Is it Easy or Hard to Get to Heaven?

Two thousand years ago Jesus Christ said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)

Echoing Jesus’ words, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) wrote, “It is not so hard to lead a heaven-bound life as people think it is” (Heaven and Hell #528).

A reader named Rob is not so sure. In a recently submitted spiritual conundrum he asks:

What if I cannot attain to the kind of life Swedenborg says I need to to go to heaven? The demands are too burdensome. I try and fail. Spectacularly.

Am I doing something wrong here? Are some people just born with a better disposition and can do the good easily?

Thanks, Rob, for the great questions!

My sense from what you write, and from your earlier comments here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life, is that life has been difficult and painful for you. You question in your heart whether someone like you can really find your way to happiness and to heaven. It seems to you unlikely, if not impossible. It seems that you may be fated for pain and sorrow, and for eternal darkness.

Is it really so easy to get to heaven? Or is it hard . . . maybe impossible? Is it even worth trying?

The short answer is: It’s both easy and hard to get to heaven.

As Swedenborg says, living a life that leads to heaven is really not all that hard. We don’t have to be perfect, pious people who spend all of our time praying and never have an evil thought. Mostly, we just have to avoid doing dishonest and destructive things, and make ourselves useful to our fellow human beings.

Unfortunately, there is often huge resistance, both within us and around us, to living the way our better self wants to live. We have an ideal for ourselves, and we just can’t seem to live up to it. We keep on thinking, wanting, and doing the things we swore we’d stop doing.

There are also a lot of misconceptions floating around about what type of person we have to be to get to heaven. Heaven has room for all different kinds of people, not just for the bubbly, cheerful types that are held up to us as shining examples of what a “real Christian” is supposed to look like. In fact, heaven needs all different types of people.

Even though you may think that with your particular character, disposition, struggles, and failures, there will be no room for you in heaven, it’s very possible that heaven needs someone exactly like you.

How did things get so messed up?

I don’t know your story. I can’t say why life is hard and painful for you, and why heaven seems unlikely. It’s different for different people who feel this way—and you are by no means the only one.

Perhaps you grew up with fire-and-brimstone preachers who threatened you with the eternal fires of hell. Perhaps your parents tore you down and told you that you were no good. Perhaps you were mistreated and abused. Perhaps you were born with a naturally introverted, “antisocial” personality. Perhaps you have done some things that you just can’t forgive yourself for. Perhaps it’s none of these things, and there are other issues I can’t guess at.

For whatever reason, the type of active, loving, happy social and spiritual life that seems possible and even easy for other people just doesn’t seem like a real possibility for you. This can make life feel dark and hopeless.

What if life is hard?

Then Jesus comes along and says, “My yoke is easy.”

And Swedenborg comes along and says, “It’s not so hard to get to heaven.”

But when life is hard, those words ring hollow.

Let me first assure you that the reason Jesus, and later Swedenborg, even talked about the path being easy, and not being so hard, is that they both knew from personal experience just how hard life can be. They were not denying the hard realities of life, but offering the hope of solace and comfort in the midst of the pain and sorrow of life.

Theirs is not a glib “positive thinking” that seeks to ignore the reality of human suffering by flooding the brain with endorphins. Rather, what they offer is a path through the reality of pain and suffering toward something better. That something better does not deny the evil that exists within and around us. Rather, it offers a way to rise above the evil even while we may still be experiencing it.

If we look at Jesus’ life as recorded in the Gospels, we find that it was anything but easy. The moment he was born, a plot was hatched to kill him, forcing his parents to flee to a foreign land. As soon as he began his public ministry, he came under attack by the powerful religious leaders of the day. For him, that life of conflict and struggle continued right to the end of his life: he was brutally executed by his enemies.

We can know, then, that when Jesus says, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” he does not mean that he had an easy life.

In many ways, Emanuel Swedenborg’s life was quite comfortable. He was born of wealthy, educated stock, and lived a relatively privileged life. In fact, by the time he was fifty, he was all set to be a brilliant, celebrated scholar who would be a household name for his political, scientific, and philosophical achievements.

But God had other plans for him. By the time he was fifty-five, Swedenborg was making the difficult choice to give up all of his dreams of worldly wealth and fame, and take up a new task in life—a task for which he, too, would be attacked and vilified by the religious authorities of the day.

