Who Wants To Live Forever?

Title: Who Wants To Live Forever?

Text: John 3:16, 5:24, 28; Ecclesiastes 3:21,

Time: October 15th, 2012

 

One of the most curious and odd developments in our modern age is the seemingly loss of interest and appeal in the promise of immortality. What I mean is, today, it would seem that living forever or obtaining eternal life isn’t such a prize after all – or so it seems by our contemporary casual attitude towards it. Now it has always been the case that most all of traditional religion in the past has held out the hope and promise of eternal life; and this hope and promise attracted people to it because of the great benefit that it held. Living forever is a good thing, right? Eternal life is a blessing, true? Well, that’s what people in the past always thought; that’s what traditional religions have always operated on. But this isn’t the case today – or it isn’t obviously true today. In our secular, modern era we find that people are more concerned about obtaining a good life in the here and now, and they leave the whole question of life after death in the category of “theoretical” or “speculative” at best. The truth is, most people today seem to be skeptical or even cynical of any claims of knowledge about life after death; and they are even more mistrustful of promises of securing eternal blessings in the next life. So as a result of this skepticism, they tend to ignore the whole topic as unknowable; besides, it’s possible today with our modern, secular and prosperous world, to keep ourselves busy securing money and material goods enough to occupy ourselves and not think about such other worldly things at all. So then the question we must ask our contemporary secular society is, “Who wants to live forever?” I get this question from the musical theme of the 80s movie, “The Highlander,” about a group of “immortals” who fight it out to the death until there’s only one left. Or as the movie puts it, “In the end, there can only be one,” in speaking of these so-called immortals. The movie describes a small number of members of the human race who find themselves incapable of dying, and so they live on and on, generation after generation, while the rest of humanity lives and dies normally. The main theme for the movie is the song, “Who Wants to Live Forever,” performed by the rock group Queen. And I bring up this movie and the theme song in order to raise the question again in our day and age, “Who really wants to live forever?” Or in other words, is there benefit in eternal life? Is life everlasting a blessing? Or is it a burden, as many today seem to see it? Or is it simply something impossible to determine, so we should ignore the question altogether and get on with living our lives in the here and now? I’d like to examine some of these questions today in light of what the Bible says.

 

First, biblical Christianity assumes that God’s offer of eternal life is a blessing. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son, that whosever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The most famous passage in the Bible assumes that eternal life is a good thing, a desirable thing, a blessing – or else the passage has no meaning. In other words, unless we assume that life everlasting is a benefit or something of great value, the offer of salvation through Jesus Christ means nothing. The Bible’s assumption that people want or desire eternal life isn’t just something that ancient Jews assumed, but was something that most pagan people assumed as well. Yes, there were a few philosophies and a few religions that didn’t make eternal life or life after death a main feature; there were even some beliefs systems that didn’t even address the issue or even excluded it. But most people of the ancient world, Jew or Gentile, desired life to continue on after death. In other words, most people have always wanted to continue to live in some form after their physical death. Most people have not taken the attitude that they simply wanted to face total annihilation with their body in the grave. Most people have viewed some kind of after life desirable, beneficial, something of value. Most people have not taken the casual, blasé or even uninterested attitude we see today coming from modern, secular people concerning life after death. I’ve heard experts claim that when life is hard – as it was for most of human history – appeal to a better afterlife is popular, but when life is good on earth, interest in the next life or belief in immortality weakens. That may be true, because if life is good and prosperous we are able to keep ourselves occupied and preoccupied with the things of earthly life, and we enjoy as much of it as we can, while at the same time trying not to think too much of our approaching death. But isn’t it clear that this kind of thinking is just one big denial? Death comes to everyone at some point, and while we can keep busy enjoying the good life in the here and now we are going to have to think about death at some time and prepare for it in some way. Christianity spends a lot of time preparing our soul for life after death, and most people in the past saw such preparation as important, even if people today don’t. In John 3:16 we read that, “whoever believes in him (Jesus) should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Now perish in this verse means something different than to die and never wake up; it means perish in the sense of everlasting punishment in hell, judgment for unforgiven sins. The biblical assumption is that the soul will live forever anyway, but the issue Christianity addresses is where the sole will live forever. Biblical Christianity also assumes that people grasp the benefit of living in a state of eternal blessedness. But today in our modern world, people are challenging this assumption.

