Discussion of God, Heaven, Faith, Creationism, and Christianity with a Christian Missionary
In May 2019, I, simply out of curiosity, decided to check out the forum on one of my favorite websites, chess.com. There I was surprised to find a thread entitled, "What is your Purpose in Life?", even though it was in the "off-topic" section of the forum. The author, a Christian missionary named Micah, of the thread was inviting discussion not on the general purpose of human life, but on the purpose that each of the individual readers had devoted their lives to. Most gave joking non-replies, some said "to spread the gospel", and some questioned the premise of the question saying that some scientific fact or other negated the possibility of any purpose at all to life. I was impressed by the author's willingness to engage in polite discourse with all of these respondents, and even those who were wildly off-topic. And so I messaged the author simply to congratulate him, not expecting any response. Nevertheless, on the same day he responded and, as an invitation of e-friendship, told me a little bit about himself. This lead to the following philosophical discussion of the titular topics. In this post, I will insert the beginnings of our discussion and then Micah will follow up with his reply to my latest rebuttals. Note, this is not a rigorous debate, but simply an honest, friendly, and sincere discussion of our beliefs. Also note, I have removed those parts of our discourse irrelevant to the titular topics.
Thank you. I hope I am not breaking the rules to badly. But honestly, the idea that religion (what we believe about God) can be separated from the "real world" is a modern and incorrect view.
I am from the US, have four siblings, and have been home schooled all my life. And, although I now live in Tunis, a city with 2 million people, I still love the country more. Whenever our family goes back to the US, we go camping.
Wow, you live in Tunisia, Africa!? That's a long way from home. Are you doing missionary work? Where in the US are you from originally?
I agree that religion must be an integral part of life for its aficionados, and I am teetering on the edge of becoming a Christian myself. I am convinced that there is a benevolent God who created and oversees the universe, but I haven't yet decided if he is the Christian God. My older sister has embraced this view and we plan to study the Bible together, so we will see what I think after that. Books by C.S. Lewis, especially his Mere Christianity, have been highly influential in my philosophy. What brought you to Christianity?
First all of the questions:
Yes, I live in Tunisia, Africa. I have lived here for four years.
Yes, we do do missionary work, although that is a term that we are very careful to avoid in this part of the world
My mother is from Oregon, and my father is from Kansas. I think of myself as being from Oregon more than Kansas though. Honestly I can, and will never be able to feel completely at home anywhere though. I have lived enough places that, although I understand many cultures, and can function and thrive anywhere, I can't be any one place without missing all of the others that are a part of who I am. If you have heard the term "third culture kid", that is the is me. --and thousands of other kids, and adults who have grown up in multiple cultures. It helps me keep in mind that this earth is not my home, so even though it is hard, God uses it for good, as He does with all things.
I am very happy that you are really considering things carefully. Many people decide that there is probably a benevolent God, and then go on with their lives, completely ignoring it.
If there is someone who created this universe, shouldn't we try to figure out more about it?
Maybe we are created for a reason, in which we should probably figure out what that is.
I am glad that I know what I live for, and am sure that it is all true, not just as a religion, but as a real-life, everyday assurance. I have specifically seen God show up and do miracles, so there is no way anyone can dissuade me from what I believe. What is more common these days though is to put forward that whole philosophy of relative truth, and "scientific truth" somehow being different from religious truth. There is no difference between the two. If God made the universe, then He is the root of all science, which is the study of the universe. Learning about the amazing laws of physics is learning about his handiwork. I can't help but be in awe of Him when I study that stuff. That is why it pains me when people completely disregard the author of the work, and say that the universe, and all of the elaborate and intricate systems that we see randomly formed out of chaos. The more scientists study the seeming chaos of nature, the more they see that it is not chaos at all, but amazingly complex organization and creativity. That is why more and more in the scientific world are deciding that there must be a creator.
I definitely encourage you to read the Bible. God has given us His word, and He promises to use it to accomplish His good work.
I want to say a few things now though, because I don't want you to be under any delusions. First, I said he uses it for "His" work, not ours. If you choose the Bible, you will have to give up your life, and everything on this world for God. The Bible teaches that God wants all of us. Jesus said, "Take up your cross and follow me", and we need to realize that the Christian life is not a life of ease. Our family has been in Afghanistan, where we had multiple friends who worked with us killed. I don't say this to boast, but because Christ requires everything from you.
