What if There Were No Heaven?

(This post originally appeared on the now defunct centurybound.com blog on December 22, 2005. It appears here with some major rewrites from the author.)

While surfing the internet, I happened upon the blog of an atheist who was asking the following question of her readers:

“How many people would believe in a god if there were no rewards promised to the self for doing so?”

This rather loaded question is a complicated one. It is actually not meant to be a question, but rather an attack on the principles of Christianity. The atheist is suggesting that the Christian faith is a selfish one and insinuating that if there were no promise of Heaven, there would be few, if any, Christians. There is no chance I could ever answer the question to this particular atheist’s satisfaction because I suspect she believes she already knows the answer. Furthermore, I’m not sure there is a way to know the answer. Since there is a promise of Heaven, I have no idea how many Christians there would be if that promise was ripped out from under us. I suspect, rather sadly, there would be less. Possibly much less, but that is just a guess. I know that in my own experience, Heaven did not enter the equation. I chose to believe in God because I had an encounter with Him that began to make sense to me intellectually. I then chose to believe in Jesus Christ (and the Christian faith) specifically for an abundance of reasons – none of which were Heaven. I sort of see Heaven as the icing on the cake. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad the promise is there; but my faith doesn’t hinge on it.

I believe we can examine this question introspectively in a way that can help us examine our faith. What if today, we pondered the following question?

Would you still follow Jesus Christ if there were suddenly no promise of Heaven?

If our answer to this question is ‘no’, I would suggest that we may be on shaky ground spiritually. I spent the majority of life before Christ creating a particular version of God in my mind and then imposing those values on the real God. For instance, the God I created was all knowing and all powerful. He had created this world and then stepped back to see what would happen. He was a fair God who would allow pretty much anyone into Heaven provided they tried to live a good life (you know … paid their taxes, supported their children, didn’t kill anyone … that sort of thing). It was only when I humbled myself that I realized I had no right to impose my beliefs on God. If God were real, I had to allow Him to teach me about Himself and accept even what I didn’t understand. I had no business trying to invent God in my image. I had to understand and apply the old saying “Father Knows Best.” In other words, if God, in all His wisdom, suddenly decided there should be no Heaven, I would have to accept it – even if I didn’t understand it. I can’t worship God because of what He promises me, rather, I must worship God because He deserves it.

I am so thankful that my God has promised me Heaven. I also believe there is a hell. Hell, in my opinion, is proof that God loves us. How’s that you might ask? Well, if what we really want is a place that is free from the presence and influence of God, he will provide it for us even though it breaks His heart to do so. That place is hell. It’s not God that makes hell such a terrible place … it is the complete absence of God’s influence that makes hell so bad.

Even though I have a concrete belief in Heaven and hell, I can’t make that the focal point of my faith. Why? Well, if all I do is think about the future … someday far in the future … I am ignoring one of Jesus’ most powerful lessons. Jesus taught that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. What did He mean by that? I think He meant that we can experience Heaven right now in our mortal life. If hell is the total absence of God, then Heaven is living in God’s presence. In fact, Heaven is more than just the presence of God – it is a place where God’s Will is done. We can experience God’s presence and live in His will right now. If we spend all of our time looking towards the future, we will miss out on the beauty that is Heaven on Earth.

Think about it … we all know the bitter and depressed Christian who lives a miserable life and constantly talks about Heaven in the future tense. My heart goes out to these people. Thank God they have the promise of eternal life from the One True God to keep them going. I am not suggesting that it would be healthy to totally forget about our promise of Heaven; I just pray that someday we can all experience a shadow of Heaven right now!

When the Enemy Attacks

I’ve talked to several people in the past who insist that Hell isn’t a real place. They have convinced themselves that Satan is the figment of some fundamentalist Christian’s imagination. They live in a world where they like to believe the Prince of Lies is a myth … a legend. My typical response to this notion is that if I were Satan, I wouldn’t want you to believe in me either. If I were Satan, and you failed to acknowledge my presence as a real, living entity; it would make it that much easier for me to meet my goals. I could manipulate you, decieve you, mislead you, hurt you, punish you, and damage your relationship with God while you continued to deny my existence. You would blame everything but me. It is the perfect setup for Satan.

On the other side of the spectrum, are those people that see Satan in their cereal. They blame everything that is wrong in their lives on The Devil. They fail to step up and take responsibility for any mistakes they have ever made because it was really just Satan’s fault. These people seem to think that Satan is responsible for any act, person, or event in their life that doesn’t bend to their own will.

In reality, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Satan does exist, Jesus confirmed this, but he isn’t responsible for everything that is wrong in our lives. Human beings are more than capable of screwing things up without the enemy leading the way.

It has been my experience, however, that Satan does attack me directly at times. Normally, it is when I am on the cusp of some spiritual awakening or when I am growing closer to God. It seems as if Satan is right there trying to sabotage me at times. It makes sense really. Satan doesn’t really need to attack those who don’t believe in Christ … he already has them. But he does have an interest in separating a believer from Christ, and I believe he tries hard to do this.

Take my experience from yesterday (if you don’t believe in Satan, you may want to check out here … this will seem very weird to you). I was under the gun yesterday for getting enrolled in the Baptist Bible College. It has long been my desire to study Theology and this school is a great fit for me. My deadline for getting enrolled and signed up for class was yesterday and everything seemed to be working against me. Most of this can be attributed to good, old-fashioned bad luck rather than Satan, but there was a moment yesterday when I could actually feel the enemy working against me. When I shut my eyes, I could actually feel myself being rended … I could see and hear the gnashing of teeth. I have never experienced anything like this in my life. It was actually quite frightening. All I could do was pray the name of Jesus Christ … it wasn’t long before the sensation of being attacked subsided. I couldn’t figure out why I was being attacked, but as I look back on it now, I believe it was directly related with my decision to attend the Baptist Bible College. The enemy was trying his best to intimidate me. Thankfully, it didn’t work.

I honestly believe that Christians need to be ready for spiritual attack. Satan will do his best to scare us, tempt us, and intimidate us … especially if we are on the verge of doing something for God. I once read that if Satan was bold enough to tempt Christ, we can be sure he will attack us as well. Ironically, it was when the enemy attacked me yesterday that I became certain I was making the right move. When I realized making a commitment to studying the word of God upset Satan so much, it convinced me I was doing what God wanted me to do.

There may be some rules of thumb to learn from all of this.

1. When we are on the verge of growing closer to God, we should expect the enemy to try and bring us down.

2. It is at these moments that we need to remember who it is we belong to. Christ provided a model for how we should stand up to these attacks … prayer and Scripture are our weapons and we need to wield them wisely.

3. When we can feel Satan working against us, it should give us a clue that we are the right track to finding God’s will.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for giving me a model to follow in Jesus Christ. Thank you for providing Scriptures to teach and inspire me. Lord, help me to learn from experiences such as these. Help me to expect spiritual attack when I least suspect it. Give me the wisdom and discernment to recognize when Satan is butting into my life and to know when I have to man up take responsibility for my own mistakes.

Amen.

Clark