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November 27, 2012

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I do not conceive of heaven as endless sensation and consumption, nor do I see it as repetitious. We will all have responsibilities ("We shall also reign with Him!"), and the variety of heaven will be as never-ending as the depths of God Himself!

We are eternal beings whether we go to heaven or hell. What kind of real objection is this to a Christian worldview?

Michele,

"Endless consumption and sensation".

That shows the intrinsic error in this question as it assumes that of one who Gets/Takes. Self focused and not Other focused. We will be Giving/Pouring Out (as well as getting). If one so hates to love, and can only think of Consumption, one will hate heaven. There is a place where Take/Self/Me/I and such Self-Focused thinking will be quite HAPPY. But it is not Heaven. Heaven will be Other Focused, just like our God, Who is love, is thus focused.


The Isolated-I, the Pure-Self that is the Alone of hell's prison will be just what some *delight* in. And, there is another place, for those who *delight* in love, in Other, and, in giving one's Self away, one will also get one's Self thrown in back again and will thus too have Self, but not just the Self. Love is I, and You, and I-You. These three........

I would say the two roots of the question are/can be 1. As finite beings we cannot comprehend eternity and 2. In a fallen state we cannot understand the desire to live eternally in praise/worship/duty of our God. It's hard to imagine fellowship without either of these innate restrictions.

I don't offer these points as a solution, but hopefully cogs in a wheel of thoughts.

Heaven is the opposite of what the questioner is assuming.

Heaven is not simply a place of a longer human existence. Indeed, in heaven the very presence of sorrow/pain/fatigue will be no longer and we will experience final fulfillment in the very presence of the spotless lamb of God. We will finally be purely glorifying God as we were created to do.

The question actually speaks to our longing for a place like heaven because it illustrates the futility and unsatisfying quality of the pursuit of knowledge and experience to slake our thirst for meaning. Yes, it's true, all of those things are unfulfilling. C.S. Lewis actually suggested that perhaps something like this ongoing quest for self fulfillment is an aspect of hell (Mere Christianity).

I think the challenger has swerved into a deep truth.

If you think that heaven is just going on forever just as you are, i.e. in a fallen state, then heaven indeed would be hell.

Hell = Sin + Eternity.

Thus God's barring us from the Tree of Life was not a punishment, but a blessing. Were we to live off its fruit in our fallen state, we would make the world into hell.

The point of heaven is not simply that we will go on forever, but that we shall be changed. Probably in ways that we don't or can't imagine. Eternity will not become hell for those redeemed by Christ.

Ask them where they get this idea of heaven. Then you can let them know that this description does seem to fit more with an eternity in hell. Seems similar to descriptions in the Great Divorce where people live in lavish mansions with themselves and are utterly oblivious and inwardly focused.

Explain that the bible has not given us a true and full understanding of what heaven looks like but that it does say we will be perfected. We will not be laboring like Sisyphus in some remedial task but worshiping and loving an infinite God.

In essence we will be no longer self focused but other focused and no longer concerned with our needs or desires.

Timelessness is not the same as infinite time. So the question doesn't make any sense.

Let me take just the personal relationships portion of the question. How long would it take to meet everyone in a deep & fulfilling way? Say, for example that there are 5 billion believers in Heaven plus another billion angels - each one a unique and intricate creation of God. Ultimately I will know each of these individuals to a greater degree than I know my wife today. There will be no time barrier or sin barrier to hinder each relationship.

Say I get to know everyone in a particular order from #1 to #6 billion and it takes me 10 years to develop that deep and fulfilling relationship with person #1 before I move on to person #2 and repeat the process. It would take me 60 billion years to get through every single person.

Then I get in touch with person #1 again. Now that person, since I last talked to them, has had almost 60 billion years worth of experiences that we need to catch up on - travels around the universe, work projects done for the Lord, knowledge gained that can be shared, etc. The process starts all over again. How exciting would this be? I can't wait!

God is infinite and we will still be finite even in glory. PART of the thrill of heaven will be seeing our Lord face to face and being free to explore the infinite one facet at a time. That sounds awesome to me.

Aesthetic choice. Some people like life. Most like death. It also does not help that their view of Heaven and Hell dates back to Dante.

Hi WL, Oscar Wilde made a simiiar point.

He said "we are our own devils and we make this world a hell". [I admit a shameless plug for a favorite indie/rock band I follow.]

Anthony said:
I would say the two roots of the question are/can be 1. As finite beings we cannot comprehend eternity and 2. In a fallen state we cannot understand the desire to live eternally in praise/worship/duty of our God. It's hard to imagine fellowship without either of these innate restrictions.

