1. Green 1David GreenChristian ApologeticsDr. SheltonMarch 30, 2012 Heaven The Dead Man‟s Utopia The very concept and idea of heaven is something that our finite minds find hard to graspand in some cases reject the very notion. The origin of heaven has always been a part of ourexistence we long for something superior and better than earth after this life (Long, T. G. 2011).We also have accounts of people speaking of a place with extreme happiness or joy when theycome close to death. There is no real origin of heaven in the sense that you cannot name the timeand date of when the concept and idea became realized into the thoughts and minds of mankind.The use of the word heaven wasn‟t until the 12th century but, cultures and religions have had abelief in an afterlife where there is happiness and pleasure for centuries (Juola Exline, Julie2003). The dictionary describes the word heaven as being “the abode or home of God, angels,and spirits of the righteous after death” but, that definition is too limited in scope to describesuch an infinite place. The only way we can truly define heaven is by saying what it is not, faithand experience. We recall and use the accounts of people who have had near death experiencesor close calls. We also use the Bible to describe heaven and have a feeling about how we wouldwant it to be through divine revelation. The concept and idea of heaven isn‟t something uniquely or solely in the possession ofChristians. There are a myriad of religions, cults and even atheists who discuss or believe in theconcept of heaven. The problem with defining heaven is that we use earthly terms that will never
2. Green 2truly encompass its glory. it will always fall short of how truly remarkable it will be in the end(Kreeft, Tacelli 259). The cultural and religious interpretations of heaven are quite vast andunique (Juola Exline, Julie 2003). The Buddhist interpretation of heaven is a temporary place forpeople who have done good deeds. Each and every person experiences heaven differentlydepending on the degree of their karma. Heaven is a place for people to experience a variety ofsensual pleasures. The Islam concept of heaven is a very physical place where every dream andaspiration is fulfilled upon your request. Heaven is a place of eternal happiness and immortality.The Islamic concept of heaven also splits heaven into several levels where the more good deedsyou perform the higher you move up in heaven. In the Islamic belief again one‟s entry intoheaven is solely dependent on their deeds and actions. The pantheistic approach to heaven isquite unique it says that we all return to the ultimate source of life or become one with God. Thepantheistic belief says that God is everywhere and that everything is God so we simply becomeone with everything. There isn‟t necessarily any specific means to get to heaven other than todie. It doesn‟t seem to be dependant or tied to any one‟s deeds or actions. Atheists believe thatthere is no heaven and that the very idea is dense or unimportant for us. They say it distracts ortakes away from what we can do on earth because our priorities will be misplaced. The finalreligious belief I will mention is Christianity which holds that heaven is a gift and is notdependent on anyone‟s deeds but on the action of Jesus. Jesus became sin and died for us so wecould receive the gift of eternal life. Heaven will be a place of eternal intimate relationship withGod where death and pain are a thing of the past. We will have resurrected bodies and separationbetween God and man will no longer exist (Juola Exline, Julie 2003). The most obvious dilemma that we are presented with is acquiring factual evidence aboutheaven if it‟s not until death that we glimpse the afterlife. The best way we can describe and
3. Green 3wrap our heads around heaven is looking at all the evidence and information. The mostintriguing argument that is continually brought up to defend the idea of heaven is near deathexperiences. The underlying and ultimate theme is that it‟s a place of contentment, pleasure andwe will get to meet family members and friends that died and overall have a great time. No oneseems to object or detest the idea of heaven being a blissful place. There are a few objections toheaven being a blissful place (Ribeiro, B. 2011) but, more often than not people agree thatheaven is a desirable paradise. There is also a consensus among some of the greatest teachers andprophets that there is an idea of a paradise or utopia after death. They all seem to agree on theidea of heaven being a desirable place with no sadness the specific details vary from each majorteacher or prophet. The major problem with attaining this image or reality of heaven is that weapply earthly or secular finite concepts to a place