Why I Gave Up the Idea of Going to Heaven
—Related by Yuriko Eto
AS A Japanese Methodist, I deeply believed that there could be no greater happiness than going to heaven. It would be sublime to be beside God and be able to live with the Lord Jesus Christ forever. Why was it that I had such an earnest longing to go to heaven? And why did I give up the idea? Let me tell you my story.
Only Shintoism and Buddhism had been allowed in my country, Japan, for centuries. I was born in 1911, just 22 years after freedom of religion had been granted. My family had become Methodists. My father was in the trading business. My mother was the daughter of a clergyman. The fact that my mother genuinely believed the Bible was a blessing to me. I particularly remember that my mother’s friend, a schoolmistress at a girls’ theological school, used to visit us often. She always talked about the Bible, and I loved to listen. But at the end of the discussions she would always say: “Isn’t it sad that the Bible has not yet been opened up and understood?” It always bothered me that since God had caused men to write the Bible, why had he not made them understand it?
After coming home from school, I liked nothing better than to sit in a comfortable chair reading the Bible and dreaming about heaven. What particularly moved my heart was that maybe Christ would come to meet us during my lifetime. Jesus Christ likened himself to a bridegroom and warned us that of the ten virgins, five were fast asleep and could not meet the bridegroom and could not go to heaven! So every day, I prayed for the time when the Lord Jesus would come to call us, and I prayed that the second presence of Christ should not be forgotten. I kept in my heart the scripture that says, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God,” and I waited and hoped. In fact, I was living as an unconcerned traveler in this world.—Matthew 25:1-12; 5:8, King James Version.
In 1933 I married, and because I was always bringing heaven into our conversations, my husband used to laugh at me saying, “You belong to heaven, but I belong to this world.” However, my husband’s father was devoted to the Bible and would often say: “It’s been almost 2,000 years since the Lord Jesus Christ came, so we can suppose that Christ’s second presence is close.” My heart burned more and more.
Then World War II began, and in the last year of the war my husband died. At that time I thought that if there is a fearful hell, it must be this world. After the war, I took my four children (the youngest was seven months old) and we moved several times, as Tokyo was still in a state of confusion. I could not bear a whole Sunday without going to church, so every time we moved, I attended the church nearest our home. I did not care which church it was, as I felt there was only one God and one Bible. I disliked the thought of sticking to one religion.
Searching for God’s Organization
Seeing differences, I gradually began to wonder how God himself views all the sects. I came to the conclusion that God knows better than anyone that errors prevail in the many religions. In the same way that a teacher gives points on a pupil’s examination paper, I thought God would give points to the organization that understood the Bible most accurately. I began to feel that I must find the organization that is right in God’s eyes. Then Matthew 7:9 flashed through my mind. It says: “Who is the man among you whom his son asks for bread—he will not hand him a stone, will he?” Because I was seeking the true “bread,” I put faith in this scripture and began to pray seriously day after day: “Please let me associate with the organization that has the accurate understanding of the Bible.” One year after starting to pray this way, I moved to Yokohama. It was here that a certain conversation excited me.
Whenever I met people who said they attended church, I would ask them right away, “I wonder if you know anyone who understands the Bible in detail?” One day in a nearby town, I met a member of a church and asked her the same question. Even though I had not, up till then, received a favorable reply, she answered in a convincing voice: “Yes. There is such a person. The other day a woman missionary called here. I invited her into the house, and she immediately opened up the Bible and explained things one after another. She mentioned before she left that she lives on the top of the hill where you live.” On hearing that, I left her house—thrilled. The very next day I visited the missionary home of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
A Time of Crisis
At last I could have a detailed study of the Bible. About a month passed—and then a bombshell! My missionary-teacher, Jean Hyde (now Nisbet), smiled and said: “In the future you will probably live not in heaven but on the earth.” I was shocked because I felt as if I had been pushed out of heaven. I was really angry. “It is the first time that I have ever met a missionary who speaks as rudely as you,” I spit out at her. “It is a shame that in spite of my having looked forward to having you teach me the Bible, that feeling is now gone. However, as I am searching for the true organization at the present time, and as I have subscribed for The Watchtower and also have the book ‘Let God Be True,’ I will make a careful examination by myself. When I have reaffirmed that this is the truth, I will bow to you and come to ask for your help again.”
Jean was not angry. She beamed and said, “By all means, please examine the truth.” With that she left, but she would kindly drop in from time to time to ask, “Are you making your examination?” I had hoped that this organization was God’s answer to my prayers, but now my feelings were in a complete upheaval. I had never before heard of a distinction being made between those who will go to heaven and those who will live forever on earth.
Thereafter, I earnestly examined the Watch Tower publications daily. After a while the traveling overseer of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Adrian Thompson, called on me. I immediately asked, a little rebelliously: “Even if in the future there are two groups, one heavenly and one earthly, wouldn’t God be the one who decides? It would be presumptuous of men to decide, wouldn’t it?” He replied: “Exactly! The One who decides is God.” Even though I did not understand the details, somehow I felt a little easier. ‘So,’ I thought, ‘my prospects of going to heaven have not been taken away.’ After that, I prayed and continued to study by myself.
