The Next Life and Its Implications

Living with Hope

Teaching t07524

Introduction

Review the cultural consensus that looks for its locus of meaning and happiness only this life. This perspective is the most fertile breeding ground for disappointment.

"I think we have lost the old knowledge that . . . (this) life is overrated. We have lost, somehow, a sense of mystery—about us, our purpose, our meaning, our role. Our ancestors believed in two worlds, and understood this to be the solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short one. We are the first generations of (our culture) that actually expected to find happiness here on earth, and our search for it has caused—such unhappiness. The reason: If you do not believe in another, higher world, if you believe only in the flat material world around you, if you believe that this is your only chance at happiness—if that is what you believe, then you are not (just) disappointed when the world does not give you a good measure of its riches, you are despairing."[1]

It is also a breeding ground for selfishness, callousness toward others' suffering, etc.

I think most American Christians (including myself most of the time) are so conformed to this perspective that we are forfeiting the hope God wants us to have for ourselves and demonstrate to those who don’t know him.

On the other hand, there is the biblical worldview to which Noonan alludes, and which we have been examining for the last few weeks. That perspective is that this life is not all there is, but rather a brief time to prepare one's self and others for the next life. And that the next life is where (if we are properly prepared) we will find true joy and fulfillment (PERFECT COMMUNION WITH GOD; PERFECT BODIES; PERFECT ENVIRONMENT; ETERNAL DURATION; PROSPECT OF REWARD; REVIEW & SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE).

This is the perspective that breeds hope (2 Cor. 4:16-18) and compassion/love toward others.

An extended analogy

READ BURKITT TRAIN ANALOGY[2]

4 areas this perspective changes

YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON YOUR OWN TRAIN COMPARTMENT

What about your negative circumstances in this life (FINANCIAL SETBACKS; HEALTH PROBLEMS; etc.)? Though real and painful, they are not devastating because you know this is only a brief train ride rather than your final destination. In fact, the more you think about your final destination, the more bearable your compartment becomes.

To switch analogies, I call this the "vacation principle." I find that I am much more able to handle adversity when I know that I am going to go on vacation soon. The fact that I will soon be on the beach, or in the woods fishing, etc. deeply affects my perspective on the hassles I am experiencing beforehand. Things that normally bother me a lot I can deal with because I know that soon "I'm out of here" and on my way to vacation. There is "light at the end of the tunnel," and that fact makes the tunnel bearable.

Paul says he applies this principle to his perspective on suffering throughout this life (read Rom. 8:18). He can speak with authority because he knows what it means to suffer (read 2 Cor. 11:23-27). Using an accounting term, he adds up this side of the ledger. But he also knows what the other side of the ledger contains, and he concludes that there is absolutely no comparison between the sufferings we experience in this life and the "glory" we will experience in the next life. One reason for this is the difference in their duration (read 2 Cor. 4:16,17). Eternity is very longtime. 100 billion years from now, you will only be on the threshold of the beginning of the rest of eternity. Compared to that, all of our sufferings are indeed "momentary."

YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON OTHERS' TRAIN COMPARTMENTS

What about the injustice and inequity in this world (EXAMPLES)? If this life is all there is, then human existence is an absurd mockery. The only alternatives are to look at the injustice and be filled with bitterness and outrage, or dive into your material comforts so deeply that you try to become oblivious to it (AMERICAN DREAM).

But if the biblical perspective is true, God will bring justice at the end of this age. Then those who destroyed others and never repented will be paid back in full for the damage they have done. Then those who suffered at their hands but received the airline tickets will be comforted fully (read Rev. 21:3-8).

This perspective does not lead to apathy about the present situation, as some have charged. On the contrary, those who truly believe in the biblical perspective are most realistic about this world, but also most compassionate toward those who suffer in it. C. S. Lewis, commenting on this fact, said "Because we love something else more than this world we love this world better than those who know no other."[3]

Did I mention Burkitt's occupation? He is a missionary doctor in Africa who pioneered a vaccine for a certain kind of lymphoma cancer.

