Sunday, October 24, 2010

    Considering the "Hereafter"

    I went with family this past week to see Clint Eastwood's latest film Hereafter.  Advertised as a thoughtful reflection on the afterlife, we found the film to be aimless, uninvolving and with nothing substantial to add to the discussion about what may or may not await us after this present life comes to an end. 

    The film did, however, motivate me to invite my Sunday morning youth class into a discussion of the topic of the afterlife and what importance it does or does not have in their theology and faith life.  I began the discussion by asking the group to share their personal thoughts on heaven and then challenged them to consider how they might react if they discovered tomorrow that there is no afterlife -- that this present life is the gift God gives us and we are to make the most of it. "Knowing this, " I asked, "Would it make any difference for your faith?  Would you still choose to be a Christian?"  This question knocked some of them off balance a little, perhaps because it challenged them to consider the priority of heaven in their belief system.  In other words, are we Christians because we want a reward at the end of life, or is Christianity about something more than that?  

    We continued the discussion by looking at what I suggested might be the two most controversial sentences of the New Testament: "Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) We considered the implications of these words which are so often quoted by Christians completely out of context.  Does this passage really suggest that John's community believed that Jesus' way is the only way to God?  And, if that is true, what then is this "way" that Jesus talks about?  I believe this last question is one of the most important we can pose to young people learning about the Christian faith.  If Jesus is the way, what is that way beyond simply stating "Believe in Jesus and you get to go to heaven."  My suggestion to the youth was that they might start answering that question by looking at the way Jesus lived his own life since the gospel writers spend most of their time writing about that -- not the after life.

    What do you think?  Is the after life a primary component of the Christian faith? How necessary is it that young people learning about Christianity also develop a belief or understanding of the after life?  Is salvation primarily about what happens to us after death or could it have more to do with the life we are living now?

    13 comments:

    Joel Mayward said...

    I think a proper concept of the kingdom of heaven is a central component in understanding all the implications salvation. To quote George Eldon Ladd, "the kingdom is here and not here, now and not yet." The kingdom will be fully realized in the future, but can be actually experienced in glimpses now. When we have this view of the kingdom, it invites us to live out our present life in light of the future. In this way, salvation becomes less about cognitive affirmation and more about embracing one's identity as a citizen of the kingdom.

    Brian said...

    Thanks for sharing Joel and I appreciate that quote. I try to encourage youth to not only think of "heaven" when they hear Jesus talking about the "kingdom of God" but to also think about the glimpse of that kingdom that Jesus enacted during his lifetime and how we are invited to do the same. So I agree it's both a present and future reality.

    Seth said...

    You got me kinda fired up about this one, Brian. =)

    The after life is absolutely essential to Christian Doctrine. If there is no afterlife Christ did not resurrect, If Christ isn't resurrected then our faith is futile and vain. We are to be pitied most among all people. The Gospel ceases to be the Gospel without the afterlife. (Essentially 1 Cor. 15:12-19)

    That said, I'd like to challenge you on the angle you were pressing your kids. It's great to drive them to pursuing the life Christ lived, but your reasoning to get there strips Christ's life of Gospel significance.

    Even though the after life is essential, that doesn't mean salvation is primarily about heaven. It is primarily about glorifying God, now and forever. That certainly has implications for how we live today, Jesus life being the prototype if you will.

    Brian said...

    Seth, I appreciate your comments and you illustrate the benefits of blogs being a give-and-take forum as you have raised some questions that now have me "fired up" and thinking in directions I hadn't considered. I admittedly do not have a very developed theology of life after death, so hearing from others is helpful.

    I think you are right that without the afterlife there is that big looming question of the resurrection just sort of hanging out there. I also agree with you that salvation is about more than heaven. Unfortunately, many of the teens I worked with come to me with that very notion -- that Christianity is all about making sure I picked the right team so I get to go to heaven -- a pretty selfish theology in my opinion. Your understanding of salvation, if I read you correctly, takes the focus off of us and places it rightly on God. You've given me some more content to throw at the teens this coming Sunday. Thanks!