But, if there is pain in the Christian walk, there is so much more joy. I know that the God --the very same God who made the universe, and keeps it running-- loves me personally, and loves me enough to do, not what I want, but what is best for me. That is not always fun, but it is ultimately comforting, and makes me never have to lose hope. God gives joy in the midst of pain. In fact, the joy I have usually shows up the most in pain and hardship, because the earthly suffering contrasts with the joy, and just shows that my God is greater than the world. There is no fear that can destroy me, because my God is a God of love. There is no power that can destroy me, because my God is a God of power. There is no stress or chaos that can destroy me, because my God is a God of peace. in fact, He is the God of love, and the God of Power, and the God of Peace. I can rest assured that I am in good hands. I am in the best hands. I have to give up all of myself, but in return, God gives me all of him, and that is much greater.
I want to tell a very shortened story that a man told last Sunday at our church.
He and his wife lived in Jordan, in Sidon, running a clinic, and sharing the good news of Christ with people.
One day he and his wife were at work when a man came in, pulled out a gun, and shot his wife three times in the face. He said he was standing there, and he just wanted the man to shoot him too. But he didn't.
And he stood there, in his wife's blood, and he said all that came to mind was a song.
And so he started singing.
I don't remember which song he said it was, but it was a song of joy.
Later, he was back in the UK, where he is from, at the funeral, and his brother, who is also a Christian, and a church leader, came up to him and said, "I am so depressed right now, that I just want to go get roaring drunk, and go to a strip club and just forget about everything"
And he said he realized right then, "if God is not the God of this moment, then I don't want him"
That really struck me. If my God is not greater than moments like that, I don't want Him.
But I can be sure that my God is the God of moments like that. He is the God of the big things, and the God of the little things. If you follow Christ, you will have hardship. It is promised in the Bible to everyone who follows Christ. That man would not have had such a horrible thing happen to him if he had not followed Christ. Yet, He has a joy that he would not otherwise have; a joy that is greater than the world itself, and one that is eternal.
Sorry, that story is not written well, and I don't even remember many of the details, but I hope God will speak to you through it, and all I wrote. After all, it isn't me, or what I write, that matters, but what God does through it.
I and my friends will be praying for you, that God will show you the truth, and give you the joy and assurance of eternal life that he has given us.
Having lived in West Virginia for my entire life, I can't fully understand what it means to be a "third culture kid." Although I have visited many places, I still feel most at home at, well, my home. I suppose it's good that you can't get homesick so that you can continue doing your travel-heavy work.
The phrase "this world is not my home" is very interesting. When I read it, my mind wandered to Adam and Eve. They were the first human beings created by God and yet they lived on Earth for there whole lives, assuming the Garden of Eden was on Earth. I assume that if Adam and Eve had not disobeyed God they would have lived in the Garden of Eden forever. Can we say that it wasn't their home? Where do you think they went when they died? Did God create a new realm outside of this world called Heaven after the Fall? What do you think the nature of Heaven is?
I agree that God uses the Earth for good, but what do you think God's purpose for the it is? Is it worth speculating about? I was having a conversation related to this with my Dad and my older brother yesterday. My brother thought it was unfair that human beings should only get one short lifetime to prove themselves righteous to God or suffer eternally in Hell. He thinks that human souls reincarnate and learn a new lesson in each lifetime until they reach enlightenment, if you will. This is similar to the medieval Cathars, a sect of Christianity wiped out by the Catholics. I came up with a metaphor to attempt to visualize this phenomenon: imagine sharpening a knife a grind stone; it may take many cycles of the grind stone before the knife becomes sharp enough to do something with. The knife, of course, is the human soul and the grind stone is the wheel of life. What do you think?
I completely agree that there is a creator of the universe and that it is very important to figure out our place in his creation. I agree that science is related to religion in that God created everything, but I still think they are separate because science studies the creation and religion studies the creator. I agree, though, that science can offer no ultimate truth in itself and can't be used to explain God away. I am curious to know what miracles you have personally witnessed; the only one I believe I have witnessed is the universe itself. I haven't, however, seen any miracles that bend the laws of physics inside the universe.
Thank you for your cautionary paragraphs. I agree that being a Christian is no cake walk; the Bible teaches that they must be prepared to sacrifice anything, even their own sons, for Christ. On the other hand, however, this rarely means giving up all worldly connections and possessions, because God gave us all of these things to help us do His work, and he would be very angry if we shunned, squandered, or simply threw them away.
