This is an interesting question both theologically and practically, Vincent. Just about every human being thinks about this topic from time to time and eventually has to face it. Thank you for raising this issue so we might investigate it together and offer hope and insight to all of our readers.
There are two specific explanations in the New Testament about what happens when we die. First is the Resurrection Day, when the trumpet will sound and the dead in Christ will rise up. If we only had that image we would imagine that when people die they lie in some intermediate state awaiting the great “gettin’ up morning” as the early African American Spirituals used to proclaim. The other image and the one to which I ascribe, is that death has no victory over us at all. The moment we die, we are with God. I proclaim it this way in memorial services I conduct; “Our last breath on earth is our first breath in another reality called Heaven.” Jesus proclaimed it this way in Luke 23:43; “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
When it comes to the concepts of Heaven and Hell we can think of them almost like the ying and yang of ancient Oriental thought. You can’t have one without the other. There is light in the world and there is also darkness. There is good in the world and there is also evil. The important thing for us to remember is what we focus on. Words about hell are attributed to Jesus in Matthew 10:28 and 22:13. The Bible speaks of hell as a place of loneliness, despair and hopelessness. When Jesus spoke about hell He did so from the perspective of offering an alternative, another way and a better path.
More important than any of these things though, in my opinion, is how we are living now. I spend zero time thinking about the afterlife. It really is of no consequence to me. Why? Because way too many people think about life beyond while living in hell now. We have the ability to construct lives for ourselves and those around us that can be described as Heaven on Earth or Hell on earth. Why care about what happens later while ignoring what is happening now? We are alive now. We can offer light now. We can help others now. I believe this is what is truly important to realize. My mentor Dr. Norman Vincent Peale wrote a book that derived from his sermon series of the same name entitled, Stay Alive All Your Life. In this dynamic volume Dr. Peale reminds us that too many people live lives of quiet desperation and then they die……instead of conducting lives of dynamic joy-filled impact and truly living now!
May God help each of us focus on how we can be a source of light, hope, joy and faith now and throughout eternity.
Dr. Stephen Lowell Swisher