What about mentally retarded people, infant deaths, etc. If this life is all there is, they lose out so totally that their lives are utter tragedies. This is why more and more people argue that we should kill mentally retarded people—they have no "quality of life" and they destroy the quality of life of those who must care for them. But if the biblical perspective is true, everything changes.

Those who die in infancy have missed much pain and suffering in this life, and have gone on to be with God in a wonderful place. Explain the death of David's son and read 2 Sam. 12:23 and Ps. 23:6.

Those who are mentally retarded likewise will go to be with the Lord. And in the meantime, God can work through them in amazing ways.

My own sister is profoundly retarded, and yet God worked through her simple, child-like faith in him to get my attention when I was a proud atheist.

Dr. Burkitt makes a similar observation: "A few weeks (ago) . . . our youngest grandchild was born. As a family we were shattered to learn that he was destined to travel in a low-class compartment as a child with Downs Syndrome. (But) what initially appeared a stunning tragedy has already turned out to be, and we believe will continue to be, a blessing to us and to many others . . . Our daughter and son-in-law have demonstrated their loving acceptance of this little one by naming him Edward Samuel, his second name meaning "a gift from God." A comment from our daughter expressed all that we as a family had felt. 'When Jesus rode into Jerusalem he deliberately chose to be carried by a humble, stupid animal, a donkey. Edward may in the world's eyes appear stupid, but what matter if he can be used by Jesus?' We pray that he will be a pilgrim pointing others upward as he makes his way in a second-class coach towards the celestial city."[4]

YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON YOUR ARRIVAL AT THE AIRPORT

What about the way you view your own death? If this life is all there is, then your death is the end of your existence—a sheer terror to be avoided at all costs. That's why death is so hidden away in American society. People don't die at home; they die in hospitals and are fixed up for their funerals, etc.

But if the biblical perspective is true, the end of this train ride is not a terminus for those who have received an airline ticket, but rather a transition to look forward to.

That's why Paul can say Phil. 1:23 (read).

What do you think about this statement? " . . .  I have made it my business over the past few years to get to know (my death) . . . so well that the thought of him, not only holds no terrors for me, but even brings me comfort. I thank God that he has granted me the good fortune and opportunity to get to (do this) . . . I never go to bed without reflecting on the thought that perhaps, young as I am, the next day I might not be alive any more. And no man who knows me will be able to say that . . . I am morose or sad. For this happiness I thank every day my Creator, and with all my heart I wish this happiness for all my fellow-men."[5] Do you think the person who said this made no contribution to this life? Would it surprise you to know it was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?

YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON YOUR OCCUPATION ON THE TRAIN

If this life is all there is, it's difficult to see how what you do here has any ultimate meaning. You can improve your compartment and accumulate lots of luggage. You could even help improve others' compartments—but once the train reaches the airport, every has to disembark and leave everything behind.

But if the biblical perspective is true, then what we do in this life really does matter. We can do things that really help people during their train rides, which is significant in itself. But far more significant is offering people airline tickets and living lives that persuade people that this offer is real and valuable (Matt. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:12).

Conclusion

It really is possible to live with hope in this life. If you focus on the reality of the next life (2 Cor. 4:18 - skopeo) and choose to view every major issue of this life in light of this truth, you can live with hope and be a beacon of hope to other people.

But before you can do this, you have to receive the ticket Christ is offering you (read Jn. 11:25,26) . . . 

Footnotes

[1] Peggy Noonan, "You'd Cry Too If It Happened To You," Forbes Magazine, September 14, 1992, p. 65.

[2] Denis Burkitt, M.D., "Where Are You Going?" The Saturday Evening Post, April, 1984, pp. 68,69.

[3] C. S. Lewis, "Some Thoughts," God in the Dock: Essys in Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), p. 150.

[4] Denis Burkitt, M.D., "Where Are You Going?" The Saturday Evening Post, April, 1984, p. 96.

[5] Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, cited in J. Oswald Sanders, Heaven: Better By Far (Grand Rapids: Discovery Press, 1993), p. 32.