At my old job, there’s a story that is passed from staff to students about an Indian chief who died. This chief was very kind and generous all the time. When he died, “The Great Spirit” came to him with a choice about where to spend eternity. She showed him both locations: one had angry, selfish people; the other had happy, generous people. The people were stiff and upright—locked knees and elbows—at both places. Both locations had huge feasts “miraculously” prepared for the people to partake of. The Indian chief is first shown the “bad” place, where the selfish people try to feed themselves, but can’t eat anything because they are so stiff; then he is shown the “good” one, where the people feed each other. He chooses the “bad” location. Once he chooses it, he becomes stiff and upright, and he goes to meet with the people there. When he gets to the feast, he feeds the person next to him, and thus changes the bad place into another good place.
This got me thinking about the concepts of Heaven and Hell. Are they identical, except one is full of selfish people, while the other is full of selfless people? The Bible certainly doesn't think so. Revelation 21:5-8 says,
“Then the One seated on the throne said, ‘Look! I am making everything new.’ He also said, ‘Write, because these words are faithful and true.’ And He said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give water as a gift to the thirsty from the spring of life. The victor will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be My son. But the cowards, unbelievers, vile, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars—their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death’” (HCSB, emphasis added).
The word, “but,” between the emphasized portions explain that there is a distinction in the passage. Some, called “victors,” will live forever with God; others, described by their deeds, will go to a place of torment.
This is much different from the parable shared at my old job. In it, the two places are identical; the people are what change them. One is upset and selfish; the other is joyful and selfless. Heaven and Hell are not like this. Heaven is a place of rest; Hell is a place of torment. Just because Gandhi is in Hell doesn't mean that he can make it any better for anyone. When Paul wrote in Romans 9:3, that, “For I could almost wish to be cursed and cut off from the Messiah for the benefit of my brothers, my own flesh and blood,” he is not saying that he would go to Hell to make it better for those there. He is saying that Hell is so horrible that he would sacrifice his spot if only his fellow Jewish brothers could be saved. Hell is not the same as Heaven, minus the people who are there.
Heaven truly is paradise. However, many people, even some Christians, see Heaven and Hell as just a pair of dice. They would say that they are the same, and it’s impossible to separate them, except that Hell is where those go who don’t want God to be in their life. Hell then becomes a place where God is absent. However, the Bible says the opposite. Psalm 139:8 speaks of God’s omnipresence: “If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, You are there.” God is in both. In Heaven He is comforting the saints; in Hell He is tormenting the damned.
You may say that that is a strong statement. However, it is not. We have all offended an eternal God. Therefore, the consequence as well should be eternal. If you killed one person, but then spent the next ten years as a doctor—saving hundreds of people—when you were finally arrested, you would be judged for the murder; the judge would be evil to let you get away based on the good things—saving—that you had done. If God didn't cast us into Hell for our sins, He would be unjust and evil. God forbid! Thankfully, He sent Christ to the earth, to live a perfect life, and die for our sins, so that our accounts could be switched when we put our complete and total faith in Him.
Rather than thinking that Heaven and Hell are only different because some people want to be with God and others do not, we must grasp the fact that Heaven is an amazing and perfect paradise, Hell is a place of torment; they are not pairs of dice, decided by chance by varying peoples’ attitudes.