My favorite images of heaven and hell come from C.S. Lewis in his books, The Great Divorce, and the last book of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle. Those in hell choose hell. They become smaller and smaller and further isolated from others. They are but specters. In heaven, everything is bigger and more real. Heaven’s grass hurts the feet of ghostly newcomers until they become solid and go deeper into heaven. Hell fits into a crack in heaven. What seems like a whole world to us here is but a fissure in heaven. What poses as real here is but a shadow of God’s reality.
There’s a little bit of heaven and hell in Psalm 95. The first section, verses 1-7, is a glimpse of heaven where all join in praise of the wonders of God. “O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving! (1-2a) To be in God’s presence is to be in heaven.
The second section, verses 8-11, is a glimpse of hell. The psalmist begs the people not to harden their hearts the way the Israelites did in the desert when they grumbled and complained about not having water, putting God to the test. “O that you would harken to his voice! Harden not your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.” (7b-9) The writer states very clearly that such as these will not enter the sanctuary of God, “Therefore I swore in my anger that they should not enter my rest.” (11)
The gates of heaven are wide open but we have to choose to walk through them. We have the option of hardening our hearts against God.
In The Great Divorce, specters from hell take a bus to heaven. There they are given the choice to stay or go back. If they stay, they have to give up their false identities and untrue beliefs. Many are unwilling to do this. Rather than let go of these, they hold tight and choose to return to their own personal hell where they grow harder of heart.
If God were to call you today and offer you heaven, would you be willing to let go of all of your preconceived notions in order to enter? Or will you harden your heart against God?
What will be the hardest for you to let go of?