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One for Heaven, One for Hell.

By Keith Rawlinson

A note from the author:
This story of Heaven and Hell is fictional...well, sort of.  Although the story itself is a work of fiction, it is based upon what the Holy Bible teaches about Heaven and Hell, along with how I imagine it to be.  The details of this story may be fiction, but the reality of it is not fiction.  I admit right up front that, in order to get right to the topic of Heaven and Hell,  I did skip over many of the biblical debates concerning exactly what happens immediately upon death and how long after dying it might actually be until one ends up either in Heaven or Hell; however, regardless of how and when one ends up at either of these two destinations, rest assured that everyone does eventually, ultimately end up at one of these two destinations.  You are invited to read this story as a work of fiction, but I hope you will regard the implications as fact--which indeed they are.  This work is not intended to be a literary masterpiece.  I simply wanted to write a short story about how I perceive death, Heaven and Hell to be, and more or less how the Holy Bible teaches that Heaven and Hell will be.  The images and concepts may seem rather antiquated and trite to some readers, but that in no way indicates that they are untrue.  I have made every attempt, within my writing ability, to make this a story that will draw the reader in, and keep them interested; however, I will be the first to admit that it is also an intentional warning as well as a story of hope.  If you don't care for the religious implications, then please just enjoy reading this story as an interesting work of fiction.

I'm always interested in hearing your questions, comments, or constructive criticism so please feel free to contact me.

WARNING:  I have made a concerted effort to write this story with graphic detail and emotion.  I promised myself before beginning on this work that I would pull no punches and would hold nothing back.  For that reason, some may find parts of this story unsettling or disturbing--and if you do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ, then this story should be unsettling and disturbing.

Chapter One

Crossing paths

    Tony, a seventy-year-old, distinguished-looking, gray-haired man had been sitting on a metal bench for what seemed like forever. Next to him sat a well dressed, clean cut  man half his age whom he did not know.  Tony really didn't want to be here in the first place since, to him, long shopping trips always seem like a waste of time.  His philosophy of shopping has always been: go into the store, purchase what you came for, and be on your way as quickly as possible.  The only reason he even agreed to come to the mall today was because his wife told him that she just needed to pick up a few things and promised that it would be quick--that was almost an hour ago.  Tony couldn't help but notice that the facial expression of the man sitting next to him seemed to be indicating a similar opinion of trips to the mall.  In fact, it seemed to Tony that is was bothering the other man a lot more than it was bothering himself.  Yes, Tony was probably as irritated as this other man was, but there was noticeable anger to the man's expression; anger partially conveyed by the fact that he kept mumbling unintelligibly and seemed to be having a hard time sitting still.  Sure, Tony was irritated too, but he was still doing his best to try to be patient; although, he was beginning to wonder exactly how much longer he could keep it up.  Tony was suddenly startled from this train of thought by a rather exuberant sounding male voice saying, "Good afternoon gentlemen," a bit louder than Tony thought necessary.

    "My name is Dave; How are you two today?" the young man continued.

    Dave was a clean-shaven man who seemed to be somewhere in his twenties. He was dressed rather plainly in old, comfortable-looking jeans and a simple, blue T-shirt.  Tony figured the man was either going to ask the time, or for a donation on behalf of some obscure organization that Tony had never heard of, so Tony was a bit surprised when Dave instead asked:

    "What do you gentlemen think happens when you die?"

    "Are you a born-again Christian by any chance?" asked Tony.

    "Sure am," Dave responded enthusiastically. "Been born-again since I was sixteen years old.  What about you?  Do you know what will happen to you when you die?"

    "Yes I do," answered Tony, "I gave my life to Christ when I was in my early thirties--that was nearly forty years ago and I'm still as born-again and going to Heaven now as I was then."

    "Glad to hear it.  And what about you my friend?" Dave continued as he turned to face the man who had been sitting next to Tony for the last hour.

    "The name's Joe," the man on the bench responded sternly, "and I'm not your friend.  I don't even know you."

    "Joe--got it," said Dave, "so Joe, what do you think happens when you die?"

    "I think I'm going to Heaven."

