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Return to September/October 2014 articles.

The article's title--A Journey to Paradise

September/October coverIf this life is all we will ever know, the problem of pain, suffering, tragedy, difficulties, and struggles is a huge issue. It may be that the reason atheists and skeptics focus so intensely on this issue is that, subconsciously at least, they know how hopeless their situation is. If this life is all I will ever know, and if things are not going well in this life, then the whole picture becomes incredibly bleak. All I can hope for is that when this life is over there is nothing. Ending this life ends all the frustrations life can bring. Suicide is frequently described as “putting him/her out of their misery.” One of the blessings of being a Christian is knowing that what we are experiencing in this life is the worst we will ever have to endure. No matter how bad it is right now, it will get better. In view of all of this, it is good to do some thinking about what the Bible says our existence will be like in heaven.

Adam and Eve in paradiseMy wife and I were recently shopping for a “vacation package” from businesses which offer those super deals. We wanted a great bargain on a visit to a special place far from the distractions, bad weather, and frustrations of everything at home. One of the promotions was for “A Journey to Paradise.” The picture on the brochure looked like a child's version of Adam and Eve complete with a smiling snake holding out a juicy looking apple. There were so many biblical errors in the brochure that I was motivated to find out where this paradise was and why it was portrayed as what Adam and Eve had in Eden. It turned out the promotion was for a trip to Hawaii.

In January, 2014, my wife and I were allowed to use some time-share points to have a free place to stay in Hawaii. While in Hawaii we saw the words “paradise” and “heaven” on numerous signs, advertisements, and promotions. We saw numerous biblical quotes, pictures of biblical events, and even references to Satan and the fall when the promotion was for something exciting and stimulating. In my home state of Michigan, we have towns named “Paradise” and “Hell,” and I suspect there are many places around the world with those names. I have been to both Michigan towns, and neither of them is either paradise or hell, and I suspect other places are not either.

a scene from Dante's InfernoThis conceptualization of heaven and hell is carried over into church discussions and skeptic literature. Dante's Inferno, which had more political relevance than biblical correctness, reflects the beliefs of Dante's day. Those same beliefs are present today. I had a young atheist say he did not want to go to heaven because singing praises to God and playing a harp 24/7 for eternity sounded boring. How to avoid boredom in an eternal existence is an issue for many people. There is also the issue of whether misunderstanding God or failing to follow God's teachings perfectly could possibly warrant being tortured for eternity. This is especially problematic in those situations where the person never had an opportunity to learn about God and never saw a Bible. Our sense of justice might accept Hitler, Mao, or David Koresh receiving such punishment; but how can we accept our neighbor who is a good person, tries to follow God, and is misled by his family's denominational tradition, receiving the same punishment?

An ad for a vacationChurches have had slick explanations to deal with this issue. One of the first explanations I heard was that if you are on U.S. Route 66 you will never get to Minneapolis no matter how strongly you believe you are on the right road, since Route 66 does not go through Minneapolis. That analogy breaks down in numerous ways. Even if it did not, it would not be much help in convincing the skeptic about the love, mercy, and justice of God. Saying that God's justice is different from our justice is true. However, it does not remove God from what appears, on a practical level, to be insensitivity to the human dilemma of being acceptable to God.

The second thing I have heard ministers present, especially in recent years, is the notion that heaven exists but hell does not. There are so many versions of this idea that it is hard to know where to start. In general, the idea is that God saves all whose hearts are compatible with his will. All who are not saved are kept out of heaven, but do not suffer anything other than the agony of knowing that they missed heaven. For some belief systems, such a soul is reincarnated in a physical existence to try again for heaven. For others, the soul dies or is destroyed in some way.

The reality of all of these speculations is that they all have massive biblical problems. They contradict any acceptance of the Bible as an authority for what is being taught. They also demonstrate a profound ignorance of the nature of God and of human nature. That should not be interpreted as saying that this author has all the answers to these questions. There are, however, some points that we can all learn and profit by understanding. In the process we can come closer to understanding death and dealing with the loss of a loved one.