Swedenborg’s struggle and suffering was not in the same league as that of Jesus. He was able to live comfortably to his dying day. But we know from his private diaries that he went through great psychological and spiritual pain in giving up all of his dreams of fame and renown, and instead taking a path that would subject his name to attack and ridicule by those in positions of power. In order to take on the task that God had given him, he had to battle down his own overactive ego.

So we can know that when Swedenborg says, “It is not so hard to lead a heaven-bound life as people think it is,” he does not mean that the life that leads to heaven is going to be simple, painless, and conflict-free.

In fact, both Jesus and Swedenborg spend a great deal of time talking about the conflict, pain, and struggle of life.

Still, they offer the hope of an easier way, and of a path through the pain and suffering.

And while it may seem counterintuitive, walking the path of spiritual rebirth that Jesus taught and Swedenborg expanded upon requires us not to deny, but to face and accept the reality of pain, suffering, sin, and struggle.

A rocky path

A rocky path

(Photo credit: Ian – Into The Mountains)

The trials of temptation

It helps to understand that when we experience difficult and painful struggles in life, and when we experience the feeling that there is no hope—that we simply cannot live a good life according to our beliefs—this is actually a normal, natural part of our spiritual growth process.

For some people these periods of struggle, doubt, and failure (by our own lights) are shorter and less severe. For others they are long, deep, and very severe and painful.

Those of us who experience the deeper and more severe forms may think this puts us outside the pale of a truly spiritual life, and closes the doors of heaven for us. We may believe that because we have such difficulty living the way we believe we should, that means we will inevitably end up in hell rather than heaven.

But here’s the thing: when we feel this way, we are already in hell.

Among other things, hell is a state of separation and alienation from God and from loving and caring human society. If we’re experiencing this in our life here on earth, then hell already has its hooks in us.

I say this, not to make things seem even more hopeless, but to put some light on the reality of our situation. The question is not so much whether we’ll go to hell after we die, but whether we’ll get out of hell while we are still here on earth.

These days it is unfashionable to talk about evil spirits influencing us. But Jesus tells us in the Gospels that evil spirits are very real, and that they are quite capable of taking over our life. Swedenborg was allowed by God to see that there are indeed evil spirits with us all the time, continually working on us and attempting to drag us down toward hell.

The solution is not to deny their existence. The solution is not to deny the existence of evil, and attempt to drown it out with positive thinking, love, and light. Rather, the solution is to recognize and accept that the evil within and around us is real—and to do the work required to extricate ourselves from it. (But it’s really God doing the work.)

That’s what temptation is all about.

Temptation is a battle within us between the evil spirits and evil influences that are making our life into hell, and the good spirits and angels who come to us with the power of God to overcome that evil and lift us out of hell.

Struggles are a sign of life

Consider this: The very fact that you battle and struggle against the evil within and around you, and fear that you will lose the battle, shows that you are not spiritually dead. It shows that you are on a path that can lead to heaven.

If you simply gave in and willingly led an evil and destructive life, then the hope for you to find your way to heaven would indeed be slim. You would be on a path toward destruction without offering any resistance. Your life might be “peaceful,” but it would be the “peace” of a canoe sliding effortlessly down the river toward Niagara Falls.

I sense from your comments and your conundrum that you do struggle intensely with the feeling that you have failed to live a good life, and that you will keep failing to live a good life, and that therefore you will most likely end out in hell.

The fact that you are struggling is good!

It shows that you have not given up and given in. It shows that unlike those who just let themselves go, your struggles across those dangerous currents may bring you to the safety of shore before you go over the falls.

What you are experiencing is what the Bible calls “temptation.” Temptation is not so much about wanting to do something we know is wrong. It’s about facing the ultimate struggle between hope for heaven and the despair of hell.

As long as you are engaged in that struggle, you have not given in. What you are experiencing is not the road to hell, but the path out of hell.

It can be a long, difficult, and painful road. It can and will test us to the depths of our souls. It will “sift us like wheat” (see Luke 22:31–32). There will be many parts of ourselves—parts that we may hold onto dearly—that will have to be blown away like the chaff so that only the wheat of a good heart and mind remain in us.

In other words, what you are going through is a normal part of the process of spiritual rebirth. Even if you may be experiencing it in a more severe fashion than others seem to experience it, there is nothing wrong with you. You struggle and feel pain and failure because you are alive spiritually. You struggle because you are treading the path out of hell—and hell does not want to let go of you.

Your struggles and even your sense of failure have a purpose.

The success of failure

In our success-driven culture, it’s a temptation to think that when we fail, we have failed. But failing does not make us a failure.

Let me explain.

