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Present Hell and Heaven as Transformative Realities

Sometimes we as parents may wonder how our Christian worldview make a difference in the education of our children. Our children may go to church, read the Bible, and even pray a little, but how does Christian education change them fundamentally? Sometimes, when we look at our children and see how they behave or even think similarly to non-Christians, we wonder how Christian worldview is supposed to change them.

One major aspect of the Christian worldview that I have come to understand over the years as making a major impact on Christians and non-Christians, children and parents alike, is heaven and hell. How people think of heaven and hell seems to impact people in a fundamental way.

For some people, heaven and hell are just symbols. For others, they are real, but places to go after life. It is relatively rare to see Christians who have a good understanding of heaven and hell as present realities, in addition to final realities. But thinking about the theme of heaven and hell in the history of literature, it dawned upon me that the greatest impact was made by those Christians who have clearly portrayed heaven and hell as present realities, and not just final destinations.

A prominent example that comes to my mind is Pilgrim’s Progress, which is the story of a “Christian” who is making his progress into heaven. It is full of real perils, but he has full access to God’s mercy and grace, so that he can overcome temptations. This story has encouraged and taken hold of the imagination of countless number of readers.

Another great example is that of Dante, who in his Divine Comedy, described the journey of a “Dante” from Inferno (hell) to Purgatory to Paradise (heaven). The role of Purgatory was not clear at the time, but Dante used it to describe what happens to people who are not in hell, but who are in the process of being purified, morally changed, on the way to heaven, by the grace of God.

Then, in the works of C. S. Lewis, the theme of heaven and hell as a present reality receives a much clearer attention. One line from The Great Divorce summarizes Lewis’ view: “I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself.” Recently, as I have been reading Lewis’ “space trilogy,” I was struck at the fact that this theme is perhaps the most important theme or insight in all of Lewis’ works, both fiction and non-fiction, and it is perhaps what captivated and challenged so many Christians and non-Christians to turn to God.

A confirmation of the importance of this theme of present heaven and hell in our own education at Veritas came to me most recently when our juniors and seniors were reading from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together on a chapter on reconciliation, a reflection on Jesus words in Matthew 18 about what happens to us when we are angry at a brother. It was conveyed to me that when students were reading the part about how it is perilous for our soul to let the sun go down on our anger toward someone, and how the ancients believed that the Satan may even temporarily take hold of us when we sleep with anger towards others, several students sincerely and quietly confessed their sins toward each other and others, after school.

In sum, as evangelicals we clearly believe that once we are delivered from the bondage of sin, Satan, and the gates of hell, we are secure in Christ. However, we need to learn the lesson from history and great writers that our journey from hell to heaven while we are on earth must be embraced with all of our imagination and courage.

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