Monday, September 2, 2013

I DON'T WANT TO GO TO HEAVEN


For most Christians, Heaven is a big deal.  Otherwise, what is the point of “salvation” anyway?  After all, in this life we are sure to encounter disappointment, failure, heartache, pain, suffering, and certain death.  Oh, sure, there are the good times too, but realistically it’s a very mixed bag and it always ends badly.  The Christian may rejoice in God’s grace and Christ’s sacrifice, but what would be the point if in the end there were nothing after this life?  

One of the great gifts of life is consciousness.  It enables us to appreciate our good fortune and to understand the world as well as we can with the limited brainpower that we have.  But the downside of consciousness is that we are painfully aware of the brevity of life and the fact that our own existence is fleeting.  Our consciousness is so robust that it’s disappointing, to say the least, to think that at some point we simply aren’t going to be around anymore.  

So for most Christians getting to Heaven is the ultimate goal, and as I have said elsewhere, this life is really viewed as just a pass/fail exam or sorts.  What’s at stake is getting to the Big Event.

So what is your idea of Heaven?  

As a child, I was taught about and thought of Heaven in pretty concrete terms.  Whatever shortcomings there were in this life, they would be swept away in Heaven: No pain and suffering; no sickness; no disabilities.  If I had poor eyesight in this life (which I did), then I would have perfect vision in Heaven.  The same is true of all my other senses.  And if I had been a paraplegic in this life, then presumably I would no longer be disabled in Heaven.  Because only the righteous would be saved and Satan would be destroyed, there would not be any evil in Heaven: There would be no more natural disasters: No destructive fires, earthquakes, or damaging storms.  There would be no criminal activity; no intentional physical or emotional harm to others; no bullies; not even any selfishness.  Everyone would be considerate of others.  People would take turns and play nice.  Sounds great, doesn’t it?

But the concrete concept of Heaven left a number of questions unanswered.  Would there be other living things in Heaven besides the saved humans?  Our favorite pets?  All living things now, both plants and animals, have a natural life cycle, including birth, procreation, and death.  Would that continue?  What about organisms that depend on death for survival--fungi, beetles, vultures?  What about microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses?  Is the lion really going to lie down with the lamb?  The big cats, as well as many other species, are simply built to eat meat.  Is God going to restructure their physiology to enable them to live on vegetables?  What about those fangs, anyway?  Are we going to be vegetarians, or is God going to have us eating something else entirely--manna?  Or will we not have to eat at all?  Of course, people enjoy eating.  Is that something that we will just need to give up?  Christ is quoted as saying that there will be no marriage or giving in marriage in Heaven.  Would we have “special friends”?  Sexual desire is built into our very fabric as humans.  Would that change?  For many people, life is, to an extent at least, all about competition, whether they are the actual competitors or whether they are just rooting for their favorite teams.  Competition is simply central to their life or at least their lifestyle.  And I think it is reasonable to assert that competitiveness, like sexual desire, is built into our very beings.  After all, that is what evolution is really about, isn’t it?  But it is difficult to imagine how there could continue to be competition in Heaven.  That would mean that someone would have to lose.

Perhaps more importantly, the understanding is that we would spend eternity in Heaven.  Eternity.  Wow.  That, we know from the mathematics of infinity, is a very, very long time.  How long?  Well, a billion years--a period of time that I have trouble getting my arms around--is not even as the blinking of an eye compared to eternity.  I have friends who have told me that they plan to spend a lot of time in Heaven learning about God and God’s creation.  As a side note, would we be “stuck” with the brains that we now have?  Some people are more gifted, shall we say, than others.  Would those differences persist in Heaven, or would we all be equally smart?  And how smart?  Even if we were no smarter in Heaven than we are here, I personally think I would eventually have my fill of studying God, God’s creation, or any other subject one might conjure up.  But even after I had tackled and mastered that and every other subject one could conceive, I would still have an eternity of time stretching out ahead of me.  (That’s the thing about eternity; no matter how much time you spend on something, you still have an eternity of time remaining.)  Now what?  I think perhaps I would not be a good candidate for such a Heaven.

Why am I posing all of these questions?  I think it is to point out that traditional views of Heaven wind up being a sort of child’s wish list.  Heaven is seen as the place where whatever we are unhappy about now will be made all better, as our mothers used to say.  Seems great, but a closer inspection reveals that experiencing failure as well as success is central to what makes us who we are.  Success requires failure to acquire meaning.  And the urgency brought on by the brevity of life, while distressing in some respects, is critical to creating the excitement needed to avoid the boredom that would result from trying to endure eternity.  There is something about the internal ticking of the clock of life that keeps it challenging and ultimately enjoyable.