    "Do you know for sure?" Dave inquired.

     "Well, nobody can know for sure, but if there is a God, I think He pretty much lets everyone go to Heaven except for maybe murderers and people like that.  But I'm a pretty good person so I know I'll be going to Heaven." Joe said with a hesitant sound of authority to his voice.

    "So," Dave followed up, "you believe in the God of the Bible, but you think He will let you into Heaven because you're a good person; sound about right?"

    "Well, that's not exactly what I said," Joe snapped, "I don't know for sure who or what God is--to be honest, I doubt that He even exists, but I don't have to worry about what the Bible says happens after a person dies since I don't really believe in the Bible in the first place.  There isn't much God could do to me since I'm not even sure I believe in Him or the Bible--and I'm not just making this stuff up; I got it from people who know because they've already been through it."

    "Been through what...dying?" Dave asked, somewhat surprised; "As far as I know, Jesus Christ is the only one who has died and then came back to life to tell us about it."

    "I didn't say they came back to life," Joe retorted rather sharply. "They were still there...you know...dead.  They spoke to me from the other side."
    "You mean like a seance?"

    "Yes, a seance.  But there were also some fortune tellers, mediums and channelers who told me basically the same things.  Come to think of it, I even got pretty much the same message from a Ouija board one time.  The way I see it, that's a lot of support for what I believe about going to Heaven."

    "But," Dave said with a sound of sincere caring in his voice, "the Bible, a book from God Himself, tells us differently.  And it really doesn't matter if you believe in the Bible or not.  When you die, you're going to find out that God does exist and you will have to deal with Him.  It's kind of like falling off a high cliff.  You can say to yourself  'No problem, I don't believe in gravity, but when you hit the ground, you're still going to die.  Just because you don't believe in something, doesn't mean it isn't true and can't hurt you, Joe.  It doesn't matter at all if you don't believe in gravity and it doesn't matter if you don't believe in God.  You still have to deal with both--sooner or later anyway."

    "First of all," Joe snorted," You're what, in your twenties?  I'm educated and successful.  I probably make more money in a month than you make in a year.  I know more about life and death than you do and I got my information directly from the other side--your information just came from some book that's mostly fiction.  If there is a Heaven, then everyone gets to go there if they're a good person.  And if there isn't a Heaven, then it won't matter anyway since there really is no such thing as Hell.  Hell is just what you perceive in your mind.  It's what you imagine it to be.  Hell is what's going on in the world right now."

    "How do you know you can trust this 'information from the other side?" Dave inquired.

    "Because," Joe offered, "any spirits that appear to me are always surrounded by light to let me know they're good, helpful spirits..."  
    Dave quickly interjected, "The Bible says that even Satan himself can appear as an angel of light."

    "Don't interrupt me!" Joe demanded and then continued with his thought:  "Besides, one of the sources of information was my own brother, Adam, who died of cancer twelve years ago.  Since he's already there, he should know what happens when someone dies.  Besides, Adam was pretty much a born-again Christian type like you.  He believed everything the Bible teaches.  He was always talking about having a 'relationship with Christ,' whatever that meant, and he was always trying to get me saved. Well, after Adam died, he told me himself, during a seance, that it turns out what he believed when he was alive wasn't even true.  He explained to me that everyone's going to Heaven as long as they do more good things than bad things in their lives."

    "You sure it was Adam?" Dave quipped.

    "What?" Joe responded.

    "Never mind." Dave said somewhat quietly.  "Let me see if I can put this into some kind of perspective.  God created man to love God, worship God and have a relationship with God. God loved...no...loves us more than we can possibly imagine. When God first created us, we had it made!  But we messed it all up when Adam and Eve originally sinned...Hey, 'Adam'...same name as your brother..."

    "That's not by accident," Joe interrupted, "My mom gave both of us kids Christian names from the Bible: Joseph and Adam.  That, and she had us baptized when we were babies.  That makes going to Heaven when I die even more of a sure thing."