Failure is often necessary for success.

Inventors such as Thomas Edison commonly fail hundreds, if not thousands of times before finally coming up with something that works. Every single one of those failures was necessary. Each one showed them what doesn’t work, and got them one step closer to what does work. The specific nature of each failure suggested what might need to change in order to achieve success.

The same is true in business. Failed product lines and failed ventures often teach much more about what works and what doesn’t than successful ones.

When we fail, we analyze our failures. We seek to learn what went wrong. We look for solutions. We try to figure out how to succeed instead of failing. So we usually learn much more from our failures than from our successes.

Perhaps this is why Jesus said, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).

It’s not just joy over someone becoming righteous. If that were the issue, then there would be more joy over the ninety-nine righteous persons.

No, failing and then overcoming failure gives us many qualities that we don’t have if all we experience is success.

Those qualities include depth and strength of character. Those who have struggled deeply in their souls come out with a gritty ability to survive that is lacking in those who have had an easy life. In the face of adversity, those who have struggled against adversity will survive. Those who have led soft, easy lives will quickly crumble.

The longer and more intense our struggles have been, the greater the strength, endurance, and depth of character we will develop.

Heaven needs people with depth and strength of character. God needs angels to send to those who are in the midst of struggle, suffering, and pain. Those who have had easy lives will not be up to the task. Only those who have experienced pain and suffering themselves can be truly helpful to people still caught in the dark coils of trial and temptation in this world.

That may not be much comfort when we’re in the middle of the struggles, when we feel we’ve failed, and when the outcome is uncertain. However, to quote the Psalms, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5). There will come a time when the worst of our struggles are over, and we are left with the depth and strength of character that we developed in the process.

When our struggles are over, we will have become people, and then angels, who are able to do the heavy lifting that God needs in order to pull this world of ours out of its darkness and into the light.

Our failure is God’s success

Another quality developed by struggle and failure is trust in God rather than trust in ourselves.

These days, the virtues of self-reliance and self-determination are preached far and wide in both secular and sacred circles. And there is a certain virtue in pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We must engage in the struggle as if it were all up to us, and all about us. It’s not “spiritual” to sit idly by with our hands hanging down waiting for God to do all the work.

No, it doesn’t work that way. Even if we’re driven by selfishness at first, we must roll up our sleeves and “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (see Philippians 2:12–13).

However, as we struggle along our spiritual path, eventually we will come to a point at which we realize that our own strength is not enough. We will come to a point at which we realize that by ourselves we will fail, but with God’s strength, we can be victorious.

According to Swedenborg, one of the purposes of temptation is to get us to the point where we realize that on our own, we are failures.


Because as long as we think we can handle our own problems, we will not open up our soul to God, nor to our friends and family who love us and want to help us. As long as we try to be a rock and an island, we will be alone, and will remain in our own private hell.

But when we reach the point at which we realize that we have given it our best shot, and we have failed, that is precisely when we are finally ready to turn our life over to God.

Oh, we may have thought that we were living a religious and godly life before. But as long as we think we are good and virtuous, and can do this “spiritual” thing all by ourselves, we are living in an illusion. We are still in the grip of evil and of hell. We are living, not from the love and wisdom of God, but from the pride and folly of our own ego.

Temptation is specifically designed to break up our ego. It is designed to bring us so low that we admit defeat.

Because the fact is, hell is much stronger than we are. We may think that we’re some sort of spiritual macho stud. Hell is there to prove that even if we put out our best effort, and expend all the strength, energy, and acumen at our disposal, we will be squashed like a bug under the sheer weight and depth of human evil.

The only one who is strong enough to overcome the overwhelming power of our deeper evils is God. And for Christians, it is only by turning to the Lord Jesus Christ that we can gain the strength to move from our failure to God’s success.

It is precisely when we admit failure, and turn our lives over to God unconditionally, that we can finally begin to win the battles. Life will still be a struggle. But we will have turned around. We will be battling upward through the power of God instead of fighting a rearguard, downward, losing battle through our own strength.

In short, we must put out our best effort. But once our own efforts have failed, God can finally begin to succeed spiritually in our lives.

Okay, then where does the “easy” part come in?

Wow, all of this sounds very . . . hard.

Where does the “easy” part come in? Does it ever become “not so hard,” as Swedenborg says?

Jesus was not deceiving us when he said that his yoke is easy. And Swedenborg spoke from hard experience when he said that the life that leads to heaven is not so hard.

