Saturday, January 25, 2014

Where do I go when I die?

One of the most underused arguments for the existence of God lies in mankind himself. In no other creature do we even begin to see what I call the sentience of man. Descartes long ago made famous the statement, “I think therefore I am.” But I think it true in a way not taken by Descartes, and it is that which I would reflect upon now. As I look over the animal kingdom, I cannot help but notice man’s difference from the animals to be so vast, and yet so intrinsically tied in with those same animals. Lewis observed this when he said somewhere that we are souls, and we have bodies. Whatever God breathed into man to make him a living soul also separated him forever from the animal kingdom. It is this ability to be able to think and reflect on things outside of our immediate interests which differentiate us from animals.

Man not only makes books to hold his thoughts, he also designs libraries to hold the books, and when I reflect on that I cannot help but see a whole side to man that is not present even in the higher animals. It puts a stamp on man that is unique, almost as if it were saying, “Creator did this”, for there is no other explanation from science or philosophy that adequately treats what I see. An accident or a chance mutation does not explain the sentience that we find in man; indeed, I find that explanation to be so remote as to be hardly possible. It is far more probable that what we find in ourselves is but a dim mirror of our Creator.

Along with the idea of sentience is the idea of what “we should be”. I know there are many that would point to the fallen deeds of man, and insist that we are nothing more than beasts, but even in their insistence I think they are showing the mark of their Creator. Their implicit insistence at pointing to the fallen deeds of men is but just a pointer to what we “should” do and be. Man, as we find him, is so wicked and fallen that we all know it, and generally without argument. It is the fact that we so easily can see this fallenness that presents the dilemma—we see a better way. Perhaps we could never quite agree about what that better way is, but that is not important to my argument, for I am arguing that our moral imperative declares the Creator.

All of this is just to say that man, a different creature from all, has the stamp of the Creator in him, and thus declares his being as an eternal creature. There is something of God that beats an intimate beat within our hearts. That nature, to be sure, is marred horribly as we find it so often in history, and yet the piece of God given to us has made us forever in his image. The death of our bodies, therefore, does not mean the death of our souls. We are souls; we have bodies.

So then the question, where do I go when I die, is a most important question. I think it beyond the scope of this short answer to provide all the details given in the Bible, but this at least I will comment on. Jesus spoke to the thief on the cross, and proclaimed “today you shall be with me in Paradise.” His coming as the Lamb of God made possible the salvation of all who believe. It seems that part of what Christ did just after his resurrection was to preach to the dead, that the souls he preached to needed in some fashion to believe in the redemption offered through faith. Since his death we know that believers go directly to heaven. Randy Alcorn suggests that we may be given temporary bodies, and this may be correct, but we know that we directly go into the presence of God. We know also from Paul, that those who die before the return of Christ eagerly await their new bodies, given out at the translation, along with those of us who are caught up in the air to be forever with our Lord.

Apparently God does indeed desire that all men might be saved, and one indicator of that good will is found in his seeming slowness to judge the wicked dead. It is a job that he puts off until the last (Rev. 20:5), “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.” The Great White Throne judgment happens after Satan’s final doom, and death and Hades give up the dead that they have collected throughout history, and “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15). I cannot say it is saved until the last because of reluctance, but it is as many men would do in putting off a distasteful task.

As for the believers, the second death has no power over them, and they become part of the new heavens and the new earth (Rev. 21), where God will dwell with men, to their endless delight. And what, you may ask, happens to those who believe God and have accepted Christ as their Savior? John speaks of a new heaven and a new earth, one in which all the dreams of men come true, where we have our God in his full presence and majesty with us. And so we shall ever be with the Lord Huron.

And so I see immediate peril for that man who has not taken provision for the journey beyond this life. It might be argued that God as the First Cause is responsible for the mess which man finds himself in today. I think that God has accepted that responsibility, if indeed he sees it as such, and made provision for all of men to be rescued from this second death. Thus, there are three ways I think man ought to see his need. First, he is a sentient being, so far above any of the animals so as to defy description. Second, he knows that he “should be” a better creature, and he understands by his conscience that he is not anywhere close to what he should be. Third, the cause of his sin is adequately provided for in the plan of the First Cause, and we see that in giving himself, God could do no more to rescue sinful man.

But that is the problem of man. We still live under a great veil of blindness, and men everywhere seem almost to be prevented from logically seeing their plight. Those people who manage to reason about that which is coming after at all, seem only to figure that God, as a benevolent judge, will surely overlook their sin. The problem is God is holy, and created men to be like him. Since we are not, and we are marred beyond hope by the presence of sin, we need a Redeemer. If we do not think through our need for that Redeemer in this life, I am afraid we will be able to think of little else in the life to come. But then, of course, it will be eternally too late.

If there be a problem central to American Christianity, it is right here, found in the question of where do I go when I die. For if American Christians really believe that, where is their compassion and zeal for the lost? Too often I see us busy with other things, with the hustle and bustle of life, and I fear there are too few of us who really take the time to believe the gospel, for if we really did believe the gospel, wouldn’t we be busy reaching out to our lost brothers and sisters? The last command Jesus gave us was in the Great Commission, and we will only see revival when we realize our desperate need, and throw ourselves at his feet, that our friends and neighbors might know of his mercy before they find out about the second death.

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