Imagine There’s No Heaven

Some people imagine that belief in God is at best delusional and at worst dangerous. The late John Lennon seemed to fall into the former group. He asked us to, “Imagine there’s no heaven.” The once mighty Soviet Union fell into the latter group. She arrayed her armies, governments, media, school system and very culture against belief in a loving God. In the Soviet Union anyone who believed in God was no better than an opium addict, a delusional, destructive and dangerous drain on society. Special units of the police searched out Christians and imprisoned or murdered them; they banned and burned Bibles and required children to attend classes which preached against the existence of God. In the U.S.S.R. belief in God was outlawed.

Like the people described in Revelation, they seemed to hope that the mountains would fall on them and hide them “from the face of him who sits on the throne.” Yet, is there anything in the universe tenacious enough–including a vivid imagination–to keep God’s love at bay?

What is it in your life or your part of the world that attempts to keep God’s love at bay, that bans belief?

Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.

TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)

Micah 1:1-4:13

Revelation 6:1-17

Psalm 134:1-3

Proverbs 30:1-4

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Irina Ratushinskaya, Christian poet and Russian dissident

School-girl Irina Ratushinskaya, grew up in the U.S.S.R. when belief in God was against the law. Yet she could not imagine there was no God. Sitting through one of her required anti-God courses, Irina began to think, “There must be a God. Otherwise they wouldn’t tell us over and over that there is no God.” To find out for herself Irina Ratushinskaya began to pray and the outlaw God answered her–first through a freak snow storm and then through the writings of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Years after that initial prayer, Irina Ratushinskaya saw her first Bible. Upon reading it she made another discovery. “Then I realized that I was a Christian,” she says. Irina Ratushinskaya became a world-renowned poet and was convinced of the reality of the love of Jesus Christ despite being raised in a country in which it was illegal to believe.

Let me ask again. Is there anything in the universe tenacious enough to keep God’s love at bay? Yes, there is, though the Soviet Union failed to do so.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair was born in the United States where no laws or armies prevent belief in God. Just the opposite. God’s name is stamped on our currency. Crosses, the ultimate symbol of God’s love, stand tall in every American city.  Word of the unconditional love of Jesus Christ is available on any street corner, radio or television. Freedom to believe in God, or not, is a sacred right for all Americans.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair imagined, no, fiercely believed, there was no God and spent her life crusading against belief in the same God the U.S.S.R. failed to eliminate. She pleaded her case of unbelief all the way to the Supreme Court and was instrumental in having prayer removed from public schools. Forming an organization named the American Atheists, Madalyn Murray O’Hair litigated, cussed, fought and debated her way through thirty years of disbelief. Seemingly, Madalyn Murray O’Hair had the mirror opposite experience of Irina Ratushinskaya. As if she had said, “They talk about God so much, surely there must be no such Person.”

Tragically, Madalyn Murray O’Hair was robbed and murdered in 1995, along with her son, Jon and granddaughter, Robin, by an estranged employee and member of American Atheists. To pay her back taxes the IRS auctioned off her journals. Of all the insights those journals held into “the most hated woman in America,” as she called herself, the most revealing was how she repeated one phrase at least a half-dozen times. Though Madalyn Murray O’Hair was surrounded by belief in God, she remained impervious to God’s love. In her journals she cried out, “Somebody, somewhere, love me.”

Again, is there anything, anywhere tenacious enough to keep God’s love at bay? Yes–a hardened human heart. No lack of desire, effort or power on God’s part kept the echo of his answer, “Madalyn, I love you” from reaching her ears. God’s respect for human freedom and dignity gave Madalyn Murray O’Hair the power to ignore his love.

Someone once said, “You can lead a horse to water; but even God won’t make it drink.”

So it is with each of us.

One ancient struggler, Paul, wrote, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing can separate us from God’s love! But we can refuse love’s entry to our hearts. Our hearts accommodate love (Jesus Christ himself) only where hate, fear and self-centeredness have fled. Like dogs on a tether we race, yapping in our assumed freedom, only to be yanked back, imprisoned by the measure of a heart not yielded to God.

“Somebody, somewhere, love me.”

