Sigmund Freud in The Future of an Illusion argued that all religion is based on an illusion, and, that the nearly universal hope for some kind of life after death can easily be explained as wishful thinking and nothing more. His argument was that people have always been afraid to die, and so as man evolved around the world, every culture invented gods, religions, and beliefs about eternal life as a way of dealing with this fear. But now, says Freud, modern rational man can no longer hold to such illusions and will soon abandon them.
C. S. Lewis had a much different approach to this. Lewis was a brilliant professor at Oxford and Cambridge, and his towering intellect was respected by friend and foe alike. He frequently debated other faculty members in both of those world renowned universities, and colleagues recall him losing only one debate. C. S. Lewis was educated to think in a purely rational and logical way, and that led him at an early age to abandon his faith in God. He remained an atheist until into his 30’s when with his strictly logical, but open mind, he took another look at Christianity. After a long process of thought and study, he became a believer in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
Lewis then spent a great deal of time explaining Christianity and responding to the many intellectual challenges to the faith. He had a response to Freud’s dismissal of the religion as mere wish fulfillment. Lewis asked a simple question: If all people everywhere wish for something, should that be viewed as proof that what is wished for is not there, or, is it perhaps proof that it is there? In Mere Christianity Lewis wrote:
The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.
This is just a small part of a much larger argument and it does not prove the truth of Christianity, but it certainly provides a powerful reply to Freud’s simplistic dismissal of the faith as mere wishful thinking. Wishful thinking? Of course! We wish for all kinds of things that we were created to need, and God has provided for those needs.
In previous meditations I have described our longing for a better place, and, a place where we are not always running out of time. I have referred to Ecclesiastes 3:11 which says that God has placed ‘eternity in our hearts.’ I described the Christian belief that this longing for a better place goes all the way back to creation itself, where the story says Adam and Eve were created to live in the perfect garden of Eden where they were free to eat from the tree of life and never die. That is the perfection and eternity we were created for, and that is what is behind our longing for a better place with more time.
Today’s song describes this very thing. It is not from the 60’s or 70’s, and is not nearly as well known as most of the others. It’s called Heaven Must Be There and is from a 1984 album by the Eurogliders, an Australian group. The song rose to #2 in Australia and to #21 in America. We have longings and desires that this world can never fulfill, so ‘heaven must be there,’ said C. S. Lewis and the Eurogliders. The song gives a nice description of our heart’s deepest longings, and even has a reference to the Garden of Eden. However, a Christian would not say “I don’t wanna live in this place.” Rather, we can be grateful for God’s promise of the life to come, while still being grateful to God for the many blessings of this life and world.
HEAVEN MUST BE THERE by the ‘Eurogliders’
Oooooh! Ooh I want to find a better place
Oooooh! Ooh I’m searching for a better place
Oooooh! Ooh I’m tired of living in the sand
Oooooh! Ooh I’m searching for a better land
Heaven, must be there
Well, it’s just got to be there
I’ve never, never seen Eden
I don’t wanna live in this place
Oooooh! Ooh I’m always trying to escape
Oooooh! Ooh I never know which road to take
Oooooh! Ooh I want to find a better place… I’m searching for a better place…
Genesis 2:8 — Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.
Genesis 3:23-24 — So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 — He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
Our heavenly Father, we pray that you would save us from every evil to body and soul, and that at our last hour you would mercifully take us from the troubles of this world to yourself in heaven; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.
–Paraphrased from Martin Luther’s Small Catechism explanation to the Seventh Petition of the Lord’s Prayer