I think this is the heart of the matter. A further issue arises, though. "I" am the sum of all my experiences - good and bad and everything else. In Heaven, or an eternal, blissful state, where will "I" go if all that bad stuff is removed? Won't I cease to be "I"? (See Star Trek: The Enemy Within). This is why Heaven, as just a glorified continuation of Earth's greatest hits, ultimately falls flat. In our present state, how could it not? All this talk of streets of gold, pearly gates, etc., are nice for a moment, but then what?

I am content to live the rest of my life knowing that I will never know, until that time comes. As it is, I have no desire, nor am I able, to make an argument that Heaven is this thing or that thing.

Brad-

Oscar Wilde made the point, and as KS noted, so did C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce.

Hell is caused by sin.

I do think that there are external devils. So I don't necessarily accept the bit about us being our own devils.

However, if what he meant is that we are our own torturers, I think he's on to something. I don't think that the devils are in hell to torment us (as is popularly believed). They themselves will be in torment in hell. And, like the torment of the lost, it will mostly be self-inflicted.

It wouldn't get old because God would fill us with so much joy that there would never be a dull moment. Simple as that :)

I don't know that I could add much that hasn't already been said. I have to ask two questions:

1) Why does the challenger think heaven (eternity, or whatever term we use for the paradise we are promised after the resurrection) will be that way?

2) What does the Bible say about what we are promised after the resurrection?

There are many notions of what life will be like after the resurrection. There are many competing philosophical views. For example, does "eternal life" mean that we will somehow exist in material or spiritual bodies in some state of timelessness or infinite time? The Bible isn't clear about all that, although we can make some reasonable speculations. Those are beside the point, however.

The notion that we will have finite activities that resemble the best we have in this world to keep us occupied for infinite time is not particularly supported by the revelation God has given us. The best theological answer is that we don't know exactly what it will be like. What we do know is that God knows all things and that God's goal for us is to worship him forever, whatever that will entail. Therefore, he knows what we will need to enjoy him perfectly forever and we can be certain that he will provide that. We won't be bored in the least.

It's not surprising to me that an atheist would see heaven this way. Eternity is not attractive if you don't know God and don’t believe He exists. As a few of you pointed out above, I wouldn't want to live forever in a world like this fallen one, without God forever, either. What makes heaven attractive is God Himself. We'll be with God! And we'll never get tired of being with God. Neither will we ever know God fully, so we will never get to a place where there's nothing more to learn.

This world is fallen. It's always moving towards death, and it is ultimately unfulfilling. Using an image of this earth to draw a picture of the new earth (where we'll be in our resurrection bodies, without sin, fulfilling perfectly our gifts in our new society and enjoying God) won't give a person an accurate picture of what is to come. God is the giver of life—all life comes from Him. When we're no longer separated from Him, when He is no longer hidden from us, He will be a constant source of life to us.

Tactically, I think I might respond in this way to someone who asked me this question, moving the conversation towards the real issue: who is God, and is He there?

You've described how a life that goes on forever without God would be, and you're rightly horrified by it. It's terrible. But think of this: There's a being who is so great in His goodness, His grace, His kindness, His justice, His creativity, His love, and His power that being with Him forever never, ever grows tiresome. A being who makes boredom impossible, even though your life goes on forever and ever.

You don't know God right now, so you can't imagine this being the case. But you do know what a horror an eternal life without God would be, so let's use that as a measuring stick. Think of how bad it would be. With the depth of that horror in mind, I'm telling you that God is so great, that eternal life will not only not be a horror, but He will fill up all that depth with His greatness and go far, far beyond it upward to give us unimaginable, never-ending joy and happiness as we're in relationship with Him in His presence forever and ever.

Perhaps that can give you an idea of how great God is.

Hopefully that would point the conversation in the direction of God and the gospel (how He has revealed Himself to us through the cross, what it means for us, etc.).

It is not surprising to me that an atheist's musings about heaven consist merely in meeting interesting people and tasting great foods. The atheist's concept of heaven is devoid of God! Of course, any Christian saved by grace and knowledgeable about the Bible (especially the final two chapters of Revelation) knows that heaven is really about experiencing God's presence in new and unique ways. The Christian looks forward not just to experiencing God's presence, but actually meeting Christ "face to face" -- the One who saved him from his sins, the One who loves like no one else. The Christian knows that the Biblical metaphors are poor reflections (due to the limitations of language and our ability to comprehend the higher dimensions of heaven) of a greater reality. "They will see his face", "we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is". The Christian knows that the "eternal pleasures at your right hand" are so much more than good food!

Heaven is a family. Does anyone grow tired of family? Does anyone grow tired of coming home to a wife's embrace, a child's smile? Even after 80 years of earthly existence, does a man tell his wife, "I've had enough of you"? Does he not want to continue these relationships based on love?

Heaven is discovery -- discovery of an infinite God and his infinite abilities to create anew. A new heaven and a new earth. Would Christopher Columbus ever tire of finding new and interesting lands? Does not humanity dream of "to infinity and beyond"? Of star trekking through the galaxies and ever discovering new things? The believer will spend eternity discovering God.

