Why Do We Believe So Many Lies about Heaven?

“An overwhelming majority of Americans continue to believe that there is life after death and that heaven and hell exist,” according to a Barna Research Group poll. But what people actually believe about heaven and hell varies widely. A Barna spokesman said, “They’re cutting and pasting religious views from a variety of different sources—television, movies, conversations with their friends.” The result is a highly subjective theology of the afterlife, disconnected from the biblical doctrine of heaven.

Our Radar Is Aimed Too Low

Heaven suffers as a subject precisely because it comes last, not only in theological works but in seminary and Bible college classrooms. I attended a fine Bible college and seminary, but I learned very little about heaven. I don’t recall a single classroom discussion about the new Earth. In my Hebrews-to-Revelation class, we never made it to Revelation 21–22, the Bible’s most definitive passage on the eternal heaven. In my eschatology class, I learned more about the strengths and weaknesses of belief in a Mid-Tribulation Rapture than about heaven and the new Earth combined.

Imagine you’re part of a NASA team preparing for a five-year mission to Mars. After a period of extensive training, the launch date finally arrives. As the rocket lifts off, one of your fellow astronauts asks you, “What do you know about Mars?”

Imagine shrugging your shoulders and saying, “Nothing. We never talked about it. I guess we’ll find out when we get there.” It’s inconceivable that your training would not have included extensive study of and preparation for your ultimate destination. Yet in seminaries, Bible schools and churches across the United States and around the world, there is very little teaching about our ultimate destination.

Many Christians who’ve gone to church all their adult lives (especially those under 50) can’t recall having heard a single sermon on heaven. It’s occasionally mentioned, but rarely emphasized, and almost never is it developed as a topic.

Pastors may not think it’s important to address the subject of heaven because their seminary didn’t have a required course on it—or even an elective. Similarly, when pastors don’t preach on heaven, their congregations assume that the Bible doesn’t say much about it.

In 1937, Scottish theologian John Baillie wrote, “I will not ask how often during the last 25 years you and I have listened to an old-style warning against the flames of hell. I will not even ask how many sermons have been preached in our hearing about a future day of reckoning when men shall reap according as they have sown. It will be enough to ask how many preachers, during these years, have dwelt on the joys of heavenly rest with anything like the old ardent love and impatient longing.”

If this was the case then, how much truer is it now? Heaven has fallen off our radar screens. How can we set our hearts on heaven when we have an impoverished theology of heaven? How can we expect our children to be excited about heaven—or to stay excited about it when they grow up? Why do we talk so little about heaven? And why is the little we have to say so vague and lifeless?

Where Do We Get Our Misconceptions?

I believe there’s one central explanation for why so many of God’s children have such a vague, negative and uninspired view of heaven: the work of Satan. Our enemy slanders three things: God’s person, God’s people and God’s place—namely, heaven.

After being forcibly evicted from heaven (Isaiah 14:12–15), the devil became bitter not only toward God, but toward mankind and toward heaven itself, the place that was no longer his. What better way for the devil and his demons to attack us than to whisper lies about the very place on which God tells us to set our hearts and minds?

Satan need not convince us that heaven doesn’t exist. He need only convince us that heaven is a place of boring, unearthly existence. If we believe that lie, we’ll be robbed of our joy and anticipation, we’ll set our minds on this life and not the next, and we won’t be motivated to share our faith. Why should we share the “good news” that people can spend eternity in a boring, ghostly place that even we’re not looking forward to?

In The Country of the Blind, H.G. Wells writes of a tribe in a remote valley deep in a towering mountain range. During a terrible epidemic, all the villagers lose their sight. Eventually, entire generations grow up having no awareness of sight or the world they’re unable to see. Because of their handicap, they do not know their true condition, nor can they understand what their world looks like. They cannot imagine what realms might lie beyond their valley.

Spiritually speaking, we live in the Country of the Blind. The disease of sin has blinded us to God and heaven, which are real, yet unseen. Fortunately, Jesus has come to our valley from heaven to tell us about his Father, the world beyond, and the world to come. If we listen to him—which will require a concerted effort not to listen to the lies of the devil—we will never be the same. Nor will we ever want to be.

Resisting Naturalism’s Spell

C.S. Lewis depicts another source of our misconceptions about heaven: naturalism, the belief that the world can be understood in scientific terms, without recourse to spiritual or supernatural explanations.

In The Silver Chair, Puddleglum, Jill and Eustace are captured in a sunless underground world by an evil witch who calls herself the queen of the underworld. The witch claims that her prisoners’ memories of the overworld, Narnia, are but figments of their imagination. She laughs condescendingly at their child’s game of “pretending” that there’s a world above and a great ruler of that world.

When they speak of the sun that’s visible in the world above, she asks them what a sun is. Groping for words, they compare it to a giant lamp. She replies, “When you try to think out clearly what this sun must be, you cannot tell me. You can only tell me it is like the lamp. Your sun is a dream; and there is nothing in that dream that was not copied from the lamp.”

She says to them, hypnotically, “There never was any world but mine,” and they repeat after her, abandoning reason, parroting her deceptions.

Finally, when it appears they’ve succumbed to the queen’s lies, the marsh-wiggle, Puddleglum, breaks the spell and says to the enraged queen, “Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that … the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones.”

The truth is exactly the opposite of naturalism’s premise—in fact, the dark world’s lamps are copies of the sun, and its cats are copies of Aslan. Heaven isn’t an extrapolation of earthly thinking; Earth is an extension of heaven, made by the Creator King.

When the queen’s lies are exposed, she metamorphoses into the serpent she really is, whereupon Rilian, the human king and Aslan’s appointed ruler of Narnia, slays her. The despondent slaves who’d lived in darkness are delivered. Light floods in, and their home below becomes a joyous place again. They laugh and celebrate, turning cartwheels and popping firecrackers.

Sometimes we’re like Lewis’ characters. We succumb to naturalistic assumptions. God can’t be real, we conclude, because we can’t see him. And heaven can’t be real because we can’t see it.

We must work to resist the bewitching spell of naturalism. Sitting here in a dark world, we must remind ourselves what Scripture tells us about heaven. We will one day be delivered from the blindness that separates us from the real world. We’ll realize then the stupefying bewitchment we’ve lived under. By God’s grace, may we stomp out the bewitching fires of naturalism so that we may clearly see the liberating truth about Christ the King and heaven, his Kingdom.

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This article originally appeared on epm.org and is reposted here by permission.