Some time ago I read a great story in Julian Barnes’s, A History of the World in 10-1/2 Chapters.  The story concerns a man who wakes up in Heaven.  From the very beginning everything is terrific and just keeps getting better.  For example, the man’s golf game starts out great and keeps improving to the point where he is scoring an ace on every hole.  Eventually, the man can’t take it any longer and approaches his assigned angel to ask how he can end it all, and the angel informs him that everyone ultimately makes the same request.

Recently I asked one of my good friends, a converted Catholic for whose intelligence I have the greatest respect, what Heaven means to him.  He said it means being in the conscious presence of God.  I asked if he thought he would have a corporeal form.  He wasn’t sure but thought not.  I asked how he envisioned spending his time, and he said he didn’t know that it would be anything beyond simply being in God’s presence.  I have to admit that there is little to disagree with in this view.  It doesn’t involve any of the logic problems that more traditional views entail.  On the other hand, this view of eternity just doesn’t sound very attractive, does it?  Not the jackpot that most Christians are hoping for.

One pat answer to the questions raised here is to say that we simply don’t know what is in store for us in Heaven.  We just know that it will be great beyond whatever we can imagine in this life.  But that is really just a cop-out, isn’t it?  After all, the whole point of the salvation story is that, despite the vicissitudes of this life, through Christ’s sacrifice we are entitled to an admission ticket to the greatest possible future and for all eternity.  To say that we don’t know what that future will be is equivalent to saying we really don’t know what the point of all this is.  Isn’t it more reasonable to admit that the idea of Heaven is simply a human concept that fills a human need for meaning.

Another way to put this is to admit that it is difficult for us to observe the brevity of life, the inevitable disappointments we all meet on our short journey, and how without meaning all of this ultimately is.  It is much easier to believe the child’s dream that life has significance and that this all leads to better things.  But that’s not the way it is.

© 2013 John M. Phillips

32 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. My question to you, are you content with the shortness of life as you know it? If you could add another say 100 years here on earth would you? How long would you live here if you could?

    I wish I could visit every country, learn every language, explore every garden...there is still so much here to do.

    As I recall, after Jesus was resurrected He came to the lake where men were fishing. He prepared breakfast for them, fish and bread...that seems pretty simple human fare. I know we have heard all kinds of descriptions of heaven, but since God created man in His image I figure we will live much like we do here. Learning traveling, playing, swimming, being with friends, hiking... We pay big bucks to visit beautiful locations, islands in paradise like places, or mountains with majestic views...we hate to leave and return to our daily chores...but it's worth our hard earned money just to have a week or two in heavenly places. So how can it be so hard to envision traveling through the universe and seeing all the planets and explore all the majesty? I don't but somehow think it's what I'd rather do than die.

    The earth will still be our home back to the original design, recreated...with a universe for a play ground... what's not to like...and the best part being with the One who loves you most and unconditionally.

    I love this life, even with all the pain and sorrow, but I want every minute of it and more...thankful for every day I live. And I am glad there is a promise of more.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Lisa. It’s exactly the sort of response I am looking for. Let me do my best to reply.

      First, with respect to the shortness of life, I think we all feel that we would like to live longer. It would give us more time to enjoy those things that we like and a chance to learn more about our world, maybe find out the answers to some of the questions that we would not be able to answer in the sort lifespan that we have. (See my fruit fly story in my Anesthesia essay). However, it is the fact that life is limited in duration that adds to the enjoyment of the time that we do have. I know that sounds paradoxical, but when individuals have everything they could want in terms of time or money to do whatever, they are not any happier. Instead, they become jaded and bored. Think rock stars, for example.

      You describe a typical vacation, paying big bucks to spend a week or two in a beautiful or exotic location. I had a professional colleague who had the resources to take three or four major trips each year. I know that he and his wife enjoyed their travel, and I admit I was envious. However, I think they enjoyed their travel because they understood that it was not going to go on forever. In my professional career I had a client who went on about 10-12 cruises a year. Maybe she had a good time on those trips, but I can tell you that in general she was not a particularly happy person. It had just become her way of life.

      Moreover, there is a vast difference between, on the one hand, doing something one enjoys for a limited time--even so much as 100 years--and, on the other, doing it for eternity. Even after one had mastered every subject and had explored every nook and cranny of each and every planet in the universe millions of times in succession, one would still have eternity--yes, eternity--to do it all over again. I just don’t think that we as humans are designed for eternity.

