(continued…) My reply continues: “And if the source of that hope of eternal life is not the Bible, then where else would you look to find out about heaven? What other sources do you have? Is there any evidence of any other dead person coming back to life? I have not heard of any or seen anything of the sort. I have always seen the exact opposite, which is that what is dead is dead, and stays dead by all visible, scientific evidence. I am a big fan of the scientific method, and that seems to be the conclusion one would draw on the question on the basis of science alone. But I am also very interested in what history can teach us, and it is the historical record that leads me to believe in the truth of the New Testament that one person did rise from the dead. Have you looked at the historical evidence for the reliability of the New Testament as an historical document?”
After another silent shrug, I would continue: “Let’s look first at the other religions you referred to when you pointed out that every culture has its beliefs in an afterlife. How about Judaism? Actually, there are only the vaguest hints of heaven in the Old Testament and only a couple of risings from the dead, and those could be easily dismissed historically by anyone who does not already accept the truth of the Bible. I do believe those stories happened, but only because I believe in the whole Bible for other reasons. One cannot make an historical case for the truth of Elijah raising the widow’s son in Zarephath from the dead (I Kings 17), but one can make a powerful historical argument for the resurrection of Jesus on the basis of the New Testament. How about Buddhism? There is a wide variety of beliefs among the Buddhist themselves, on even something as basic as whether or not there is a god. But in none of the interpretations of the teaching of Buddha is there anything even remotely similar to the concept of heaven like we have come to take for granted in our culture. Hinduism teaches reincarnation (a most unpleasant prospect), not heaven. And the Islamic concept of heaven, like much of Islam, was an elaboration (and perversion, I would argue) of the Old and New Testament. Mohammed claimed to be God’s greatest prophet, but the Koran regularly quotes and readily acknowledges its roots in the Bible.
“One more thing: no one makes the case that Buddha or Mohammed claimed to be God, defeated death, and are still alive. That is unique to Jesus. We must examine that claim in the light of the historical record, but it is a fact that no other religious leader ever even made the claim.
“If you want to talk about heaven, you have to base it on something. If you trace back all of our Western understandings of it, you are going to get back to the New Testament and to Jesus. Others may speak of it, as in the Native American ‘happy hunting grounds.’ And there have been a variety of ways to prepare for the afterlife, such as the pyramids in Egypt. But only the Bible points to a man actually raised from the dead, at a specific place and time in history, along with presenting a credible case for such an incredible belief.
“If then, the Bible is where we find out about heaven, the thought of which is indeed appealing to most people, then we must read what the Bible says about how to get there. It is a belief that certainly needs to be examined. How many of our ‘culturally shaped views’ of heaven are actually based on anything?
“The popular view, often believed even apart from any religious belief or basis, is that everyone goes to heaven, and you are mean if you think otherwise. It is also considered narrow-minded to insist on faith in Jesus. Of course, not everyone who believes in heaven believes in Jesus, but on what else such an unreasonable hope based? Shouldn’t it be more obvious and logical to any critical 21st century thinker to believe that when you die your body rots in the ground, or is turned into a box of ashes at a crematorium? On what basis can anyone assume there is any more to it?
“Have you ever seen a decaying, stinking animal on the highway or in the forest? That is the fate of your own body, which is all that you, by yourself, have to work with on this. Modern intellectuals are quick to doubt the Bible, but doesn’t that same enlightened modern intellect lead one to doubt any thought at all of an afterlife? If Jesus is not a part of the discussion, the only logical thing to do is to also leave heaven out of the discussion. Without Jesus there is no resurrection, and so we must listen to what Jesus says about it. And Jesus says He is the way in to heaven.”
It is an odd form of faith that doubts and even disdains any religious authority, but takes heaven for granted, saying confidently upon the death of anyone, “He/she is off to a better place.” How do they know that? It is easy assume you have the high moral ground by declaring the doors of heaven to everyone, regardless of what they do or believe. But how is any mere human able to open that door (if there even is a door), no matter how open-minded and nice they are? Don’t we have to base these important beliefs on something?
I am quite puzzled by those who are offended by the claims and demands of Christ, who died for them so that they might have eternal life, but they will not even five minutes looking into it to see if it is worth believing in; preferring instead to say only that Christians are too exclusive and leaving it at that. But Christians simply want to take seriously the words of the only human who ever rose from the dead, never to die again. No one else has done that, so I will put my trust in the one who has. I must also follow his instructions to tell others about Jesus, even if they find it offensive for me to do so. (continued…)