Is Heaven a Necessary World?

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Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1-3 NIV)

In his book entitled ‘Heaven’ Randy Alcorn refers to the ‘preoccupation with heaven’ of early Christians: “In the third century, the church father Cyprian said, ‘Let us greet the day which assigns each of us to his own home, which snatches us from this place and sets us free from the snares of the world, and restores us to paradise and the kingdom. Anyone who has been in foreign lands longs to return his own native land…We regard paradise as our native land.’” Heaven, it seems to me, by its very title is a rather different place than this present world yet, in this post Darwinian world in which we ‘live and move and have our (present) being’ seems, mostly, unwilling to consider a world in which all that those early Christians hoped for was at all possible. It seems to me that there is far too much focus on acquiescing to the materialist agenda—so much so that any argument, biblical or otherwise, that suggests that any idea of ‘heaven’ has, indeed, to be brought down to the level of ‘The Material’ i.e. the material that science is, presently, familiar with, as the only option open to God.

Having discussed various insights into the redemptive possibilities offered by some scientists and theologians, engaging in what may be described as eschatological conjecture, Christopher Southgate underlines his view that, since this world is the world the God of ‘all creativity and all compassion’ chose for the creation of carbon-based-life-forms, we must presume therefore that there was no other option—that, though heaven can eternally preserve all of the creatures (over time—that have ever existed) in an environment that is suffering-free—it could not give rise to them in the first place. In other words: without such a (protracted) process of evolution these creatures (every single one of them) could not have existed. The likelyhood of this being the case, raises the obvious question regarding God’s diffidence/reluctance in producing a better environment.

 


 

If an omnipotent God could have, initially, created heaven,why did God not do so?

As Michael Lloyd et al (Lloyd, 2018) have made clear; it is not sufficient to avoid the question—or to offer a solely eschatological defence—as such defences, in their desire for scientific/ philosophical acceptance, tend to be ‘anti-Christian’. In other words—the defence/theodicy that does not have Scripture as its prime source (its raison d’être) is, de facto, deficient. Here, Southgate offers a clear but ‘challenging’ explanation. He suggests that though heaven can eternally preserve the ‘selves’ (in ‘a new, heaven and new earth’, environment) ‘Heaven’ cannot give rise to the carbon-based-life-forms that evolution has produced. Ergo, the 4 billion years or so of evolutionary development has been a necessary state of affairs. The implications with this reasoning (from a theistic perspective) are challenging to say the least. And, even if we were to allow for the commonly held belief that evolution was its own ‘master’—that it is the ‘unguided hand’ of a naturally selective process that gives rise to all that is biological (even cosmological)—it makes no sense to talk about goals—even goals that God may have hope to, somehow, accomplish—unless the state of ‘being in #heaven’ is an altogether different state of affairs; though this, I hasten to add, could not, a facie eius, explain how the creator could have anticipated an ‘outcome’—though it could be imagined  that, as God is outside of the space-time continuum, God would know ‘the end from the beginning’ and ‘possibly’ be satisfied with the  outcome:

…declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’… (Isaiah 46:10)

The above quote from Isaiah is not, of course, a support text for naturalistic evolution—it is, rather, a confirmation of the sovereignty of God. The argument I am putting forward in this essay is that for God’s [sovereign] outcomes—as revealed in Scripture—to realise, there has to be a ‘blue-print’ for the emergence/creation of mankind (imago Dei) as the ‘vessel made of clay’—fit for the Spirit of God (Swinburne, 1997). This, I suggest, rules out the possibility that God should ‘play dice with the universe’—on the contrary—that God intentionally brought about the creation of our species—a species that was ‘fit for the purposes of God’.

