The answer to the question where is heaven and hell, is by no means obvious.
Billions of words have been written about Jesus. No person has ever provoked more discussion about himself than Jesus.
I was taught early on in life that Noah's Ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. What no one told me, was that Noah's ark also landed in the British Museum.
The new atheists simply assert that once we emerged from the proverbial medieval dark ages, we were now firmly placed on a path to enlightenment.
That is provided we stay the course. Is learning the lessons of history a guarantee for success, or is history simply telling us who we were at a certain point in time? Certainly, the Enlightenment brought us progress on many levels. Pestilence, famine, and natural catastrophe are no longer just seen as the work of an angry deity. These are now well understood enemies. Understanding is the first step towards defeating humanity's common enemies.
Science took us to the moon and the bottom of the ocean. Hopefully soon we will be sailing to worlds far beyond that. This urge to explore the cosmos is as much a part of what we are, as it should be to find the author of it all. The psalmist says: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is humankind that you are mindful of them?” Science, as an offshoot of the Enlightenment, is a noble pursuit. It gave us far more light than darkness. I have absolutely no quarrel with science.
Unfortunately the Enlightenment also had a darker side which is often overlooked. It led to the belief that certain truths are established beyond any reasonable doubt. That is an article of faith, built on the belief in the human ability to always find the right answer by way of reason. This led to a utopian idealism, that given enough time and effort, we ourselves can successfully shape the future.
If this was true, we certainly would no longer need what was revealed by prophets and recorded in ancient manuscripts. In reality what did we get from these prophets of the Enlightenment and the hubris they helped to create? We got Stalinism, Nazism, Maoism, and arrogant Nationalism, leading us into an endless series of wars and unimaginable cruelty. In another form, it instilled a naive faith that democratic institutions will never fail us, because the majority must always be right, by way of their own reason. Any honest student of human history will not call this progress.
Daniel in Babylon and John on the island of Patmos, saw visions of beasts rising from the sea, trampling the earth underfoot. The beasts, we are told, will be an almost endless succession of worldly kingdoms. The Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans have left their marks on world history. Into our own times, we saw this march of power and empire. Inspired by the Enlightenment's trust in human reason, Rousseau, Marx, and many others prophesied a new and a better world. They imagined a world made in our own likeness.
Can these prophets of the Enlightenment be trusted, or are we dealing here with the one who has horns like a lamb but speaks like a dragon? What did John really see on the island of Patmos? The manifestations of our ideology and pride appear benign. They have horns like a lamb. They promise us security and progress. Listen again carefully, and you will hear the voice of the one who wants to be God. Do not blindly buy into the Enlightenment myth of human progress. That is the path to ruin and calamity.
We can eat from all the trees in the garden. The whole world is given to us. Hopefully soon, we will even be on our way to the stars. Nevertheless, of the tree in the middle of the garden, you may not eat. Wanting to be like God, and having the knowledge of Good and Evil, that remains forbidden. There is an angel with a flickering flaming sword, guarding the gate to paradise. History will not disclose the Übermensch as Nietzsche claimed. Instead, the relentless, ruthless march of human history continues to be dominated by our dark side and our progress from the slingshot to the atom bomb. What Enlightenment!
I don’t know where I’m coming from. I don’t know where I’m going too.
That more or less sums up how millions of people feel at this very moment. How is it then possible that there is at least still the appearance that people are happy? Not knowing where you are coming from? Not knowing where you are going too? That is a disturbing thought. So why be joyous? Why laugh? No wonder that some of the philosophers of the last century concluded that the human condition is best summed up as a feeling of despair.
Albert Camus was a French Algerian who wrote about that spirit of despair. His writings are vivid existential descriptions of life in a tortured land. Everything is pervaded by a sense that human existence is meaningless. The characters in his books all make this discovery. Confronted with life’s borderline situations they discover death is waiting for all of us. Will that not cancel out whatever meaning our lives momentarily had? Looking into this void Camus struggled with the question whether life is at all worth the effort? He saw a rising ‘angst’ about the finiteness of existence at the very core of our being. Albert Camus won the Nobel Prize for literature but did he ever find a way out of his despair?
Camus was barely forty years old when he died in a motor car accident. He somewhat surprisingly wrote a prayer that was found forty years later amongst his letters:
"God we are lonely...
When will the day come of my last journey?
The day the ship departs, the ship that is not coming back,
You will see me onboard that ship:
A human being has but little luggage, nearly naked...
The Lord is my shelter and my strength
He will save you from the fowler’s snare and the deadly pestilence
You need not fear the terror of the night
Nor the arrow that flies by day
Nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness
Nor the plague that destroys at midday
Lord feel sorry for me
Turn to me
Hear me Lord
Lord feel sorry for those who love!
Am I calling on you Lord?
I am not sure
But help me, help me, I have need for help for me.
Show mercy, and agree to help me."
Camus in my opinion fairly accurately described the human condition in his literary works. In this letter found later he was hinting at the answer. Paul writes that in Christ the mystery has now been revealed to us. In Christ Jesus we encounter God’s mercy and love. Before that ship departs let us be clear about this. I know where I am coming from. I know where I am going too. Is it not strange that I am so sad?
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