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Tale of Two Islands

You’ve been found guilty of breaking the law, and the consequences will result in being sent away for a while.  You brace yourself for the judge’s sentencing, hoping for mercy.  But when the judge has you escorted to the docks to transport you to the destination where you’ll carry out your sentencing, you don’t quite know what to make of it. You expected to go to jail, but instead, you board a small boat with a captain and security guard as your companions.

After a while, you notice the captain is steering the boat towards a couple of islands, and the security guard begins explaining your options. “You’ll be shown two different islands,” he explains, “and you will be able to choose the island on which to serve your sentence.”

As you approach the first island, your first thought is that it resembles a picture out of a travel brochure.  The water near the shoreline is pristine.  It’s so clear you can see the sandy bottom and the beautiful tropical fish swimming just below the water’s surface. The beach is made up of white sand, littered with exquisite shells that would be a collector’s dream. Just beyond the beach are numerous varieties of tropical trees and plants, which are home to a dozen or more species of birds, butterflies and animals. The fragrances permeating from the flora and fruit trees are tantalizing. The sights, sounds and scents of this first island put your senses on overload. 

While exulting in the first island’s beauty, the captain steers the boat towards the second.  The closer you get, you notice the air gradually changes over to an offensive odor.  As you approach the shoreline, you look around in an attempt to find what’s causing the stench. Ah, now you see it.  The beach sand can’t be seen for all the dumped, rotting garbage. Evidently, this island is a trash site for a nearby town or city.  Then you notice rivulets of gooey liquid seeping from underneath the piles of trash and running into the shallow waters. That causes you to look down to see brown, polluted water with dead fish floating on the surface. The repugnant stench makes you gag.

Noticeably absent are the melodic notes of any tropical birds, or any fruit bearing trees or flowers. Instead, you see vultures and other birds of prey circling overhead, looking for their dinner of rats or any other varmints ravaging through the waste. This island is the exact opposite from the first in every sense of the word. The sights, smells and sounds couldn’t be any more different.  

After showing you the two destinations, the captain turns in his seat and says, “Okay, now you’ve seen the two islands, on which one do you want to carry out your sentence?”

Your first thought is, “This must be a joke, right?”  Who in their right mind would choose the stench and ugliness of the second island? Who would want to wallow in filth and inhale nauseous fumes day in and day out? The obvious choice, of course, would be the beautiful, picturesque island paradise. In fact, the choice is much like choosing between heaven and hell.

Exactly.  The contrasts of this Tale of Two Islands doesn’t even begin to describe the contrasts of the literal heaven and hell of the Bible.  The new heaven described in Revelation 21 and 22 is a paradise like nothing we can even begin to imagine. It’s a magnificent structure made up of levels of precious gemstones, the streets are of gold, and the gates are made out of enormous pearls. A pure river of water, clear as crystal, flows out of the throne of God, and on either side of the river the tree of life grows, producing twelve types of fruit every month.  There is no darkness, and it is free of physical pain, death and sorrow.

Unlike heaven, we’re told in Revelation 20:14 that death and hell will be cast into the Lake of Fire.  It’s a place where everything burns for eternity, yet with the blackness of darkness (Jude 13), with no quenching of thirst (Luke 16:24).  People who don’t grasp the severity of hell, or want to make light of it, often joke about going there to party and hang out with their friends. That delusion will last less than a millisecond before you realize it’s nothing but a place of torment.

While it seems that no one in his/her right mind would choose anything other than the first island to carry out his/her punishment in the Tale of Two Islands, every day millions of people reject God’s gift of grace, thereby choosing to pass on the perfection of heaven and choosing the ugliness and torment of hell for their eternal abode. Unlike the illustration above where you get to preview the two islands before choosing your final destination, your choice of going to either heaven or hell is made in the here and now.  It requires acknowledging that what the Bible says about each place is true, and a faith in the Bible of how one will spend his/her eternity in either place. Also, unlike the above scenario where the sentencing on either island is temporary, heaven and hell are for an eternity.  

God, in His mercy, has made an eternity in heaven, a literal paradise, available to everyone. Will you be there with me?

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