Does Heaven and Hell really exist?

"We all, all, all of us go to heaven" - this is how the people on the Rhine sang at this carnival. "Because we are so good, because we are so good ..." It would be nice, some will think. It would be nice if everyone went to heaven. And someone else might think: It would be even better if everyone went to heaven!

In response to this question, the theological problem can actually come to a head: Does all go to heaven, or are there on the one hand those who are chosen and on the other hand those who are rejected, "out into the utter darkness, there will be its howling and chattering teeth "? Can man earn his salvation? Or has God predetermined who he will receive into his heavenly kingdom and who will not?

From Abraham to Jesus Christ

The subject of election appears for the first time in the Old Testament in Abraham. Without any preconditions, God gives him his promise: "I want to bless you and you are to be a blessing." Abraham did nothing to become worthy of this election, at least nothing is reported. With him he would like to start a new story with people. The people who preserve and pass on the faith in the true God are said to descend from him.

A second time Israel knows that it has been chosen by God: through the rescue on the Red Sea and the subsequent covenant on Sinai. There God undertakes to protect the people of Israel. He promises to take it to the land of milk and honey and he promises to defend Israel. In response to this election, Israel pledges to keep the law. Why God chooses this crowd of Egyptian slaves is not explained further. "To whom I am gracious, I am gracious, and whom I have mercy on, I have mercy on him," says God (Exodus 33:19). People cannot do anything to be chosen by God, they can only accept the election and respond to it with a life that corresponds to that election.

The Hebrew Bible does not speak of eternal salvation, of "heaven". This idea only emerged shortly before the turn of the century, in apocalyptic. The pious of the people of Israel, who see themselves as God's chosen, are persecuted and oppressed. There is nothing to be seen of their being chosen, on the contrary: they have to suffer especially. This is how the grandiose, terrifying images of the final battle of God's armies against those of evil emerge, when finally the elect, who are destined for eternal life with God, are saved and the rejected are condemned and sent into eternal punishment.

In the New Testament, first of all, Jesus is God's chosen one.

In his message, however, the topic of "election" only plays a very subordinate role. In the Gospel of Matthew there is an addition to the parable of the Great Supper, in which it is told that an improperly dressed guest is thrown out. Jesus concludes: "For many are called, but few are chosen."

The idea of ​​election is properly developed in the letters of the New Testament, above all in the hymn chapters Romans 8 and Ephesians 1. Here people who have experienced God's love sing a jubilant hymn of praise for the faithfulness and closeness of God that is not in any Wise depends on human behavior. God's care is pure grace, it is based on nothing but God's free decision. That is the core and truth of the concept of election. People have the experience that although I did nothing to prove myself worthy of God's love, he turned to me and chose me as a man chooses his bride and a woman her bridegroom, out of pure love.

The rejection is due to human fault

The downside of election is rejection. What about those whom God does not choose? If he does not choose everyone, there must be left non-elect. The theological tradition speaks in this context of "negative" rejection: Those who are not chosen are not there, they are "outside". In addition, there is also the idea of ​​an "active" rejection by God: God selects people whom he does not designate for salvation, but for disaster. Or: He revokes his election and rejects a person whom he has previously chosen. An impressive example of this is King Saul, who has opposed God's will and is rejected by God for it. This example also makes it clear what the theological tradition has repeatedly emphasized: No one can deserve election. The rejection, however, can be traced back to man's fault.

Martin Luther wrestled intensely with the subject of "election and rejection". In one of his most famous writings, "On the unfree will", he compares humans with a mount for which God and Satan fight. Who of the two sits on the mount determines the course: election or rejection, eternal salvation or disaster. In his deep faith in God's righteousness, Luther went so far as to say that one must also accept one's own rejection in faith. If I am rejected, I am nevertheless with God in faith and not finally separated from him.

Theologians after Luther did not understand these radical lines of thought in this way. One thing was clear: God chooses in a free, sovereign decision. In his omniscience he knows beforehand which person will live how, and makes his choice. A strict distinction is made between those whom God has accepted and chosen and those whom he has rejected.

I can be happy that I have been chosen and that I entrust myself to God

From the perspective of the Bible, this view is at least problematic. Almost throughout the Bible there is a very strong emphasis on the joy of being accepted by God, of being chosen. What happens to the other people who, in my perception, are not chosen, is not given much thought to. Chapters 9-11 of Romans are an exception, in which Paul writes about why the people of Israel did not accept salvation in Christ. His reasoning boils down to the certainty that in the end all Israel will attain salvation (Romans 11: 25-32). Paul is deeply saddened by the fact that others do not yet seem to have received salvation (Romans 9: 1-4). He does not judge arrogantly and presumptuously, but suffers from a judgment that seems unbearable to him.

And that's a track that seems worthwhile to me. I myself can experience that God is good to me without having done anything to make sure that he has chosen me a long time ago, as Paul Gerhardt sings: You "made me your own before I knew you." . " I don't have to worry about what happens to the others. Yes, as a Christian who has heard the word of Jesus: "Love your enemies!" I can’t help but ask God not to let any or anyone get lost. Above all, we must be careful not to want to decide for ourselves who is chosen and who, for example, is rejected.

What remains for me as a person: I can rejoice that I have been chosen, I can celebrate this conviction and seize it in faith, I can entrust myself to God, appeal to his election and see a seal for this election in my baptism.