Thursday, October 23, 2008

Am I in Heaven or Hell?

I believe that this is the one most significant question that every
human being needs to ask oneself? This conviction makes me sit down
and write this on this Sunday early morning. I hope to write what is
in my mind as clearly as possible even for a child to comprehend. I
hope to write why I think this is the one most important question,
and then I hope to proceed to explain how one can identify if he/she
is in hell or in heaven, and then finally I want to explain how one
can move to heaven if one finds him/herself in hell.

My question is not about the future. I am not asking if I will live
in heaven or hell when I die. My question is about the present. Am I
in heaven or hell right now? This is not to deny a life after death.
Neither do I think that the question about the future is
insignificant. I honestly believe that our life does not end with
death. I think that we all continue to exist after death, although we
do not know in what form. However, the topic here is not about the
future, but about the present.

One might wonder how such a question can be about the present. We are
here on the earth right now, and so how can someone be in heaven or
hell now? We can't be in two places at the same time. This is where
the distinction between literal and metaphorical becomes relevant.
If the question is about going to heaven or hell after death, we use
those words in a literal sense to mean real places somewhere other
than this world. But in the question about being in heaven or hell
right now, those words have a metaphorical sense.

Literally, heaven is considered to be a place of perfect joy.
Therefore, this word has the metaphorical meaning of any place or
state of joy. Literally, hell is considered to be a place of utter
misery. Therefore, this word has the metaphorical meaning of any
place or state filled with misery.

Thus the question, Am I in heaven or hell, means if I have a life of
joy or of misery. Am I in a state of content or am I in a state of
want? Am I happy with my life? Or, am I am unhappy with it?

It is possible that one is utterly miserable but does not know it.
This is like a blind man getting used to his blindness. He has been
blind for a long time, and his mind is so used to that condition, and
he continues to live with his blindness. Similarly people who have
been living in hell all life long get used to it, and they can't even
know if they are in hell. They have become so familiar with their
hell, and so they continue to live there.

Imagine that someone happens to go from hell to heaven, or in other
words, from a place of utter misery to absolute joy and peace.
His/her mind wouldn't be able to accommodate with such a radical
change. He/she would want to recoil to his own hell, with which
he/she has been familiar with all life long.

From this it is clear that it is not external conditions that
determine our being in heaven or hell. It is our own state of mind
that determines it. In other words, heaven and hell are internal, not
external. Even if there is a real place called heaven, I wouldn't
feel it to be heaven unless I have a heaven within myself. Inversely,
even if I happen to be in hell, it wouldn't feel a hell to me if I
have a heaven within me.

The story of Jesus offering paradise to a thief crucified with him
illustrates this. What if Jesus had offered heaven to both, and both
had gone to heaven. Would they have felt that place to be heaven in
the same way? Not at all! The one on the right had a heaven within
him, and he saw the truth that Jesus was crucified unjustly while he
himself was crucified justly. The one on the left had a hell within
him. He failed to see this truth, and accused Jesus for making false
claims.

This means that if I have a heaven within me, I will be in heaven
even if I am placed in hell. While living on this earth, one can be
in heaven or in hell. If I am in heaven while I am alive on the
earth, I will continue to be in heaven even after die. Even heaven
will look like a hell to me if I don't have a heaven within me.

There is an old story I learned in Sunday school, which illustrates
this idea very well. One day someone went for a tour. He visited both
heaven and hell. An angel was the tour guide. First the angel took
him to hell. It was indeed a miserable place. A stick was tied to
everyone's arms, and no one could bend their elbows, and so they
couldn't even eat their food. Although there was plenty of food, they
all were starving. They cursed God, cursed their fate, and everyone
and everything they could think of. Then the angel took him to
heaven. To his surprise, no one could bend their elbows in heaven
either, for their arms were tied to a stick. However, no one was
starving, and no one was cursing others. They were all happy. Instead of trying to feed themselves, they fed their neighbors with their arms. The conditions were the same in both heaven and hell. There were the same facilities. The difference was in the minds of the people. With a positive attitude, the ones in heaven overcame their difficulties. They took this handicap as an opportunity to serve each other.

If I live in hell now, it is solely my responsibility. I do not need
to curse anyone for my fate. I may have a handicap, which makes life
difficult for me. But it is up to me to make use of my handicap as an
opportunity, and make my life a heaven. It is true that we were born
into different living conditions. Some of us were born poor, but some
rich. Some of us were born with high IQ, but some with low IQ. Some
of us were born with an aptitude for doing specialized tasks, but
some others without such aptitudes. If I have heaven within me, I
will focus on what I have rather than what I don't. I will be
thankful for what I have and make the best use of them for the good
of all.

I also learned from my Sunday school classes that the two things the
inhabitants of heaven do are: praise and thanks. Although I didn't
understand its meaning then, now I think I understand what it means.
Those in heaven praise God, whereas those in hell praise themselves.
If I praise God, I must be seeing God above everything else including
myself. All inhabitants of heaven see God above everything.But each
inhabitant of hell praises oneself, thus seeing oneself above
everything else. God is either inexistent or negligible for them.
Those in heaven pray: Let thy will be done. But those in hell pray:
Let my will done. In heaven, all people see God above everything
else, and they submit their will to the will of God. In hell, each
person sees him/herself above everything else, and struggles to
establish his/her will on the will of everyone else, including God's
will. This seems to be the meaning of saying that heaven is a place
of praise. Heaven is also a place of thanks as we have already seen.
Those in hell always complain and curse everybody else for all the
difficulties they encounter, but those in heaven always remain
thankful converting every difficult situation to an opportunity to do
good.

If someone asks us if we will go to heaven or hell after we die, we
usually answer: I don't know, because only God knows if I will be
given heaven or hell. But here the question is about the present. Are
we in heaven or in hell right now? We can't evade with an I-don't-
know answer because we surely know if we are in heaven or in hell
now. If we are not sure, we need to take some quiet time to look
inside our own hearts and find out the truth.

John Kunnathu

Note: I received the above a few weeks ago on another list and thought some of you would be interested in reading John's thought.

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