That is a very tragic story you told about your friend. God is great indeed if he can bring a man to sing over the corpse of his wife. I wonder what effect that had on the murderer, if he hadn’t fled the scene by then.
Thank you for your prayers and insights about God. Your last well-wish, “and give you the joy and assurance of eternal life that he has given us,” brought a question to my mind: would you be as willing to serve God if he had not given you the assurance of eternal life? In other words, do you believe in Christianity because it promises eternal life or because you think it is true? As for me, I’m not at all sure if there will be an afterlife and, if there is, what it will be like. What do you think it will be like, and what does the Bible say about it? What do you think about the doctrine of reincarnation?
Wow, you said a lot of good stuff.
You are interested in a lot of things, as am I, which is something that I think is becoming more and more scarce in this modern world.
I feel like many people live a large part of their lives in the semi-reality of the internet, and much of the rest in social settings with very limited company and little inclusion of different perspectives, causing them to have a disconnect from the real world, and affecting their mentalities subconsciously. And one of the things people learn in that kind of setting is to be interested only in that type of thing, causing a cycle which few want to remove themselves from.
I am impressed by your honesty, genuine interest, understanding of things you have never experienced, and willingness to both learn and teach.
I feel like you, and your family, fit very much the idea of the practical American who knows how to do things for him/herself*, lives a free life doing what he/she loves, works towards social and political equality, and is both satisfied with simple joys and always interested to learn. This practical jack-of-all-trades was an ideal during much of US history, but now seems to be often forgotten and seldom valued.
I love learning about and being able to do many different things, and work towards being as well-rounded and practical as possible, without becoming one of those people who is so engrossed with practicality that they stop valuing anything else.
I notice in you that you are very aware of your ignorance, and very willing to admit that. That is something I admire hugely. We are all ignorant, but it is very bad to be ignorant of our ignorance. I am as ignorant as you, and everybody else. Understanding and being humble enough to admit freely to people that you don't know many things is a huge step in learning. It is very hard to learn if you don't think you need to. It is also very hard to learn when your attitude makes others not want to help you, or not feel like you are approachable. So thank you for your humility and wisdom in that area, I strive to be as you are.
Most of all, I strive to be teachable. I love the truth, but realize that I don't love it nearly as much as I should. I want to learn what is true, and never let my ego get in the way of learning new things.
I think one should always be willing to discuss beliefs and opinions openly, without having to be afraid that some of them might be wrong. If I am wrong, I want to know; and even if I don't want to sometimes, I need to know. And if I am right, I want to have the opportunity to lead someone else to the truth, so that they might benefit from it as I have.
God is a God of truth. He defines truth, and upholds truth, and nothing false is in Him.
Okay, now I will go through your comments in order, so that I don't lose myself or my train of thought in the middle. I still probably will, but....oh well, I guess that is just life 🙂
I numbered your paragraphs below, so that you can easily find what exactly you wrote that I am responding to.
Actually, as I was just going through and numbering the things you said, I realized something else I want to say before getting to all of that.
I want to say that many of the things you mention are important. And many of them are debated a lot by people who know way more than me. So, I love that you brought them up, and I definitely want to talk about them, but I don't necessarily have answers. Maybe I should, maybe not, I don't know. But although I don't know many things, I do know and hold fast to some things, and those give me assurance enough to know that I don't always need to know the rest. I hope that the important parts of what you asked will be answered for you, either through this email, or by any other means, and that you will be given peace and assurance about the questions that do not get resolved, as to why you don't need to know the answers to them.
Okay, now I will actually get to answering your questions:
1 I may have answered this already, but I will here too in case I didn't. The reason we do not use the word "missionary" when talking about ourselves or others in Muslim or communist parts of the world is that that word often causes problems. People have the idea that "missionaries" are ignorant white people coming in and forcing western culture and religion on others. We have no intention of forcing, or even encouraging western culture, and "converting people" is not something we have the power to do. God, and only God, can change the heart; we have no control over that. All we are doing is being obedient to Christ's call to go and share the knowledge of who He is with the world. I have been given so much that it would be pure selfishness to not tell people. Besides, God gives His joy and peace to us through our giving, and our serving. The best thing I can do for myself is love others and serve others, because in doing that, I am imitating Jesus, who was obedient to the point that He died and took on the sins of the world, in order that we might live.
