Almost no question has haunted the minds of human beings more than that of whether there is life after death—and, today, many intellectual giants would have you believe that the only rational answer is “No.” Are they right? Is there an afterlife, or is death the end?
Times have been tough lately. We are all very much aware of today’s various problems, and underlying many of them is what most rational humans fear most—death and the process of dying itself.
The purpose of this article is not to scare or depress you, but to give you hope—something we can all use when times are rough. That hope is for life after death. Many believe in it, in one form or another, but few are willing to bet their lives on it.
Surprisingly, some evolutionists and nominal atheists say they believe in life after death. This is strange, because evolution is fundamentally an attempt to explain life apart from God, and if there is no God, what evolutionary mechanism can possibly bring life back from the dead? Some try to “split the middle” by claiming that God used evolution to create all life forms, but the real appeal of evolution is its dismissal of the Creator, thus ignoring any behavioral restraints that a higher power may place.
So, let’s not play games. Consider for a moment: Though we hate the idea, we are all going to die, and it’s only as we grow older that most of us realize how short life truly is. We grew up hearing parents and their friends exclaim that “Kids grow up so quickly!” and ask, “Where have all the years gone?” Maybe you have said those familiar words yourself.
At some point, we are all confronted with the reality of death, whether in the form of losing a loved one or having a brush with death ourselves. As we ask, What happens when you die?, there are only two possible answers: The blackness of darkness forever as all consciousness ceases, or life beyond the grave. There can be no other alternatives.
Many questions arise for those who believe the latter answer. If there is life after death, when does that life begin—immediately, or at a resurrection sometime in the future? What will it be like, and what form will we take? Some believe they will get wings and become angels, sitting on clouds and playing harps. Others believe in reincarnation, thinking they will come back as a dog, insect, or some other life-form depending on how they lived their lives. Some think they will have to go through a period of purging their sins before entering a heavenly bliss, staring into the face of God forever—the so-called “beatific vision.”
Is it good enough to believe, or not believe, something so important based on emotion, upbringing, what your biology professor tells you, or simple wishful thinking? Emotions do not change reality. Neither can we rely on the way we were raised, because while one person is raised an atheist, another is raised a believer in this god or that god; surely, both cannot be right, yet each believes he is. Being a professor in biology gives no insight into life beyond the grave, and wishful thinking is self-deception. Simply wishing for something to be so never makes it so.
Today, it’s fashionable to reject God, but since one really cannot prove that He doesn’t exist, isn’t it a high-stakes gamble to reject Him without considering the evidence? Sadly, too few people are willing to put forth the effort to explore and answer this most important of all questions.
Most people, when they see death approaching, want to know—Is this the end of it all? Maybe there’s more to it. Lee Iacocca was one of the great industrialists of the twentieth century, and he explained it this way in his book Talking Straight:
I’ve always marveled at how belief in the hereafter gets accentuated as people grow older. Until their deathbeds, many of the great minds in science thought that because their soul and being were wrapped up in their body—the old ninety-eight cents’ worth of chemicals (before inflation, that is)—and that because after death there would no longer be a body, that was it. But now when they have to go, suddenly they want to believe in somebody up there because they don’t know where they’re going and they’re scared—sort of scared to death, you might say. It’s a little late by then.
Iacocca then related a humorous anecdote about the late W.C. Fields. Fields was a lifelong agnostic, neither believing in God nor totally rejecting His existence—not unlike a lot of people walking the streets today. As the story goes, he was found reading the Bible on his deathbed and was asked, “What are you reading that for?” He replied, “I’m looking for a loophole.”
If the story were true, W.C. Fields would not be alone in looking for a last-minute loophole, just in case. Some hedge their bets sooner, while others wait until they are nearer to the inevitable. But if God exists, do we really think He’ll be pleased with that approach? Maybe Iacocca was correct in writing, “It’s a little late by then.”
At some point, most of us ask ourselves, “Does God exist?” and “Is there life after death?” Oh, we may not want to admit that to our friends, but the thoughts come into our minds. Is it possible to know the answers? If so, where do we turn? Should we go to the bookstore and purchase books describing tunnels and bright lights? What about the ideas of various religions? What about science? Surely, science can come to our rescue!
Or can it? Life after death implies two important conclusions. First, there must be an all-powerful force, a higher intelligence or being that can cause a physical existence to transcend to a different form of existence. Secondly, such a supreme cause and transformation implies purpose, which, by its very nature, lies outside scientific discovery.
Science can provide no answers, since, by its own admission, it deals only with the material. The United States National Academy of Sciences clearly admitted that “Whether there is a purpose to the universe or a purpose for human existence are not questions for science” (Kenneth R. Miller, Finding Darwin’s God). But scientists often cross the frontier and make assertions about purpose anyway, or the lack thereof. The late Cornell University biologist and science historian William Provine proclaimed, “We must conclude that when we die, we die, and that is the end of us” (Miller). The outspoken Richard Dawkins wrote the following in River Out of Eden:
In a universe of physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.
