Sometime soon I am going to be posting my thoughts on an argument that Christopher Hitchens used to make where he said that heaven was like a “Celestial North Korea”. In his argument, Mr. Hitchens discussed only one difference between heaven and North Korea, “at least you can die and get out of North Korea”. I am going to argue that there are many differences between heaven and North Korea. One of these is the enormous amount of work that God does on our behalf, unlike the dictators of North Korea who are parasites living off their unfortunate countrymen while offering them nothing in return. As a precursor to making this argument, I offer the following discussion on God’s service to us from A Rational Faith.
A Rational Faith Section 3.5 The Nature of God’s Provision
Many of the difficulties of the Bible stem from man’s lack of appreciation for God’s provision. Science tell us that every human being is made up of trillions of living cells. These trillions of living cells are in turn made up of more than 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 protons, neutrons and electrons. To put this number in perspective, the entire human race operating over the entire thirteen billion year history of our universe could not even count all of the protons, neutrons and electrons that God has created in order to create a single human being. Think about that.
Now the Bible tells us that God “gives to all people life and breath and all things” (NAS Acts 17:25) and goes on to say that “in Him we live and move and exist” (NAS Acts 17:28). So how much work is God doing to give a human being “life and breath and all things”? How much work does God have to do to create and sustain the existence of trillions of living cells made up of trillions of more fundamental particles? We cannot even count this high let alone create and sustain this number of particles. The answer, therefore, is that the amount of work God does in creating and sustaining us is beyond human imagination.
Let us conduct a God appreciation exercise. Let us assume that creating and sustaining the existence of a human being is as easy as holding an apple between one and two feet off the ground. If you want to appreciate what God does for you every day, do this exercise for four hours. Don’t use a table or some kind of device, hold the apple with your hand. There is nothing that exists without the self-existent one creating and sustaining it so it must be done by you and you alone. I am not asking you to do this for a day, I am not asking you to do this for a week. I am asking you to do this for four measly hours. Do not read any further, but go and do it now.
The lesson to learn here is that even an easy task can become difficult if you have to do it for long periods of time. Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty five days a year for your entire life God does an unimaginable amount of work to create and sustain your existence. Think about that. If you had a scullery maid who followed you around, cleaning up after you all the days of your life without sleep or rest or food and was paid a dollar for the effort, that scullery maid would make more money for less work than God does.
Now some will respond to this by saying, “How can you say that God is my servant? He never does anything for me!” These people need to become more familiar with the Bible. Have they not heard that Jesus donned a servant’s robe and washed the disciples feet? Do they not know the saying, “And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, ‘If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all’” (Mark 9:35)? Is not God the Father the greatest of all? Must he not, therefore, serve us all? God serves us all by doing an unimaginable amount of work for us every day and commands us to be grateful for that effort in the Lord’s prayer when we thank him for our “daily bread”.
Now when previous generations of theologians have considered the faith versus works issue, they have focused on disparaging human charitable works because God says these works are like “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). But why does God find the works as filthy rags? Are they filthy rags as compared to a believer sitting at home and watching television? No! Read the book of James and see how God wants a believer to demonstrate his or her faith. Good works are as filthy rags before God when they are brought as a sacrifice meant to please God and obtain his eternal gifts. We can understand God’s position on this if we look at a couple of analogies.
Let us imagine that I won ten million dollars in the lottery. A friend of mine then comes to me and says the following, “Rob, I have a great idea! You are going to love this, you are just going to love this!” “Oh yes? What is the idea?” I respond. “If you give me that ten million dollars, I will give a million dollars to the poor and only spend nine million dollars on myself. Isn’t that fantastic? I am going to give one million dollars to the poor.”
How should I respond to this proposal? Should I give this friend the ten million dollars? As I think about it, I think my response would be, “That is fantastic! That is absolutely fantastic! You want to give a million dollars to the poor? I couldn’t be happier. But what if I just gave two million dollars to the poor directly and cut out the middle man? I would be ahead of the game by eight million bucks and the poor would be better off.”
This is very similar to a sin that I committed when I was younger. I wanted, you see, to win the lottery and have money to spend on the pleasures of the flesh. I went to God and said, “God if you are there, let me win the lottery and I will give nine million dollars of the ten million dollars that I win to the poor. You are never going to get an offer like that from anybody else. Everybody else will give a few bucks, but they will not give as much as me. For this reason I should win.” Needless to say, I did not win. I sinned and became angry at God, “Well if you don’t want to help the poor, then what kind of a God are you anyway?”
The vital point here is that it is impossible to please God by giving him back a tiny fraction of what he gives to you. When we think that we can be saved by works without faith, we are making a fundamental error. How can we not listen to God, not obey God, not love God and expect him to reward us for giving away a tiny fraction of what he gives to us? When an unbeliever expects his or her works to be rewarded by being allowed into heaven they are effectively saying, “God I urinate on the unimaginable amount of work you do for me every day. Here is a couple of measly bucks and now you owe me an eternity of paradise.” Do you see why this is infuriating to God? He does an unimaginable amount of labor and you toss him a few peanuts like he is a circus animal? Only through the love of a father can the unimaginable amount of work that God does for us everyday be worthwhile. Only by returning that love with faith, trust and obedience can we please him.
When previous generations of Christian theologians focused on the inadequacy of charitable works without looking at the reason for that inadequacy, they missed an important truth and made the word of God seem nonsensical. It was as if they were saying that God doesn’t care if we help widows or orphans. This is crazy! James tells us that good works for those who are suffering is the evidence of true faith in the believer. The key distinction between the works of the believer and the unbeliever is the faith that appreciates God’s indispensable and majority part in everything that we do. Without the crucial component of appreciating God’s participation, no amount of human effort can be pleasing to God.
Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. (NIV Psalms 68:19)
What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? (NIV Matthew 16:26)