A recent bestseller entitled Heaven Is for Real has rekindled some more discussion on the subject of heaven, particularly the Christian view of it. The subject even made the cover of Time magazine (April 16) and was featured in a five-page article by Jon Meacham. Disclosing that he himself is a Christian, Meacham proceeds to set forth two views of heaven, the one view reflecting that which Christianity has always held and the other view expressing something quite different: “Heaven isn’t just a place you go—heaven is how you live your life.” It is not long before one sees where Meacham’s article is headed—to just another version of the social gospel and a “heaven on earth” interpretation of heaven.
In contradistinction to the biblical teaching of a bodily resurrection from this earth to a celestial place called heaven, Meacham with much enthusiasm entertains the so-called “scholarly” redefinition of heaven as “a manifestation of God’s love on earth.” In his words, this means “the reality one created in the service of the poor, the sick, the enslaved, the oppressed. It is not paradise in the sky but acts of selflessness and love that bring God’s sacred space and grace to a broken world suffused with tragedy.” It all sounds so lovely, mankind living in harmony with one another and caring for one another, a world of selfless love. Who would not want such a world? But that still would not be heaven. Even the best that man can show toward his fellow man is tainted with sin. Heaven is a perfect place and only holiness dwells there.
The “heaven on earth” people, such as appear in the Time article, envision heaven only as a condition and that this condition can be achieved by man. This is in opposition to Scripture’s description of heaven as the place where God dwells. The Psalmist tells us He “sitteth in the heavens,” (Psalm 2:4) and it is God’s “throne” (Isaiah 66:1). Furthermore, this place called heaven is not attained by man’s behavior, as the “heaven on earth” people would have it. Heaven is attained only by the behavior of the One who kept the Law of God perfectly for us and laid down His life on the cross for us. The one good quote in the article by Meacham is what a Paotist minister told him: “Our entrance into heaven has nothing to do with how good we are; what matters is how good Jesus is and what he did for us.” The Bible has much to say about heaven as a definite place, and any speculation on the subject outside of Scripture will result in a “heavenly daze.”
The Devaluation of Life
It was just a matter of time before the unthinkable would become the probable. Knowing the depravity of the human heart as described in Holy Scripture, it perhaps should not surprise us that excuses for abortion would eventually lead to excuses for infanticide. If society can justify the ending of the life of a person before it is born, why can one not then justify the ending of life of an infant after it is born?
It is this line of argumentation that is followed in an article which appeared in the March 2012 issue of the “Journal of Medical Ethics.” It is co-authored by two Italian professors teaching in Australia, Drs. Albert Giubilini and Frances Minerva. Their study, of course, ignores the Christian view of life, that a fetus and an infant are not just fleshly beings, but are also living souls. Their philosophizing leads them to view fetuses and unwanted newborns as non-persons and, they conclude, “since non-persons have no moral right to life, there are no reasons for banning their after-birth abortions.” (They prefer to use the term “after birth abortion” instead of saying what it really is: the killing of a newborn.)
The ethicists set out in their study to answer the question, “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” and end up concluding, “The same reasons which justify abortion should also justify the killing of the potential person when it is at the stage of newborn.” It is a chillingly dreadful reality that man in his perverted reasoning can justify infanticide. The civilization that devalues life, including infant life, writes its own death warrant. “Take heed,” says the Lord, “that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10).
Jews and the New Testament
The New Testament is not something you expect to find in a Jewish home. Amy-Jill Levine, writing in Biblical Archeological Review, says this is unfortunate and asserts that the New Testament is “Jewish literature.” In her article “What Jews should know about the New Testament,” Prof. Levine encourages Jewish people to read it, saying that they will find much there to appreciate. She understands that “some will conclude the text is a message of hatred for Jews and Judaism. Others will find blasphemous the announcement of Jesus’ divinity. Still others will find illegitimate the assertions that Jesus fulfills Jewish prophecy.”
Nevertheless, Levine advises them to take a second look and consider the historical context, arguing that “when this harsh language in the New Testament was written, such language was conventional rhetoric.” Using the methods of higher criticism in interpreting Scripture, Levine manages to put a slightly different face on the New Testament so that it might become more palatable to Jewish readers.
Levine’s article gives the wrong reasons for why Jews should read the New Testament, but she may have inadvertently done some good. The Jews who follow her suggestion may do so only because they are told it is “Jewish literature,” but their reading of it has potential for greater things than that. It could lead them to the truth that Christ is the only way of their salvation, for these same words are not the words of men, but are indeed the words of God. They are the vehicle of the Holy Spirit, who alone can create faith and sustain that faith. This also is why not only Jews, but also Christians, should want to read—and read again—the New Testament. It has the promise of great things and can make people “wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).
Paul Madson is a retired pastor living in North Mankato, Minnesota.