In his book entitled: ‘Improbable Destinies: How Predictable is Evolution?’, biology professor Jonathan Losos argues that evolution is not random but that it “…restricts the way that species can evolve, often constraining them to adapt in the same way when facing similar environmental circumstances.”. (2017) Losos though is not suggesting that there is any ‘design’ in evolution but he does suggest that “If any countless number of events had occurred differently in the past Homo sapiens would not have evolved. We were far from inevitable and are lucky to be here—fortunate that events happened as they did.” So, is this a question of the ‘unseen hand’ of a purely natural process or the unseen hand of the invisible God? Of course not all Biology Professors agree—depending on their differing ‘World Views’. In his 2017 book: “Purpose & Desire: “What makes something alive and why Modern Darwinism has failed to explain it?” J. Scott Turner (also a Biology Professor in the USA) asks what it is that actually drives evolution forward:

Is it the tokens of memory that force life into an uncertain pushing there to stand or die? Or is it a forward looking intentionality that strides confidently into the future, dragging the memory tokens along in its wake, intending to stand rather than simply to die? (Turner, 2017)

Turner answers his own questions with an affirmative that, as far as he is concerned, moves the debate along from purposelessness to what he refers to as ‘purpose and desire’:

No longer are we stuck in the bleak landscape of the Four Horsemen of the ‘Evo-calypse’, where there is no purpose, no desire, no intention—only the indifferent churning of a machine. From where we stand now, we can at least begin to see a landscape where those essential attributes of life purposefulness, striving, desire, intentionality, intelligence —can once again reenchant our understanding of life and of everything about it, including its evolution. (Turner)

For the sake of the argument here, the necessary constituents for God’s planned intentions can be listed under the following brief headings:

  1. The ‘Telos’ of [God] through a ‘directional’ evolutionary process.
  2. The existence of the Second Law of Thermodynamics—allowing for the effects of entropy—for its necessary consequences: Life and Death.
  3. The notion of Free-Will, as (particularly) expressed in the lives and experience of the species that Scripture describes as being made in the image of God (imago Dei).
  4. The physical appearance (incarnation), life, suffering, death and resurrection of the second person of the Trinity: Jesus Christ.
  5. The existence of a place that we may call Heaven but that isn’t governed by the current physical laws.

Regarding the 4 billion-year-biological-evolutionary-state-of-affairs, Adrian Hough (2010) offers some interesting and useful insights—perceptions that are germane to the argument here. Hough states that, in more scientific terms, we are able to say that the increase in entropy or disorder (which is, at least ‘presently’ a fundamental characteristic of the universe) is the cause of suffering and of death. Hough adds to this by asking whether the cross of Christ can also be seen as ‘God accepting the consequences of the Second Law?’

Though God, I believe, would not shrink from taking whatever responsibility ‘is God’s’, I do not accept the argument that offers the cross of Christ as some kind of ‘self-punishment’ for God’s own failure to produce a better outcome—in particular for the, presumed, billions of years of suffering ‘meted out’ by Natural Selection; though I do take seriously the notion that this ‘silent’ universe somehow echoes the cry of the ‘Crucified [Son] of God’. It is in this sense that the universe is cruciform, for how could the sacrifice of God the Son not reverberate throughout space-time. The apostle Paul eloquently states:

For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:36)

God, I maintain, is not guilty of producing a world that could have been otherwise created; this world is the only possible world that is fit for the purposes of God—despite any attempt by ‘deviance’ to bring about another outcome. It is also the world that God intended to create, and it is in this world, and no other, that the Problem of Evil has been dealt its death blow. This world is the best possible world—in which the consequences that Hough refers to can also obtain. Yet it is also the world in which ‘The Son of God’ can take on himself the sins of the world—of the flesh and of the devil aka ‘the satan’. It is in this world that God allows the results of free-will to have, seemingly, free-reign; yet it is, most likely not, a world out of which can arise a different state of affairs—a world wherein the Second Law must have a somewhat different functionality i.e. Surely ‘this world’—this ‘new heaven and earth’ has to be somewhat different:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,… (Revelation 21:1)

Hough says that what is clear from the present consideration is that:

… the Second Law of Thermodynamics leads us to a grander vision of God if our vision of God begins with the assumption that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and that God wills the renewal of His creation…If we consider the way in which the universe works, then it is clear that God has in some sense to be beyond the universe.

