Shortly after the publication of his memoir “Hitch-22,” prominent atheist Christopher Hitchens was interviewed by radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt. In their conversation, Hitchens described how he visited Cuba in the 1960s and was relieved of his passport. Commenting on that distressing experience, he said something like this: “No matter how great a place may be, I don’t want to be there if I can’t leave. That’s why I would hate heaven.” Hitchens seemed to think that heaven was a place of confinement. Is it?
The story of the rich man and Lazarus seems to say so. Abraham tells the suffering rich man that “between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass [lit., the ones wanting to cross over] from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us” (Luke 16:26). Why would anyone want to pass from paradise to torment? I can think of a couple of reasons: intellectual curiosity and compassion. The “great chasm” functions like the railing of a bridge. No sensible person resents a barrier that protects him from falling to his death.
Christopher Hitchens died of esophageal cancer in Houston, Texas, on December 15, 2011. He accepted his death, but did he hate his earthly life? Of course not. The rich variety and complexity of life on earth make human existence continually interesting and desirable. Well, the Bible describes our eternal home as “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1). If God’s footstool is so pleasing that we hate to leave it, then just imagine how delightful his throne will be!
For atheists, though, the presence of God in heaven is the main objection. They hate him. They can’t imagine living happily in his eternal home. We don’t share those feelings. God is our life, our love, our very purpose for being. Living in his presence forever is our idea of exquisite joy.