There are also many governments and groups who do not like the word "missionary", and might kick out, or even harm, people who were described as such. We don't want to hide what we do, but we also don't want to misrepresent it or unnecessarily get ourselves or others harmed or expelled.
2 Unfortunately I can get homesick. I think it is safe to say that most TCKs are pretty much always homesick. We have experienced and understand the good things from many cultures, but that also means that we are no longer content with any one culture or place. It is a blessing and a hardship. While I can feel at home in many places, I can never feel fully at home anywhere. I am permanently homesick, and will be for the rest of my life. But although it is hard, it does help me keep in mind that I do not belong here on this earth, and keeps me hoping for heaven.
3 I have no idea what heaven is like. But I do think I know about Earth not being our home. That idea comes from the Bible actually, and it is in a few places.
If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
All these people died in faith, without having received the things they were promised. However, they saw them and welcomed them from afar. And they acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
Now about why Adam and Eve lived on Earth. Earth was originally perfect, and the Bible says that God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden. The point of heaven is not what it is like, but rather that it is where God is fully revealed. Heaven is getting to be with and understand the greatness of God. On Earth, we get a little taste of what that is like, but in heaven the fullness of God is revealed for us to get to know infinitely. Everything good comes from God. God is what defines the word good. Anything that we call good is good because, and only because, we see a bit, just a tiny little bit, of God's nature in it. A mountain scene, or a flower, or frost on a window: all came from God, and are beautiful because He chose to express Himself through them. Even things that we make are beautiful, because He put His beauty, and His love for creation into us. That is part of what it means to be made in His image, we can make new things that are beautiful. And when we do that, and we put part of ourselves into something we make, we are re-expressing the beauty that God put in us. That is why it says in the Bible that there is no excuse for rejecting God.
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.
But back to the garden. God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden, and that is basically what heaven is: that personal relationship with God. So we can say that Adam and Eve were created in Heaven. Now as I mentioned earlier, we are made in the image of God. That means that God's nature is expressed in us in many ways that it is not expressed in nature. One of these is free will. This can spark some debate among certain Christians, because of the apparent conflict of God controlling, and us controlling, and if you want to remind me, I will be happy to explain that and all of the Biblical arguments that go with it in the next email. For now I will state as a fact the reality that we can chose to do things of our own free will. But God wanted more than that. We were made to worship God, but he wanted more than just slaves, or servants. So He gave us the choice between right and wrong. Slaves and servants have to do what their master tells them, but instead, God has called us friends. Jesus said:
- Matthew 15:15:
I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.
God wanted us to freely chose to follow Him, so he gave us the ability to not follow Him. He put a tree in the garden that Adam and Eve were not allowed to eat from. And Adam and Eve ate from it. At that moment, they separated themselves from God. Because God is a just and good god, He can't accept evil, and sin. We chose not to serve Him, and by doing so, separated ourselves from God, and everything good. But God still loved us. And when He banished Adam and Eve from the garden, and a relationship with Himself, He made a promise that He would save them.
I was just awake last night thinking, and I came to a realization of what Christianity being by faith means. Of course I have known what it meant before, but I came to a much better understanding of it, and of what it entails. I believe in the Bible completely. That means that whether or not science supports it, I will still be assured of its truth. I believe that science, and everything we can perceive, supports the Bible, but I believe that because of my complete faith in the Bible. I do not believe the Bible because it is supported by what I see in the world, instead I believe that everything I see in the world supports the Bible due to my complete truth that the Bible is God's truth. There is an element of faith that is completely unavoidable when it comes to the Bible, and Christianity; it is impossible to trust the Bible completely only on the basis of science, and one can trust the Bible completely without knowing how -or even that- science supports it. You can't become a Christian without faith, and faith is the only thing needed to become a Christian. What this means is that Christianity, even though I believe it does not contradict anything in this world, is not logical. This is why many people don't believe it. Because they won't take the step and believe completely in something that they can't see. That seems to make sense, but you have to realize that they have to assume that what they see is real. There is no way to prove that what we see and feel and otherwise observe is real; we have to have faith in that. We have to assume it at the beginning, and then once we do, we can find many things that support our assumption. The same is true of Christianity; there is no way to prove it upfront, one just has to believe it. And, as with the physical world, once we have believed it, there are many ways to prove it. It is easy to prove the reality of the physical world to someone who believes it, but impossible to prove it to someone who doesn't. The same thing goes with Christianity. So you have two choices: you can ultimately have faith in the physical world, or in Christianity. I believe that they both support each other, but there are many times where it is impossible for us to see that, and in those times, we are forced to chose one over the other. In those times, I choose the Bible -and it has never failed me. I can't prove that my choice is better to someone who doesn't already believe it, and someone who believes it can't prove to me that their choice is better -although many of them seem to think they can.