that embodies eternity and infinity. We havesuch a weak and feeble vocabulary that heaven can never truly be described with our words(Kreeft, Tacelli 263). This doesn‟t necessarily mean we shouldn‟t strive to understand and graspthe idea of heaven. We can understand the concept of heaven by saying what it is not andthrough faith. We relish in the idea of a paradise after death where all of our sorrows will be forgotten.The lost friends and family of times past will be once again be reunited with us. The biggestobjection to this idea is that we are simply living for the afterlife and focus solely on that idealparadise (Kreeft, Tacelli 266). We simply disregard the work and goals of this life and as a resultdon‟t achieve the potential inside us. The idea that we will forsake and disregard this life is kindof absurd if anything it is a motivator and driver (Brock, R., & Parker, R. 2009). The vastmajority of religions are heavily dependent on actions and deeds so they must consider this lifeto be of some importance. If there is no belief in heaven then it most certainly takes away from
4. Green 4this life. That would mean our mere existence is limited and finite and there is truly nothing tolive for or any standard or morals to live by in this life. We have no obligation to live a good lifeand do good things because after all there is nothing. We should in turn be cut throat, ruthlessand step on all the little people we can so we can get to the top and live blissfully on this earth.People often live contrary to this atheistic belief because we have some intrinsic moral code orobligation because we believe there is life after death. Society believes that good deeds unlockthe door to the blissful afterlife. The idea of heaven also fulfills the internal obligation of justicefrom this life. It satisfies us to know that the deeds and actions of this life will be rewardedand/or punished. It comforts us to know that in some way that adolf hitler was punished fordecimating a race of people and other horrible crimes against humanity. There must besomething after death to ensure that his time on earth did not go unpunished death certainlycannot be the end all be all and ultimate form of justice. This isn‟t necessarily directly related toheaven but, it does lend itself to the idea of life after death and heaven is a part of that concept.Heaven cannot be a place for such a person. The necessity of heaven fulfills a need every humaninternally has for something more beyond our finite world and existence. We all have a longingand desire for heaven because earth is not our home. Earth cannot and does not satisfy all of ourdesires if it did we wouldn‟t have the problems we do in this life. The things of this world do notsatisfy our most intimate desires we need to realize that heaven is our true home. The necessity of heaven cannot be talked about without first addressing the common andstrongest objections to the very concept and idea of heaven. One of the primary objections to theidea of heaven is that it was simply a form of escapist. They tend to tie the idea of God andheaven together and simply say that it‟s a way for people to cope with a miserable and less thanperfect life. The idea that believing in heaven is escapist is silly an idea or concept is only
5. Green 5escapist if the idea is a lie (Kreeft, Tacelli 265). Heaven is quite real and it isn‟t escapist for us tothink about the future or possibility of something greater or achieving the ultimate goal. It is notescapist for a traveler to revel at the idea of reaching his/her destination or expecting parents tobe anxious about their baby. Both examples are people who have an expectation to fulfill a goalor to achieve fulfillment. They do not disregard the task at hand but, simply look forward to thefulfillment of some desire or goal. The other objection that ties along with the idea that heaven isescapist is that heaven is wishful thinking and a dream (Kreeft, 2011). Heaven cannot in itself bewishful thinking or a necessary dream we came up with because how can finite and limitedminds create such an infinitely perfect place. The effect of something cannot not be greater thanthe cause. The greatest and most obvious objection to heaven is that there is no scientificevidence to support the existence of such a place. Such a notion is rash we all believe in theconcepts of love and hate yet there is no solid scientific evidence to prove the existence of suchthings (Kreeft, Tacelli 264). We believe in justice and other actions but, there is no formula toprove that justice exist other than the fact that we believe it does. We should not be so rash as tosimplify our universe to science. That would be illogical and irrational to think that our universeis simply bound by our equations and formula‟s. Jesus may not have been respected as Christ oras a savior but he was revered as a great moral teacher and prophet. Jesus talked about thekingdom of God and about their being life after death. If we assume that Jesus was a greatteacher and prophet then we can also assume he was telling the truth in which case we assumethat heaven is real. Jesus can‟t be a great moral teacher and be a liar at the same time so we cantrust him enough to believe in the concept and idea of heaven. How can we comprehend heaven as Christians with so many denominations andvariations? We have often taken on a very literal approach as we interpret the scripture. When
