Despite being diagnosed with ALS at 21 and given two years to live, Stephen Hawking lived decades beyond his predicted death, eventually dying at the age of 76.
It’s easy to imagine that living more than 50 years on borrowed time may have inspired him to think about heaven now and then. In addition, the renowned physicist, by nature of his career, spent a lot of time pondering big-picture questions, like those surrounding the origin of the universe. And here’s what he eventually decided about God and the afterlife:
He once said that if we could ever understand how the universe worked, we could glimpse the mind of God, later clarifying, “What I meant is…we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.”
He also didn’t believe in heaven. “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail,” he said. “There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”
Evangelist Billy Graham also spent his life pondering some pretty big questions about life, death, and eternity, but embraced very different conclusions. He preached the Good News about a loving, personal God to an estimated 200 million people, and millions said “yes” to his invitation to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Billy Graham also was passionate about the existence of an afterlife, saying that if we have accepted Jesus, “the moment we take our last breath on earth, we take our first breath in heaven.”
Paraphrasing the shared sentiments of D.L. Moody, one of his heroes, Graham used to say, “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will have just changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”
Which, no matter how you slice it, is a far cry from the fate of a broken computer.
Hawking called heaven a fairy tale. Graham called it home.
They can’t both be right.
What exactly does the Bible tell us about heaven?
The Bible refers to heaven more than 400 times. In the process, God’s Word gives shining glimpses of the destiny of those who believe in Christ Jesus. Here are common questions about Heaven, and what the Bible has to say:
What is heaven like?
In the book of John, Jesus describes Heaven as His Father’s house, and promises that one day He will take us there to be with Him (John 14:1-3).
What will we be like when we get there?
We won’t be bodiless spirits but will have new bodies of a such a design that even now our spirits groan and long to be in our new state! (2 Corinthians 5:1-5)
What kinds of things will we be doing there?
John’s vision of heaven reveals a place teaming with life and activity. We learn, for example, from the creatures and elders worshipping Jesus that His death on the cross bought redemption and eternal life for people of every tribe and nation, and that those of us who have been redeemed will make up a new kingdom, and will spend eternity serving God and reigning over the earth. (Revelation 5:9-10)
How do we get there?
There’s not a lot of debate on this one: Believe in Christ Jesus. (John 3:16-19). There is no other way. Even Billy Graham knew that none of his good works were responsible for where he would spend eternity. He wrote, “I won’t be in heaven because I’ve preached to large crowds or because I’ve tried to live a good life. I’ll be in heaven for one reason: Many years ago I put my faith and trust in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross to make our forgiveness possible and rose again from the dead to give us eternal life. Do you know you will go to heaven when you die? You can, by committing your life to Jesus Christ today.”
As his earthly life drew to a close, Stephen Hawking said he wasn’t afraid of death, that moment when his believed his brain would simply stop working and, like a broken computer, go dark. “I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years,” Hawking said. “I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die.”
Billy Graham, on the other hand, told reporters from Life magazine and Newsweek, “I’m looking forward to death. I’ll be very happy to get out of this body and into the new world that’s been prepared. It’ll be a feeling of tremendous joy and relief and rest. The Bible says I have not seen nor heard, nor has there entered the mind of man, what God has in store for us in the future life.”
“Do I fear death? No. I look forward to death, with great anticipation. I am looking forward to seeing God face to face.”