I hope that that last paragraph makes sense. I tried quite a few times to explain understandably, and I think this is the most comprehensive explanation. I put one of my other attempts at the bottom of the email with a **, so if you want, you can read that as well. Hopefully with both of them, you can get some idea of what I am trying to say.
I usually don't bother with saying him/her, etc, but I mean no disrespect by it. I think that in the English language, the word "man", for instance, means both "man" as opposed to "woman", and "man/woman", depending on the context. I know though that there are many people who have decided to take offense at that use of the word, and assume that anyone who uses it that way is sexist. I really doubt you are that type of person, but I thought I would specify anyway
**another attempt at explaining that one concept:
I can state all things with assurance that are in the Bible. Some may call it foolishness, and I admit that logically, there may be many things that do not make sense. I have an assurance though. I trust the Bible completely, and I am not afraid to say it. I do not trust it because of its historical accuracy, in fact, I don't know why I believed it in the first place. But I can say that because I trust it, I am assured that there is nothing that disproves it in nature, or history. And I have found nothing. I want to study more of the arguments for and against the Bible in science and history, but I do have a bias in a sense, because I know that I will not change my mind, no matter what I find. Honestly, I hope that you can join in following Christ too, but only as long as you realize that Christianity is foolishness by worldly standards. You can't, prove the Bible; you just have to trust it. You need faith. In some sense, you need God to give you faith before you can believe. If God doesn't give you that, then all you can do is pray for it to be given. But then, you will only pray for it if you want it, and you have no reason to want it unless God has shown you something already. Are you willing to trust in something that doesn't make sense to you? Even when this world seems like a much more logical solution? I believe that we were made for more than this world, and that is why there is always this dissatisfaction somewhere within us. This earth is not our home, and it isn't enough. Many people now just try to be satisfied with what they have, to the extent that it is an ideal in society. It is not an ideal that is followed very well though, because, as we can all see, many people strive for more wealth, or more power, or more "fun". In fact, we often find ourselves doing the same thing. While the ideal of being happy and content with what we have sounds good, I don't believe that it is. It is focusing on the effect, and not on the cause. I believe Christians are the only people who can be truly satisfied wherever they are, because they have a reason to be. We have Christ. What we have on this world is not enough for us, or anyone, so we should not be content with it, and I don't believe we ever truly can be
Now that I have said that, there are two attitudes you could have:
You could say, "this guy just called me dumb for not being in his exclusive group that, according to him, I apparently don't even have brains enough to understand". If you are saying that now, I am sorry, but I do not blame you for what you say; that is the logical conclusion, and I don't know how to logically argue against it. My argument can not be proven by logic alone.
Or you could have some other response. I don't know what exactly, but if you are still interested in Christianity after hearing me say that about it, (assuming you believe what I said about it, which is not an assumption that I can make for sure) then that is a miracle, and shows that God wants you, and has given you a longing for Him that is greater than logic. I may not always understand it, but I have the longing, and I trust it more than the physical world. I pray that you do too. It is more trustworthy.
I agree completely with your sentiments on the detrimental effects of the internet on modern people; even though the internet has great potential for good in the area of information dissemination and accessibility, I think it has probably done more harm in form of ruining people's health by encouraging sedentary lifestyles, making certain things effortlessly accessible, even unavoidable, that would have been better left inaccessible, most prominently pornography, and, as you said, disconnecting people from the real world. It is worth noting, however, that we humans bear the full responsibility for all of this as it is we who chose to use the internet for these foul purposes, though I still think that the internet can do some good and that there is hope for more people to manage their use of the internet better.
It sounds like we have a lot in common, at least in our ideals; I think all of the things you mentioned that you strive for are well worth striving for I strive for them too. This reminds me of what a Ukrainian friend of mine would call striving against "sinful passions," which I think is the other side of the coin of righteousness.