Perhaps this is a paradox. But living a spiritual life is actually quite easy. It is light, joyful, even effortless, because it simply involves allowing the love and wisdom of God to flow through us.

The hard part is getting to the easy part.

The hard part is that we resist living in that easy way. Our ego, our prior training and experience, and yes, the evil spirits who are with us are continually fighting against our acceptance of the easy yoke and the path that is not so hard.

Here’s an example that may help:

In ordinary driving conditions, when does a car’s engine have to expend the most power? When is the car’s drive train under the most strain? It’s not when the car is moving along the road, or even when it’s cruising along at highway speed—even though that’s when the car is “getting the most work done.”

No, the engine has to put out the most effort when it is starting the car from a stop. The greatest mechanical strain takes place just getting the car going. Once it is underway, the engine still has to work. But now it has momentum on its side. Now it has to produce only enough power to keep the car going in the direction it already “wants” to go.

It’s the same for us spiritually. Except it’s as if the car is going 100mph in reverse, and we’ve got to hit the brakes and gear it down to get it to a stop, and only then begin to put out the torque needed to get it going forward.

Jesus’ yoke, and Swedenborg’s road that is not so hard, is about the time when we’ve gotten the car going in the right direction, and we’re cruising along the highway. Yes, we’ll have some hills to climb and some valleys to get through. But it will be nothing we can’t handle with the “engine” of God powering our lives.

Unfortunately, we usually get going in reverse in our younger years. That may be because of bad influences when we are growing up. Or it may be because of bad choices we made as young adults. Sometimes we have to spend much of our lives just coming to a stop. And that “stop” may feel like the failure of everything we have ever tried to accomplish with our lives. We may feel like our life has come to an end. But we must come to that stop before finally getting ourselves going forward toward heaven. And that will be a serious struggle of its own.

Keep in mind, though, that our time here on earth is only the beginning of our real life in heaven. We spend a few decades, or maybe even a century here. That is only a tiny slice of life compared to the eternity that we will spend in the spiritual world. Even if it takes us sixty, seventy, or eighty years to get our lives going on a positive path, all of the pain, suffering, struggle, and failure that we experience here will seem like nothing compared to the joy that will come with the “morning” of our spiritual rebirth and our life in the eternity of heaven.

That is what Jesus was talking about when he said:

Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. (John 16:20–22)

This article is a response to a spiritual conundrum submitted by a reader.

For further reading:


Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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Posted in Pain and Suffering, Spiritual Growth
18 comments on “Is it Easy or Hard to Get to Heaven?
  1. idiotwriter says:

    ‘The hard part is getting to the easy part’ – bout sums it up hey 😉
    Nice write – enjoyed reading this – you wrote it well with great analogies and good flow from one point to another. It is so hard to keep such topics short though isn’t it?
    In an age where we are ‘fast’ everything…people also want a speed dial to the easy yolk – jeepers – I have been going along for many many years now – messing up left and right and all over the place – and only JUST reaching that ‘easy’ — which does not remove the physical ‘hard’ part truly. Yet in confidence – all of it does not matter because there is the peace that comes with knowing what you know you know that gives everything a different perceptive…

    I like to think that when you are in that place of ‘relearning’ everything about your perceptions that if it is easy then you are not going the right way! It is when it is hard that you can be at peace to know that you are on the right track. ANd how I like to explain it to my son is similar to the analogy you used oddly:

    When you are rowing up the stream – it is hard work. Your friends will be cruising along enjoying the sunshine and laying back going with the current. But you keep rowing for that day because you know what you are striving for that is UP stream NOT down. It will be hard to keep rowing sometimes and you will meet rapids and even crocodiles along the way….but just when you think you may not be able to row anymore – you will see a small place to pull into where you can rest in the shelter for a while – or a day or two. AND then BACK to rowing. In the meantime – your mates will be laughing and calling to you to join them and in their fun – they will wonder why you are going the way you are when it is so much EASIER to go the other way…until they see the falls. Perhaps you will be in a place where you may be able to throw them a rope by then. THAT is what friends do to look out for each other.

    I think so many people feel that acts are the whole deal – where as God sees the heart – the will – the determination to be better – the attempt. The rowing and the direction chosen…and he certainly provides the hands along the way to pull us along. AND gives rest – for he will not stretch us beyong=d what we can bare.

    I like chatting here – thank you.
    I hope your reader whom asked the question finds peace in their efforts at finding the direction – even if the oars keep slipping and they have to catch hold of them from time to time. The direction is paramount – NOT the speed not the equipment used to move up the stream….just keep moving I figure.