      You indicated that you thought we would live in Heaven much like we do here. One of the points I wanted to make in my essay was that we are simply not built for the sort of life we would have in Heaven as it is traditionally conceived. We have sexual desire; we enjoy raising a family; we are built to be competitive; we take pride in overcoming adversity. Part of our joy in these endeavors comes from the fact that they are not easy, that we don’t always succeed, and that they will not go on forever.

      Finally, the idea that Heaven would be similar to an idealized earth (back to the Garden of Eden) creates problems in the sense that this earth is designed to run on competition and on cycles of life and death. I have no doubt that animals besides humans experience pain and anguish, mourning, for example, the loss of a mate or offspring, but that’s what happens.

      I think what I am trying to say is that the traditional conception of Heaven is simply incompatible with our human nature, which developed, if you will, in a tooth and claw environment. So either we would have to change--and no longer be ourselves--or Heaven would have to be much different from what we have here. And that is why I mentioned the “being in the conscious presence of God” interpretation.

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    2. Mr. Phillips, my friend, Mr. A. Block, suggested I look at your Blog. I am a Confirmed Atheist, and it seems to me that most of what I read in your Blog, by you and your respondents, sounds like Mental Onanism.

      I am always curious to know why all this silly talk about Heaven/Hell/Original Sin/Creation/Salvation, all the other notional metaphysical terms continues. Any reasonable person who is able to think analytically and logically will dismiss all of this balderdash as an absolute waste of time. It continues, I submit, because most people would rather believe Nonsense than "Think".

      If you, or others, want to read something interesting, astute, and enlightening I suggest the essay by Bertrand Russell entitled, On The Notion of Cause. Published in the book, Mysticism and Logic, by Mr. Russell.

      Tom Gerber

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    3. Mr. Gerber,

      Thanks for your reference to Bertrand Russell. I will check out the essay that you recommend. I'm not sure if you get the gist of my blog. I too am a "confirmed atheist," and my essays are written from that perspective, unlike many of the comments that I have received, most of which come from old friends of mine who happen to have retained their religious faith. One can wonder why religious belief persists, but in fact it does. The fact that you describe yourself as a "Confirmed Atheist" tells me that the issues are important to you as well.

      I appreciate your comments, but I ask that you be respectful in the language you use.

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    4. Hello John, Let me start by briefly stating my goal for reading this blog: to understand where you are coming from... What is your goal for expressing it? I know a solid Christian would never in a million years change their belief in Jesus, his promises, including eternal life. Trying to change an atheists mind would likewise be futile.
      Having said that, love all the questions you have had about heaven... I have asked similar questions. Your view, [as you stated above and going by our discussion in Pam's link] is: that reality of eternal life is just plain wrong, indicative of a person not letting go of childhood myths, and goes against reality; this is certainly consistent with an atheists view.
      To get a Christian to forgo belief in eternal life, you would have to prove to them that the historical person of Jesus was not who he said he was...that is the crux of the matter, at least to me. I might be an atheist too if it weren't for Jesus life and resurrection. But like i said, once a person believes in Jesus, it will be pretty hard for them not to believe it. As far as I am concerned there are just as much evidence for Jesus than against. So I choose to believe. Every person - every generation chooses to accept or reject. As I have said to my sister.. if it all turns out God, Jesus, eternal life is the biggest hoax ever, who will be around to say "I told you so", If its true, then I gain all the promises.

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    5. Dennise, You state: “I know a solid Christian would never in a million years change their belief in Jesus, his promises, including eternal life.” That raises a question in my mind: Is there anything that could change your mind about your Christian beliefs? If there is nothing that could change your mind, I think you owe it to yourself to ask why that is the case. Why would you not keep an open mind about such things? After all, most people do not believe in Christianity. An overwhelming majority of Christians were raised as Christians by Christian parents.

I have come to realize that major changes in philosophical views are extremely rare. Even so, as you know, both Pam and I have somehow changed our beliefs. Maybe we weren’t “solid Christians,” but my recollection is that as a young person my faith was as strong as my fellow SDA classmates’. I guess I am just saying that it can and does happen. On a less extreme level, I continually ask myself the basis for my beliefs and have observed changes in them.

      You also state: “As far as I am concerned there are just as much evidence for Jesus than against.” There is a lot of disagreement among religious historians whether Jesus was an historical figure. The evidence—outside of scriptural references—of his actual existence is very scant. (Jesus’s historicity is something about which I have probably changed my beliefs in recent years.) But I assume that is not what you were referring to. You were referring to his divinity as Christ. This brings into play all of the issues relating to evidence for and against the inspiration of scripture, miracles, God’s revelation of himself to humans, the type of evidence supporting such a position, etc. This is where things break down because our worldviews are so different. It comes down to a question of whether one’s beliefs are based on authority or on objective evidence. Does one accept a statement simply because it has been made by an authority, such as scripture? Or is any statement fair game for questioning based on what all of the evidence states. We all probably fall somewhere on the continuum on that point.

