Fifty-eight young, healthy people planned on a fun-filled night of music and hanging with friends and family. Just a few hours later fifty-eight people stepped unexpectedly into eternity. A man in his thirties sits down for a meal and chokes on some food with no one around and discovers his own eternity. Just this morning five workers entered their workplace in Maryland as they always do. A disgruntled former employee sent three of them into their eternity, leaving two closely behind.
We see and hear the stories so often it seldom warrants a second thought. Another weekend in Chicago leaves ten people dead. With the exception of mass tragedies like that here recently in Las Vegas, these sudden and premature deaths are back-page stories or a simple line item entry in the city stats notices. And yet families are faced with each unexpected passing with the grim reality of eternity. And many questions arise.
What lies beyond death has been the subject of scholars and philosophers for centuries as we wrestle with the unknown. Humanists will tell you that life is the here and now-you only live once, and when you die, you are merely an entry on a family tree. Others profess a belief in a reincarnation, that all living organisms return to life after death in some alternative form to go through the whole process once more. Believers and followers of Christ have their hopes pinned to the holy scriptures and the promises of eternal fellowship with each other and in the pesence of Christ. Who’s rght? What proof has been or could ever be presented of what really lies beyond this earthly existence?
I could not imagine the hopelessness of living a life, knowing that however good or bad it is, it is in fact all there is and that death is it’s own finality. The Apostle Paul wrote about this in his letters to the church in Corinth:
“For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
The one thing we know with certainty if we are but paying attention, is that none of us are guaranteed of tomorrow. The probabilities of a young health person waking up tomorrow are high, but checck your local news outlets and witness how many people who were alive and vital yesterday are now in an eternal dimension through an unexpected passing. No one is protected from an act of evil, the path of another vehicle, an undetected medical episode or even a piece of food having deadly consequences. This is in no way to be insensitive but rather to acknowledge the obvious-death is not just for the aged!
As it relates to our approach to living our lives, we really have but two aternatives. Alternative #1 believes that this life is all there is and that there is no higher power or deity wating for us upon our last breath-live your best life, go for the gusto and deny yourself nothing. Aternative #2 says that this life should belived to the fullest in full ackowledgment that we are to, in the process, love our neighbors and love our God and live in such a way that we are insuring our eternal destiny with the hope we live and believe. So what consequence is there if #1 is correct and #2 is wrong? Person #2 will have lived a life mindful of others and and will simply sleep to rise no more. But, what if person #1 is wrong? That person will have lived a life in denial of the very being he now stands before with no recourse and no “do-over”. In which scenario would you prefer to be wrong about eternity?
I am persuaded that life is more than what we experience on earth, and that time is only measured in the earthly realm and ceases to exist in eternity. I believe St. Augustine said that eternity is the absence of time, and that nothing exists but a never-ending now. I have made so many wrong choices in my life that I would never dare to leave eternity up to my flawed thought processes. I choose to believe in an eternal God and His written Word so that should the time come unexpectedly for me as it has for so many just this year, I am not caught in remorse over choosing the wrong alternative after life. And so should it be with you.