So many think of heaven and hell as ‘somewhere else’ and ‘some other time’, namely, the hereafter. But there is a heaven and there is a hell that starts right here and right now.
When Jesus taught on prayer, He did not say: “Father, help us escape from this world and go to heaven where your will is done”. No! He said: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” Mt 6:10
He had a vision of heaven coming to earth. The gospel is first of all not a message of how to enter heaven, but of how God emptied heaven to enter man!
The story of the lost son and his older brother is such a vivid picture of what heaven and hell is in the here and now. You can read the story in Luke 15 to get the context, I’ll get straight to the point.
The younger son wastes his inheritance and faces great hardship in a foreign land. He eventually comes to himself and realises that even the slaves in his father’s house has a better life than he does.
He starts imagining what to tell his father. During the the long journey home, he recites this story to himself. We pick up the story in verse 19: “I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.
“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’
“But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time!”
The father had a different point of view, a different speech, a different story that included restoration and a party!
Heaven begins for the younger son when he abandons his own point of view, his well recited speech, and simply flings himself into the arms of his father, accepting his point of view, his story. Heaven begins when we let go of every excuse we can think of, not to enjoy the father’s embrace. Heaven begins when we let go of the guilt and go with the flow of a party that we did not deserve, but nevertheless is the desire of our father.
Just let Him kiss you! Just let Him embrace you, and enjoy the party!
Let’s pick up the older brother’s story from verse 25: “All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’
“The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’
“His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!'”
The older brother also has a point of view, a perspective in which he saw himself as a diligent and hard working man, and deserving of much more than his younger brother. He does not see his father as generous towards him, or even as a fair man!
As with the younger son, the father tries to persuade him of a different perspective, a different view of himself and their relationship.
Hell is being with the father, yet not knowing him.
Hell is being at the party, but not joining in, sulking because of the father’s generosity towards the less deserving. It would have been less of a hell if it was somewhere else – the music, the smells, the joy in the air is what makes the older brother’s attitude so hellish!
Hell is possessing everything the father owns, but still slaving away, trying to gain what you think you don’t have.
Hell begins when you cling to your own opinion, your own point of view, when you refuse the father’s version of your story.
It seems that the more focused we are on a heaven and a hell that is somewhere else and some other time, the less involved we are in bringing heaven to earth, here and now.