Christians sometimes decry atheists for choosing a purposeless existence. I understand this accusation, especially coming from those who still harbor false stereotypes about atheism.
But that is not the topic of this post. Instead, I want to look at the concept of purpose in the Christian framework. It is worth pointing out that there is little freedom in having your life’s purpose handed down to you from a higher authority, without you having any say in it. I hope – for their sake – that there are many Christians who don’t hold this view, since it strikes me as equally fatalistic as the misconstrued view of atheism that many Christians hold.
Importantly, whatever view of purpose Christians have, they usually talk about it in the context of their life on earth. This is understandable: life on earth is happening right now. We know what it feels like, and we know what sort of things we are capable of doing. We therefore naturally talk about our purpose in life.
But consider for the moment that most Christians believe in an eternal afterlife in heaven. What this really means is that essentially all of Christians’ experiences are going to be had in heaven, not on earth.
For instance, if the average adult has, say, 10 really profound experiences in a lifespan of 80 years, he will have 125,000 profound experiences in his first million years in heaven (assuming that the rate of profound experiences is constant – if anything, it should go up, in which case the figures shift in favor of my argument). During those first million years, then, a full 99.992 percent of his experiences will have been had in heaven. And he’ll still have millions of years to go.
So why aren’t Christians talking more about what their purpose is going to be in the afterlife? If the afterlife is going to make up the lion’s share of their existence, why don’t they talk more about what they are going to do with all that time? Are they really going to sit at God’s side singing songs for billions of years? This cartoon vision of heaven would qualify as most people’s idea of hell, no matter how fun God is to be with. Most Christians I know start fidgeting in the pew after one or two hours of praising God, let alone a million years.
And so I wonder how many Christians have really thought about what happens after their initial entry into heaven. The allure of heaven is that it allows you to escape the death that you know awaits you around the metaphorical corner. But what happens after that is going to define Christians’ lives – it’s going to be their default state, a state that they will always be in. They should be talking about it more.