him, oppose him, or bypass him, we may well pass through this life unscathed; millions have. But after that the judgment.

Hell, as David Augsburger has said, is actually a compliment to our freedom of choice. Were we all to be swept up to glory in a “triumph of grace” regardless of our commitment or lack of commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ, we would cease to be persons and become marionettes. Obviously we would not be free to choose or to take the consequences of our choice, for freedom means that the choice is really ours.

People get pretty emotional about hell, thanks to some of the bad preaching of the past. Emphasis is placed unduly upon distortions and cruelties, flames and torments, sulphur and brimstone. To get a true glimpse of hell, all a Christian has to do is to think what it would be like to live even for five minutes without God.

Billy Graham tells his audiences that God did not prepare hell for us; he prepared it for the devil and his angels, but if we insist on going there he will not stop us.

There was a period in my life when I was a prime candidate for Screwtape, Wormwood, Slubgob & Co. No longer. Thanks to Jesus Christ, were I to be stopped at O’Hare Field and asked if heaven is my destination, I would break the pattern and say, “Yes, praise God, hallelujah!” As Ethel Waters puts it, “I have a spiritual suitcase, and I know where I’m going.”

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Human destiny is both a social and a personal matter, because we are told that the nations will one day be judged. Certainly history itself offers no solution to the future. Bible prophecies have made it clear that the world scene would become increasingly chaotic, and with the grim forecasts now coming from the various governments, we can see that our true “social security” lies only in God.

But ultimately the question of our destiny must be laid before us as individuals. Quo vadis? Which way?

Have you been thinking about death these days? Thinking about heaven? Thinking you’d like to go there?

You can, you know.

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