The symbol ≠ in scientific literature means it is not equal to. In the middle of one of the coldest Januarys I remember in Michigan, Kauai and Kona Hawaii might have been a paradise in a relativistic sense. In the middle of August, Paradise, Michigan, has a great attraction to a lot of people. After being in Hawaii for a few days, you begin to see a lot of things that remind you of the problems you left at home — drug use, pollution, alcoholism, heavy traffic congestion, high prices, theft, etc. As you get to know the native Hawaiian population you hear of their frustrations with high unemployment, high prices for basic goods, unfair labor practices, and the encroachment of big business on their traditional way of life. The distance between the “haves” and the “have nots” is larger in Hawaii than it is in Michigan.

Adam and Eve were not in heaven — they were in paradise. Their physical existence was plagued with pain and suffering. Eve was told in Genesis 3:16 that her pain would be increased in childbirth, not that it would be initiated as a result of her sin. Adam and Eve also worked tending the garden (Genesis 2:15). All of the ramifications of love were present with Adam and Eve. Eve was a “help meet” to Adam (Genesis 2:20). The Hebrew concept of the words ezer knegdo means “a helper corresponding to him.” Genesis 2:24 indicates that concept in its discussion of marriage and the relationship marriage entails.

In Matthew 22:23 – 30 Jesus was asked about a woman, married to a series of men in this life. The question was whom would she be married to in heaven. His response was “for in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage but are as the angels in heaven.” Assuming heaven is a sexual pleasure trip is a demonstration of ignorance. People have taken the Revelation 21:4 reference to “no pain, no death, no tears,” to mean that we will have the best experience we have ever had on earth with none of the negatives. The language of man in describing heaven lacks the proper metaphors to describe it accurately, so we find terms like “streets of gold.” Heaven is so much better than any physical pleasure that words fail us to describe it, and our minds are unable to absorb it.


First Corinthians 15:35 – 54 gives a vivid description of what our nature will be after death. Verse 44 tells us that our physical body, which can suffer all the corruption that this physical world can bring on, will be put away. “Sown in corruption” is the Greek word speiro meaning “to plant a seed.” After that it will “be raised a spiritual body” (verse 44). Paul speaks of a change (verses 51 – 54) and tells us that this will be the end of death — agreeing with Revelation 21:4.

Our ability to visualize this process is limited because of our experience which has been physical in nature. Many have used the resurrection of Christ as the basis for maintaining that our own resurrection will be of our physical body still showing whatever nail prints and spear wounds that we might have experienced in life. This would mean we are not free of all that happened to us in life and the aftereffects — cancer, gun shots, diabetes, etc., would still be visible in some way. Jesus' resurrection was a singular miracle which fulfilled prophecy, but Jesus even warned his disciples in John 20:17 not to cling to his physical likeness. After his resurrection Jesus did many things not consistent with a totally physical body. In Luke 24:13 – 31 on the road to Emmaus and at the dinner afterwards Jesus controls what the disciples see and then he vanishes. In John 20:19 Jesus appears when the doors were shut and then shows his physical wounds to Thomas.

a volcano eruptingSecond Peter 3:9 – 11; Matthew 25:46; Isaiah 34:4; 2 Corinthians 4:18; Revelation 21:4; and Revelation 22:12, 13 all suggest to us that at the judgment, time will end and “the elements will dissolve in fervent heat.” Other passages suggest that time ends for us when we die and that the cosmos will end in dissolution, with time ending as well. If that is the case, the change Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians happens at the end of time. No matter when we die, our next awareness is at the judgment when we all stand before God with our new bodies.

Those who reject this concept will frequently use Luke 16:19 – 31, the story of the rich man and Lazarus, as a means of suggesting the resurrection is purely physical. The problems with using this passage in this way are:

  1. Much of the account is symbolic and not in accordance with the Old or New Testament. Abraham is judge, for example.
  2. Lazarus means “without help” and frequently does not refer to an individual.
  3. Lazarus makes no response and does not seem to be aware of the dialogue.
  4. This is most likely a parable, in a series of parables, with a common message.