    Seth said...

    I'm delighted that God might work through me to help you and your youth group in any way!

    I discovered your blog fairly recently, and I've been digging through it finding all sorts of more creative ideas. I have to work hard to be more creative with the things I do in ministry. So, thanks for for the great ideas throughout, and at times reading your blog just helps get those creative juices flowing.

    Joy to You!

    livefish said...

    “Consequently a genuine seeking after God is evidence of having found. Of course, much desire that appears to seek after God is nothing of the sort. For instance, to seek God for eternal life is to seek eternal life, while to seek God for a meaningful existence is to seek a meaningful existence. A true seeking after God results from an experience of God which one falls in love with for no reason other than finding God irresistibly lovable.” – Peter Rollins – How (Not) To Speak of God. Pg. 53

    livefish said...

    Thanks for the heads up about the movie, I really wanted to see it but will now not waste my time.

    I will be using N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope study guide and DVD to work through what the bible says and doesn't say about the life after this life. Wright mentioned that Randy Alcorn has a more biblical view of the life after this one but from another side of the theological spectrum.

    Brian said...

    Thanks, Jason. I'll check out those resources.

    Bobby said...

    I appreciate you bringing attention to this movie and what is telling our world. I too wrote a blog about this movie

    bobbyfrancis.wol.org/blog/bobbyfrancis/hereafterquestions

    I think what is most dangerous about this movie is the answers that the average parent and youth leader will give a student (or adults also). Can we give a strictly Biblical answer for such important questions about what happens to us when we die? I hope so! It's also alarming to me that what can easily be missed in the conversation about after-life is: sin. Jesus Christ did not die on the cross to give me eternal life. He died to pay for my sin and the sins of mankind. Most people like the thought of living forever in heaven, but few want to admit eternal life is a "benefit" if you will. First and foremost, I am a sinner and NEEDED a Savior (Romans 3:25). I don’t know if I NEED to live forever or not, but I do know that I needed Christ’s blood to wash away my sins before God.

    Granted, little junior high girls and high school guys taking their girl on a date aren't really gonna be thinking of this when they choose to see "Hereafter" because "Saw 3D" is full. But, it is our job to preach Christ Crucified and the real reason He did.

    We MUST be ready to answer questions brought about by entertainment like this...but let's make sure we're including all the parts and pieces.

    Bobby said...

    I appreciate you bringing attention to this movie and what is telling our world. I too wrote a blog about this movie

    bobbyfrancis.wol.org/blog/bobbyfrancis/hereafterquestions

    I think what is most dangerous about this movie is the answers that the average parent and youth leader will give a student (or adults also). Can we give a strictly Biblical answer for such important questions about what happens to us when we die? I hope so! It's also alarming to me that what can easily be missed in the conversation about after-life is: sin. Jesus Christ did not die on the cross to give me eternal life. He died to pay for my sin and the sins of mankind. Most people like the thought of living forever in heaven, but few want to admit eternal life is a "benefit" if you will. First and foremost, I am a sinner and NEEDED a Savior (Romans 3:25). I don’t know if I NEED to live forever or not, but I do know that I needed Christ’s blood to wash away my sins before God.

    Granted, little junior high girls and high school guys taking their girl on a date aren't really gonna be thinking of this when they choose to see "Hereafter" because "Saw 3D" is full. But, it is our job to preach Christ Crucified and the real reason He did.

    We MUST be ready to answer questions brought about by entertainment like this...but let's make sure we're including all the parts and pieces.

    Todd M. Walker said...

    I have the gift of gab, so I will try to keep this short, as well as get directly to the point.

    Yes, Heaven is a vital part of our Christian faith. The Apostle Paul wouldn't have used it to encourage the church of Corinth in 2 Corinthians 5 if Heaven were just a cherry on the top of the ice cream. He tells them that their tent (this earthly body) will be destroyed one day, but that their building (their heavenly abode) will never be destroyed. And therefore, we should long for, in not yearn to be in Heaven. Why? Because we'll be with our Lord! Plain and simple.

