The great catastrophe for Christians who do not want to preach that our God not only has created a Hell, but that He uses it (and uses it for those who do not believe), is that we have watered down Heaven, as well.
No longer is Heaven the great reward, the place of the faithful, the promise of God. No. For many of us, Heaven has become just the natural next step, the thing that automatically happens to us after we die. And either one of two things is true about this Heaven - either you don't have to be faithful to get there (because the God who does not punish unbelief also does not reward belief) or it does not require God at all (it has become an outshoot of our own expectation and is no longer rooted in a solid theology).
You may not have to be faithful to get to our Heaven. This is the reverse of the argument we looked at yesterday that God does not use His Hell for the unbeliever. If we believe, and most do, that Hell is reserved for murderers and rapists and child abusers, then it's only natural that we also believe that Heaven is for "good" people - or at least, people who don't do these despicable things. It's a nice thought, but it's not a godly one.
Yes, God says to be nice to one another. Yes, God says to do good in this world. Yes, God condemns the evil acts that we commit against one another. But God's fundamental concern, the foundation of His very relation to creation, is not how we relate to one another; it's how we relate to Him. Do we believe, trust, hope, and love in the name of Jesus? Do we rely on what God has told us about Himself? Do we believe it? Are our hearts oriented toward Him? This is what God is looking for. Not good things, but holy things.
But when we say that He is only in search of the good, it's just one more small step in the same direction before we encounter a Heaven that does not require a God at all. If Heaven is just about good and bad, we can do that ourselves. We have communities and we have prisons - good and bad. We have friends and we have enemies - good and bad. We have right and we have wrong - good and bad. Even if you relate your concept of good and bad back to the covenant of God, He is not overall necessary for you to make these judgments.
And then we're right back where we started - with the pagan argument that one god is as good as another, that it's okay to have whatever god you choose to have, that what works for you works for you, as long as you don't impose it on me.
And we call that "love" or something, but it's no such thing.
Not only has Heaven become a muddy water for us, falling generally into one of these two categories, but it has become more distant. The church has always drawn near to Heaven, but not any longer. Today's church draws closer to the world. Heaven is too far away to be relevant, too much tomorrow to be powerful today. We spend almost all of our time, if not actually all of it, trying to make our world a better place, and we've forgotten entirely that we were not made for this world.
It's a tragedy.
And it is a tragedy born of a failure of both truth and imagination.
Reconciliation with the promise of Heaven starts with recapturing the truth of the promise. It's not just a good place, and it's not just a place for the good. It's a place for the believer, for the person whose heart is turned fundamentally toward God. It is a place for those who ache for the Garden, who long to go back to a time when they walked freely, unashamed in the presence of a God who walked freely, faithfully among them. It is a place for those who breathe the very spirit of God, just as He intended when He leaned down and breathed life into Adam's nostrils. It's a place for those who cry out after the living God, the God who made this all in the first place. We have to put Him back in His Heaven before His Heaven becomes our Hell. And we're dangerously close. Dangerously close.
Because the path we're on right now leads us to a place where Heaven is good, but it gets us nowhere near a Heaven that is holy.