The old saying is “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.” That is true when kids are rough housing and things go dangerously awry. But life can be that way too. Quite often, it seems, human beings go through life with little thought to what happens when we breathe our last. Life is all fun and games for lots of people, until the music stops and there is no chair to grab onto.
“Wait just a minute! I’m not done playing yet! What do you mean, ‘I’m out of the game’? What becomes of me, now that my part in the game is over?”
Well, there are plenty of “answers” available, if you are into vague “feel-good” responses. Maybe you’ll become one of the stars above. Maybe you will go to a happy place like heaven, even if you never believed in any particular god or heaven before. Or maybe you’ll become an angel, sitting on a cloud, playing a harp. But, maybe life is just “a candle in the wind,” and when you die, you’ll just sort of “flicker out” – poof! Or, maybe karma will kick in and you’ll be reincarnated and come back as someone or something else. In that case, you should hope you have built up good karma, or you might come back as a maggot or worse! (Karma isn’t true – don’t worry….)
For our part though, we can’t figure out why any of these “maybes” would satisfy a human being who is about to leave this world. Is death a time for “maybes”?
It took just over two minutes for a secular television show, ER, in an emotionally compelling piece, to show the need for real answers when mortality looms.
A dying surgeon says, “I’m afraid of what comes next.” He is clearly terrified of what happens the moment after he takes his last breath. The hospital chaplain had nothing to offer him, so the man cries out, “I want a real chaplain, who believes in a real God and a real hell! I need answers!” In a profoundly emotional moment he tells the chaplain, “I need someone who will look me in the eye and tell me how to get forgiveness because I am running out of time.”
What does happen after we die? The question of eternity has indeed haunted mankind throughout the ages. Story tellers have intertwined these questions into their works for millennia. Shakespeare, in his masterful treatment of the very unsettling questions of eternity, has Hamlet, who is mourning the death of his father, take up the question – Is it better to live with the troubles life brings or to just end it all?
To be, or not to be–that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep–
No more–and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep–
To sleep–perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all…
Mel Gibson gives a powerful performance of this question. But to put Hamlet’s soliloquy in simpler terms for modern man to understand –
Why do we put up with all the terrible problems and griefs and injustice and trauma and weariness of life, when we could just die (go to sleep) and put an end to it all? Why not just “sleep?” Hamlet says the problem (the rub) with “sleeping” is that we have no idea what dreams may come to us while we sleep. Perhaps death is not final. The “undiscovered country” of death may in fact be far worse than what we are dealing with now, in life, and so our conscience makes cowards of us all.
What is the draw of books like William P. Young’s The Shack or Rob Bell’s Love Wins? Hurting people are looking for answers. Where is God when life is hard? How do I survive the death of my child, my nephew, my spouse, or a very close friend? Is there, as atheists would have us believe, simply nothingness? Our breath goes out and that’s it?
God has placed eternity in our hearts, which separates us from the animals. We don’t really believe we cease to exist, and like Hamlet and the surgeon on ER, we are fearful of what comes next. “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.”
Emergent leader Rob Bell and William P Young, author of The Shack, go off in the direction of the hospital chaplain in the ER episode. Yes, according to these two wildly popular luminaries, there is indeed a heavenly destination after death, and all people go there – salvation is universal! Cue the rainbows and unicorns. God is love, so there is no judgment for our sins, our disbelief, or our rejection of His Son. No judgment = no condemnation. And it doesn’t matter what religious “path” you’re on, since ALL paths lead to God. Put faith for your eternal destination in a COEXIST bumper sticker! Ain’t that just peachy?
Yes, those New Agey answers may indeed sound peachy, but are they TRUE? The dying surgeon knew deep in his heart it isn’t true. He didn’t want to be fed “some New Age crap” as he viewed it, and he knew he needed forgiveness. God didn’t just place eternity in our hearts – he put a conscience in our souls. It seems the writers of ER have a better grasp on the human condition than the popular writers, pastors and publishers in the Emerging church.
In glaring opposition to them, the Bible says:
And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment. (Hebrews 9:27, ESV)
Judgment? That does not sound all that pleasant! Sounds like one of those bad dreams Hamlet was talking about…
The Apostle Paul did not pull punches with his readers:
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23, ESV)
Death. There’s that nasty word again. And the scripture is not just talking physical death, but eternal death, which is NOT non-existence. Biblically, death means separation. All good things come from God. We are born in a state of separation from God. While alive on this earth, all receive what is called “common grace” – good and bad is experienced by all. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. This gives all people the opportunity to accept God’s remedy for our condition: His free gift of eternal life. But if we die in our sinful condition, we will be eternally separated from God, eternally separated from everything good and beautiful, eternally separated from all peace and comfort. Damned. If you are a believer, this life is the closest you will come to experiencing the torment of hell. If however, you do not believe on Christ, this life is the closest you will ever come to heaven.
God makes His gift of salvation available, free of charge, to everyone, no matter what they have done. But He doesn’t force it on anyone. The truth of the gospel must be believed and the gift must be received! At that point, the receiver is justified by God’s grace, forgiven and set free from the penalty of his or her sin.
…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)
Everyone who calls on the name of Jesus will be saved. It is not a “maybe” – not a guess – not wishful thinking – not a bumper sticker. It is God’s Word. These are real answers to real questions about forgiveness and eternity.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life as set you free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2, NIV)
Therefore we can joyously say,
Where, O death, is your victory? Where O death is your sting? (1Corinthians 15:55, NIV)Ω
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