The Next Life and Its Implications

A Better Hope

Teaching t07520

Introduction

Belief in life after death is virtually a universal in human experience. Skepticism about the afterlife is very recent historically, and in spite of decades of this influence, at least 80% of Americans still believe in life after death.

Why is this? The Bible says it is because God put it there (read Eccles. 3:11 NIV). All humans instinctively sense that they will go on living, and yet we cannot understand more than this apart from God's revelation. This is one way to understand human religions--as human attempts to explain the spiritual longings that God has put in their hearts.

But God has put this sense in our hearts because he means to satisfy it--and through the Bible he provides for us a much better hope than anything human minds have imagined. It is a better hope for four reasons . . . 

More information about the afterlife

First of all, the Bible gives us far more information (to be surveyed shortly) about the afterlife than any other religion or "scripture." In fact, there is so much detail that it is difficult to collate--but this is vastly preferable to the vague and shadowy explanation offered by other religions.

Isn't this what we would expect if a loving God wrote a book for us? He would know about the longing for eternity that he set in our hearts, our anguish over death, our concern for deceased loved ones, etc. And he would want us to know what he has planned for us. This is exactly what the Bible says God has done (read 1 Cor. 2:9,10).

A better afterlife

Secondly, the Bible describes a far better afterlife than any other view. In the next life, God wants to give us is far more than just relief from the negatives of this life (although he assures us he will "wipe away every tear"), and far more than merely the continuation of this life.

Paul says it is "very much better" than this life. It is so unimaginably wonderful in a positive sense that it far exceeds the limits of human language to describe it (read 2 Cor. 12:4; 4:17). For this reason, scripture sometimes employs symbolic language, a fact we must bear in mind lest we interpret biblical descriptions of the next life in crassly literalistic ways.

Above all, the next life will be personal. Because God is a community of Persons who love one another, and because we have been created in God's image, we were made to enjoy perfect personal love relationships forever--most of all with God, but also with other humans and angelic beings.

How different this is from the afterlife envisioned by animism (e.g., NATIVE AMERICAN; SHINTO), in which humans continue to exist consciously—but not in the presence of God. Rather, they usually become disembodied spirits who wander around or ancestral spirits who affect their living relatives for good or ill depending on a variety of factors. This is why ancestor worship is so important in many animistic religions.

How different this is from the afterlife in pantheism (e.g., HINDUISM and BUDDHISM), in which people are reincarnated according to karmic law. But this is only a way station on the path back to God. And since God is ultimate oneness (not a Person), the fate that awaits all of us is the loss of all personhood and absorption into the impersonal oneness of the universe (DROP OF WATER INTO THE SEA).

"A real merging of the limited in the ocean of universal life involves complete surrender of separative existence in all its forms."

"There is a sphere (nirvana) which is neither earth, nor water, nor fire, nor air . . . (it is) the sphere of nothingness . . . the end of suffering."

In addition to this, the Bible reveals a whole host of other things about the next life (into which we will delve more deeply in coming weeks) which corrects many myths you may have heard:

SHADOWY GHOSTS; DIAPERED BABIES vs. MAJESTIC & IMPERISHABLE BODIES

CLOUD-FLOATING & HARP-STRUMMING vs. PURPOSEFUL & FULFILLING ACCOMPLISHMENT

BLISSFUL DAZE vs. FLAWLESS PERCEPTION & INTELLECTUAL ACTIVITY

MONOTONOUS MUSIC vs. AESTHETIC & ARTISTIC PERFECTION

In summary, the next life will provide full satisfaction of every wholesome human aspiration.

It almost sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Maybe this is just a classic case of wish-fulfillment. This is why God has provided better evidence for this afterlife than there is for any other view.

Better evidence

We have to understand a couple of important distinctions in this area.

Empirical certainty vs. sufficient evidence: Empirical certainty refers to scientific proof of something that is accessible to our five senses through repeated laboratory examination. Obviously, then, there is no empirical certainty of the afterlife--it requires a step of faith. But that doesn't mean that all beliefs about the afterlife are equally plausible or implausible, because some beliefs have more evidence for them than others.

ANALOGY: If you need heart surgery, there is no way to have empirical certainty about the outcome; you'll have to trust someone to perform it. But that doesn't mean that any choice of trust that you make is equally plausible. You wouldn’t pick a name at random out of a phone book, or ask your carpenter neighbor to do it. You would examine the evidence for the best available person. You would talk only to heart surgeons, you'd ask for references and get recommendations--and then you'd make a decision to trust.

