The Bridge Less Traveled - Part III

People Agree, They Hope there is Life After Death

In this post, we will continue the series titled, The Bridge Less Traveled with a third article. The notion that we will discuss is one that many people feel, that is, there must be something beyond this life. For many there is a deep hope that there is life after death. For others, there is a deep fear that there is a time of reckoning to come after death. The Bible offers a reason for people’s feelings on this subject. In fact, Ecclesiastes 3:11 (which comes just after the famous passage which says, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heave”) asserts, “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts. . . .” Men and women, Christians or not, have a strong urge to understand things that are beyond themselves. God has planted this mindfulness of eternity into the human heart. People want to know that their lives matter. They want to know how their lives and activities extend beyond their own lifetimes. There is a longing within our hearts. This life is brief. This life is only, “. . . a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” as James says in 4:14. Are we only here today and gone tomorrow? Should we eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die and that is the end? There is nothing more? The proposal of this third article is that the seemingly universal notion of a post-existence is a bridge for conversation between the church and the world.

If men and women wonder or, at the very least, have a sense deep inside that there may be a post-existence, then there must be many answers offered. Because this is a seemingly universal notion, almost all religions offer some kind of doctrine about an afterlife. For example, Buddhism and Hinduism, among others, speak of reincarnation, that this life directly effects the next in the sense that one may continue to progress in spiritual awareness as one begins a new, physical life after each death. The goal, then, is to eventually become released from this physical sequence because one has come to the superior state of spirituality. When the doctrine gets to this point, it starts to become fuzzy? Is there a heavenly existence that one is born into? Does the person cease to exist at the point of nirvana? This author does not know. On the other hand, Mormons teach that good Mormon men in this life become gods in the next age. As gods, they have their own planets to then fill by procreating with the wife/wives that they married for eternity in this life. Thus, mortal men become immortal gods. There are many religions that may be surveyed on this issue, but may the consideration of one last religion suffice for now. Islam teaches that there is a heaven which has many different levels of happiness and enjoyment. Likewise, their doctrine of punishment has differing layers of hell as well. In their paradise, Muslim men will be given many virgins for pleasure. On the other hand, women will be given one man and will be satisfied.

Now, do you notice any similarities between all of these religious proposals for the afterlife? There are many differences, but a few things stand out to me from these perspectives. First, all of the major religions of the earth (as well as most all religions) offer some doctrine of an afterlife. Second, in many religions, “paradise” focuses on the rewarding and pleasuring of worthy men. Third, all of these prospects are based on human, religious performance. How is a Muslim man welcomed into paradise? His good must outweigh his bad on the day of reckoning (or he must give his life as a martyr by killing infidels). How is a Mormon man rewarded with paradise (and the status of an immortal god)? He must perform well as a Mormon. How does a Hindu progress from one existence to the next in the cycle of rebirth through reincarnation and ultimately “released” from that cycle to nirvana? He/she must function well and master karma. These are all works-righteousness means of salvation. Even Roman Catholicism teaches that one must do all of the right things in order to enter heaven. The arrival in “paradise” of each of these religions is dependent on how well one can perform in the system of the given religion. One must perform, achieve, work, realize, and do. Now, how well are you doing with all of that? Does your good outweigh your bad? Do you know? Is there any way of knowing? You feel like you are a good person, but are you sure it is enough? How can you know? Is there any assurance of salvation/paradise/heaven?

And what does the Bible teach? Do Christians have an answer that is altogether different from what these other religions have to say? Like many other major doctrines, the Bible’s answer does stand exclusively on the subject of the end-times and the things to come after this present life and age. Let us briefly consider what the Bible says about these things. Maybe the most famous verse in all the Bible is John 3:16. It says, as if you did not already know, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” We can learn many things from this one, well-known verse. Maybe that is why it is so popular. Let us ask and answer of this verse some of the questions we have asked of other religions.

First, is there an afterlife? Yes, the Bible teaches that there is a promise of “everlasting life.”

Second, is there a day of reckoning, a judgment day? Yes, we may not be able to see it explicitly in this verse, but a judgment day is obviously implied that some will “perish.”

Third, how can one enter into this everlasting life? One must “believe” in the “only begotten Son” whom God “gave” in order to enter into everlasting life.

Fourth, is there assurance of salvation for the Christian? Yes, there is great assurance of salvation and safety given to the believer because “God so loved the world” and because salvation is not dependent on religious performance, but on the plan of God. God does not thump His own plan and promises; that would make no logical sense.

Fifth, is this salvation only or primarily for the reward of worthy men, that is, males? No, salvation is not primarily for men, but for “whoever believes” be they men or women.

*Therefore, you see, the Bible proclaims something altogether different about the afterlife and how this present age is connected to it. This can be seen from only one New Testament verse, but consider more of the Bible story with some summarizations and a few Scripture references for each (this is not exhaustive, but may be helpful):

1. God created both male and female in His image and likeness (Genesis 1-2);

2. Adam, Eve, and all human beings have sinned against God and fallen miserably short of the glory of God (Genesis 3; Romans 3);

3. God has put the longing for eternity into our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11);

4. There will be a Judgment Day because God is perfect, righteous, holy, and just and is required by those personal attributes to hold His creation accountable for their sin (1 John 1:5; James 1:13; Hebrews 9:27; Matthew 12:36; Revelation 20:11-15; Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 4:5);

5. There is a heaven (Revelation 21; John 14:1-6; Matthew 25; 1 Corinthians 2:9; 2 Peter 3:13; Hebrews 13:14) and a hell (Matthew 10:28; 13:50; 25; Revelation 20:15; 2 Thessalonians 1:9);

6. Men and women can be saved from the wrath to come and enter into God’s presence which is heaven/paradise/salvation/pleasures forevermore by trusting that what Christ has done on the cross is enough to save them. One cannot trust his/her own righteousness for salvation, but only in the righteousness of Christ (John 3; Romans 3:21-26; 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:20-21; Ephesians 2:4-9; John 14:6; Acts 2).

What would you add to this article? Do you think it is true that many people have the longing for eternity? Do you think that probably all people have these sorts of questions? Post some comments on the Facebook page!