      Then there is the question of Pascal’s Wager, tow which you allude at the end of your comment. I believe what I believe and it would simply be disingenuous for me to claim belief when it doesn’t exist. Just imagine how you would respond if I asked you to believe that God does not exist. It’s not something one can voluntarily do. In addition, I am comfortable with the fact that this is my one life (besides the fact that “I don’t want to go to heaven” anyway).

I hope this gives you a little more insight into how at least one nonbeliever thinks about these things.



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    6. Appreciate your response John. All things are fair game for questioning . I have spent many an hour studying and questioning and gathering data on which I can make an informed decision about Jesus claims; altho I have to admit I came to my study with a belief that God does exist. I am convinced now more than ever Jesus is Messiah. Some choose for, some not. Study on historicity of NT scriptures can become quite complicated and detailed - some people spend their lives studying it but I have spent time recently studying more of overviews of these different theories, evidence etc.. My conclusion is that the historicity of the NT is as reliable and actually more reliable than other comparable documents of that age. So my decision is not strictly authoritative but also includes objective evidence. Obviously your conclusion is different.

      [Chuckle] BTW, I had never heard of Pascal's Wager, John. I just now looked it up! My concluding statement was just one I came up with myself, but obviously I'm not the only one. Altho my thought and statement is not so much that I think anyone else irrational for not accepting eternal life but more of a statement of reality., either there is eternal life or there isn't. So, if you are correct and there isn't eternal life than we will never know and the atheist wont be able to say "I told you so, Dennise." And If there is eternal life I doubt the saved ones will be thumbing their noses at all the lost! My decision to follow Jesus is based on his actual life, his love, his call on my life, and of course his promises which include among other things eternal life.

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    7. Dennise, A quick reply to your last comment.

      I'm not sure what you mean by your comment about the reliability of "the historicity of the NT." If you mean that it has fewer errors of copying than do other documents of similar vintage, please keep in mind that copying accuracy (literal accuracy, if you will) is very different from historical veracity. A literally accurate copy of, say, the Iliad would not make its story historically accurate. If by your statement you meant that the underlying gospel story is historically accurate, I think the consensus is that there is very little corroboration of the historicity of the life of Jesus as portrayed in the NT. Other historical accounts of that era, for example, of the Roman empire, have much greater corroboration. Here is what I think is a great article on this subject: http://godlesshaven.com/the-historical-errancy-of-the-bible/.

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    8. I beleive both Literary historicity and literal accuracy [altho not necessarily minutia] Seem as tho it would be too big of discussion for tonight tomorrow and probably for weeks.; there are so many articles, discussions, testimonies out there by some very brilliant men who believe and state their reasons for bf Jesus, NT and OT historicity etc.. They all have much greater brain power than I and probably can match you better in that level. Some of these might give you more of what you need at the level you need it if you are interested.
      Did you happen to listen to the debate between Ehrman and Wallace?.These are 2 very knowledgeable, studious, intelligent men. Go figure ...one believes ---one doesn't -both NT Scholars!

      These 2 links re Jesus below may be too basic for you, and/or may be things you are already familiar with etc. and they are posted by believers in Jesus, but guess its fair play as you refer things written by non-believers as in the above link.

      I will read it, and I quickly glanced at the link, but Oh my...to read it then study various interpretations of each of points in the Godless Haven article would take me hours and hours, probably days and days...don't think I' m up to it John , but if you wanted to hear from a wide variety of scholars on those issues I'm sure there is much discussion out there. My thought...just because Godless Haven says it does't mean there aren't other scholars who will give different scholarly interpretations and additional data.

      http://www.grantjeffrey.com/article/historicalev.htm
      http://www.bethinking.org/jesus/ancient-evidence-for-jesus-from-non-christian-sources

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    9. Dennise,

      One quick question: Do you get a notification when I respond or do you need to go to the blog and check?

      As to your last comment, I guess I agree with you that it's probably not worth continuing to discuss this matter. Neither of us is a religious historian, so we necessarily have to rely on other experts, and there are so-called experts on all sides of these issues. The best I can do is to state why I rely on the sources that I do. I think it comes down to a few primary principles.