6. Green 6we imagine or picture heaven it is the ideal paradise from an earthly stand point. We mightpicture mansions, beaches, families, friends, grassy meadows and the perfect sun sets (Brock, R.,& Parker, R. 2009). Heaven may very well be that ideal place I can neither confirm nor withabsolute resolve say with 100% certainty that a person that believes that is false. On the otherhand we must be cautious with how we describe heaven and not limit the grand scope that it maybe when we see it. The greatest tragedy I believe we have done is to limit heaven into earthly,secular moral terms and reality. Heaven is a place outside of the bounds of our own reality andlaws it‟s a place literally defined by eternity and infinity. Let us not bring it down to our level ofthe finite. This does not mean Christians should not continue to define heaven and understandthis concept and idea. Heaven is described as analogies in the Bible instead of the being veryliteral. The best example I believe we can get a basis for heaven can be found through thereadings of C.S Lewis „The Problem of Pain”. He talks about heaven being a place where wefinally and truly have the opportunity to become fully who God intended us to be without limits.There is also another way to phrase an answer the questions about heaven and what to expectother by referring to Kreeft and Tacelli. “Thus the meaning of life, on earth and heaven is: tounderstand God, to love god, to understand others, to love others, to understand yourself and tolove yourself” (Kreeft, Tacelli 263). What more could we desire to do as children of God otherthan those 6 activities. It encapsulates the vision and idea of heaven so profoundly despite howbasic it may appear to the eye. I believe that when we expand upon Lewis‟ definition as well asKreeft and Tacelli we can begin to springboard and work our way outwards to understandheaven more concretely. The hardest thing for us is to believe that heaven will be something elseother than what we imagined it to be (Brock, R., & Parker, R. 2009). When we hear the wordheaven we think paradise or utopia and we each have picture to fit the mold of heaven. What if
7. Green 7our mold is wrong? This can get a lot of people off track because the focus has been shifted onthe wrong things heaven isn‟t the ultimate goal. The most important thing regarding heaven isit‟s where God is and that‟s where you want to be nothing should take priority over that fact.Heaven isn‟t some place where you go to get everything you didn‟t get here on earth. It‟s not theultimate retirement from life where we get to relax forever regardless of the truth in thatstatement. The focus should be on finally having an intimate relationship with God no moreseparation because of sin. A freely accessible bridge to truly experience God in all is great lovein newly resurrected bodies and unlike other religions our deeds and actions don‟t earn us intoheaven. It took Jesus dying on the cross to pay our admission to heaven and the greatest thingabout it all is through his actions heaven became a gift not a grade.
8. Green 8 References Brock, R., & Parker, R. (2009). Saving Paradise. Tikkun, 24(4), 21-25. Esolen, A. (2009). The Freedom of Heaven & the Freedom of Hell. First Things: AMonthly Journal Of Religion & Public Life, (191), 37-41. Juola Exline, J. (2003). BELIEF IN HEAVEN AND HELL AMONG CHRISTIANS INTHE UNITED STATES: DENOMINATIONAL DIFFERENCES AND CLINICALIMPLICATIONS. Omega: Journal Of Death & Dying, 47(2), 155-168. Kreeft, P., & Tacelli, R. K. (1994). Handbook of Christian apologetics: hundreds ofanswers to crucial questions. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press. Kvanvig, Jonathan, "Heaven and Hell", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =<http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2009/entries/heaven-hell/>. Lewis, C. S. (2001). The problem of pain. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. Long, T. G. (2011). Heaven comes to us. Christian Century, 128(9), 55. Ribeiro, B. (2011). THE PROBLEM OF HEAVEN. Ratio, 24(1), 46-64.doi:10.1111/j.1467-9329.2010.00482.x