Before you say, “I don’t believe.” Chapter 10
Don’t you sometimes think that there may be life after death?
It is too easy to become caught up with the needs and activities of daily living, and the agendas of the media and the moment. Vital as they all may be, there are bigger issues. I remember the newspaper headlines on September 11th 2001. They were about the TUC, invisible braces for teenagers’ teeth, and the possibility of a politician facing prosecution. They were hardly world-shattering events. The next day the headlines around the world were about War on America. A bigger issue had taken over.
Interestingly, there is in the Gospels an account of when seventy of Jesus’ followers had been sent on a mission. Covering the countryside they were excited, on returning, about their successful work. Jesus said to the seventy that it would be better for them to rejoice that they had places in Heaven reserved for them.
There are bigger issues than who is top of the charts, or the Premier League. Celebrities, film stars, politicians come and go. The biggest issues are not always the obvious ones. Surely, if there is a God, the most important thing in life is to ensure that we are in a right relationship with Him. If God says, as He does, that sin is serious, then it is vital that our sin is forgiven.
And if Jesus did come from Heaven to earth, with the express purpose of going to a cross to die a cruel death, and in so doing was paying the price of all our wrong, then it is crucial to accept this incredible gift and ask Him for forgiveness. If Jesus then rose from the dead, and is alive today, then surely we should ask Him to become our Lord, Saviour and Friend.
The Bible teaches that it is appointed for each person to die, and that after death there is judgement. Jesus Himself will be ‘on the bench’, and we ourselves as individuals will be ‘in the dock’. The issue then will be about what has been our response to Jesus. Jesus purchased the gift of Heaven for us, as He died for our sin, and rose from the dead. If we are relying on our track record, then our works will lead us to condemnation. If we understood the seriousness of our sin against God, then I think we would begin to grasp why there is a hell – eternal punishment for sin, rebellion and the rejection of God. But if we have trusted Jesus to forgive us, and cover us with His purity and righteousness, we will be accepted and welcomed into His Home for ever. He invites all of us to come to Him and find spiritual rest and eternal life. Could there be a bigger issue to settle than this one?
But we are constantly challenged to question these basic beliefs. One atheistic philosopher famously said “When I die, I rot.” Centuries earlier the Greek dramatist Euripides (480-406BC), who was known to be an austere, unsociable character – he used to sit in a cave, looking out to sea – wrote (and note the first word):
If any far off state there be,
dearer to life than mortality,
The hand of the dark has hold thereof,
and mist is under, and mist above;
And we who are sick of life and cling
on earth, to this nameless and shining thing,
For other life is a fountain sealed
and depths below us are unrevealed,
And we drift on legends forever.
A little more recently, popular singer Peggy Lee sang in her haunting, husky voice, ‘Is that all there is?’ She was not only singing about life after death, but she had a sense that something was missing in life itself.
After wrestling with similar doubts, King Solomon came to the conclusion: ‘And the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.’
There are three good reasons for believing in life after death. The first is our reasoning. There is that awareness of something more to humanity than just a conglomeration of chemicals. We refuse to accept that ‘the here and now’ is all that there is. The lump in the throat, the chill in the spine, the sense of awe and wonder all point towards eternity and God. These are not sufficient evidence in themselves, but they are indicators. One has only to go to a funeral to see the sense and longing that the grave is not the end. So, if anyone does not want to believe in life after death, they find themselves intellectually and emotionally fighting against what is a residual belief to them.
When Alexei Kosygin was premier of the old Soviet Union, his wife died. She was buried in solemn state, with Kosygin as the chief mourner, and the service was televised. Viewers all over the world saw a strange thing happen as the coffin finally disappeared out of sight. Kosygin leaned forward and placed on top of it an evergreen branch – the Russian symbol of everlasting life! Now that was an odd thing for the leader of the world’s foremost materialistic, atheistic state to do.
Secondly, there is the resurrection of Jesus. People sometimes say that nobody has ever come back from the dead to tell us. Of course, that is wrong. Jesus lived, died, and rose again. (We examine the evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus elsewhere in this book). Jesus, who Himself was God in human flesh, the Creator who became like us, His creation, and spoke authoritatively about life after death. He knew because of who He was, and what He experienced. He spoke about Heaven, but He loved His creation so much He also warned about hell
Thirdly, we have the revelation of God in His word, the Bible. God has made it clear that every individual will meet his or her Maker and be judged. God’s verdict will determine our eternal destiny. In the Old Testament we read, ‘And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some to everlasting life; some to shame and everlasting contempt.’ (Daniel 12:2) Jesus spoke saying, “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46) The Apostle Paul wrote, ‘Our Saviour Jesus Christ … has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel …’ (2 Timothy 1:10) And the Apostle John in the last book of the Bible records Jesus’ words, “I am He who lives and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore. Amen. And I have the keys of hell and death.” (Revelation 1:18)
I love the writings of the Bronte family. Anne Bronte’s book, ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ centres on the life of Helen, and her inner turmoil with which she, a moral Christian woman, struggled. The problem was that her husband was a drunkard ne’er-do-well, given to cruelty and debauchery. Loyalty won the day, but his dying words to her were, “Oh, Helen, I wish you could come with me to plead for me.”
The Christian has the Advocate that he, the husband, wanted in Helen. Jesus, who lived a perfect and pure life, gave Himself for us on the cross. Hanging and dying there He carried our sin, guilt, shame and condemnation on Himself. He died as the Substitute, Sacrifice and Saviour paying what it would take us eternity to pay. Jesus, speaking of Himself, said, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life, and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36) What we do with Jesus matters for eternity.
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