    Without bothering to acknowledge what Joe had just said, Dave continued: "When Adam and Eve sinned, they broke God's Law--His rules.  The fruit that Adam and Eve ate in defiance of God was put there so man could prove his love and obedience to God.  That fruit pretty much just represented people's free will to accept or reject their Creator.  God teaches us that unforgiven, sinful man can't be allowed into Heaven--into the presence of a Holy, Perfect God.  God is so righteous and perfect, that He cannot allow sin or evil into  His presence.  God says in the Bible that if your life ends without your sins being forgiven, then He cannot allow you into Heaven and you will die.  And God's not talking about physical death; He's talking about eternal death in Hell."

    "Well if that's true," Joe announced somewhat triumphantly, "then since everyone has broken God's rules--you know--sinned, then no one gets to go to Heaven; not even you."

    "That would be true," Dave continued,"except that the penalty, eternal death that is, was paid for by Christ Himself.  Satan thought he'd won by getting Adam and Eve to sin so God would have to destroy His own creation.  But God turned it into a victory for Himself by sending His very own Son, Jesus, to live a sinless life and then die on a cross to pay the death sentence for us.  I don't know all of the details of exactly how that worked, but God tells us in the Bible that it did work.  All we have to do is be truly sorry for our sins, accept that Jesus' death on the cross paid the price for those sins, and then bring glory to God by living the way the Bible teaches us to live.  Once you belong to Christ, your perspective changes.  You're still not perfect, you're just forgiven.  You try to live the way the Bible teaches because you want to, not because you have to.  Just like you said, Joe, all of us have messed up and sinned and broken God's Laws, so none of us can go to Heaven by being a good person.  We can only go to Heaven through a relationship with Jesus Christ, just like your brother tried to tell you.before he died.  Jesus said Himself that He is the Way the Truth and the Life and no one gets to Heaven except through Him."

    "OK fine, that's what your religion teaches.  There's a whole bunch of different religions out there, how could you possibly know that yours is the right one--that yours is the truth and all of the others are wrong?  It sounds pretty narrow minded to me."

    "Well," responded Dave after a second or two of thinking quietly to himself, "I would probably have trouble believing it too if I never saw any evidence that what I believe is the truth.  For one thing, I've seen the changes for the better that a relationship with Christ made in my life.  I've also seen those same kinds of changes in the lives of others after they finally accepted the Truth..."

    "That's just personal feelings." Joe abruptly interjected. "That doesn't prove anything and doesn't mean a thing to me."

    "Well, there are other reasons why I believe that what the Bible teaches is true.  For one thing, the Bible tells us that God sacrificed his very own Son, Jesus Christ, for us.  We puny little humans should be nothing to an all-powerful God, but still, He loves us so much that He sacrificed to us so that we could be reunited with Him in Heaven.  God was willing to sacrifice to us in order to restore the relationship He had with us before sin ruined it all..  As far as I know, none of those other religions teach that their god made that kind of sacrifice for them; in fact, most other religions sacrifice to their god, not the other way around.  And even if there are religions I don't know about that teach that their god made some kind of sacrifice, I'll bet they came after Christianity and just copied what the Bible teaches.  Satan likes to do that, you know, copy things that belong to God so Satan can feel more powerful and godlike."

    "There you go again with stuff from the Bible," Joe snapped. "None of that means anything to me since I don't believe in the Bible."

    "Fair enough," Dave went on," then here's something you can see for yourself.  The Bible is full of predictions of things that would happen in the future.  Some of those things have already come true even though many were predicted thousands of years before they happened.  Yes, I know, it's the Bible that tells us those predictions came true, so I don't expect you to buy that; but the Bible makes many other predictions about future events that haven't happened yet.  Even though they haven't come true yet, you only need to watch the news to see things starting to fall into place for biblical predictions to come true.  And these are very specific predictions that would have been unlikely or impossible at the time they were predicted."

    "I watch the news every day," Joe added, "and I don't see anything like that.  What predictions are you even talking about?"