      First, I rely on scholars who do not have a particular point of view that they are trying to defend. They are simply trying to look at all of the evidence and make the best conclusions that they can based on that evidence. They do not start with a point of view and seek evidence to defend it. You may argue that they start from a nonChristian position, and that may be true, but then they are not starting from any preconceived position, Christian, atheist, or otherwise.

      Second, they are not basing their conclusions on "supernatural" evidence. By that I mean the idea that scripture is divinely inspired or that we have evidence by reason of miraculous intervention. They assume that whatever evidence exists is the result of natural consequences. You may think that unfair, but those are the same rules used for historical or scientific investigation in every other discipline.

      Finally, they put a higher value on evidence that is corroborated and contemporaneous. This is, I think (and they think) extremely important for research of documents of this degree of antiquity.

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    10. To answer your question John - I need to go to blog and check

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    11. In response to your query above: "That raises a question in my mind: Is there anything that could change your mind about your Christian beliefs?" Probably not! Because I consider my christian beliefs part and parcel off a "relationship" - God is my father and Jesus is my savior and friend and this friendship has only improved over the years! He has been more faithful than I have ever been. I just couldn't give this friendship up. It would be like you divorcing a wife you love dearly, or her death after years of togetherness, sharing etc., never seeing your family, grand children again; or like giving up a long term friendship with a childhood playmate with whom you have a bond. Think of all the painful losses we experience in life then quadruple it...that's how painful it would be for me to give up my friendship with my God and Jesus. If I was tortured, thrown in jail as many in the world are, don't honestly know if I would "recant" or if like Peter, under fear, would deny Him...perhaps, but that is likely what it would take.

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    12. by they way John I think all of these types of discussions, blogs etc start with some point of view either atheistic, agnostic, or christian. Basically what you are saying is that you trust data put forth by an atheist before you would trust some who is a Christian.

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    13. Dennise,

      You asked whether there was anything that would cause me to change my mind about God and Christianity (to paraphrase your question). I have been an atheist for well over 50 years. From the very beginning I have stated that I would certainly change my belief were I presented with unequivocal evidence of God's existence. I'm not talking about someone praying to find a lost object and then finding it. I am talking about something that could not be explained by natural means. People recover from usually fatal diseases, for example, pancreatic cancer, but no one to my knowledge who has lost a limb to an accident has ever regenerated such a lost limb as a result of prayer. People don't even pray for such things, perhaps because they subconsciously know that it is futile, even though such a person may be just as worthy of a miracle as anyone else. When i was in college I would frequently ask that God send an angel, perhaps with wings and a flaming sword, to my room. Never happened. If God really wanted humans to believe in him, why wouldn't he offer such unequivocal proof? It used to happen all the time in biblical times. Of course, there are other reasons why the instances of miracles has dried up. It may be that such events that were unexplained because of a lack of understanding of science became explicable as we gained knowledge of the world.

      I take it from your response that there is literally nothing that could change your mind about your faith. That's probably an honest assessment.

      You say that you have a personal relationship, a friendship with God and Christ, just as you do with your family and with close personal friends. I have heard that comparison many times. But in fact your relationship with family is quite different from your "relationship" with God. You are in the physical presence of human friends. You can talk to each other, touch each other, respond to each other. That is not the same kind of relationship you have with God. You have a belief in God and you pray, but he does not speak directly to you. You may feel he is guiding you, but it is simply not the same as asking another person's opinion and getting an answer.

      You state that it would be a huge loss to give up your belief in God. And I think there is a real fear that without your faith you would lose your grounding, your direction. I think this is a very common fear. My loss of faith was so long ago and so natural at the time, that I have difficulty relating to that fear. Perhaps it is rational in the sense that your belief in God is so fundamental to your world view that relinquishment of that belief without replacement with another world view could be very disruptive. But I can tell you that it is just not a problem for other nonbelievers.

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    14. Dennise, I think your statement that I trust data put forth by an atheist before I would trust someone who is a Christian is not a proper characterization. What I meant to say (and thought I did) is that I put more confidence in someone who reviews the all of the evidence objectively over someone who has a particular point of view to defend and culls evidence in favor of that point of view over evidence that is contrary to that point of view. That would be just as true if the person were an atheist intent on justifying his particular point of view. I think you may have inadvertently assumed that anyone who fails to support a belief in the historicity of Christ or of the accuracy of scriptures must be an atheist or must not be a Christian. That is not the case. I have many personal friends who consider themselves Christian (or at the least theist) but who recognize that the scriptures are in many respects simply the writings of individuals and should not be considered inerrant or as descriptive of an actual person. And I am sure there are many well regarded biblical scholars who have a firm belief in God but would admit that scriptures should be treated like any other writings of antiquity and researched in the same way. It is simply incorrect, in my opinion, to treat such scholars as agnostic, atheist, or Christian, as if those categories were each monolithic. They aren't.

