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Preachers and The Lies They Tell About Heaven

heaven and hell
Heaven and Hell

Years ago, three young Ohio boys fell through the ice on the Sandusky River and drowned. What a terrible, terrible tragedy. Two of the boys were brothers.

The pastor of the church where their funeral was held said the following: (link no longer active)

A minister has told mourners that three Ohio boys who fell through ice and died together in a river are now playing together in heaven.

This statement is restated many different ways during countless Christian funerals:

  • Granny is running around Heaven now with no pain!
  • Gramps is in Heaven now and doesn’t need a wheelchair to get around anymore.
  • Momma is in Heaven, where she has no more pain, sickness, disease, or suffering.

Here’s the problem . . .

Statements such as these are not true.

Historic, orthodox Christian doctrine teaches that when people die, they go to the grave. They are DEAD. The body remains in the grave until the resurrection. At the resurrection of the just and unjust, those who have died will receive new bodies (1 Corinthians 15).

So why is it that preachers lie about the present location of the dead? Why did I, as an Evangelical pastor, lie to numerous grieving families?

Sentimentality.

Families are grieving. They have lost a loved one. They want to believe there is a divine purpose, and they want to believe that life continues beyond the grave.

So preachers concoct grand stories about Heaven and the immediate transport of the dead from earth to the sweet-by-and-by. Never mind the fact that the Bible does not say this.

Belief in the afterlife requires faith. No one has ever come back from the dead to tell us what lies beyond the grave (if anything). Anyone who says he has is a liar.

Even Jesus himself didn’t talk about the afterlife after his resurrection from the dead. His disciples did, the apostles did, but not Jesus. He told his disciples that wherever he was, they too would be someday. He never mentioned one time any of the things commonly heard in Christian funeral sermons.

Even the notion of spending eternity in Heaven is not taught in the Bible. Search all you might, it is not there.

What IS taught in the Bible is that followers of Jesus Christ will live forever in God’s eternal kingdom (on a new earth). On this point, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are probably closer in belief to what the Bible actually teaches than many Evangelical Christians.

The same could be said about Hell. Those who are not followers of Jesus will NOT spend eternity in Hell. The Bible doesn’t teach that. The Bible DOES teach, however, that unbelievers will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:14).

Sentimentality allows preachers, who are supposed to be guardians of Christian doctrine to ignore what the Bible teaches in favor of telling stories to comfort grieving families.

I understand WHY they do it, but let me be clear: Preacher, if you can’t tell the truth when it really matters the most, how can you expect people to believe anything you say? If sentimentality allows you to ignore what the Bible teaches about Heaven (and Hell), how do we know that you are telling the truth any other time? Not telling the truth in hard circumstances results in a loss of credibility.

As an atheist, I have serious reservations about the notion of an afterlife. At this point in life, I lack the requisite faith necessary to believe that there’s life after death. I am of the opinion that each of us had best get to living this present life because it is the only one we have. That said, if you are a Christian, you are bound by what the Bible teaches. As a preacher, you are obligated to tell the truth. In fact, you owe it to your congregants to tell them the truth, even when it is hard to do so.

Of course, remove sentimentality from the equation and the Christian gospel and the promise of eternal life lose their luster. Telling grieving family members that Grandma — who attended church for 70 years and gave vast sums of money to the church — is lying in a grave, rotting until Jesus resurrects her a day, a hundred years, or twenty millennia from now doesn’t have as much appeal as, Grandma is in Heaven right now, in perfect health, praising Jesus day after day. She can’t wait for you to die and join her in Heaven, so the family circle will be unbroken.

Evangelicalism preaches a deferred payout. Yes, Jesus saves sinners, but the Christian life is no picnic. Life is filled with pain, heartache, and suffering. Preachers know they can’t fool their congregants about their lives. The evidence is clear: life is hard, and then you die. So, they make promises of a blissful, pain-free afterlife. The payout is immediate. Draw your last breath on earth, and draw your next breath in Heaven (or Hell). Preachers have no evidence for these promises, so they tell flowery, sentimental lies, hoping that people will buy what they are selling. Their goal is to get sinners to close the eternal life deal without ever reading the fine print. The fine print — which is found in the Bible — tells the purchaser that all promised rewards happen sometime in the distant future. Until then, your worm-eaten, rotting corpse will remain in the grave. Evangelical preachers have been making eternal life promises for centuries. These preachers come and go, live and die, and much like those to whom they promised eternal life, they lie decomposing in their graves. There they shall remain until Jesus returns to earth and resurrects them from their graves. Given the fact that Jesus promised to return in the first century, I think we can safely conclude that he, too, is lying in a grave, never to arise again from the dead.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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16 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Van

    Good post Bruce. On a related topic, does the scripture support the claim that Christians will clearly recognize each other in heaven?