Heaven is service. "His servants will serve him." New, interesting tasks, performed by ever grateful servants. Man is created in the image of God; only in heaven will the believer's creative abilities be unleashed in service to his Master. Heaven is what the believer is designed for. A mind freed of limitations. A body freed of sin. The most fabulous interesting job one can image. Consider a scientist who loves his job. Or a builder. Or an artist. His work is so interesting, he awakes eagerly anticipating the day. After 80 years, he is on the verge of a new work of art! These are only poor reflections of heaven, for in the New Jerusalem, work will be performed joyfully, in gratitude.

No ... that does not sound like Hell at all. And I would bet that after 80 years, the atheist, if he is still alive, will not say "I've had enough". He will give his last cent to the doctor that can extend his life another 6 months. That in itself, it seems to me, points to an inconsistency in the atheist's thinking process.

I suppose if you have a hedonistic view of the world in that your ultimate goal is maximum pleasure, minimum pain, then perhaps that view of heaven may lead them to their conclusion. And it's a selfish one, to be certain. But as others have already pointed out, the ultimate purpose of heaven is not our eternal personal pleasure, but rather the ongoing relationship with God and those that are with us. Certainly we will experience pleasure, but we will find our pleasure in acts of service and worship. People who have experienced truly loving and giving relationships here on earth know there is no greater feeling of satisfaction, and it's a feeling from which you cannot tire. Speak to an elderly couple that has enjoyed many decades of loving marriage and you find that their only desire is to be together, to continue in the relationship - no matter their external circumstances. It is the relationship that truly matters. In heaven we not only get to enjoy relationships in perfection with others, but more importantly, we get to do so with God himself. Regardless of what food we eat, what knowledge we gain, we certainly won't ever tire of heaven when it is filled with perfect relationships.

I struggle with the concept of "eternity". I just have lot's of questions:
1. Is "eternity" a good translation of what's expressed in the greek text?
2. Does "eternity" stretch back into the past? If it doesn't, is it really "eternal". If it does, what does "creation" mean?
3. Is an "eternal soul" a biblical concept or a an import from pagan Greek philosophy?
4. If we do have an "eternal soul", what is the point of Resurrection?
Through study of the Scriptures, I have begun to doubt - in a healthy way I trust - much of what I have "caught" from my theological upbringing.
It seems we have made some incredible constructions based on some very flimsy Biblical material.
Can anyone point me to good resources to help me reflect on these questions?

He is actually asking four separate questions, the first two suggesting that our life her below (the 80 years) is enough, and that to extend fourscore years throughout eternity would simply be tiring. He phrases them as questions, but he implies his own answers, somewhat begging the question.

His third question suggests that heaven would be meaningless because it would be only a bare repetition of earthly existence. This indicates no knowledge of what the scriptures teach about heaven, and is a very low view of the presence of God.

His fourth question is simply rhetorical.

Overall, he seems to be saying "eighty years on earth is enough", followed by assuming that heaven is nothing more than an eternal repetition of eighty vain years, and that sort of eternity, in his opinion, is hell.

When we speak of "acts of service" in heaven, it reduces heaven, again, to just a better version of Earth. I have to ask, what "service" is required in a perfect setting? Service connotes lack of something to me.

Anyone who claims to understand what Heaven is, or will be, or claims that the Bible adequately explains it, is, to me, subliminally referencing Christian media on the subject because I do not see how it is possible to know. Our finite minds cannot fully grasp the infinite. We are chasing our spiritual tails.

Perry-

Angels perform acts of service to God all the time. But God does not need them. In heaven, I am sure that we will perform all kinds of unneeded acts of service.

With that said, I do agree with your larger point, as I suspect most people here do: We know very little about what heaven is. We're not even equipped to know much about what heaven is.

The little that we are equipped to know about heaven invites the criticism our Love Wins friend, Rob Bell, made: it seems like a church service that goes on forever...which some might think sounds more like hell.

(OK, I don't really like Rob Bell, but on those occasions where he makes a good point, we should probably take note.)

Most of the comments here have been more about what heaven is not than about what it is. And what it is not is the Earth we know, only longer lasting.

Perry-

One more point, just in case what I said at the beginning is unclear. Though I think we will perform acts of service to God in heaven, I do not think God needs them. There is a very real sense in which it is correct to say that God will not be served by them (so Peter was right when he said in Acts 17 that God is served by no man)

WisdomLover - Well put. Words such as "service" mean different things on Earth; one can conclude this word means something entirely different in the Afterlife.

I like what you said: And what it is not is the Earth we know, only longer lasting. This is the afterlife Jehovah's Witnesses peddle and it seems so mundane to me.

Brett's video response is up now.

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