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  4. John, though my response is not exactly on target with the reason you wrote this blog, it did bring something to mind that I read long ago. I couldn’t help but smile when I read your title…not because the title was funny or because I was poking fun at you in any way. I smiled because I was reminded of a book that I read so many years ago that I had almost forgotten about it.

    In the past, did you read C.S. Lewis’ book, “The Great Divorce?” I was also reminded of this book as I read on in your blog…particularly with your words about not being be a good candidate for heaven because you would eventually have your fill of studying God, God’s creation, or any other subject one might conjure up… and the consideration of “an eternity of time stretching out ahead,” with possibly nothing else to do.

    Though I honestly don’t remember much about, “The Great Divorce,” I remember people waiting in line for the bus (Jesus was the bus driver) that would be taking them to heaven. Some, for one reason or another, decided they did not want to go to heaven after all. Two such people stand out quite vividly in my mind though. One was a doctor who did not want to go to heaven because there would be no sickness and, after all, his life was dedicated to making the sick well again. What would he do in heaven? He wasn’t forced to go, so he simply stepped out of the line.

    The other character I remember was a pastor of a church who decided that, if he couldn’t save the lost, what would be his purpose? He decided he didn’t want to go to heaver either. This isn’t much to remember about the book, but it was enough to visualize you in my mind’s eye as being one who might have been in that same line, but for the reasons you have stated in your blog decided to leave the line as well. There might have even been an atheist in the mix who never got in the line to begin with, but I’m not sure. Enough about the book though, I want to talk about where that bus was supposedly going!

    I love the topic of what heaven might be like, and am obviously one who does believe there is a heaven…of some kind. I admit though that the bottom line on this subject will always find me as one of those people who frustrate you by saying that I don’t know what heaven has in store for us. While this appears to be a cop-out response to you, it feels so right to me, and I'm actually quite willing to wait and see what it will be like. (Good thing since I don’t have much choice!) Meanwhile, I do enjoy speculating about heaven from time to time.

    I will gladly share a bit of how I view heaven, and want to respond a little bit to your thoughts of heaven being the Christian's "jack pot." However, because I know I am so wordy, I hope you don’t mind if I come back shortly and do this in a separate response. (Soon, I hope!)

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    1. Hi, Grace,

      Thanks for your comment. I may have read "The Great Divorce," but it would have been 45 years ago, and I can't recall any of it. But it sounds like something fun to read.

      I'm not sure atheists would have been allowed in line for the bus in the first place, but that may be a topic for another essay.

      As I mentioned in my essay, to say that you don't know what heaven holds but are willing to trust God seems very odd to me in light of just how much is at stake, at least in regard to traditional notions of heaven--all eternity compared to the relative brevity of this life.

      I will look forward to your next comment.

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  5. John, you have some thought provoking questions here. I’ve read the Biblical descriptions of heaven and have tried to imagine how they might play out as well. I too wonder what it really means when I read things like, “the lion and the lamb will lay down together.” Is this meant to be taken literally, or is it symbolic? I tend to take it literally, but regardless peace, gentleness and nature no longer in conflict with itself come to mind. I am somehow comforted by such picturesque descriptions.

    Your mention of life forms dependent on death for survival is interesting. I admit that I can't imagine death having any part in heaven. This may show my ignorance of science as well as further demonstrating all I have yet to learn regarding spiritual matters and the things of God, but I wonder if some of these things you mentioned that can only feed on death for survival today, (fungi, beetles, vultures…and the like) were ever part of the “original” creation plan. Perhaps they have evolved from life sources that did not survive on death/decay in their early beginnings. If so, from a Christian standpoint, I would then wonder if such things evolved after “the fall.” Such an idea can most likely be shot to pieces, but still…I wonder such things! In the midst of my ignorance and wondering, trusting the creator once again comes into play...and, of course, this is a trust superseded by a core belief in a creator God to begin with…one who can turn chaos into order.

    Will we eat in heaven? If we are going to be “spiritual beings,” like God and like I’m assuming Jesus is at the moment (and, like the Holy “Spirit” already is!) why would we need to eat? Perhaps eating will be there for us for the pleasure, but not out of actual need. ??? Is mention of “the heavenly banquet” a metaphore, or is it real? Questions, questions, questions! There must be a million of them.