  2. Avatar
    John Arthur

    Hi Bruce,

    I just wish that pastors would be honest with their congregations. The pastor might say “I believe …”, not “I know…” No one knows what happens after death. Yet pastors continue the charade that they know. They are a either self deluded or lying to themselves when they say “I know…” with no empirical evidence to support their claims.

    They ought to resist dogmatic claims that they know that God exists, that they know that the bible is the Word of God, and that they know what happens after death. They would be better off making it known that “they believe, by faith” and let churchgoers decide for themselves whether they want to follow such beliefs or whether they want to look at evidence and take an agnostic position relating to an after life.

    Shalom,

    John Arthur

  3. Avatar
    Becky Wiren

    One reason I was a Seventh-day Adventist, was the belief that the damned were thrown into the lake of fire, and burned up. Because I never could believe a truly loving God would burn people for eternity. Now, since I’m a theist with very tenuous ties to Christianity, I don’t worry about an afterlife. I’ll worry about it if I get there. 🙂

  4. Avatar
    Charles Palmer

    Based on the Truth of God’s Living Word I totally agree with you. Whenever I tell people the truth about death I am rebuked and pushed aside. A certain man who was a brother of a pastor got drunk one night and after leaving the party he attended, he got into his car and that night he caused a fatal accident, killing a whole innocent family of four. He also died two days later in hospital. His brother being a Pastor buried him and at the funeral the Pastor praised his brother for being such a good and hard working person. He further claimed that his dearest deceased brother is now walking the streets of gold having discussions with Jesus. If this is the case that every person who dies goes straight to Heaven, then God’s Living Word is a lie and we can all continue to live a life of sin and wickedness, because there is no judgment day as God had vowed, and we all going straight to Heaven when we die anyway. Like the Angel of God told me in September 1988, “Estana ekorto empera mastriato jeshmet, Jesu prianto kantoro kara katoshea montroto Kana zontra castro Eli capatina.” Which means; The day is coming, it is near, the judgment day of the Lord, where each one will give account unto God of what he or she did in the body, whether good, or whether evil.

    • Avatar
      John Arthur

      Hi Charles,

      “The angel of God told me ….” . How? Bible, audible voice, experience of presence, a feeling, or some pastor?Angels , as supposed heavenly messengers of God, are invisible entities, though the bible does speak of angels appearing in the form of humans. How do we know that they actually exist and that they are messengers of God? There is no more evidence for angels than for fairies .

      Sometimes the word angelos (Greek), in the bible, refers to a human messengers of God rather than heavenly messengers (e.g. John the Baptist). These earthly messengers are not what most Christians call angels .

      So how did you receive this supposed revelation from God in September 1988 and how can you prove that it was, in fact, an angel?

      Shalom,

      John Arthur

      • Avatar
        Hugh d. Young

        Interesting….5.5 + years on, and Mr. Palmer has yet to furnish an answer to the rather difficult(?) question he was asked…….:)

  5. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    Preachers have to deal with grieving, vulnerable folks who have been told if they sacrifice and beat themselves into submission and suffering their whole lives, they will get rewarded beyond their wildest imaginations in heaven – for eternity. They created this mess. It’s really crappy all around.

  6. Avatar
    mary

    agreed obstacle chick. watched this play out w/dad being a minister. now watching this play out with mother in law close to dying. she made sad life choices and denied herself very many good things all because of her beliefs. now she is dying and talks of her reward. she thinks she is being rewarded for staying in an abusive marriage, letting abuser spend all of her inheritance and leave her with nothing, refuse to bathe or groom, the list goes on. all because of the lies spouted by preachers. if she were able, she would be giving money and time to a church without a thought about anything else. that is how she got here. it is all so ridiculous.

