"I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark." - Stephen Hawking
Obviously this is a false statement. It is ignorant, naïve, and honestly, just plain dumb. It shows very little analysis of the world and displays enormous egotistical problems within Hawking’s own psyche – I mean, really, he knows that heaven doesn’t exist? How? But, if looking at the last clause of his quote “that [heaven] is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark” it possesses incredible truth found in the gospel.
The truth is, heaven is a fairy tale and it is for those who are afraid of the dark.
What Hawking doesn't take into account is that for sinners, the gospel is like a fairy tale and for those whom God has graciously saved, we are afraid of the dark. Not in the same way that Hawking means of course, but we are afraid of the dark because we have seen the glory of the light. To not be in the light of Christ is therefore frightening indeed.
John spends considerable effort and time to playing off the themes of light vs. dark in his account of the gospel story of Jesus. In the first 9 verses of chapter 1, he mentions the word "light" 7 times. This light, Jesus, is the one which "enlightens everyone" (v. 9). Later in his gospel there are mentions of darkness, most significantly perhaps in the account with Nicodemus in chapter 3 where Jesus proclaims that you must be born again after Nicodemus comes to test him, and again in chapter 13 when Jesus tells Judas that he will betray him - "And it was night" (v. 30). John knew the difference between light and dark.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke also knew that darkness was not good (Matthew 27:45, Mark 15:33, Luke 23:44). Each of these accounts have some variation of the words "from the sixth hour until the ninth hour, there was darkness." This darkness, occurring in the middle of the day while Jesus is on the cross, is utterly frightening. In that moment, it is not glorious to those witnessing. In that moment, it is not hopeful, it is not good. In that moment, it is not just the end of this man's life, but for some it is the end of all their hopes, and perhaps even their salvation. But, the story doesn't end there. Hawking is right about one thing, there is death, everyone knows that. But he's wrong about death keeping us. There is a resurrection. Jesus, as our forerunner has already experienced the resurrection and is the seated in heaven this very moment in his glorified body.
This is where the fairy tale begins. How do fairy tales work? Well, for Disney it works something like this:
1) There is a low and humble lady. She's often devoted to her family, often hard working, often overlooked.
2) There is a prince, or hero type, whom everyone looks to. Everyone honors and admires him.
3) At some point this lowly lady catches the eye of the dashing prince.
4) There is an enemy who threatens to destroy the lady, the prince, or both.
5) In the end the prince eventually destroys the enemy and rescues this lowly, humble lady from her despair and seats her as princess on the throne next to him.
It is a once upon a time...happily ever after story. For those in Christ, it is much the same, with a few important exceptions that make the Christian fairy tale the most glorious of all fairy tales.
Exception #1: From the perspective of God, we’re low and humble. From the perspectives of ourselves, we’re high and mighty. We’re often not devoted to our families, we’re lazy, and we’re never overlooked because if we are, we make sure someone knows we’re overlooked. In many ways, we’re the opposite of the low, humble lady. But, Philippians 2 says that Jesus was the low and humble one. So low and humble that he” humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (2:8) So, the gospel flips Disney’s #1 around, showing Christ as the low and humble one.
Exception #2: So, if Jesus is the low and humble one, then who is the prince? Well, Jesus is! He is a prince too often ignored, dishonored, and not admired in the proper way. We instead make ourselves the prince of our world. We look out for ourselves; we concern ourselves with comfort and convenience. We put the true prince to open shame in our lives.
Exception #3: At some point this humble prince makes us turn our eyes toward him.
Exception #4: Perhaps this is the most startling difference of all. The truth is there is an enemy; it’s just not who you think it is. In a dramatic twist we look to the gospel to see that the true enemy isn’t anything or anyone outside of us, but rather inside us. We are the enemy. Of course Satan is God’s enemy but he can only work with the evil he has at his disposal – he can’t create anything. So, we see that the true enemy is within us and Satan just spurs us on. If left unchecked, this enemy will destroy, but God in his grace won’t allow it to happen to those whom he’s chosen. In the gospel, Jesus looks the enemy in the eye and loves him. He crushes the enemy within us and transforms us. He loves the evil out of us! Of course, as a true fairy tale story must go, he destroys Satan as well, because he is beyond salvation.
Exception #5: This is actually no exception at all. In fact, this is the only one in which Disney got exactly right. There is a reason that we love fairy tales. There is a reason that Disney can make a movie that awes children and at the same time ignites wonder in adults. The fairy tale is true for those in Christ! The prince does eventually destroy the enemy! The prince does take his bride and seat her on the throne! The story is true! The gospel of course is worthy of more than a mere fairy tale label but if we’re talking about fairy tales at all, let’s look to Jesus as the ultimate prince. The humble prince who rescues stupid, sinful, ungrateful people and puts them next to him in eternity where they will become super smart, unable to sin, and ever praising his glorious name!
So, Stephen Hawking is right – almost. Heaven is a fairy tale for those afraid of the dark, just not in the way he meant it. It's a gospel story where the humble prince saves us, the enemy, from the darkness and brings us into his light. It's glorious in every sense of the word.