    Heaven is vital to our faith, but Heaven and Jesus should be the same thing to us. When we view Heaven as a Disney World on steroids or some other version of Comfortville, we truly have a wrong view of the joy of Heaven.

    So when Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life..." He was indeed referring to salvation, entrance into God's eternal Kingdom, but ALSO every spiritual blessing we receive from God comes through Jesus Christ alone. (Colossians 1).

    The writer of Hebrews also encourages the readers with eternity, only from the view of the security of it. He states that if their salvation or righteousness were dependent on their own merits, they would never receive grace, or they would fall from it once they came to Christ for salvation. But instead, he states that Jesus Christ is our anchor for the soul. (Hebrews 6:19). No matter the power and deceit of Satan, no matter the depravity of the flesh, no matter the distractions of this world, nothing can separate us from the love of God once we've come to Jesus Christ for redemption from our sins. (Romans 8) Therefore, since our eternal security lies in the power of Christ, that should give us extreme motivation and confidence to live the life God has called us to, without any fear of falling from grace or losing the relationship with God we once had.

    Jesus needs to be the singular focus of Heaven. When He is not the singular focus of our lives, it makes sense why Heaven also gets clouded. If Heaven were filled with every sort of comforts and desires that one could possibly imagine, but be without Jesus, the true Christian would consider it hell. And if Heaven was nothing more than presence with Jesus forever, no more Heaven could a follow of Christ possibly hope for.

    Yes, Heaven is vital to our faith, it drives our actions on earth. But Heaven needs to be seen through the lens of Jesus Christ. He IS the Way, the truth, and the life. Now and for all eternity. (Colossians 2:6-7)

    Todd M. Walker said...

    I have the gift of gab, so I will try to keep this short, as well as get directly to the point. :)

    Yes, Heaven is a vital part of our Christian faith. The Apostle Paul wouldn't have used it to encourage the church of Corinth in 2 Corinthians 5 if Heaven were just a cherry on the top of the ice cream. He tells them that their tent (this earthly body) will be destroyed one day, but that their building (their heavenly abode) will never be destroyed. And therefore, we should long for, in not yearn to be in Heaven. Why? Because we'll be with our Lord! Plain and simple.

    Heaven is vital to our faith, but Heaven and Jesus should be the same thing to us. When we view Heaven as a Disney World on steroids or some other version of Comfortville, we truly have a wrong view of the joy of Heaven.

    So when Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life..." He was indeed referring to salvation, entrance into God's eternal Kingdom, but ALSO every spiritual blessing we receive from God comes through Jesus Christ alone. (Colossians 1).

    The writer of Hebrews also encourages the readers with eternity, only from the view of the security of it. He states that if their salvation or righteousness were dependent on their own merits, they would never receive grace, or they would fall from it once they came to Christ for salvation. But instead, he states that Jesus Christ is our anchor for the soul. (Hebrews 6:19). No matter the power and deceit of Satan, no matter the depravity of the flesh, no matter the distractions of this world, nothing can separate us from the love of God once we've come to Jesus Christ for redemption from our sins. (Romans 8) Therefore, since our eternal security lies in the power of Christ, that should give us extreme motivation and confidence to live the life God has called us to, without any fear of falling from grace or losing the relationship with God we once had.

    Todd M. Walker said...

    Jesus needs to be the singular focus of Heaven. When He is not the singular focus of our lives, it makes sense why Heaven also gets clouded. If Heaven were filled with every sort of comforts and desires that one could possibly imagine, but be without Jesus, the true Christian would consider it hell. And if Heaven was nothing more than presence with Jesus forever, no more Heaven could a follow of Christ possibly hope for.

    Yes, Heaven is vital to our faith, it drives our actions on earth. But Heaven needs to be seen through the lens of Jesus Christ. He IS the Way, the truth, and the life. Now and for all eternity. (Colossians 2:6-7)