    As you see, I too have questions. One is the same as yours… about age in heaven. And then the one that makes you feel you would not be a candidate for an eternity of bliss…what will we do forever, and ever, and ever? How do you handle an eternity? I’m sure none of us know though we can hypothesize all day long. It sounds like a job for God to figure out to me, and I’m sure he’s had this one figured out a very long time! More questions of course, but I like what Lisa had to say about this as I can't imagine ever getting tired of the magnificence and beauty of our universe, and beyond!

    Now, to share a thought about heaven that concerns communication. As one who loves communicating via the written word yet who can appear to be so inapt in verbal communication at times, I have given thought to the communicating aspect in heaven…what it might look like

    I am one who wants/needs to go deeper than a simple surface level when it comes to communicating with others. Aside from the obvious language differences that can get in the way, I get lost in the, “hello,” “how are you?” “nice weather we’re having” greetings when I don’t know someone or feel if I fear I don’t have anything in common with that person(s). I get often get flustered with such surface level conversation (who doesn’t?) and find that words are not always appropriate or come to mind that might help me express what I want to say, share or even ask. When adding what is expected as a matter of social conduct with those you do not yet feel comfortable with, such situations have caused me to wonder what communication will be like in in heaven.

    Not that there will be no words spoken at all, but words are sometimes so inadequate that I can’t help but think we will not have to actually “speak” in order to communicate. Most of this thinking from the fact that our deepest conversations with God today are not verbal, but through one’s spirit…without a word having to be spoken.

    With our new "spiritual" bodies, I believe we will be able to communicate with one another in spirit, just as we do now with God. This sounds pretty awesome to me. (more yet to come!)


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    1. Gerrie,

      First of all, I really appreciate your taking the time to respond thoughtfully to my essay.

      Initially, I thought I would reply to your two-part comment on a point-by-point basis, as you did to my essay. For example, you made the comment about “nature no longer in conflict,” as if the lion now being a carnivore represented nature in conflict with itself. Of course, I don’t see it that way. The lion’s powerful jaws, long sharp teeth, and massive claws are built for one thing--to capture and eat other animals. This is not nature in conflict; it is nature simply operating normally as it has for billions of years.

      However, in reading through your comments I decided that it would be better to take a more fundamental approach to analyzing the differences between our worldviews. I hope I’m not being presumptuous in saying that you hold your beliefs in God and in a traditional (fundamental) Christian view of the world to be inviolable. If any observation appears inconsistent with those beliefs, you look for ways to explain the observation in terms of those beliefs, rather than considering changing the beliefs. For example, in your response to the idea that vultures (as well as other organisms) are literally built to live on dead organisms, your response is to surmise that perhaps they have evolved since the fall, or, failing that, that God can always “turn chaos into order.” Because death did not appear to have a role before the fall of man, there presumably would be no place for an animal dependent on death for survival. Therefore, you must take the position that things must have been different before the fall and in heaven rather than that death is an intrinsic part of nature. I’m not trying to pick on your words; I am just trying to illustrate your point of view.

      The alternative--my alternative--is to leave open the possible explanations for those things we observe, to devise hypotheses that may support one alternative over another, to devise experiments to test those hypotheses, and to adopt whatever explanation best fits the experimental results and observations. Here’s an example.

      Until the 16th century, the consensus was that the sun and planets, in fact, the entire heavens revolved around the earth. Superficially, it seemed obvious. Every morning the sun rose in the east, traveled across the sky, and set in the west. Besides, this view was consistent with the theological idea that the earth and mankind represented God’s masterpiece and therefore were at the center of the universe. But difficulties with these observations had crept in. The planets did not travel in perfect circles and in some cases they seemed to stop, travel in a retrograde fashion for a time, stop again, and then move in a normal direction once again. Why was that? Astronomers devised different explanations for these observations, including the idea that the planets’ orbits included “epicycles,” essentially that they moved in small circles around centers which in turn ran along the overall path of the orbit. Even these epicycles did not perfectly account for the observations, but anything else would require moving the earth from the center of the universe, something that just could not be countenanced.

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    2. And then along came Copernicus. He recognized that many of the observational problems simply disappeared if the sun was placed at the center rather than the earth. Suddenly, one didn’t need the epicycles, which didn’t work that well anyway. And the retrograde action observed for some of the planets was explained nicely as well. There were still some problems, but not nearly as many as before. And subsequent astronomers, including Brahe, Kepler, and Galileo resolved many of those remaining issues, using the heliocentric model. Finally Newton developed the mathematics needed to resolve most of the remaining issues.

      Similar stories could be told about many other areas of knowledge, including geology vs. the flood, and evolution vs. creationism, to name just a couple. The key here is to be open to other possible explanations and not to be irrevocably wedded to one no matter what.

