I’ve had an ongoing (written) discussion with an individual (I’ll call him Bob) on the topic of the existence of heaven. Bob didn’t/doesn’t believe in the concept of a biblical heaven and had some objections which I thought were interesting enough to merit a formal blog post.
Before I do this, however, I would like to re-state my position on apologetical writing. Throughout this blog I have tried to reinforce a particular idea but it bears repeating: I believe that a viewpoint is neither Christian nor moral unless it can be supported, directly or indirectly, by the Word of God properly interpreted and properly applied. You must use scripture. At the same time, my compelling reasons for writing, reading, and blogging on Christian apologetics are threefold:
- I am certain that the Christian faith is true.
- I am only a little less certain that the best thing I can possibly do for others is to persuade them of this truth, in which there is joy and peace and love incomparable in this world, and infinite and incomprehensible in the next.
- I am a little less certain, but still confident, that honest reasoning can lead any open-minded person to this very same conclusion.
I may seem to be contradicting myself here but I am not. I do not believe that reason should usurp the primacy of faith, hope and love. That is not where I ever want to go with this blog, or my own convictions. I am watching myself and my writings carefully. But I do strongly believe that when faith comes first, understanding follows, and is aided by faith’s tutelage. In other words, I believe that faith and reason are allies, not enemies; friends, not foes.
Having said that, I present you with the three rather creative objections that Bob had to the existence of a heaven, and my replies to those objections.
Objection 1: Heaven is obviously wishful thinking. If there were no heaven, we would have to invent it. It is a “necessary dream.”
Reply A: The heaven of the Bible does not correspond to our dreams or wishful thinking. It is selfless, self-forgetful love and saintliness, not the gratification of selfish desires; the death of egotism rather than its ratification; holiness rather than indulgence; adoration and self forgetful worship of God rather than worship of self.
Reply B: Even if there is a correspondence between our innate wishes and the idea of heaven, that correspondence could equally well be explained by God’s having designed us for heaven rather than by our having designed heaven for ourselves. The glove could have been made for the hand, or the hand could have been made for the glove.
Reply C: The objector’s reasoning is fallacious. It argues: If there were no heaven, we would have to believe in one (because we need and want it so much); and we do (have to) believe in one; therefore there is no heaven. This is an example of the fallacy of affirming the consequent. It is like arguing that if there were no earth, we would still have to believe in it (because it appears to our senses); and we do (have to) believe in it; therefore there is no earth.
Objection 2: Believing in heaven is escapist.
Reply A: the most pointed answer to the charge of escapism is C.S. Lewis’s simple question: “Who talks the most against ‘escapism’? Jailers.” Think about it.
Reply B: Heaven is not escapist, because it is real. The idea is “escapist” only if it is a lie. To call the idea of heaven escapist is to presuppose atheism but not to have the clarity or courage to say so. If heaven is real, it is escapist not to think about it. It is realistic to do so. The first question about any idea cannot be whether it is escapist but whether it is true. Even if an idea is escapist, that does not make it false. The idea that there is a tunnel under the prison is certainly an escapist idea, but that does not mean it is not true. The label “escapist” is itself escapist; the labeler is trying to escape his primary obligation to prove the idea false.
Objection 3: Heaven is a diversion. Whether true or false, it distracts us from our present tasks.
Reply A: Not if heaven is real. If it is, and if it is our ultimate destination, then our present tasks more often distract us from our primary task. That is why we have to be reminded to “strive first for the kingdom of God” (Mt 6:33) and not to have our minds “set on earthly things,” because “our citizenship [home] is in heaven” (Phil 3:19-20).
Query: How would you respond to Bob?