Questions, Answers, and My Friend Bob

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 scriptureAt the same time,  my compelling reasons for writing, reading, and blogging on Christian apologetics are threefold:

  1. I am certain that the Christian faith is true.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?

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2 Responses to Questions, Answers, and My Friend Bob

  1. Jacob Pennington says:

    As my good friend, Spock, would say, “Fascinating.” ;: |

    I’ve never heard that one before. No offense to “Bob,” but ultimately, you’re battling empty arguments.

    IF the Bible is true, then Revelation 21:1 is also true: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.”
    IF the Bible is true, then Hebrews 6:2 is also true when it tells us that a fundamental principle of the Christian faith is “eternal judgment.”
    IF the God, as the author of Scripture, speaks the Truth, then He spoke the Truth in Luke 23:43: “And Jesus said unto him, I speak the Truth when I say this to you: today you will be with me in paradise.”

    IF the Bible is true, then a new earth will exist when the old earth is gone, and our eternal souls will exist also according the the eternal judgment.

    “Bob,” however, refutes the idea, apparently not under any compulsion to believe the Scriptures.

    Let me carry your clever analogies a bit further, Jonathan, as I recap the objections:

    #1: Food is obviously an invention of the mind. If we did not have food, we would invent it.

    Premise 1: Everything that humans find desirable is invented by humans.
    Premise 2: “Heaven” is something that humans find desirable
    Conclusion: “Heaven” was invented by humans.

    #2: Believing in food is escapist.

    To be honest with you (depending on your definition of escapism), this might be true sometimes. Food is delightful.
    And I’ll say this as nicely as I can possibly think to say it, but ultimately, so what?
    What practical bearing does escapism have on truth?
    Quite frankly, I can’t even come up with enough logic here to construct a thesis.

    #3: Food is a diversion. Whether it exists or no, it can divert us from our present tasks.

    Premise 1: Every possible distraction should be ignored.
    Premise 2: “Heaven” is a possible distraction.
    Conclusion: “Heaven” should be ignored.

    Obviously, food should not be ignored. It should not be overused, it should not take priority over those things which are more important, but it cannot be ignored completely. It must be used insofar as it is beneficial to our greater purpose.

    Likewise, our eternal home should not be ignored. Likewise, it should not be overused or overstated, but it is beneficial for us to know our destination so that we will travel on the right roads.

    It is necessary to understand and perceive our destination. It is beneficial to our greater purpose. Paul said in I Corinthians 9:24 that we should all run this race in anticipation of “receiving the prize[.] So run, that you may obtain it.”
    He also said that “If we have hope in Christ for this life only, we of all men deserve to be pitied.” I Corinthians 15:19.

    Therefore, we must understand our eternal destination. We must use it insofar and to the degree that it is beneficial to our current tasks.

    • Jonathan says:

      Hi Jacob!

      Thanks so much for commenting! Excellent points, all. I agree with you completely. Either you believe the Bible as truth spoken by God, or you don’t. There’s no in-between or discretionary dimension available to us. If the Bible is true, then Revelation 10:6 is true which says that God created “Heaven and the things in it”. If the Bible is true, then we can believe Isaiah 66:1 which tells us that Heaven is the throne of God, and Psalm 20:6 which states that God will answer His people from “His holy heaven”. If the Bible is true, we can, as you mentioned, believe (with great joy) that Heaven is paradise (Luke 23:43) and know that we will be rewarded in Heaven with “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away” (I Peter 1:4).

      If the Bible is true, everything else falls in line. It all comes down to whether or not a person believes in the Bible as objective truth. Truth is objective, but people usually aren’t! From a practical standpoint, the question of whether we can know objective truth is one of the most important questions in apologetics, because today most arguments between Christians and non-Christians eventually come down to this point. What usually happens is this: After the Christian has won the substantive argument, the non-Christian, unable to refute the Christian’s argument, retreats to this ubiquitous line of defense: “What you say may be true for you, but not for me. Truth is relative. What right do you have to impose your beliefs on me? You’re being judgmental.” Christian apologetic strategy must be ready to cope with this move. We must be prepared to show our opponents (i.e., our friends, Bob or otherwise) that they take refuge in this relativism only after they have lost the argument, never after they have won it.

      Thanks so much again! I think you nailed it exactly correct.

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