      You might argue that I am adopting science and the scientific method as my authority, and perhaps there is some truth to that. I am more likely to accept a scientific/rational explanation than one that relies on the divine or the supernatural. But the history of the advancement of knowledge through reliance on scientific research rather than on religious teaching or the word of authority is overwhelming.

      At the risk of belaboring my point, consider the history of the Bible. One could argue that it is the inerrant word of God. Written by men, yes, but inspired directly by God. Or one could be open to the possibility that it was simply written by various individuals at various times and expressing the worldview extant at the time. If one assumes that the Bible speaks with one voice--God’s, then it is difficult to reconcile particularly the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New. In addition, it is difficult to interpret many of the passages in such books as Job or Ecclesiastes or Leviticus. On the other hand, these issues are generally resolved once one posits that the Bible is not a seamless work but instead is simply a collection of diverse writings from different times and different cultures that have been collected, again, by men.

      I’m not sure where to go from here. You could say that you prefer joy to truth, but I don’t believe you think that is the choice. Moreover, I can tell you that I am happy and experience joy also.

      I would be interested in your further thoughts.

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    3. In reply to Grace's above ...I appreciate and relate quite well to your thoughts on heaven..you said it beautifully.

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  7. It is interesting to compare Christianity and Buddhism (or rather, my lay understandings of them) on this topic.

    Christianity: Follow the rules set out in this one book and practice these rituals. Buddhism: Set rules and dogmatic rituals should be avoided because they prevent you from questioning life afresh at each moment. Christianity: Here's how to work hard and be obedient now, so you can be really happy in the next life. Buddhism: Here's how to be happy in this life, though it may certainly involve work. Christianity: A primary goal is to make it to the next life. Buddhism: A primary goal is to end the cycle of rebirth so as NOT to have a next life.

    Caveats: Of course, there's different sects of Buddhism, and some of them really like rituals, etc. Also, while there is the "cycle of rebirth" it's generally understood that there's scant memory of other lives.

    According to general Buddhist philosophy, because of the shortness of this life and the ephemeral nature of EVERYTHING, we can appreciate each moment for the fleeting, never-again bit of beauty that it is. In other words, the Buddhist view is that if we simply adjust our attitude, we can see that this IS "heaven".

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    1. Thanks for your comment. I know that you know more about Buddhism than I do. But it seems strange that in Buddhism one of the goals is not to have another life. If that is the case, then life would appear to be a negative, not a positive. "Life's a bitch and then you have to live all over again." Correct?

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    2. Buddhism has the "Four Noble Truths." In shorthand: 1. There is suffering. 2. Suffering comes from craving (e.g., craving that things are permanent, craving that our expectations will be met, etc.). 3. There is a way out of this suffering. 4. Explanation of the way out of the suffering (hard to shorthand, but mostly by adjusting our attitudes and actions to acknowledge the first three truths and by being nice to other living beings).

      So, yes, life generally is inherently rather miserable if you just sort of follow your cravings and do what we sort of all naturally do. If you don't learn your lessons, you come back and do it all again. If you become enlightened, you break free of the cycle of death and rebirth. You can either depart immediately (and no problem if you pick this path) or you can chose to stick around a little longer here and dedicate yourself to helping others get to enlightenment.

      I'm not sure how much I buy into the reincarnation thing, so I can't really explain it that well. I just like that Buddhism is all about longterm happiness in THIS life (not gratification, not happiness in the next life) and about being nice to others.

      And if you do it right, life is actually pretty great (having broken out of the suffering)!

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    3. Yeah, the reincarnation thing assumes a soul, which doesn't fit in with my materialistic view of the world. But thanks for the info on Buddhism.

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  8. Also, we humans are creatures that require death (of plants, animals, the ~3 pounds of living/dying bacteria in our guts, etc.) to survive.

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    1. This just reinforces my feeling that the traditional concept of heaven is simply incompatible with how we humans are constructed.

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  9. We shall be changed in a moment in the twinkling of an eye...As Jesus was change at his resurrection. Immortal bodies are not going to look a function as mortal...Jesus ate during the forty day after his death and resurrection, but he also moved from place to place in unexplainable ways. Yet He had flesh, Thomas could see and touch his wounds...it is a mystery...and the answers aren't always clear. We see though a glass darkly, but then face to face we will know.

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    1. Lisa,
      I'm afraid that simply quoting scriptural passages and stating that "it is a mystery" doesn't really respond to my concerns with the incompatibility between the traditional views of heaven and how we humans are constructed both mentally and physically. Heaven just doesn't make sense.

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