I like the organized way in which you delivered your responses to my comments, so I will preserve the order:
1 Thank you for your explanation of why you avoid the term "missionary" in your missionary work; your reasons are quite understandable. However, when you go further and elaborate on why you do missionary work, this phrase puzzled me: "God, and only God, can change the heart; we have no control over that." I agree that a missionary cannot force someone to change their minds and that God has the power to this but I don't think this is something He would do, nor is he the only person with the power to do so; I think it is completely up to the person who the missionary is trying to convert whether or not to accept what the missionary says. I think God respects our free will too much to forcibly change our hearts, not to mention that such a forced change would be worthless to him and not at all what he wants. Maybe I am misunderstanding what you said. If so, please explain.
As for the rest of your explanation as to why you became a missionary and on the best way to live, I think what you said is beautiful and truthful. What you said about it being pure selfishness not to share the knowledge that has brought you so much good really got me thinking about what it means to be selfish and why it is wrong. I was already thinking about this because I had watched a video called "The Morality of Gon Freecs," which was about the selfish morality of a character in an anime series called Hunter X Hunter who I really looked up to. I liked his constant cheerfulness and amiability as well as his indefatigable determination to achieve his goals. His main goal was to find his father who left him at a very young age. Gon knew that leaving one's child is a very hard thing to do and generally a bad thing, but he did not fault his father for the deed. Rather, he thought that his father's abandonment of him was probably justified because he thought his father must must have left to do something very important, something that no one else could do. This is another character trait of his that I admired: always seeing the best in people. But, according to the video, he had a flawed morality in which he would value people by how useful they were to him, not based on their character or anything like that. For example, in one part of the story he fights a mass-murdering psychopath as part of his training to become a better fighter. The psychopath is in a trap where he is forced to fight Gon or be killed by Gon's trainer, who is much more powerful than he is. So Gon trains against the psychopath for a long period of time until he finally becomes skilled enough to defeat him alone. When Gon first defeats the psychopath and has him at his mercy, the psychopath asks to be killed, but Gon replies, "Why would I do that? You've helped me become so much stronger. Thank you!" The video contrasted this situation with another in which Gon was angry at another person who was arguably a better person than the psychopath, but instead of helping Gon he was getting in the way. Whether or not this is an accurate interpretation of Gon's actions is a discussion for another time, but this provides us with a good definition of selfishness: a state of being or attitude in which one only looks out for one's own personal profit or pleasure while lacking consideration for the will and desires of others.
So, based on this definition, if you did not share the gospel with other people, you are right, it would be "pure selfishness," because you know that other people might benefit from your knowledge just as much as you did. On the other hand, you could come up with a selfish justification for spreading the gospel, based on enlightened self interest: if you spread the gospel and make people happier and more agreeable, then you will get to associate with more happy and agreeable people and therefore have more fun and happiness yourself. This means that a purely selfish person could be motivated to take the same actions that you, as long as they are willing to look after their long term benefit, i.e. if they are "enlightened," rather than short term pleasure. An enlightened selfish person will know that the path to true happiness does not lie in instant gratification but in the long term cultivation of health and good will, and perhaps even following the gospel to get into heaven to achieve ultimate happiness, if that is what heaven heaven is.
While this is true in theory, I have an inkling that a purely selfish person would not be very happy on Earth and would be even less likely to get into heaven, even though they may act like a selfless person. Before I go any further talking about heaven, I really want to read a book by C. S. Lewis called The Business of Heaven. It is part of a four-book volume called The Inspirational Writings of C. S. Lewis which includes the book I am reading now, Surprised by Joy, as well as Reflections on the Psalms and The Four Loves. The only thing I have heard from C. S. Lewis so far on "the business of heaven" is this quote from another book I haven't, but want to, read:
"Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth 'thrown in': aim at Earth and you will get neither."This sounds like very sound advice the way I interpret it. I think it means that those who act so as to get into Heaven, i.e. morally, will get to heaven after their stay on Earth, but those who act for worldly gain, i.e. money, power, prestige, women, will neither get the right experience of Earth nor get into Heaven. I am not completely sure what he meant by those who aim at Earth will not get it, though; premature death and/or a tainted, distorted experience of Earth, perhaps?More important, though, I think is to understand what he meant by "aim at heaven," because I think there are many wrong ways to go about this such as doing good works purely for the sake of getting goodies in the afterlife rather than because they are the right thing to do. I am very interested in what C. S. Lewis considers to be the right way to approach the business of heaven. I also would like to know your opinion.To revisit the topic of selfishness vs. selflessness one more time, if I may, I think this distinction may not be as important as many people think: what is most important is following God's will. I believe that taking care of oneself physically, psychologically, and spiritually is in accordance with God's will because a healthy person is a better tool than an unhealthy one. Also, God created us with certain capacities and faculties that I think it is safe to assume he wants us to use and develop. In this sense, God encourages and requires a certain amount of selfishness from us, if you can call it that. But we must remember that the only reason we maintain our bodies and souls is solely because it is in accordance with God's will and not for our own benefit. In this way a devotion to God can encompass a healthy amount of self-interest. I would extend this principle not only to our health but to what our desires in life, as well. I think the best way we can serve God in this world in general is by figuring out what we love to do and what we are good at and doing/bringing about those things, because God is the one who determined what our natural gifts would be and I believe he intended for us to use them. I think that this is a great way of harmonizing our self-interests with the interests of God, which supersede and encompass our self interests. I also think that a life truly lived in service to God is the best possible life we can live when considered honestly from our own perspective.