    "OK, for one thing, the Bible teaches us that one day there will be some sort of cashless economy in the world.  People will buy and sell without using cash and that will become the standard.  Just look around you.  Credit cards and bank cards are so common now, that many people don't even bother to carry cash.  Granted, the prediction hasn't come true yet, but I can sure see how credit cards, or something like them, are going to make it possible.  The Bible also teaches that an evil world leader will eventually rise to power and will not allow anyone to buy or sell unless they are faithful to him.  This prediction was made thousands of years before computers even existed, but without computers, I don't see how something like that would even be possible.  Without computers, there's no way I see that a government could track and control the spending of billions of people.  The Bible also talks about wars in the Middle East and attacks on the nation of Israel.  Come to think of it, that's another prediction the Bible made--that Israel would once again become a nation after being scattered.  Well, Joe, that happened in 1948, and Israel is more and more often popping up in the news.  So there you go, Joe; even if you choose to ignore everything else in the Bible, you can't deny that some very specific predictions are starting to come true just as the Bible said they would."

    "Well that doesn't..." Joe started, but Dave went on without giving him a chance to continue the thought.

     "Besides, did you know that nearly every human civilization that has ever existed on earth has developed some form of religion and worship?  That's because man was created to love, worship and have a relationship with God--they may have never heard about who God is, but they worship anyway because, since God's the one who made us, it's built right into us.  And unbelievers who hear about Jesus, whether they'll admit it or not, deep down on some level, know that the message of Jesus Christ paying for their sins and being the only way to Heaven is true.  That's why, as soon as someone mentions the name of Jesus Christ, unbelievers become defensive just like you are now, Joe.  I could talk about Confucius, Mohammad, Buddha or Satanic worship and you might listen just out of curiosity, but as soon as  I mention Jesus Christ, you take offense and become defensive--well, now you know why--you are made in God's image and designed to worship Him just like the Bible says."

    Joe spoke up again a little bit louder and much more emphatically, "That doesn't mean that what the Bible teaches is the only truth.  Belief in this Jesus of yours isn't the only way to Heaven.  It might be one of the ways, maybe, but it isn't the only way."

    "Joe," Dave said calmly and sincerely, "the Bible tells us that Jesus is the only way to Heaven.  If any part of the Bible is true, then it all has to be true.  Otherwise, you would have no way to know what parts to believe and what parts not to.  And if you think parts of the Bible are not true, then you have to disregard the whole thing.  And if you disregard the entire Bible because you don't believe parts of it are true, then how do you explain the accuracy of it's predictions?"

    "I think I've heard enough now." Joe said so loudly that people nearby turned to see who was speaking. "You're just trying to confuse me and I already know what I believe.  I have my own spirit guide and every time I contact him, he lets me know that what I believe is right.  If all of that information I've gotten directly from the dead and from spirits isn't enough to convince you that you are the one who's wrong, then that's your problem.  Maybe after we're both dead, some day, you will finally see that what Adam told me after he died is what's true.  While he was still alive, he was just messed up the way you are about Jesus.  Adam was my very own brother so I know he wouldn't lie to me, especially now that he's there and sees the other side firsthand...but you're some stranger I just met.  Guess who I'm gonna believe!  I think we're done here, so you can shut up about all of your Jesus stuff now."

    "It's my God-given responsibility to tell you about Jesus and warn you about Hell, " Dave said earnestly, even though Joe was no longer even looking at him, "I don't have to keep at it until you believe me, I just have to tell you the Truth.  Please, Joe, give some serious thought to what I've told you today--your eternity depends on it.  Heaven is a very real place and so is Hell, and without a relationship with Jesus Christ, Hell's exactly where you're headed.  It was very nice meeting you."  Dave concluded and then slowly walked away with a look of sincere concern on his face.

    "You know what I think?"  Tony asked, "I think you need to really give some thought to all the things that young man just told you."

     "Well if you heard that conversation," Joe countered, "then you already know where I stand on the whole thing.  I heard you tell Dave that you're a born-again Christian like he is.  That means that you don't know any more than he does.  You get your information from a book--I get mine straight from the spirit world.  And besides, if there really is a loving God, then He wouldn't send people to Hell--that wouldn't be very loving"  

    "Joe," Tony continued, "Hell was created as a place to punish Satan and his demons, and as a place to banish sin forever.  Hell was never meant for people."

