What sustains you during difficult times? Three main intellectual atheists have critiqued faith as somehow an escape from reality. Karl Marx dubbed faith as ‘the opiate of the people.’ Faith was something that the rich bourgeois offered to the poor proletarian masses rather than create a just and equitable society. Marx’s solution was violent revolution for a classless society. This has proved to be a utopian dream. Friedrich Nietzsche viewed Christian faith as a crutch for weaklings. He taught that nothing was true, good, or beautiful. He died insane at an early age of infection from VD. Sigmund Freud claimed that religion was wishful thinking, an infantile illusion, a mass delusion, a universal obsessive neurosis, a desire for an absolute father figure. God is merely a projection of powerful wishes and inner needs for security that stem from childhood feelings of helplessness carried into adulthood. Any yet, Freud was addicted to cocaine most of his later life as he tried to cope with the pain of cancer, loss, and the Nazi invasion of Vienna.
Is belief in heaven just a crutch? Or is it a reality that can sustain one through the most difficult of times? The churches in Asia Minor are about to undergo a severe tribulation. They are going to be slaughtered just like the Lamb. That is the reality facing them. To cope with this awful situation, John is given a vision of a huge gathering before the throne of the Lamb. They are the ones ‘who have come out of the great suffering’ (v. 14). The victims are depicted as the victors. It is a vision of the heavenly reality. They will be waving palm branches and worshiping the Lamb who rescued them by his blood. They are the ones who find salvation. They will serve God day and night for eternity. God will ‘shelter them with his presence’ (v. 15). They will never be hungry or thirsty or heat-stroked again. God will be their shepherd and lead them to fresh running springs and wipe away every tear. Those facing persecution are given a vision of the heavenly reality so that they can prepare for imminent peril. They will come out of it victorious and secure. This vision is to encourage those facing tribulation by revealing what awaits them in heaven. In other words, they are to think of heaven while going through hell on earth. The vision is intended to give tangible reality to Jesus’ prayer: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, here on earth as it is in heaven.” We are to find comfort in our difficulties with the blessedness of the reality of heaven. This may seem like a crutch to some, but everyone turns to something for comfort. Even atheists. When troubles come our way, we have a choice. Will we turn to material goods as did Marx? Will we turn to sexual pleasures as did Nietzsche? Will we try to numb ourselves with our drug of choice as did Freud? Or will we hold out for the hope of heaven?