Diocese of Portsmouth

Questions about death

What is heaven like?

When people talk about heaven they often think of it as some distant corner of interstellar space or as some future state where everyone will be happy floating on clouds and playing harps.

Both those views are unhelpful, as they make heaven appear something remote, far from us in space or distant from us in time. But heaven is much nearer to us than that. It can begin here and now, because quite simply heaven is where God is. And God is everywhere and more particularly he is in the hearts and lives of those who love him.

When we become Christians, the Bible tells us that if we are in Christ, that we are a new creation, “the old has gone, and the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Heaven is not about going to a new spatial or geographical location, it is about having a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. And that is something that begins in this life. When this is understood, we come to realise that although death may mark the close of our life on earth, our life with God continues, but in a wonderful, new and different way.

Does hell really exist?

Belief in hell is not popular, that is why most people don’t think about it and few people speak about. The ideas and images associated with hell are ones that most people shrink from, and the pictures that we inherit from medieval art are not ones that make any of us feel comfortable.

Perhaps that is a good thing for us to understand. Life is not necessarily comfortable. For many people life is unbearable and for Jesus, his sufferings on the cross were literally hell. When he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” he was experiencing hell itself, separation from the presence of God his Father.

Jesus speaks about life and death, about dark and light, about heaven and hell. We may not always find his words comforting or easy to understand, but we can be sure of Jesus’ promise that “anyone who believes in him will have eternal life.” (John 3:15-16)