    "Then why would a loving God send people there?" Joe asked rhetorically.

    "Joe, God doesn't send people to Hell.  In fact, God doesn't want any of us to go to Hell.  That's why He gave us a way out.  That's why He sent his very own Son Jesus Christ to be tortured and killed to pay for sin so that we would have a way to avoid Hell.  God also loves us enough to allow us free will--freedom to make our own decisions.  If He just forced us all to obey, that wouldn't be love, that would be ownership.  God gave us His Son as a gift--as a way to avoid Hell, restore our relationship with God and live forever with Him..  Since we have free choice, it's up to each of us to accept or reject that gift.  If we're forgiven through Christ, then after we die, God looks at us and sees His Son Jesus in us.  But if we die without that forgiveness, we have nothing but our own sins and our own, arrogant rejection of God's gift of forgiveness.  God can't allow sin into His Holy presence--into Heaven.  And if you can't be allowed to enter Heaven, that only leaves one place you can go and that's Hell."  Remember when I said that Hell is a place for God to banish sin forever and get the ugliness of sin out of His sight?  Well, it's your rejection of Jesus' gift of forgiveness, and your unforgiven sins, that send you to Hell, not God.  He loves you so much that He gave you a way out.  In fact, He's offering that gift to you right now through what that nice young man Dave and me are telling you about Jesus.  You are deciding to reject it.  I'm sorry, Joe, but in a way, that really means that you are sending yourself to Hell.  You've been told the Truth and you've been given a way to avoid Hell--and you have refused it.  That's not God's fault, that's yours."

    With that, Joe stood up from the bench and walked away as briskly and defiantly as he could in order to make a statement and further punctuate his position on what will happen to him when he dies--someday.  He wasn't too terribly worried about it since he was only in his thirties and wasn't even half way through his life yet.

    As Joe walked away, obviously irritated, he saw that Dave had only wandered a short distance before being stopped by a woman who had been discretely listening to everything that Dave had told Joe.  Joe couldn't hear what they were talking about, but the lady seemed genuinely interested in what Dave had to say.  After ten seconds or so of talking, Dave and the woman sat down on another bench apparently settling in for a deep conversation.  "A long, boring conversation," Joe thought to himself.  "Who does he think he is--like what he believes could be the only real truth."

You Never Know

    Just as all of this interaction was coming to a close, Tony's wife Anna, holding three or four good sized shopping bags, strolled over to the bench.  Tony couldn't be sure exactly how many bags Anna was carrying since she was gripping them so tightly that they all seemed to merge into one gigantic bag.  "Just picking up a few things," Tony thought to himself with a silent chuckle.

    "What was that all about?"  Anna asked.

    "Just a nice young man trying to tell someone the Truth about Christ, I'll tell you all about it on the way home."  Tony said as he and Anna walked to the exit doors  and then out into the parking lot.

    Joe wandered around the mall looking in all of the stores he thought might be of interest to his wife.  It wasn't too terribly long before he found her, and they were finally getting to their car for the short, six minute drive home.  As Joe helped his wife load her bags into the trunk, he couldn't quite let go of the feeling of being a little peeved at Dave's arrogance in thinking that there was only one way to Heaven and that was this Jesus that Dave was putting so much of his life into.  Joe took at least a little comfort in the thought that some day Dave would die, find out that there is no God who lets people go to Hell, and then Dave would realize that Joe was right all along.  Without being aware of it, a satisfied smirk came to Joe's face as he wished he could somehow be there to see the look on Dave's face when it finally happened.

    With the car loaded and both Joe and his wife safely strapped into their seats, Joe pulled out of his parking space and headed for the parking lot exit.  Joe saw a small opening within the line of fast-moving traffic, so he used it to pull out of the mall parking lot and onto the main street.  It surprised him to see that one or two additional cars pulled out behind him.  He thought he barely had enough room to pull out--those fools behind him really took a chance of causing an accident.

    "Oh well," Joe thought, "it's their lives and they're the ones whose car insurance would go up."  Joe figured that as long as they didn't get him involved in any of their little accidents, it didn't make any difference to him.  

