Heaven Austin Farrer

Oh, do stop talking about me marrying you!’ says the hard hearted girl. ‘It’s so mercenary of you. Can’t you like me a bit as I am? Is there nothing in it for you except getting me?’ ‘Don’t be so maddening,’ says the young man. ‘It’s absolute heaven being with you; but it can’t be the same thing going around with you an evening now and then. You can call it mercenary if you like, but it takes all the heaven out of it if it isn’t going to lead to anything solid in the end. That’s how men mostly feel, so what’s the use of pretending?’

Perhaps this particular method of keeping young men on pins is no longer much in fashion, but even last year’s girl will do for this year’s parable. A parable of what? Surely the answer is obvious. ‘Oh, do stop talking about heaven!’ says the spiritual-minded girl. ‘It’s so mercenary. Don’t you have to say it’s a privilege to serve God in this life? Is there nothing in it for you unless you are to be paid for it? and how paid? By having your precious self preserved when the world has no more use for your precious services. If you like, I’ll say it’s an even bet whether there’s a life after this, or not. But what can you do about it? Not a thing, except live decently now; and you’d want to do that in any case. Why bother about the hereafter? Why not just leave it to God? …’

We will begin by listing a few principles which emerge in the course of the (ensuing) wrangle.

To hope for heaven has nothing particularly selfish about it. No one ever thought he could keep heaven to himself.
Heaven is not a cash payment for walking with God; it’s where the road goes.
Heaven isn’t an optional extra; our belief is nonsense without it.
Our reason for believing it isn’t that nature points to it, but that it leads us to itself.
I should like to develop the last point a bit. Heaven is nothing that created nature produces; it is a new creation. Thus we have no interest in trying to isolate a piece of us called soul, which tends to outlive the body’s collapse. Our immortality is the new gift of God, not the survival of our old nature, whether in whole or in part. God alone can give us a future. It is better, then, to talk about the resurrection of man than about the immortality of soul. Belief in resurrection is belief not in ourselves, but in God who raises us. It is in fact the acid test, whether we believe in God or not. A God who raises the dead is a real power; he is not just a fanciful name for the order of nature, whether physical or moral. A God so identified with the natural order that he adds nothing to it is difficult to distinguish from the world he rules, or from the laws which govern it.

From ‘Saving Belief’ edited by Arthur Middleton ND