  7. Avatar
    Troy

    I thought there was a (convoluted) Biblical case for an immediate afterlife? Jesus’s words on the cross talking to one of his crucifixion buddies, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

    I sometimes wonder if there might be utility in such a belief, does it help shorten or eliminate the grieving process? I suspect it does NOT. I recall a police investigation into a woman who is believed to have killed her own child. Shortly after the child’s death she was at the cemetery with party balloons and silly string. This was indicative of being unusual behavior. (Almost) no one believes it enough to have a grave yard bash.

  8. Avatar
    Steve Ruis

    Ah, you have doubts about the afterlife. I do not. The afterlife is part of the big con. Historically it was something reserved for only the highest kings, then less exalted officials found that could achieve that. Now, everyone. Does this not seem odd? Christians are promised everlasting life, but they explain quite clearly that everyone has an immortal soul and has everlasting life. The only thing under discussion are the living conditions after death.

    This part of the big con. No matter how religions form/begin, if they are to succeed they must help coerce the labor of the masses to serve the interests of the religious and secular elites. The big con of the religions was that when we die, we go to a glorious heaven and our enemies get punished. To earn this “death benefit” we must be obedient. (All the Abrahamic religions are about obedience and submission. The Arabic root word for Islam means submission, obedience, peace, and purity.) By being obedient, we do as we are told, we don’t make waves, we go to work, do our jobs, and shut up.

    Therefore the elites get their reward immediately; we get ours after we die. Now, isn’t that convenient for the elites? Why is being obedient to the elites have anything to do with an afterlife? As I said, if a religion doesn’t coerce the masses to labor for the elites, it doesn’t get support and dies away.

  9. Avatar
    BJW

    I actually have a slightly different opinion than I did 5 years ago. It runs more to the “now [loved one] is at peace and no longer suffering.” And then an emphasis on the kind of person they were, how much they will be missed by their loved ones etc. Of course if said minister believes in a burning hell, there would be a problem. Pretty sure when Bob or I die we wouldn’t have that type of minister, but a more liberal one. I guess that will necessitate a discussion with our sons and we are old enough to have it, now, unfortunately.

  10. Avatar
    Danny Plumber

    That was an awesome article, Bruce! I guess the spectre of nonexistence is too much for most people so they would much rather have some dude in a robe preach them into heaven instead. I mean just a week ago the great guitar player Eddie Van Halen died and right after all these tributes come out, saying all the same things about him being in heaven with Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn and jamming with Elvis and all the greats in a huge heavenly concert in the sky. Jeez, that sounds great! Sign me up! A year ago I watched my 90 year old mother die. I held her hand and told her that I loved her. Then she quietly passed away. She was a great woman of strong faith. Yet there were no heavenly choirs or bright lights, no majestic rumblings of forwarding eternal bliss. She died. She’s gone. And that’s reality. It’s nowhere near as fun a thought as her up there in heaven, running around with a harp, singing songs and dancing on gold streets.As I see it, these ministers are selling people something that they desperately want. Reassurance and Peace. Too bad its all just made up nonsense. We can have peace and fulfilling lives. But here on earth, not somewhere over the Rainbow.

  11. Avatar
    Michael

    I thought Protestantism generally taught that the soul goes to heaven or hell after death, then at the Last Judgment, all souls are reunited with their bodies (somehow recreated for cremated people), and then everyone experiences heaven or hell bodily.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Yes, disembodied souls are “absent from the body and present with the Lord “ — whatever that means. Souls don’t have physical forms, so I assume they don’t feel pain or do “body” things. This issue becomes further complicated by the notion of dead people going to Paradise/Hades before the resurrection of Christ. Located in the bowels of the earth, (Luke 16) it seems the inhabitants of each compartment could see the other. Yet, when Jesus resurrected from the dead, reanimated zombies roamed the streets of Jerusalem. Did they later “bodily” go to Heaven?

      So many questions and contradictions. 😂😂 Interesting read: Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright.

  12. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Yup. I was taught that too. Always believed it, and now looking for ways to absolutely refute it all, with no worries. Watching and waiting, to see if Dillahunty and the others are right after all, lol.

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