Heaven and Hell (Part 1)

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The idea of an afterlife, or a  life after this one that we have, is usually inculcated in us from childhood. For many raised in the Christian traditions, the afterlife consists of heaven and hell. For Roman Catholics, there is the addition of the intermediate state, purgatory, where those who die with minor sins are punished (or purified) accordingly before entering heaven, and limbo, which is sort of a neither heaven-or-hell state for those “innocent” souls that die before they have had a chance to be baptized — for example, babies who die during childbirth, and so on.

Growing up as a Protestant Christian, I only had to contend with heaven and hell but I learned about these from an early age as I had been exposed to Bible stories since before I had learned to read. My first real brush with this “reality” though was sometime when I was around 7. I was at home playing with the dogs in the early evening when my father arrived tooting the horn of our Volkswagen Beetle. He hurried into the house and told me to wash up and change quickly because I was coming with him.

When I asked him where we were going and why, he answered, “To the hospital — ama (grandmother) is about to go to heaven,” he said. Having never seen a dead person up close before, I think I was a little excited but also afraid. So I washed my hands from the stink of dogs and rushed out of my dirty clothes into something more decent and got into the car.

We arrived a little too late. My dad led me to the room where ama was and there were some relatives around her still form. My mom was beside the bed clutching ama’s arms and sobbing. A short while later, some orderlies came to cart the body away. I followed them out of the room and saw them cart the body down an inclined walkway into a room far beyond. My sister said, “That’s the morgue,” and when I asked what that was, she said, “That’s where they put the dead bodies.”

I was a bit detached from all of the emotions of the death and burial as I was not particularly close to ama. She had already been bedridden for as long (or as short) as I could remember, and my interactions with her were limited to greeting her or just hanging out in her room and playing with my toys in the extra bed that was there.

After that came references to the afterlife, of how she was already with angkong (grandfather) and a couple of my uncles, whom I never met as they had passed away before I was born. I only knew of them because there were large framed photos of them hanging in our study at home. But anyway, the important thing was they were in heaven now because they were Christians and believed in the saving power of Jesus Christ — which, in our belief system, was the only thing that could keep you from burning in hell, in everlasting torment.

So while I was growing up, my first notion of heaven was of this grand reunion of relatives, most of whom I have never met. And if ever any of my present relatives pass away, it was all right as we would all meet again someday. All that was fine for a short while, but then I asked my dad, “What else are we going to do in heaven?”

In my mind, I thought that meeting and greeting long lost and never known relatives have a certain limit and that to do that for all eternity would probably be very boring.

My dad just answered with, “Oh, you know, God has prepared a lot of things for us to do in heaven. We won’t just sit around doing nothing. There is much work and great work to be done.”

If  we had that conversation today, I would probably have pressed him for a clearer answer, but at that time, he said it with a finality that my seven or eight year-old self accepted and understood that no further answers were forthcoming.


Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.


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5 thoughts on “Heaven and Hell (Part 1)”

  1. I think there’s a clause where christians have to sign on the dotted line: “Never admit you do not know the answer.”

  2. Well, to be fair, I did meet many sincere Christians (including my dad) who would say “I don’t know for sure” but it would be followed up by “but this is what the Bible says” and the underlying implication there was just to shut up and trust the book.

  3. Dana, I am sorry that you feel that way. I understand what you mean, because I have never met a non-Christian that admitted that they did not know an answer. And Andy, did you ever meet sincere Christians that tried to take it further than “I don’t know for sure” and “but this is what the Bible says”? Did any of them try to find out why the Bible says it (since they are Christians) or why something is so from extra-Biblical sources? Since you are saying that their implications are to just “shut up and trust the Book”, it seems like your implication is that they (we) are ignorant, condescending, and uncaring for the answers or the lost.

    As far as your thoughts of meeting new people (grand reunion of relatives, most of whom you have never met) and doing much work and great work being very boring, what happens in this life when you are doing that? Are you bored with doing that now?

  4. FR: No, it was not my intention to imply that you are ignorant, uncaring or condescending (although some are just that — but I did mean it to be a general sentiment).

    I think I have written enough before to show that I do not see sincere Christians in that light at all. Of course, I do not expect you to have read everything I have written previously, but on the other hand, the weekly format of my writing is that of a running journal of my thoughts — so I do not have the luxury of fully explaining myself in every article as well. That would be quite tedious to write as well as to read for those who regularly follow my ramblings.

    What I mean to say is that the questions always come to a point where I realize that other people are just as ignorant as I am, and only base their belief on the claims of a book.

    As for your second question…it depends. There are people I know who bore me within 5 minutes of meeting them. An eternity with them would be hell. 😉

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