I think this is a trick question.
Most of the people asking this question aren’t really asking about the certainty of going to heaven. What they really want to know is either your idea about “certainty” in general, as it pertains to religion, or your idea about heaven. It’s a setup question, a fastball down the middle meant for you to hit and get on base so that the next question can be a pop-up fly and lead to a double play.
So in response to this question, I’d normally ask, “Well, what do you mean by certain?” or “What do you mean by heaven?” At that point, the conversation usually splits off into varying pathways that, I hope, leads to their real issue. We’ll do a similar thing here. We’ll do heaven first. Then certainty.
Heaven has been a fascinating, if not dubious, idea throughout human history. It is a place most people ( those who believe in life after death) really want to go, despite not really knowing what this place is like. For most people, heaven is about ideas: harmony, painlessness, light, happiness, restoration. I say most of our ideas of heaven represent our inner desire to see things as they really should be. Deep down, we want the wrongs righted, and for justice to rule and reign. Or, we want true happiness (and this is where the heavenly interpretations start to take different form) for an eternity. Our heavenly fascination is meant to point us to God. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always do that.
I once heard someone talking about how people make decisions — how we all walk around with a neon sign flashing in our brains that asks “What’s in it for me?” For so many, heaven is the ultimate answer to this question. It is the great cash-in for a life of religions sacrifice, good deeds, humanitarianism, and the general hellishness that is life on earth. It is, for many, a reward for a life well-lived. A resting place for the weary. A headquarters for the battles fought on earth.
And though we don’t know exactly what heaven is, we still want to go because we know what heaven isn’t. It isn’t Hell, which is definitely not the place to go after for an eternity. We don’t need the details for Heaven. Hell’s description is deterrent enough to make anyone want to go anywhere but there. Clearly, in the end (literally), heaven is the place to be.
So the question at hand about how to ensure my ticket is punched for heaven is an important one. The stakes are high.
But the question still feels awkward. If you believe in Heaven, then you must believe in some sort of god who will inhabit that heaven. And that means you understand the concept of faith. So then, why draw the line in the sand with heaven? Is this not like a child asking, “It is possible to be sure Santa Claus will visit me this Christmas?” Doesn’t that child’s belief in Santa inform their faith in what he does? Or, is the child’s question indicative of his secret, inner questioning of this “Santa” business altogether?
It seems to me this question is not only a self-serving, survivalist question that misses the point of the Christian heaven altogether, but it is also a indirect questioning of some aspect of heaven — whether it be its existence, God’s existence, or the idea of life after death at all. To say it more simply, this question is about doubt.
If there is any real enemy of religion, certainty is it. Certainty and doubt. This, I believe, is the main weapon of choice for the enemy. He used it to trip up Eve, and he’s using it mightily today. The thing is, he’s only taking what God is giving him. As I study the Gospel more and more, I am discovering that God has not really given any of us the luxury of certainty. At least not in the absolute sense. Sure, we feel as though things are certain, but we are often wrong. You may feel certain you are going to work tomorrow morning, and yet any number of things could happen that will actually prevent you from getting there.
So then, can we say anything is certain? Sure. Our past. We can know for certain what has happened to us. We can know our experiences for certain. But that’s about it.
In the end, any certainty I feel I have about the future are based on my faith in the things in the present or past. For instance, I feel certain my bank will receive the money from my direct deposit because of my previous experiences with the process. I also feel certain I will receive a check at all because of the faith and trust I have in the truthfulness, integrity and capability of my employer to pay me for working. My sense of certainty is directly relational to my trust and faith in the object or experience at hand.
For better or worse, this is the way God has set up our understanding of nearly anything. Any knowledge we have received, be it scientific, historic, or even religious and believe is accepted through the mechanism of faith and trust in sources, processes and experience. Thus, we can expect God, heaven, and what it takes to get to both to be subject to such faith as well. In fact, we might even expect a need for more faith.
So to answer the question, yes, it is possible to (feel as though you) know for certain you are going to heaven. Your faith will inform your certainty, as it does in every other aspect of your life.
Do you feel certain you are going to heaven? Why or Why not?
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