Then there is paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, who wrote, “[I]t’s a tough life and if you can delude yourself into thinking that there’s all some warm and fuzzy meaning to it all, it’s enormously comforting. But I do think it’s just a story we tell ourselves” (Miller).
Is Gould correct? Is religion only a self-deluding comfort blanket? Is it all a giant lie to help us get through the week? Or is there substance to it? Does it have real answers to real questions, such as the question of life after death? Sadly, much of what is called religion really is a fraud. Consider all the various belief systems that exist around the world. Can they all be correct?
The Bible stands out as remarkable when compared to other “holy” books, and it tells us there is life after death. It proclaims that we can live forever, no longer suffering pain or sorrow. I think we all want that, but is it for real?
The Bible claims to offer the one and only way to eternal life, but it reveals that it is a gift, not something anyone has automatically. But haven’t you been told that you have an immortal soul, which lives on after death either in heaven or hell—or perhaps purgatory? It is shocking how many popular beliefs, even those you hear on Sunday mornings, are found nowhere in the Bible. Consider Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Why do so few believe what it says—that sin leads to death, not eternal life in some kind of hellish torture? Eternal life is not a right, not an inherent quality, but a gift from God.
Also consider John 3:16. Why is it that this well-known verse is so thoroughly misunderstood? Read it and believe it! “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” There, again, is a contrast between perishing and everlasting life. These are opposites. For a thorough explanation of this popular and important biblical passage, request a free copy of John 3:16: Hidden Truths of the Golden Verse, or read it online at TomorrowsWorld.org.
A major personage in the New Testament of the Bible is a man named Saul. This man sorely persecuted early Christians until something dramatic occurred. He was on his way to Damascus to arrest and imprison Christians—right up until, you might say, he had a near-death experience. He was met by a blinding light and a voice that got his attention. Only then did he stop and consider the many ancient prophecies about the One he was fighting against. Saul, who persecuted Christians with a vengeance, was transformed into a new man, whom we know as the Apostle Paul. He became convinced that the One he had hated was the prophesied Messiah and that He had risen from the dead.
The persecutor now became the persecuted, and Paul endured much suffering over the next few decades as a result of his zealous testimony about Christ. Defending himself against those who questioned the sincerity of his newfound convictions, Paul wrote the following:
From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness (2 Corinthians 11:24–27).
Paul was a realist. He recognized that all he endured was the result of his preaching that Jesus was the true Messiah who had been unjustly put to death on our behalf, and who had returned from the grave three days and three nights later, just as He had predicted. Paul’s eyes were opened to the fact that all of this had been foretold in the prophecies he had spent his life studying. He also realized that all his pain in preaching Christ was for nothing unless there is a resurrection to eternal life: “If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!’” (1 Corinthians 15:32).
Paul was not alone in changing his mind about Jesus Christ. We are told that Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in Him (John 7:5) until they saw Him alive again following a brutal Roman crucifixion. The resurrection was truly an attention-getter! At least two of His brothers went on to proclaim to the world that Jesus had indeed died and returned to life.
His own disciples fled when He was arrested, but they went on to become martyrs for proclaiming Jesus as alive. Both secular history and the Bible indicate that all but the Apostle John suffered a martyr’s death. Think about that: Men will die for a cause in which they believe, even in error, but will they die for what they know to be a lie? No—these men saw the crucifixion, they knew Jesus’ body was dead in the grave for three days and three nights, and they saw Him alive! But even they struggled at first to believe what they were seeing (Luke 24:36–41). Thomas boldly declared, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). The reality of the resurrection set in as they talked with Him and even ate with Him! They did not merely “believe”—they knew that Jesus had been resurrected from death. And they boldly proclaimed that fact!
But it was not only Paul, Jesus’ brothers, and the original Apostles who saw the resurrected Jesus. As Paul wrote:
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas [Peter], then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep [died]. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me (1 Corinthians 15:3–8).
This was written when “the greater part” of the “five hundred brethren” were still alive to corroborate or discount this assertion! Think about that! How credible and lasting would these writings be unless the people of that day were convinced?
Some would object that since this comes from the Bible itself, it therefore represents circular reasoning—but consider that we have far greater evidence for the validity of the Bible than any other ancient book. Archaeology time and again proves the skeptics wrong and demonstrates that the Bible is an accurate historical record. It is written that Paul testified before known magistrates, governors, and kings. He testified before King Agrippa II and his sister Bernice, as well as before Agrippa’s sister Drusilla at an earlier time. Much is known from other sources about these individuals, even that Drusilla and her son perished in the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii.
If the book of Acts was not credible at the time Luke wrote it, it would have been quickly discredited, and the same is true for the other books of the Bible. While on trial before Agrippa, hardly a moral man on any front, Paul asserted, “For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner” (Acts 26:26). And Agrippa did not dispute it!
Can we really have life after death? The greatest book ever written says we can, and it even points to One who walked out of His own grave to show it can be done.
If life beyond the grave can be ours, what must we do to gain it? If you want to learn more about this subject and what God expects of those who will receive the greatest gift of all, be sure to request free copies of What Happens When You Die? and What Is a True Christian?, or read them online at TomorrowsWorld.org.