Continuing our series on basic Christian convictions we turn next to the idea of eternal life. One of the things we learn in the Bible is that death is not the end of our existence. Man has always yearned to live, to survive the death of his body, but apart from any revelation from God he has no reason to think that there's any life beyond this one.
The New Testament makes it clear, however, that the death of this physical body is not unlike the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. Just as the butterfly emerges transformed from the chrysalid, so, too, we are assured, we take on a whole new form of life and being.
This makes, or should make, an enormous difference in the way we view this life. If the atheistic materialist is right and death really is the end for each of us, then this life has precious little meaning. Death obliterates everything, nothing we do ultimately means a thing. Our lives are like the flash of a firefly's light in the dark night. It appears and then it's gone, forever. If death is the end then there's no reason at all why anyone should live one way rather than another. Nothing really matters, so whether one lives like Adolf Hitler or Mother Teresa it's all the same. When Hitler and Mother Teresa died they both ceased to exist, their fate, their destinies were the same so what difference did their decisions about how they would conduct their lives ultimately make?
If death is the end, there's no ultimate justice, no recompense for those who've done terrible things and caused great suffering. Such people will not be punished and those who've done wonderful things fare no better than those who didn't. So what's the point? If death is the end then we're just temporary assemblages of atoms that are destined to become topsoil. There's no dignity or value in being just a lump of flesh and bone. If atheism is true then man has no dignity or worth. He's just an animal to be herded and manipulated to suit the whim of whomever has the power to impose his will on the rest.
Christians, however, believe that when we die something of us lives on. Call it our soul, the totality of information that gives an exhaustive description of who we are. This information that describes us exists in the mind of God and is reinstantiated in some other body, some other mode of expression, when this material body is no longer able to function. Because our soul is information in the mind of God, it never ceases to exist. It's always in His database, as it were, ready to be downloaded at the next iteration of our existence. Because of this each of our lives, being eternal, is infinitely important and meaningful. Because of this we can hope that justice does exist and we have a reason for believing that the moral choices we make really do matter. Our eternal destiny may hinge upon them.
Why do Christians believe this? What do they base their hope upon? Consider just a few of the words of Jesus on the topic:
"Whoever believes [in me] may have eternal life." (Jn.3:15).
"He who believes in the Son has eternal life." (Jn.3:36)
"But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst but the water that I shall give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life." (Jn.4:14)
"Already he who reaps....is gathering fruit for life eternal." (Jn.4:36)
"My sheep hear my voice...and I give eternal life to them and they shall never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand." (Jn.10:28)
It's clear that Jesus believed that there was life after physical death, but this raises a question: Why should we place confidence in the words of an itinerant rabbi who lived in an obscure corner of the world two thousand years ago. The answer is that Christians have always believed that Jesus was not just a rabbi, not even just a man, but that he is in some sense divine. That He is God.
That'll be our topic in the next post in the series.