Blind faith vs. evidence-based faith: The choice to trust anyone to operate on you would be a step of blind faith. The choice to trust the heart surgeon with the best references, etc. would be a step of evidence-based faith (LINES DIAGRAM).

In the same way, not all views of the afterlife have the same evidential credentials. In fact, no other view comes close to the amount that Christianity provides. Consider briefly these four lines of evidence that converge.

The Bible's unique and abundant record of fulfilled prophecy provides a basis for trusting the veracity of its unfulfilled predictions (FAITH MAKES SENSE).

The evidence for Jesus' resurrection (JERUSALEM CHURCH; APOSTLES' MARTYRDOM) provides a basis for trusting his claim that we can also overcome death through him (1 Cor. 15:20). (DARLING OR CRAIG QUOTE)

You can experience the reality of a personal love relationship with Christ through his Spirit (FRUIT). The New Testament calls this God's "down payment" that guarantees that he will come through on his promises concerning the next life (2 Cor. 5:4,5).

You can interact with Christians who are substantially delivered from the fear of death (Heb. 2:15; MAYFAIR), and you can experience it for yourself.

Now for the best reason of all why the Bible's view of the afterlife is a better hope . . . 

A better offer

Other religions always make a desirable afterlife something you earn through good works. And because they are based on works, they offer no assurance of a desirable afterlife. In fact, the more devoutly you adhere to the other religions, the less assurance you have.

For Muslims, the Qur’an teaches "Every man’s actions have we hung around his neck, and on the last day shall be laid before him a wide-open book." (Sura 17:13) Sura 4:124 says, "If any do deeds of righteousness . . . and have faith, they will enter heaven." But how good do your deeds have to be, and how many of them? Muslims are told to observe the Five Pillars, but only Allah knows who will enter heaven and who will go to hell.

"There is no assurance of eternal life until the Muslim reaches the day of judgment at which time it is commonly understood that all will be made to walk over the thin edge of a sword stretched across a deep abyss. Those who succeed will enjoy an eternity of sensual paradise. Those who fail will be consigned to torment in the raging fires of hell. Faith and good works during a person’s life are believed to give assistance in passing this test. Muslims believe one’s good and bad works will be weighed on a huge scale and influence whether he successfully crosses the abyss into paradise."

Rabbinic Judaism (on which most modern Judaism is built) has the same problem. "At the time of a man’s departure from this world, all his actions are detailed before him . . . He agrees, and is then ordered to sign the record. He also admits the justice of the verdict and declares, ‘Rightly hast Thou judged me.’"

Therefore, Rabbi Zakkai laments at his imminent death: "Two paths now lie before me, one leading to Paradise and the other to Gehinnom (hell), and I know not which I am destined to take. Should I not then weep?"

In works-based versions of Christianity, we find the same problem. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read, "Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves . . . the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life." (It is a contradiction to speak of meriting grace for ourselves, because grace means unmerited favor. This is like speaking of charity that you earned.)

Therefore, no one can know before they die whether they have eternal life. "Church teaching is that I don’t know, at any given moment, what my eternal future will be. I can hope, pray, do my very best—but I still don’t know. Pope John Paul II doesn’t absolutely know that he will go to heaven, nor did Mother Theresa of Calcutta . . ."

But the Bible teaches something very different. Eternal life is a free gift, because it depends not on your good works for God, but only on Christ’s perfect and finished work for you. Since the death of Christ pays the penalty for our sins, God makes the way to heaven available completely apart from your works. If you are willing to put your personal trust in Christ's payment, you are given the guarantee of eternal life.

Hundreds of biblical passages ring with this certainty!!! Read Jn. 3:16; Rom. 6:23; Ps. 23:6; Lk. 23:43.

Conclusion

Very few people ever get the opportunity to make a decision that they know will positively impact the rest of your life (COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIP; SURE-THING FINANCIAL INVESTMENT; JOB; MARRIAGE). But God extends this offer to every single person, no matter how undeserving we've been, because of his great love for us. I guarantee you that you will never regret this decision. You will never regret it in this life because Christ will make your life immeasurably more meaningful and fulfilling. And even 10 million years from now, you'll still be marveling over the wonderful ramifications that flow from this decision. God is offering you the gift of eternal life. You can receive that gift today by simply agreeing with him that you need his forgiveness, and by humbly asking him to apply Christ's death to your sins and take you to be with him forever. What is your response to his offer?

NEXT: 2 judgments