On the Necessity of Heaven

“You only believe in God because you want to go to Heaven.”

This is the basic accusation leveled at many believers in this skeptical age.  Heaven is the ultimate wish fulfillment fantasy.  As Karl Marx called it, it is the “Opium of the Masses.”  It is a drug that people take in order to ease the pain of everyday life.  Religion tells us that all of our pain and suffering will be rewarded in an afterlife and the evil of our tormentors will meet with damnation.

But the new atheists tell us that this is only our wishful thinking.  We selfishly desire refuge from pain and despair and so we concoct the fairy tale of Heaven with its “happily ever after.”

I know a number of believers who are shaken by this point.  They begin questioning their faith and their motives for it.  They look into their souls and they realize that they want to go to heaven.  They then question themselves, “Do I really only believe in God because of wish fulfillment?”

This is an important question and should be addressed directly.

First of all, we need to make the distinction between a logical reason and a psychological reason.  A logical reason to believe something means that you have looked at the premises and evidence and drawn the natural conclusion from them.  A psychological reason refers to my interior desires to believe or not believe.  But the logical is not affected by the psychological.

I find the idea that my wife loves me to be comforting.  But that does not prove that this belief is a wish fulfillment fantasy.  It has no bearing on whether or not she does.  I find the idea of God and Heaven comforting, but that does not prove that it is a wish fulfillment fantasy.  It has no bearing on whether or not they exist in reality.

This attack of the new atheists is meant to attack the emotions, not reason.

Heaven is the fulfillment of our heart’s deepest desire.  You cannot get away from this.  We want love and happiness and we want it infinitely and we want it forever.

But rather than being argument against their existence, it is actually an argument for their existence.

C.S. Lewis famously espoused his “Argument from Desire” to prove God’s existence.  The argument goes thus:

We all have natural desires.  These desires are universal among all sane humans.  We desire things like food, sleep, water, sex, etc.  We also have artificial desires.

For example, we may have the desire to ride a Hippogryph.  But that desire can only come from outside of us by encounter through a Harry Potter story.

In my case, I greatly desire a real lightsaber, a real laser sword that can cut through anything.  I have ever since I first saw Star Wars.  But I never had that desire until I saw one in the movie.  But that desire only came because I had the experience of watching a movie.  It is not a universal desire nor is it found in my nature.  Also, it is a desire for something that does not exist.  My wanting a lightsaber does not mean that they are real.

But it is not the same with natural desires.  Each of these desires has a real object of that desire.  We all hunger.  And there is a real thing called food.  We all grow drowsy.  And there is a real thing call sleep.  We have the yearning for sex and there is a real thing to satisfies that desire.

So we can establish is that all natural desires have a real object.

As we said earlier, we want happiness.  Aristotle pointed out that every person wants this.  It is a desire that is universal and natural.  Happiness is the end.  We do everything for happiness.

But we don’t want happiness for only a short amount of time.  That is something we could find in this world.  We want permanent happiness.  We want that happiness forever.  And we find this happiness primarily through the human experience of love.  I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t have an infinite appetite for love.

But here is the problem.  We’ve established all natural desires have real objects.  But the object of this final desire, eternal happiness, can be found nowhere in this universe.  We can have happiness for a moment, maybe a long moment, but ultimately death will take it from us.

So the only conclusion that there must be a real source of eternal happiness outside of this universe.

The logic goes thus:

A: All natural desires have a real object.

B: Eternal Happiness is a natural desire.

C: Therefore Eternal Happiness is real.

Heaven has to be real because it is a real universal desire.  Our as Lewis puts it: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

But isn’t Heaven kind of a bribe?  Doesn’t that corrupt our faith?  If we have a rich friend, do we have that relationship because of the money or the friendship?

Here’s the thing: it isn’t a bribe because it God whom we love.  Lewis says that a man who loves a woman and marries her, the marriage is not mercenary.  It is the fulfillment of that love.  God is love.  We want God, and to “have” Him is to have total love.  It is impossible to really be with God and to not have joy.

Think of St. Francis of Assisi.  The pope got downs on his hands and knees and kissed Francis’ feet.  But that was not what fulfilled Francis.  He was not interested in being showered with rewards.  For him, he looked at the poor and rejected of the world and wanted to kiss their feet.  He wanted this because He saw God in everyone around Him and he wanted to love them completely.

That is Heaven.

Francis did not have to wait to die to go to Heaven.  He was living it.

You will never find people who suffer in history more than the saints.  And yet you will never find more joyful people.  Because they had God with them.  They had Heaven with them always.

For the wicked, there is no joy.  You cannot be evil and happy.  In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry comes to realize that is Voldemort’s true weakness.  The evil wizard would never know love or friendship.  But that is what Heaven is: love and fellowship with God and others forever.  Voldemort was already living hell.

When we die, we often call it “going home.”  And that is the truth.  This world is fallen and broken.  But the saints lived differently.

Scripture says,

“And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them…”

Hebrews 11: 32-38

These were the ones who were not at home in this fallen world, because their citizenship was in Heaven.  There must be a Heaven because we can see it in the lives of the saints.

There must be a Heaven because we were made for it.

There must be a Heaven because we’ve seen it.

We see it when we love.

Copyright © 2012, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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