    Just as Joe was approaching a major intersection, he saw the traffic light change form green to yellow.

    "I can make it in time," Joe thought to himself as he hit the gas and sped toward the intersection.  When Joe saw the light go from yellow to red, he wasn't nearly as close to the intersection as he thought he would be.  He surmised that he had just enough time to slam on the brakes without going through the red light, so Joe stomped down hard on the brake peddle.  As his car came screeching to a halt halfway into the crosswalk, Joe let out with a string of just about every swear word he knew.

    "What's bothering you, Joe?" his wife asked. "You seem like you've had something on your mind since we left the mall."

    "Nothing important," Joe said in a condescending manner, before waiting in silence for the light to turn green.

    After what seemed like an eternity, the light at last changed to green and Joe proceeded through the intersection followed by the cars that had pulled out behind him when he first left the parking lot.  Joe was nearly through the intersection, and lost in his own thoughts, when the car was inexplicably filled with a piercing scream from his wife.  Joe had just enough time to turn and see the semi-truck swerving slightly as it came through the red light from his left.  Joe was gripped by the sound of  a man's terrified, gut-wrenching scream.   The man screaming sounded very close even though Joe knew he was the only man in the car.  It was then that Joe realized that the man who was screaming was actually himself.  There wasn't even enough time for Joe to react before the semi hit Joe's car with a bone-jarring thud, glanced off, and then slammed into the car behind him.

    Joe felt the air exploding from his lungs as the back end of the semi truck's cab, and then the front corner of the trailer it was hauling, quickly buried themselves in the side of his car.  Joe could hear crunching metal, shattering glass, and more screams from his wife although, by this time, the breath had been knocked out of Joe causing his own screaming to stop.  Joe instinctively glanced out the windshield to try to get his bearings, but the view was moving so quickly and erratically, that he couldn't make any sense of the blurred images.

    Judging by the feel of motion and the screeching tires, Joe's car seemed to be sliding sideways to the right, although he couldn't be sure since the view out the windshield was still nothing but a blur.  Suddenly, there came unnerving sounds of even more crunching metal grinding against other metal, but louder this time.  Then, there came a jolt that felt as though it would rip Joe and his wife from their seats and fling them across the car like rag dolls.  Joe knew that, if not for the seat belts, that's exactly what would have happened.  Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion now and it seemed as though the sounds and ongoing damage went on forever.  As the sounds of his car being twisted and torn apart began to subside, Joe could hear the air come bursting from his wife's lungs much the same as it had from his own.  The sound she made was not quite a yell and not quite a grunt.  Joe felt a deep, primal fear build up quickly inside him when he heard such a guttural, animalistic sound coming from his own wife.

    The next sensation was an unbelievably powerful impact on the left side of Joe's body as his car became pinned against a tree causing the truck's trailer to intrude even deeper into what remained of Joe's car.  Joe would expect such an impact to result in unbearable, excruciating pain, but it didn't.  Instead it brought a dull ache followed by the sound and feel of shattering bones down the left side of his body.  Joe could tell that the motion of his car had now completely stopped and he felt a cold chill building quickly in his broken, shattered body.  He began to shiver and shake with a feeling of all-encompassing cold the likes of which he had never before experienced.  His teeth chattered and his muscles shivered so violently that Joe could feel the splintered bones throughout his body moving and grinding against each other.  Then came the intense, penetrating pain he had expected a moment ago.  The intensity of the pain caused Joe to feel an overwhelming nausea deep in the pit of his stomach and hit so hard and so fast that he could not take even a shallow breath.  Joe began to hear a ringing in his ears so loud that it drowned out the cacophony of shouts and screams around him.  He didn't understand exactly how he knew he was dying, but somehow, he knew.  Joe was grasped by a sudden, intense feeling of fear, dread and inescapable doom.  Joe tried to scream, but his body was no longer capable of it.

    By the time rescue crews arrived, Joe was unconscious and unresponsive.  He never heard the creaking, cracking, snapping sounds of the jaws of life ripping through the structure of his car to free his wife.  She was unconscious, but still alive--barely.

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