Thursday, May 24, 2012

Our Hope in the Next Life

Some atheists charge that the belief in an afterlife detracts from our appreciation and involvement in this one. One atheist publication quoted the words of the late writer and existentialist Albert Camus to make this charge:

  • If there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life. (Pique, 2012, 12)
Does our belief in the afterlife cause us diminish the “implacable grandeur of this life?” I don’t think so. As a teenage, I took up the sport of golf until it became painfully obvious that it failed to compliment my disposition. Perhaps most of all, I enjoyed going to the driving range as opposed to driving the golf ball into a net in a cage. I liked to see where my ball was going, and how I could affect it with my swing. However, the cage failed to allow me to see beyond the net, which swallowed the ball. The little satisfaction I derived in the cage was limited to the feel of the impact of the club with the ball.

Likewise, if our lives come to their final end at death, we cannot follow the ball after the impact. It stops abruptly and with it meaning and purpose. Our expectation of finding peace and justice also comes to a sudden and meaningless end. The net puts up a hasty end to everything.

Life is also like a jigsaw puzzle. There is little satisfaction without completion, and any sense of completion is also snuffed out by the net.

Interestingly, on the same page of this issue of Pique, one atheist (Secular Humanist) wrote:

  • One problem that may arise for organizations promoting rationality [the arrogant claim of atheists] is that their supporters and patrons may lack the fervor of their counterparts in the worlds of “faith” and “religious piety.”
How illuminating! On the one hand, the atheist denies that we lack “fervor” for this life, but on the other hand, they lament that we have more fervor than they have! And their lamentation is understandable. Clarence Darrow had famously declared:

  • The purpose of man is like the purpose of a pollywog—two wiggle along as far as he can without dying; or, to hang to life until death takes him.
Such an understanding will fail to make us excited about such a grotesque life. Indeed, are not constructed to thrive on such a “purpose,” merely hanging to “life until death takes us.” This will undermine any fervor for this life. Meaning ultimately depends upon seeing where the golf ball is going.

Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, Victor Frankl, observed many who died prematurely because they had “lost faith in the future”:

  • “The prisoner who had lost faith in the future—his future—was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and become subject to mental and physical decay.”
When we’re young and have the means for an “improved” life in this world, our faith need not take us beyond the net. However, as we age and accumulate scars and losses, we need to see beyond the net. Christian philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, was looking beyond the net, when he declared that our lives require the significance-imparting bigger picture:

  • “What would be the purpose of discovering so-called objective truth?...What good would it do me to be able to explain the meaning of Christianity if it had no deeper significance for me and for my life?”
It is this view of the entire puzzle that breathes meaning and purpose into this life. Seeing the completed puzzle enabled Jesus to endure His hardships and serves as a model for us as we struggle with life’s problems:

  • Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-4)
We continue to redeem life because of “the joy set before” us. Others will snare at us, claiming that they don’t need God and His afterlife, since they are content with their lives. However, author and wealthy landowner, Leo Tolstoy, understood that this “contentment” was only temporary. It had only been temporary for him:

  • "A person could live only so long as he was drunk; but the moment he sobered up, he could not help seeing that all that was only a deception, and a stupid deception at that."
Indeed, the world is drunk and deceived. Tolstoy eventually awoke to the hope of eternal life in Christ, understanding that without this joyous expectation, life’s disappointments are soon overwhelming.

Atheist and mathematician, Bertrand Russell had also been content with his own life, and it had lasted longer than Tolstoy’s. He had even penned a book proudly entitled, Why I am not a Christian. However, some years later, Russell conceded,

  • "I wrote with passion and force because I really thought I had a gospel [creating his own meaning]. Now I am cynical about the gospel because it won’t stand the test of life." (Os Guinness, The Journey, 106)
Any “gospel” limited to this world will not stand. We are made for God’s afterlife, and the afterlife is made for us. Without it, we are destitute, as Paul confessed:

  • If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Cor. 15:19-20)
This is a hope not only for the next life, but a hope that breaths new life into this one as well.



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