Some people, when first considering the truth that Everyone Is Going to Heaven, and before they have had enough time to really think it through, are troubled by the idea that bad people get into heaven. If you are one of those people, you need to first acknowledge that compared to God we are all bad people.
That’s right. He’s good and we are not. He’s pure and we are not. He is without sin and we are not. We are like children who have played in the mud so long we have forgotten what clean looks like. Jesus of Nazareth – that’s clean. How does your life measure up to His? If you and I don’t measure up to Jesus, what right do we have to point the finger at someone else whom we deem to be less righteous than we are? There is a lot more difference between God’s behavior and yours and mine than there is between yours and mine and whoever we think we’re better than.
Sooner or later, we come around to acknowledging that if we receive God’s mercy then we have no business denying that mercy to anyone else. Even so, someone might still ask, “What about really bad people like brutal tyrants and mass murderers – shouldn’t they be left out of heaven?” I can only respond with another question: Even if someone has led what seems to us to be a depraved and worthless life, should our limited awareness of the circumstances and issues of that life be accepted as that person’s final judgment? Here on earth we humans can conduct trials and punish crimes, but the whole of a person’s life is beyond us. We can never know all of its details. Because of a mother’s enormous personal investment in each child, she knows where to look for the good in the worst of her children. Because of God’s even greater investment in every single human, He can find a shred of us worth saving – a shred that our horrible behavior may have hidden from everyone else.
The Cleansing Effect of Death
So, is heaven going to be populated with brazen criminals? Not in a million years! The removing of the veil of flesh at death brings every person face to face with the blinding light of pure truth. Jesus told a parable that reveals the dramatic effect death has on the most hardened human attitudes.
The story goes like this: A rich man lives a lavish and self-indulgent lifestyle while a poor man covered with sores lies at his doorstep wanting no more than the scraps from the rich man’s table. The dogs lick the poor man’s sores but the rich man will do nothing for him. In the afterlife, it’s the rich man who’s begging from the poor man, for their places of honor are reversed. The poor man is being comforted for all the misery he endured and the rich man is tormented by the memory of his own greed and miserliness. Here’s an example of how “many who are last will be first and many who are first will be last,” and of how our behavior here on earth has consequences even in heaven. Worldly riches and pleasures have no meaning in heaven – but memories of how we lived here will linger on.
Not only is the rich man miserable that he didn’t show more mercy in this life, he desperately longs to tell his brothers to avoid his error lest they end up burning with the same agonizing regret. This parable reveals the justice of God in the realignment of the rich man and the poor man, the mercy of God in the inclusion of the rich man in afterlife, and the wisdom of God in the attitude adjustment that overcame the rich man. His punishment was redemptive, and brought about the desired spiritual change. He’d have felt even better about it if he’d changed before he left earth, and that’s why he wanted to get word to his brothers still on earth so they could repent. You will not see evil people in heaven, only people who might be very ashamed of what they have done on earth…and who wish to spare others the remorse they’re feeling.
How can God show mercy to the human race and yet be fair in His treatment of each individual? The answer, seen in the parable, is a heaven that embraces all and yet in which special compensation is awarded victims of earth’s unresolved injustices. There are perhaps not as many of these unresolved injustices as you might think, for God’s workings of justice in the earth often go unnoticed by us. Nevertheless, there are inequities…and heaven is designed to rectify them. Cain killed his brother Abel for no good reason. All other things being equal, Abel will enjoy a better place in heaven than his brother. God won’t have to forego His desire to show mercy to Cain in order to show justice to Abel. God knows how to be fair with all His children!
This perfect blend of justice and mercy will be important to all of us, for it’s not just the really bad people who will have things of which to be ashamed. We will all be humbled and chastened when we face God at death. A group of men caught a woman in the act of adultery and brought her before Jesus. They pointed to her as an example of human sinfulness worthy of condemnation. Jesus refused to condemn her. This was a surprise because He was known to have condemned adulterous behavior. In fact, His views on the subject of marriage were quite strict. But while Jesus would condemn behavior, He never bullied people. To the woman He simply said, “Go and sin no more.”
To her accusers Jesus said, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” He could similarly say to us in heaven, should we object to anyone else’s presence, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw the ‘bad’ person out.” No matter how despicably the “really bad” person in question behaved, who could answer a challenge like that?
We all have a vested interest in being governed by a mercy mixed with justice. For if we deny mercy to any fellow human, we’ve effectively denied it to the whole race, and thus to ourselves. Giving others a second chance keeps us entitled to the same. There’s nothing strange therefore in the fact that we shouldn’t seek revenge where heaven is concerned. What is strange is that God, who has no sins to cover and therefore no vested interest in showing mercy, has chosen to be so merciful. That’s love. And it’s strangely wonderful.
Put Yourself in God’s Shoes
So, what would you do if you were in God’s shoes? I hope you would follow His example and be merciful. Even one more person on earth who thinks like God would be a breath of fresh air to the rest of us. For in a limited sense, you are in God’s place. You were made in His image and given His sense of morality and freedom of choice. Of course, you don’t have His unlimited power. But you do have more than enough power to help or hurt the people around you. The more mercy you show to them, the better for all of us.