The hymn “Rock of Ages” has a telling line:
Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.
It’s not hard to want the “save from wrath” part of the cure. God was so willing to save us from wrath that he sent Jesus to the cross so that he could experience ultimate spiritual death in our place. Anyone would want to be saved from wrath. We’re often a little more ambivalent about “make me pure.”
Our issue with heaven is not so much about getting in; it’s about becoming the kind of person for whom heaven would be an appropriate and welcome setting. If I don’t want the unceasing presence of God in my life now, how could I truly want an eternity in the ceaseless presence of God, where the possibility of any sinful action or thought—no matter how desirable—is forever cut off?
If that’s the case, who will get in?
If you ever find yourself anxious about “getting in,” the best thought I know is not about what arrangement can take away your anxiety but about God. And the thought is this: God will do the absolute best he can by every human being for all eternity. Including you. In light of his Father’s goodness, Jesus advised, “Do not worry about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:34). And if God can take care of one tomorrow, he can take care of an eternity of them.
Surely the message that God gave his Son to die on a cross for our sins is the ultimate statement of his limitless desire to forgive and restore human beings. Dallas Willard put it like this: “I am thoroughly convinced that God will let everyone into heaven who, in his considered opinion, can stand it.”
That statement often provokes surprise or a chuckle. But if you stop to think about it, it must be true. Why else would God send his Son to die on our behalf?
The problem is that “standing it” may be more difficult than we imagine—especially for those of us hoping for the eternal pleasure factory. That is why, in The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis writes that “the doors of hell are locked on the inside.” Hell is the absence of God, and more people want that than you think. I suspect that’s why we sometimes speak of only a stairway to heaven but a highway to hell.
There is some good news, though. Eternal life is far more than getting into heaven. Remember, eternal life is qualitative—it makes a difference in the kind of life we live—more than it is quantitative. And Jesus taught about that life. More than getting us into heaven, he taught how to get heaven into us.
John Ortberg, Eternity Is Now in Session: A Radical Rediscovery of What Jesus Really Taught about Salvation, Eternity, and Getting to the Good Place (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2018).
I have just completed a series of lessons on the theme of Eternity Is Now In Session. They are available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription service. For a medium-sized church, lesson subscriptions are only $10 per teacher per year.