The Ups and Downs of Heaven and Hell

One of the silly arguments some people use against Christianity goes something like this, “So if heaven is up there somewhere and hell is below us, how come we can’t find heaven somewhere up there, and we know that everything below us is molten rock, not some place with demons and sinners? Huh, Christian boy?!”

Let me briefly speculate why that might be.

The Bible use phrases like “ascending into heaven” and “descending” into hell. And believers have used phrases like that for thousands of years. I cannot wiggle out of that.

But, I would also agree with my nontheistic friends: Heaven is not literally above us in this universe, nor is hell below us. Not that the Lord couldn’t put them there if He wanted to, but He says pretty much that this entire universe will pass away. Therefore, it would follow that if they really are here with us, just above and below, they would be done away with, as well. They, too, will see an end. Which kind of flies in the face of an “everlasting” life, doesn’t it? Heaven and hell must then be “elsewhere.”

So why does the Bible refer to our afterlife as “above” or “below.” Put on your thinking caps!

I believe it is because it is the only way that He can get across the concept of extra-dimensions to us poor, dim humans. Extra what?

We live in three dimensions of space - up/down, right/left, forward/back. Heaven and hell are in other dimensions of space (and time) - not in this universe at all. They are in the truest sense of the phrase “beyond us” and cannot even be described in human terms. How can He convey other dimensions - the heavenly realm - to our limited minds without making our brains explode?

Well, our existence here is almost entirely limited to the face of planet Earth. With the exception of 12 men who travelled to the Moon, all humans who have ever lived, have lived on what is essentially a two-dimensional planetary surface, north/south and east/west. We are confined here; this is all we know. For all intents and purposes, there is no up and down for us, none that we can actually experience anyway.

For Jesus to say He is ascending to heaven is like saying He is going where we may not go (yet), outside of our existence, to another place entirely beyond us. He doesn’t have to get into a high-level astrophysics dissertation on the extra-dimensions of time and space. For all us simpletons, “ascending” and “descending” means going into a dimension where we may not go, a place beyond us.

Another point: All we know, all our volumes of real experiences here, are from the two-dimensional surface of this giant sphere. But despite that, there actually is an inside to the sphere, there is an outside to it. There are real “places,” above and below us, not figments of our imagination.

To take the analogy one more step: All that we know about them have not been from real experiences but from inferring or speculating or using special tools or trusting the experts. That’s not unlike what we know about heaven and hell, is it?

And - yet one more thing - notice how the Bible and tradition put heaven and hell on opposite sides, the implication, I believe, being obvious.

So, no, heaven is not really above us, hell is not really below us. But they exist. We have faith that they are there, although we cannot truly experience them. And someday we will shuffle off this mortal coil, and those who follow God will “ascend” into the one, those who have chosen rebellion will “descend” into the other.

Going up?
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