 

Second, the modern, secular assumption is live life to the fullest in the here and now because nobody really knows if there’s life after death. Ecclesiastes 3:21, “Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of animals goes down into the earth?”  The Book of Ecclesiastes is a prophetic writing included in the Old Testament of the Bible in order to give an account of King Solomon’s life during a time-period in which he was doubting or playing the skeptic about almost everything in life. Solomon was a believer, but he indulged himself in skepticism for a while. His skeptical phase of life gives us a window into the world of the secular unbeliever of our own day, even though it was written thousands of years ago. Today, men and women are not so much outright rejecting the idea of life after death as they are ignoring it. With the rise of scientific thinking with its emphasis on empirical data and verification, most people today tend to look for material explanations for everything. Unfortunately, as far as science is concerned, if we examine the topic of life after death, we don’t find much scientific evidence to support it. And because science is so dominant in our world today, that impacts the way people view life after death. What people don’t realize is that science, as helpful as it is in giving us many of the blessings and benefits of the modern world, doesn’t give us the complete picture of reality. It’s great at revealing the secrets of the physical and natural world, but it’s really bad at giving us insight into reality outside of nature. That’s why we need divine revelation in order to know about things that are not open to discovery by human reason alone. But people today tend to ignore the Bible’s divine revelation; they tend to limit their knowledge only to things that human reason can verify, such as scientific conclusions. And if we limit our knowledge to only science, we’ll be skeptics about life after death. As more people ignore divine revelation, as more people rely solely on human reason, as more people turn to science instead of Christianity, more people will doubt or ignore altogether questions of life after death. But is it possible to simply treat life after death as a non-issue? To begin with, isn’t life itself something valuable? Aren’t we glad to be alive? Most people would agree that they are grateful to be alive, to have life. So then, by logical extension, wouldn’t continued life after death be desirable also? Wouldn’t it be better to live on than to simply die – and that’s the end of it? Again, I think that most people are grateful for their present life and that most people would also prefer to live on rather than have the life that they have taken from them. But strangely enough, not all see it this way.

 

I remember listening to an interview with the late atheist philosopher Anthony Flew. He had created quite a stir in intellectual circles at the end of his life by converting from atheism to some kind of vague and general belief in God. He wasn’t a Christian; he didn’t convert to biblical Christianity. But he did convert from a state of unbelief, a complete and total atheist who wrote many sophisticated and popular arguments against belief in God, to a believer in God after all. He admitted that for all his life he was wrong, and that he now sees that there must be a God. But when he was asked during the interview if he believed in and looked forward to life after death, he suddenly and with lots of emotion said, “Heavens No!” He went on to explain that he had no desire to live forever. In response to the question of the theme song of the movie, The Highlander, “Who Wants to Live Forever?” Flew would answer with a firm, “I don’t want to live forever.” Now why not? Can’t we all agree that living is better than non-living? Can’t we agree that life, generally speaking and even if it’s hard at times, is something of great value, and that it would seem to be more desirable than not having life? I could imagine that if a person is suffering 24/7 in this life, that they might conclude that not living is better than living, or that being unconscious is better than being conscious, if it means the difference between suffering and not suffering. Yes, we can understand that. But most of us don’t live with constant suffering. Most of us experience hardships and troubles and problems in life, but do most of us consider it would have been better not to have been born at all? Do most of us consider our lives to have been an overall curse rather than an overall blessing? I don’t think so. I think most people today don’t outright reject life after death as much as don’t know what to think, and so in a state of ignorance or doubt or unbelief, they try to make the best of things by living their lives in the here and now as best they can, while trying not to think too much about questions of life after death. Yes, there is an element of denial in this approach. Yes, there is the sense that many people are avoiding asking the big questions about what comes next after death in order to avoid being depressed or disappointed or discouraged. But what is the psychological price they pay for avoiding the really big questions of life, including the question of life after death? I believe we see the price people pay for trying to live totally secular lives and avoid asking the question of life after death – an increase in cases of anxiety and fear, an increase in the use of psychological counseling, and an increase in the use of depression medication and treatment. One simply can’t live in denial and be mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy. We are seeing a lot of sickness in society today due to the denial of even asking the question about life after death. All of this is totally unnecessary.