    • Lee says:

      Hi idiotwriter,

      Thanks for your insightful comment, which adds some nice dimensions to the article. And thanks for the kudos, which I do appreciate.

      To take up just one of the many themes you mention, when we are “at rest” spiritually, it doesn’t mean we’re doing nothing. It means we have no inner conflict about what we are doing, and can therefore do it single-mindedly without internal resistance. In fact, in this state we are often much busier, and accomplish much more, than when we are spiritually “laboring.” To go back to the car analogy, when the car is cruising along the highway, it is covering great ground, but it’s just purring along doing what it’s made to do. It is in its “heaven.”

      I have also found that it helps to realize that we have multiple layers of mind. If, instead of completely immersing ourselves in the struggles of the moment, we keep access to some sliver of a higher level of our mind where we can observe ourselves from above the fray, it makes it possible for us to realize that though our struggles are real, there is something above and beyond the struggles that is also “us.” There is a point of peace within us even when we are laboring and in conflict.

      • idiotwriter says:

        Indeed – rest is not a physical concept within the context of the conversation right 😉 YET all CAN be conveyed in physical terms too I guess – ie – when with children creating and instillling the ability on a physical level to push beyond those comfort zones to get to a BETTER place.
        It is the ability to have things flow better and in as such on EVERY level it requires WORK. A term that is bantered around lightly today. People want – without working for it. ‘all hard work pays a profit’ 😀 in ALL senses. ‘SEEK – ye shall find’ the seeking can take time and be darn hard – but if you keep looking – you WILL find treasure. ….but you already understand all this hey 😉
        Nice to speak again –

  2. Rob says:

    Reading this article again after a long time. Its still super hard to be good when you see the world as the enemy. And now being chronically fatigued has made it even harder. It seems the best I can do is to say Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rob,

      Good to hear from you again. Life certainly can be a long, drawn-out struggle. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

  3. Jason says:

    I just want to say thank you for this wonderful article. I started off on your article “If You Think You’re Going to Hell, Please Read This First”.. I had been struggling with the doubt of my salvation. I’m 23 and have been pursuing a life in Christ.

    I find myself constantly analyzing myself at times when I should be at peace, and not analyzing myself when I most likely should be. (around friends, work, ect) This has inevitably made me very scared about how my heavenly father sees me. It’s almost debilitating and strikes me with spiritual paralysis. All I can find myself doing is praying and repenting, hoping that God will change my heart to better serve him.

    This article brought to light that the path to our Heavenly Father isn’t an easy one, it’s a very complex and humbling one at that. I must TRUST in my heavenly father and his promises. Only through him can I find salvation.

    I’m just terrified that somewhere along my spiritual journey, that if I were to die before I met my spiritual maturity, would it all be for not? I pray that I make it.

    Thank you, thank you for this wisdom our lord as imparted to you.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Jason,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your good and thoughtful comment.

      Yes, the path to eternal life is a complex and humbling one. It consists of many, many small steps, much of it over the rocky and thorn-infested soil of our rather selfish and unregenerate self. That’s why God gives us a lifetime to make that journey.

      And if we die along the way, my belief is that as long as we were traveling in the right direction, God will welcome us into one of those many mansions of heaven.

      Meanwhile, godspeed on your spiritual journey!

  4. Orlando Jones says:

    is it easier to thread the eye of a needle with a camel, than it is to get into the kingdom heaven; what verse in the BIBLE states this?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Orlando,

      The verse you’re thinking of is more specific than that:

      Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. (Matthew 19:24; see also Mark 10:25; Luke 18:25)

      And don’t forget that just two verses later, Jesus says:

      For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26)

  5. Lee says:

    To a reader named hardenedheart1973:

    I’m sorry not to approve your comment, but per our comments policy, please do not leave comments in ALL CAPS. Meanwhile, in response to your comment, I invite you to read these two articles:

    I hope these are helpful to you. Meanwhile, you are in our thoughts and prayers.

  6. Luna says:

    Why does God let so much suffering happen to innocent people?

    Also, doesn’t everything have an origin? How could God have just existed?

    And, is it possible for people on the world of spirits/heaven/hell to send you signs? If so, why don’t they in the hardest parts of your lives?

    Lastly, why does God not send you signs of the afterlife if you are truly open to it and it will benefit your spiritual growth?