2 Being homesick all of the time is not something I envy, but maybe it is for the best, to deprive you of the temptation of settling down in one particular place for too long so that you can continue your missionary work? But, with regard to the other effect you say this perpetual home-sickness has on you, I think it is unwise, especially at our young age, to think too much of the afterlife when we still have so much work ahead of us in this world that deserves our full attention, which is why I have some misgivings about constantly "hoping for heaven," as you put it. Of course most people do and ought to have a hope or desire for better circumstances in the future, but most of our time should be spent trying to bring those better circumstances about, rather than pining for them. Pining for them is vain and does no good. Only two things are useful: (1) figuring out what we mean by "better circumstances" and (2) bringing that about. With that being said, some other things may be useful if they help with these two things, and one of those other things might be motivators, and it might be motivating to regularly reflect upon the goal which we have decided to attain, which may be what you mean by "hoping for heaven."
Also, the phrase, "hoping for heaven," implies that heaven is something one arrives or receives by chance, like "I hope I will win the lottery." I don't think heaven is like this. The says, and I think we both would agree, that people do not arrive at heaven by chance but, rather, there are certain things one has to do to get there, such as being a good person. Once, one realizes this, however, and starts making efforts to be a good person, there is another, truer, and more honest sense in which they can apply hope to heaven: "I hope my efforts to get to heaven will succeed," or, in the form of a prayer, "God, please give me the courage and wisdom to do good."
After having said all this about "hoping for heaven" I think it's high time to move on to the next topic of "what is heaven," which I think will shed a lot of light on what "hoping for heaven" means.
3 I think your proclamation, "I have no idea what heaven is like," is a great place to begin a discussion of what heaven is, and it sums up my position on the topic as well. However, I think we both have some thoughts on what it may be, e.g. "Heaven is getting to be with and understand the greatness of God." I like your opinion of what heaven is and it sounds good, but I think it has some flaws: (1) "getting to be with" God is not necessarily a pleasurable or fulfilling experience. For example, this would only be the case for an evil person; for them, facing God, their worst fear, would be pure torture. On the other hand, for a good person, meeting their perfect creator, the embodiment of all they had striven to be, would (I think) be pure bliss. (2) To fully "understand the greatness of God" is something I, and probably all humans, are incapable of as the greatness of God, as far I know, is infinite.
Getting back to point number one, I think we can expand on it to get a pretty good understanding of what Heaven and Hell might be. If we imagine God to be the all good creator of the universe and the giver of laws that represent his goodness and provide a guide for us to approach it, then to follow his law and get to know and accept him will be a supreme joy (what most people associate with Heaven), and to deny him and to separate oneself from him will be to separate oneself from all good and thereby place oneself in a state of perpetual anger and dissatisfaction, because when one becomes evil through pride and believes themselves to be infallible and all-good, and not God, then the rest of the world which is good will seem bad and one will be forced to suffer in it as it is impossible to remove oneself from it (except by death, but that may only make things worse), which is a pretty good summary of what most people associate with Hell. So I don't think Heaven and Hell are things that God arbitrarily decides to place each us in one or the other, but rather places we naturally end up as a result of the nature of God and the universe.