Finally, is anything tenacious enough to keep God’s love at bay? Your heart, and my heart, hardened by the cares of this age, can and do. Yet the Gentleman God placed himself on the cross with his arms spread in an eternal embrace. “Come to me,” he said, “all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

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Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO and writes a blog


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8 responses to “Imagine There’s No Heaven

  1. Great blog post, today, Eugene. Terrific insights into the contrast between Irina Ratushinskaya and Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

    • Thanks, Mike:

      Years ago, while I was in high school, I heard O’Hair being interviewed on the Alan Berg radio show. What struck me then, and has stuck with me ever since, was not her atheism, but her anger and hatred for God and people. Berg was pretty angry most of the time too. It just made me sad for her. Then I read that about her journal and saw how much she wanted to be loved and it all made sense.

      I wonder how much did God’s heart break for her.


    • carri

      I agree! It’s hard for me to grasp why O’hair had such a hardened heart towards the Lord and what a tragic end to her life, makes me sad. It’s interesting that her desire to be loved never went away and how easily that desire would’ve been satiated by God’s love. For me, it was that desire that propelled me to seek the Lord at a very young age where human love & care was in very short supply. I learned early on that human love can only take you so far and comes with conditions and limitations unlike God’s love which is limitless and without condition.

      • Carrie:

        Thanks for your comment. My fatherlessness and need for love was what God used to draw me into his heart. In that was a realization that humans who loved me could not fill my void. Makes it all the more important that we love everyone with his love. Our judgement and anger seems to only harden hearts. Eugene

  2. I think love requires of us to try to understand why John Lennon wrote what he did and why O’Hair and others like her thought as they did. For millenia, people have killed others over their concept of heaven and a sense of “ownership” of God. Christians have done this as well as Muslims. When we create dividing walls or exclude others in a attempt to look “holy” we create a distortion of what the heart of God is truly like. I think their distress over this is actually something very good. It distresses God too!
    We have nothing to fear when people attack us or the faith. It God be for us… . What if we had answered O’Hair’s protests (or anyone who dismisses the faith) with love instead of anger and judgment? Thank you so much for that beautiful last paragraph (in particular), Eugene – it’s quite possible that Jesus found a way to reach her even when his church could not. Good news! 🙂

    • Well said, Ellen. I felt a little disingenuous using Lennon’s song that way. And of course he does not say imagine there’s no God and may mean imagine not using our beliefs to separate and conquer. On a personal note, though I love Lennon’s music, that song has always struck a skeptical chord in me.

      And yes, what if the church (me) could have answered O’Hair (and the nameless others God places in our paths) with less fear and more love? My reading of how the church often answered the U.S.SR. was exactly with deep, powerful love and the hate of that system did not stand against it.

      Wouldn’t that be great if Jesus found a way into her loneliness? I know he is good enough to do so.


  3. In 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited the ‘Regents Prayer,’ or any
    prayer created by an administrator and imposed upon students, through the Engels v. Vitale Case in New York State. In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited mandatory Bible reading/prayer through the Abington Township School District v. Schempp in Pennsylvania.
    Madalyn Murray O’Hair wasn’t a participant in either case. However, when the Schempp case bounced between the Supreme Court and Penn. District Court, MMOH filed a duplicate, redundant lawsuit challenging similar practices in Maryland. Her lawsuit was unnecessary. The Supreme Court did not write their opinion/holding in her case, but the SCHEMPP case, and merely applied the ruling to the Murray case, too, because it concerned the same issues.

    Schempp filed his case in Feb. 1958, Schempp was considered by the U.S. Supreme Court in August ’60, and remanded for reconsideration, even before MMOH filed her lawsuit in December 1960 in Marlyland’s Superior Court.
    MMOH could never swallow that she was not the 1st (in our time period) to challenge Bible/prayer, but was second behind Edwin & Sidney Schempp.

    So in June 1963, the Court wrote their opinion for the Schempp case, there is no written court opinion in Murray case, just Schempp, and at end of Schempp, the Court applied the holding/ruling to the Murray case, too.

    MMOH always exaggerated her role, tried to take credit for it all, engaged in atheist revisionism to misrepresent the truth.

    Sincerely, Joe Duffy
    Beverly Hills, CA.

    P.S. Next year, I shall publish “The Atheist Threat to Christian Broadcasting: The Definitive History of the Religious Broadcasting Rumor and Petition RM-2493.” (About 145 Pages, 260+ footnotes, Dozens of Pictures/Documents/Artistic sketches included, with extensive bibliograpy).

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