    • Lee says:

      On your first question, please do read this article, which has four parts:

      How can we have Faith when So Many Bad Things happen to So Many Good People? Part 1

      I believe I linked a couple of other articles on this question for you earlier. This is too big a question to answer in a comment.

      Yes, everything has to have an origin. God is that origin. What other origin would there be? If God came from something else, than that would be God.

      Yes, it is possible for angels and spirits to send us signs when the Lord allows it. But these tend not to happen at the hardest part of our lives, because if there were spiritual intervention at these times, it would take away our freedom and our humanity.

      The hardest times of our lives are the times when we are making the agonizing decisions in our heart that will determine whether we go up or down, and what sort of person we will be. God is actually closer to us at these times than at any other time, because when we are making these decisions, that is when we are at our most human. But if we were aware of how close God is to us at those times, and how it is really God doing the fighting for us, we would lose our sense of self and identity, and with it our humanity. We must make these tough, grinding choices as if we were making them by ourselves. But after we have chosen the good, God and the angels will come more strongly into our life, and we will realize that they were with us all along.

      A popular illustration of this is the “Footprints” poem. It was also Jesus’ experience in his temptation in the desert, after which, it says, “angels came and waited on him” (see Matthew 4:1–11).

      The answer to your final question is similar. God knows better than we do whether signs from heaven would actually be helpful to us, and would benefit our spiritual growth. We may think that if God would just give us a sign from heaven, then we would have what we need to move forward with our spiritual life. But Jesus himself told us that this is not necessarily so in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31:

      “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

      “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

      “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

      “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

      “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

      “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

      “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

      God has sent us “Moses and the Prophets,” meaning the Bible, and by extension other spiritual writings, and in them has given us everything we need to make the choice for good, and to live a spiritual life. If we are not willing to listen to what God tells us in the Bible and through the various spiritual teachers God has sent, then we will not believe even if an angel comes to us and speaks to us. That may seem hard to believe, but it is true.

      • Luna says:

        Why does it say in that excerpt that the man still suffered? He showed that he was sorry for what he had done, so how come he wasn’t allowed to come to heaven?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Luna,

          If you read the parable carefully, you will see that the rich man doesn’t say he’s sorry for living a life full of luxury and pleasure while letting poor Lazarus starve at his gate. In fact, after ignoring the pain and suffering of Lazarus, even though he could have easily helped him, he still wanted Lazarus to come help him with his own pain and suffering. No apology. No recognition that he had had no compassion whatsoever for the poor man at his gate. He was still thinking only of himself and his own family, and not of anyone else. He was so oblivious to his own wrong behavior that he thought the very person he had wronged should now serve him. It was precisely because he was not at all sorry for what he had done that he was in hell, not in heaven.

        • Luna says:

          I thought the pain and agony were only figurative? Why is the man in actual pain while God just watches him suffer? Also, doesn’t he still have some good in him if he is asking Lazarus to warn his brothers?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Luna,

          The pain and agony in the parable are figurative, not literal. People in hell aren’t literally roasting in fire. The “fires of hell” are the figurative fire of the evil and destructive desires of the people who live there. For more on this, please see:

          Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?

          As for the rich man wanting God to warn his brothers, people commonly think of their families as an extension of themselves.

          Organized crime families, for example, are often very close and very devoted to the family. They will stand up for one another protect one another from all comers, including from the police, and especially from rival crime families, because they see the family as their family, and as an extension of themselves. But as soon as anyone in the family defies the family and opposes anything it does, you will see just how much they really “love” their family members.

          If the rich man had asked God to go warn other people outside of his family, then it might have counted for something. But in asking God to warn his own family members, he was just looking out for his own. There’s no particular virtue in that. He still had no regard whatsoever for Lazarus, who wasn’t part of his family.

  7. Cathy says:

    What about this verse?

    But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:14)


    • Lee says:

      Hi Cathy,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question. Here is the short version of the answer:

      1. The gate was small, and the road was narrow, when Jesus spoke those words. But Jesus himself, through his teaching and his saving work, broadened the gate and widened the road to heaven.
      2. If we read Jesus’ words metaphorically, they mean that when we start out on a spiritual path, the gate does feel small and the road narrow because we are no longer allowed to engage in our favorite sins. We have to “walk a thin line” until God replaces our heart of stone with a heart of flesh.

      For the long version, please go to this article:

      Response to a Calvinist Critique of my article “Faith Alone Does Not Save”

      Then scroll down and start reading at the section titled, “Matthew 7:13–14: The narrow gate.”

      I hope this helps.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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