Key to the argument in this essay is that this World Order (since its genesis) can be described in terms of its being the only possible world in which all that God has ordained may take place. It is this present world—with both its values and disvalues—a world that allows for the worst of possible suffering and deprivation—a world in which the malignant effects of the fallen natures of both angels and men seem to prevail. It is this world as—with no other that allows for ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’—a world in which the created order may demonstrate (unexplained) altruism, acts of compassion, love and self-sacrifice. Moreover, it is this world that is subject to the effects of particular laws that, humans at least, have no means of controlling or of changing.This is not to say that mankind can effect no change whatsoever, but that it would not be possible for mankind, per se, to create a heaven on earth or to change the prevailing cosmological state of affairs—though it is reasonable to expect creatures that were ‘there’ at the beginning of creation—that were even agents of the creator to effect considerable change to the biosphere, i.e. agents that ‘were cast out of heaven’ into a place in which they were unable to escape their destiny—yet ‘challenge’ the divine will and thereafter to bring about the most heinous of circumstances.It is, though, the Triune God that promises a better state of affairs—an eschatological fulfilment of God’s ultimate purposes for his creation—a creation that bears the scars of the ‘Crucified God’ (Moltmann, 1993)

Theologian Sam Storms writes that:

…the unfolding fulfilment of God’s promises may be seen in terms of what Geerhardus Vos called a ‘binary configuration’. That is to say, human history reflects a tension between what was accomplished at the first advent of Christ and what awaits consummation at the second. (Storms, 2013)

Christopher Southgate refers to the insights of the physicist and theologian R.J.Russell who sees the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the beginning of a final act that will transform the character of creation’—adding that “The long sweep of evolution may not only suggest an unfinished and continuing divine creation but even more radically a creation whose theological status as ‘good’ may be fully realised only in the eschatological future.” (2008) I agree with Russell, that it is ‘the resurrection’ that gives a clue to ‘The Victory of God’—rather any other speculative notions of a ‘redeemed earth,’  Indeed, ‘The Resurrection of The Son of God’ was that which heralded a ‘New Order’—an order in which the entropic principle no longer dictates outcomes. Of course, it may be the case that God renews the present cosmos rather than destroy the existing and replace it with a ‘new and improved model’. However, if God has needed billions of years to produce a better model, it may be the case that God is not omnipotent at all but that, with GOD it is more to do with limited resources and ability than with omniscience and sovereignty.

While having sympathy with the opinions of Southgate and Russell—vis a vis their view that creation’s good status may be ‘identified’ as being good only at the eschaton, I do not think it at all necessary to deny ‘the creation’ its ‘good’ status at any time in its history; for the creation has been good from its genesis and it shall remain good throughout eternity—whatever the intrusion. Moreover, it is, I suggest, a mistake to base one’s reading of all that ‘Scripture’ promises solely on an evolutionary/material/reclaimed model of what ‘New Heavens and a New Earth’ might look like—an idea aided and abetted by a functional interpretation of what it means to be ‘made in the image of God’ (imago Dei). That is not to say that there is any desire to detract from what may be described as the ‘governance of humanity’ but, rather, that governance is not mankind’s only purpose.

I have throughout this book, argued that the creation is good—good in terms of it being good and not evil. I have maintained that the creation is as it is because, mostly, its evolutionary process has been a necessary state of affairs rather than the product of an amorphous deity or of [mere] elemental forces. I have said that creation’s evolution coalesces with the purposes (telos) of a God who is personal—a determinate entity rather than a force that defies description—sitting more comfortably with current trends in philosophical theology. I have further argued that God, that is, The God of Scripture, is both sovereign and benevolent. Moreover, I have said that rather than being the absolute product of a deficient deity or a defiant adversary (though it is most likely the case that there has been significant ‘tinkering’) the creation is as it is because it has been a necessary state of affairs and that (though considered less than satisfactory by created beings) it is indeed an essential state of affairs. Indeed it shall be the case (at the eschaton) that the Sovereign God of the universe will bring deliverance for those longing, as the apostle Paul intimates in his letter to the Christians in Rome, “…for the revealing of the sons of God.” (Romans 8:19)

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:2)

 

Derek White

2700 words

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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