Now to respond to your comments about Earth not being our home. John 15:19 is a very interesting Bible verse; thank you for quoting it to me. When I first read it, I thought it didn't make sense, because the world doesn't seem to treat us any differently than any other animal: all animals have to cope with disease, death, starvation, parasites, etc. By this logic, it doesn't seem like the world hates us any more nor less than the other animals.But then I thought about how humans are born without sufficient fur to survive many environments naked, nor are we particularly well equipped to hunt or defend ourselves barehanded. We lack what all other animals possess: the ability to survive well as they are. While it is possible to survive without them, though very difficult, we humans have, since our beginning, relied on tools of our own making for survival, things the world did not just give us at birth. And not only are humans physically more fragile than most other animals, we are also mentally more so: more susceptible to mental disorders like depression. Other animals will be content as long it has food, water, a favorable climate, and room to roam (some may thrive better with companionship, as well). Humans, on the other hand, may be dissatisfied even with all of these things. So I think I understand the sense in which "the world hates" us.
The other interesting part of the verse is the part where it says, "I chose you out of the world". This implies that we were once one with the world but that God selected us for a higher purpose outside of the world. I think this is true. One interesting indication of this was suggested in C.S. Lewis' Reflections on the Psalms, that people are often surprised by the passage of time, e.g. "how time flies!" C. S. Lewis likened this to a fish being surprised that water is wet. Of course, so far as we know fish aren't surprised by this because it is part of their natural environment. So one might think that we humans would not be surprised by time passing since it is part of our natural environment, but maybe, since we are, it is an indication that Earth is no longer our natural environment or that we are destined for a different relationship with time.
Now a word about God and good. You said, "Everything good comes from God. God is what defines the word good." I agree with the first part, because it is necessarily true if God made the universe, i.e. the universe has good in it, God made the universe, therefore all good in the universe comes from God. But I disagree with the second part. It is a sentiment C. S. Lewis in his Reflections on the Psalms attributed to bad theologians who thought that, to carry your reasoning to its logical conclusion, the only reason why we think it is good to love god, each other, and be good people is because this is what God commanded us to do; likewise, if he had commanded hate instead of love, this is what would have been right. This makes it seem like God is some arbitrary tyrant. I think the reason God does good things and wants us to be good is because he is good, supremely good, himself. It wouldn't make sense to refer to Jesus or God as "righteous" if they defined what righteousness is; they are manifestations of pure and highest righteousness, but do not, in my opinion, define it.
About the Garden of Eden and Free Will: I agree that the Garden of Eden was like heaven. I agree that there is no conflict between God's predetermination and our free will, because even though God knows everything we have and ever will do and has planned for it in detail, just because we can't ever surprise God, doesn't mean that we don't have free will. You do a good job summarizing the story of the Garden of Eden and its consequences.
About faith: Thank you for putting so much effort into trying to explain the role of faith in Christianity to me. I think I was able to understand what you meant, and I completely agree with everything you said about science not being able to prove the veracity of the Bible (it can't even prove the veracity of itself). It seems that you and I have different approaches to the Bible, however. Would I be correct in saying that you believe in God because of the Bible? If this is true, then we differ in that my belief goes the other way around, i.e. I believe that the Bible has truth because of God. Since God made the universe, I suspect that he had some pressure in the writing and popularization of the Bible and that he through it he has given us many good teachings and revelations about himself. This does not mean that I think the Bible is inerrant. Rather, I think it is muddled simply because it was delivered through the imperfect human medium and I think God intended us to use our intelligence and intuition to interpret it. I also think God had some influence on all of the other holy books of different religions. In my view, all religions contain a greater or lesser amount of truth. I have not studied religions as deeply as C. S. Lewis did, but he saw a logical progression to the religions with previous, more primitive ones hinting at the later, more advanced ones and he believed that Christianity is the most complete, true religion in the world today. Some people like to say that religions are arbitrary because they say different things and if one were raised in a culture with one religion, then they would believe it and if the same person had been raised in a culture with a different religion, they would believe that one instead. But I don't think religions are so different as these people would like to think: they all share glimpses of God. Since I believe in God, it makes sense to me that he would communicate with us is some way, which is why I expect to see books like the Bible in the world, and, because of this, they become data consistent with my God hypothesis. Like you said, once you accept that God exists, it becomes easy to see proofs of his existence. Thus, I would say that your complete faith in the Bible does have a certain logic to it.
Thank you very much for having this conversation with me! It is is forcing me to think hard about my beliefs. I recently finished reading C. S. Lewis' Reflections on the Psalms and I really enjoyed it. I highly recommend it for you to read.