Almost HeavenWe had been hiking on the Hawaiian island of Kuai for about an hour when we came to a sharp bend in the trail. As we got to the point, the edge dropped away, leaving us with the incredible view of the ocean and the jungle we were hiking through. We stood there looking at the beauty of the world around us for quite a while. I said to my wife, "This is heaven!--no snakes or bugs, beautiful weather, gorgeous flowers, a warm life-filled ocean. What a place!"
About that instant, I sneezed from the pollen which had bothered me since we arrived in Hawaii. I wiped my watering eyes and watched my wife prepare her insulin shot--one of her three-shots-a-day routine to battle type 1 diabetes (over 53 years). I then looked at my son Tim who had handled the long hike well considering his cerebral palsy/muscular dystrophy. He was fiddling with a strap on his leg brace which I could see had worn a hole in his leg. As I bandaged the leg, I looked at my wife and said, "Well, maybe not heaven--just a neat place."
The real world has a tendency to keep us in touch with the limitations of our physical existence. No matter how much wealth we have, no matter what we own, no matter how much praise our peers, associates, and family may heap upon us, and no matter what our religious beliefs are, we can never find security and lasting pleasure in the physical world. The skeptic might view this as a failure on God's part. I have heard people deny the existence of God on the basis that, if this world is the best God can do, God must be very limited and thus non-existent.
The problem with such an analysis is the criteria being used to evaluate whether what happens is valid. If success in the physical world is all there is--especially when humans are the main causal agent, then a denial of God might be tenable. The biblical perspective and the belief of those who claim to be Christians is that the real criteria are spiritual in nature and cannot be evaluated in a physical way. Spiritual criteria in the Christian system are presented biblically as measures of how we serve others, how we use our money to help others, what our moral values are, etc. In Galatians, we read about the "fruits of the spirit."
|But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance... --Galatiains 5:22-23|
When the Bible identified the characteristics of a spiritual leader in Timothy and Titus, these are the characteristics: blameless, vigilant, sober, given to hospitality, patient, desires good work, not given to wine, not covetous, not unruly, good steward, not soon to angry, just, holy, temperant, etc.
Notice that the measure of these qualities is very different than physical measures. Our health and our physical strength have nothing to do with these characteristics. Whatever success we have in these qualities brings good things to people around us. Real peace and satisfaction is found in these things.
Misunderstanding these spiritual goals has a domino effect on other understandings for both skeptics and believers. The way God answers prayers and the kind of prayers He guarantees a positive answer to is an example. When James discusses unanswered prayers, he says, "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" ( James 4:3 ).
Spiritual miracles happen all the time, but those prayers for physical things are frequently asking for things that are spiritually destructive. There is no heaven on earth. The search for it will bring frustration, anger, isolation, loneliness, and destruction. Searching for spiritual paradise by serving, loving, giving, encouraging, and praying will always work because God guarantees it.
Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek and you shall find: knock, and it shall be open unto you. ( Matthew 7:7 ).
Lay up not for yourselves treasure upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,. ( Matthew 6:19-20 ).
--John N. Clayton
Back to Contents Does God Exist?, MayJun02.