The main objective of the Christian scheme of life and death is to get to heaven after we die. Why? Because that’s where God is, and heaven without God would be like a sunny day without sunshine, an innate contradiction. Christians want to be with God because, they say, he is all-perfect, and eternity with him will be beyond the greatest happiness imaginable. But how many people stop to ask why this will be so.
Okay, so God is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Even greater. So what? What will this do for me? As they used to say years ago in my hometown of Italian, Slavic, and Nordic immigrants in northern Minnesota to measure the value of what one was doing, “Will it put a chicken on the table [to eat]?” How does God’s being so great and wonderful translate into our happiness being far greater than we could ever imagine if we are there with him? I don’t get it. So he’s incredible and magnificent and perfect and everything else, and I, along with millions of others, am by his side. Now what? Where do we go from there? I mean, what will we do in heaven besides worshiping the Lord?
All manner of pleasurable things have been envisioned by people through the years about heaven, the Disneyland of the Christian imagination. Originally, Billy Graham, who at one point said he knew the precise dimensions of heaven — “sixteen hundred square miles” (No. Seriously. Time, November 15, 1993, 74) — thought heaven was just going to be about fun. “We are going to sit around the fireplace and have parties, and the angels will wait on us, and we’ll drive down the golden streets in a yellow Cadillac convertible,” he said. (Billy didn’t say if our body or our soul would be in the driver’s seat.) But Billy, with age, particularly when he found a passage in the Book of Revelation that says we will serve God in heaven, realized that, although life in heaven would all be just glorious, it wasn’t going to be all play. He told Good Morning America in April of 1997 that “when we get to heaven, I don’t think we’re going to just sit down. I think God will have other work for us to do. There are billions and billions and trillions of other planets and other stars, and I believe there’s life on many of those and God may have a job for us to do on some of those places.”
But Billy, none of what you say sounds like a place I want to go to. I never sit around fireplaces, and even if I did, what’s so special about sitting around a fireplace in heaven as opposed to one on earth? Also, I’m not a partygoer. And I don’t want anyone waiting on me. It makes me uncomfortable. And I have no desire at all to drive a yellow Cadillac convertible down golden streets. And why would I want to work on distant planets for the rest of time? I’m not being silly, Billy. You and Christianity are.
Even if what happens in the Christian heaven is the greatest thing ever, such as being in God’s presence — like the transfiguration of Jesus at the top of the mountain where his clothing became dazzling white, far whiter than any earthly process could ever make it (Mark 9:2-3 ) — after a few twenty-four-hour days of this, won’t it get awfully tiresome? Or at least humdrum? If not, what about 365 days a year? Or 1,000 years?
Billy, after we get to heaven, what’s going to happen that’s going to be so great that it will make me, and others, so indescribably happy? Given that billions of people throughout recorded history have believed in heaven and everyone wants to end up there, am I being unreasonable to ask?
The above is an excerpt from the book Divinity of Doubt: The God Question by Vincent Bugliosi, by kind permission of the publisher, Vanguard Press. Copyright © 2011 Vincent Bugliosi.
Vincent Bugliosi, author of Divinity of Doubt: The God Question, received his law degree in 1964. In his career at the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, he successfully prosecuted 105 out of 106 felony jury trials, including 21 murder convictions without a single loss. His most famous trial, the Charles Manson case, became the basis of his true-crime classic, Helter Skelter , the biggest selling true-crime book in publishing history. Two of Bugliosi’s other true-crime books—And the Sea Will Tell andOutrage—also reached #1 on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list. No other American true-crime writer has ever had more than one book that achieved this ranking. His latest book, Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, was also a New York Times bestseller, and is being made into a ten-part HBO miniseries, for which Tom Hanks will be a producer. Bugliosi lives with his wife of many years in Los Angeles. For more information follow the author on Facebook.