In 1954 I attended the Memorial of Christ’s death. Lloyd Barry was the speaker. In his talk he said that those in the “covenant agreement” were the ones to partake of the bread and the wine. After the Memorial I had many questions, so I walked all the way home with Shizue Seki, a zealous Witness. She showed great concern and took time to encourage me not to give up just because I had a problem with one point but to make certain whether all the other teachings are based on the Bible or not.
One day, after the children had gone to school, I was tidying up in preparation for guests, and I prayed silently, ‘I will study again with Jehovah’s Witnesses.’ On opening my eyes, I was amazed to see, not the guests I was waiting for, but three Japanese Jehovah’s Witnesses. Surprised, I told them what I had just finished praying. Fumiko Seki excitedly jumped up and down, clapping her hands saying, “Good! Good!” Soon another missionary, Sonny Dearn, with Fumiko helping with the translation, started an enjoyable study. This time two of my children joined me in the study. However, Sonny’s assignment changed. Then Leon Pettitt, another foreigner, came. We always fired a barrage of questions at him. He calmly showed us scriptures so that we could come to the right conclusion and progress in Scriptural knowledge.
Learning the Purpose of Going to Heaven
In contrast to my personal aspirations, I learned that there is a purpose in going to heaven over and above the simple wistfulness of being next to the glorious God and living with the Lord Jesus forever. As I became acquainted with certain truths, my heart was able to accept them readily.
To begin with, if the first man Adam had not sinned, there would have been no necessity for any of mankind to go to heaven. This is because before the world was created, there were already thousands upon thousands of angels in heaven.—Job 38:4-7; Daniel 7:9, 10.
As the study progressed, I learned from Luke 12:32 that it is only a small group that the Bible calls a “little flock” that goes to heaven. Jesus said: “Have no fear, little flock, because your Father has approved of giving you the kingdom.” As to the purpose, is it not written in Revelation 20:6 that “they . . . will rule as kings with him [Christ] for the thousand years”? And in Revelation 5:10 that “they are to rule as kings over the earth”?
I also learned the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus prayed: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10, KJ) When I understood that this was referring to the heavenly Kingdom government made up of people who are taken from the earth to reign with the King Jesus Christ, I marveled at God’s wisdom. I was convinced that this is the very thing we need, a unique, new government that will free mankind from the suffering, sorrow, and pressures brought by Satan. I could not hold back my praise of Jehovah.
Further, when I learned that the number going to heaven is limited to 144,000, I could not help but agree with the reasonableness of this. (Revelation 14:1, 3) In the same way, even the number of officials in a government on earth is limited. I came to appreciate that there are certain important duties for those who go to heaven. Their work within God’s loving arrangement includes making all those living on earth happy and restoring this earth to paradisaic conditions.
I was so overwhelmed with appreciation that I gladly abandoned my thoughts of going to heaven. Now I am filled with the hope of living in a paradise on earth. Undoubtedly, God has opened up the meaning of the Bible by means of his organization. I had been searching for the truth. I am compelled to give thanks to God that he helped me to associate with the organization he approves.
Fruitful, Happy Ministry
I was baptized in October 1954. Since 1955, two of my children have been sharing full-time in the Kingdom proclamation activity along with me. My son Keijiro served as a traveling overseer for seven years. Now he is blessed with two children, and he and his wife work zealously as full-time preachers (pioneers). As a special pioneer, I have shared in establishing congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in six cities.* Recently I had the joy of preaching for several years with my eldest daughter, Hiroko, on Hachijō Island, which is 185 miles (300 km) out in the Pacific Ocean from Tokyo.
Since I became contented with the hope of a wonderful future on earth, my view toward the earth has greatly changed. On Hachijō Island especially, we were surrounded by unusual flowers, and as we called from house to house, we admired them when talking with the householders in their beautiful gardens. One day we met an elderly woman taking care of her flowers. We praised them, but she lamented: “I am not afraid of dying, but it distresses me that I will have to part from these flowers when I go to the other world.” I explained that under God’s Kingdom rule she will be resurrected from death into a paradise earth where flowers will be enjoyed forever. Her eyes got bright, and a Bible study was arranged.
I was drawn also by the simple life-style of the island people. They are especially reverent in the matter of honoring their ancestors. When someone dies, everyone in the community obligingly attends the funeral. I only wish that all these people would come to know Jehovah, the Father of life, and understand that he is the God who will cause their ancestors to live again when the earth is restored to a paradise. I would like them to know that there is an important difference between respecting and worshiping our ancestors. We should worship only the one Father of life, Jehovah. As Jesus said: “Nevertheless, the hour is coming, and it is now, when the true worshipers will worship the Father with spirit and truth, for, indeed, the Father is looking for suchlike ones to worship him. God is a Spirit, and those worshiping him must worship with spirit and truth.”—John 4:23, 24.
Now in my seventh territory assignment, I thank Jehovah as I continue to tell people about the purpose of Jehovah’s heavenly Kingdom government and the wonderful blessings that it will bring to those of us who will have the marvelous privilege of living forever on earth.—2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:3, 4.
Yuriko Eto has also helped 75 of her Bible students to become Kingdom publishers.
[Picture on page 12]
Yuriko Eto studying with others about the Bible’s promise of an earthly paradise