 

Third, Christianity teaches that an eternal blessed life is possible. John 5:24, 28“I (Jesus) tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. . . . Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” Here’s a clear passage, just one of many, many passages in the New Testament, that describes not only life after death, but also more details about what happens during our life after death. One, it talks about people rising up from their graves, hearing the voice of God and spiritual resurrection. What is this description but life after death? To die and stay in the grave would be to not have life after death. This verse says, more particularly, Jesus says, that everyone will hear God’s voice from the grave and arise to meet him. So the grave isn’t final, according to Jesus. How does Jesus know this? Because he came from God the Father to us on earth to reveal things, including knowledge of life after death. But also, Jesus proved that he is capable of producing life after death by dying and coming back from the dead on resurrection Sunday. So if anyone is qualified to speak on issues of life and death, including issues of life after death, it’s Jesus. I don’t have time today to demonstrate that Jesus really did rise from the dead; that would take a whole message that is usually taught around Easter time every year. But I’ll just say here that unless Jesus really did die and return from the dead in order to appear to his disciples, then it is impossible to explain the birth of Christianity as a religion. If anyone doubts that they can take the time to explore the history of how the Christian faith started and see for themselves. It doesn’t make any sense unless the resurrection of Jesus actually took place. Only when the resurrection of Jesus is granted does the birth and spread of Christianity make any sense. Now because Jesus did rise from the dead, he gives us confirmation of the reality of life after death. The soul doesn’t die with the body; the immaterial part of each person doesn’t die with the material body of each person. There is a distinction between the soul and body. The body dies, but the soul lives on. But the passage above also speaks to what happens in life after death – the saved soul goes to God for eternal blessed life, while the unsaved soul goes to God and is condemned to eternal judgment and punishment. Now we can detect another motivation for some people to not want there to be life after death – they don’t want to submit to the authority of a High Power, here or anywhere. And if there’s a judgment or punishment for resisting God’s authority, they’d just as soon die and never wake up to see it.

 

But again, Christianity has a solution to this problem of divine judgment and punishment in the life after death — and that is salvation. Nobody has to live forever in divine judgment and punishment. Nobody has to suffering endlessly forever in hell for their sins against God. Salvation is available through Jesus Christ. A while back I mentioned philosopher Anthony Flew who converted from atheism to some kind of belief in God. Now while he believed in God, he didn’t believe in the Christian God generally, nor did he believe in Jesus particularly. Now we can understand why he might not want there to be life after death – because he hadn’t followed the Christian plan of salvation and there might be fear that if true he’d be judged and punished for his unbelief. That is a big subconscious fear in many people. Yes, they’d like to live forever, but only on their own terms. They don’t want to, or can’t imagine, serving someone other than themselves. The thought of worship and praise is loathsome to them. Yielding their soul to the authority of a Higher Power like God is something they don’t want to do. Unless they can have perfect freedom to do their own will, they’d rather die and be annihilated, than live in heaven under the authority of God. So for many people it’s all about power and control. If they can’t be in complete control of their life, then they’d rather not have life of any kind. Unfortunately, we aren’t given the opportunity to just drop out of existence. Suicide doesn’t end the life of the soul; neither does the grave at the end of a long life on earth. Anthony Flew won’t get his wish of mortality; he and everyone else can never really die. There is no soul death. So for many people, life after death, and its denial, is really an attempt to deny divine judgment. It’s an attempt to deny the reality of God’s authority and claim on their life. Isn’t it strange that as the world gradually works itself into the position of offering its citizens more and more freedoms, approaching near absolute freedom in some sense, that more and more people reject the belief in life after death? And isn’t it also strange that as people become more free, more reject belief in God as well? Again, couldn’t this be a reaction to the notion that God is the Supreme Authority and that he has claim on all of our souls? In our ever-increasing freedom here on earth we become more resistant to anyone, including God, of robbing us of total, absolute control. The idea of life after death and the possibility of divine judgment contradict our notion of absolute freedom, so we deny life after death entirely. But again, this is living in denial. The truth is God exists, he has authority over everything including us, and one day we’ll stand before him after death and give account for our life. The question of life after death will be a moot point then, the only issue we’ll face is – how did we relate to God. Why not get that issue settled now while there’s time. Why not come to Jesus and enter into a saving relationship with God today?

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