The Bible portrays Christians as those who have passed out of death and into life. First John 3:14 says, “we know that we have passed from death to life.” This is repeated by Jesus in John 5:24. James 5:20 tells us “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death … .” Instead of saying that Christians and saved ones died, the Bible writers say that they have “fallen asleep” (see 1 Thessalonians 4:14; Acts 7:60; John 11:11). Romans 8:6, 7 tells us that “the mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God.” The passage goes on to say that “if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness” (verse 10).

Hebrews 9:27 tells us that “man is destined to die once and after that to face judgment.” First John 5:16 tells us that there are sins that can lead us to death. This all started with Adam when God told him in Genesis 2:17 that he would die “when you eat of it.” It is interesting that this is not mentioned in chapter one and up until humans had the capacity to choose to disobey God, real death was not a possibility for them. Romans 6:23 tells us that death is the wages of sin. Adam did not drop dead physically when he ate the forbidden fruit, but he did drop dead spiritually.

Putting all of this together, I would suggest that when our soul leaves the physical body behind, it enters the dimension of timelessness. That means that the next thing we know after we have separated from our body is the judgment. The judgment scene is described in the New Testament (see Matthew. 25:31 – 46; 1 Corinthians 4:5). We will arrive at that point at the same time that Paul and Peter do. No one wants to go back to the physical world with all of its limitations, pain, and frustration. When Samuel was taken out of timelessness in 1 Samuel 28:15 his response was “why have you disquieted me?” The word “disquiet” is from the Hebrew raqaz meaning to give trouble or to be brought into anger.

In the pictures of the judgment scene, we are told that those who have rejected God will be subjected to complete separation from God. In Revelation 2:11, it is referred to as the second death. Jesus warned us in Matthew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Those who have rejected God and refused his love and his grace will have the agony of knowing that they lost eternal life with God. They did not want a relationship with God in this life, so you might think they would rejoice in not having it after death. The thing that will strike them is that with God comes all the good things we can imagine — love, peace, contentment, joy, satisfaction, etc. The descriptions of hell involve pain, darkness, foulness (brimstone, burning sulfur), and every negative we can imagine. Are these things literal or figurative?

a couple on a beachWe have seen numerous passages that speak of the soul dying. In our May/June 2013 issue of this journal, we reviewed a book by Douglas Jacoby titled What Happens After We Die? He elaborates on “the Terminal View.” The attempts of atheists to portray God as a mindless torturer of those who are ignorant are misguided.

You might disagree with my understandings or with Dr. Jacoby's conclusions on this topic, but a careful study of the Bible's teaching on life after death show that this is how it will be when the dead rise. When the body is sown, it decays. When it rises, it cannot decay. It is sown disfigured; it rises beautiful. It is sown as a weak, dying body; it is raised full of strength. It is sown a physical body; it is raised a spiritual body. As surely as there is a human body there is a spiritual body. The Bible says that the first Adam was made a natural living being. The last Adam (Jesus) became a life-giving spirit. Observe that the spiritual does not come first, but the physical. Afterward comes that which is spiritual. The first man was made of earthly clay; the second man is from heaven. The nature of the man made of dust is repeated in all men, and those heaven-minded are like the one from heaven. So just as we have reflected the likeness of him who was made of dust, we shall some day have a body like Christ's.

“I tell you this, brethren, it is utterly impossible for flesh and blood to take part in the kingdom of God. These perishable bodies of ours are not the right kind to live forever. Take notice: I am telling you a secret. Not all of us are going to die, but we will all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet call we will all come alive with new bodies that will never, never die and whoever is still alive will have new bodies too. For this decaying part of us must put on a body that can never decay, and this part capable of dying must put on the body that can never die” (1 Corinthians 15:42 – 53, The New Testament from 26 Translations).

— John N. Clayton

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