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Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die — Or…

16 November, 2009

corcpicsmallI read a very interesting (and funny) piece in the Times Online the other day about an atheist mom’s struggles with telling her kids what happens when we die. It was funny because of the inherent humor in having what she calls ‘Big, Difficult Conversations’ with children, but it was most interesting because she’s an atheist attempting to come to terms with instructing her kids on this fundamental question — which also makes the piece quite sad.

Understandably, this mom avoided like the plague telling her kids the atheist truth about death, until she realized that by telling them something vague about ‘heaven’, she was holding them back from living life to the full now, since it’s the only one we’ve got.

Three things are particularly interesting about this piece.

The first is that in her eyes the only alternatives are some vague version of heavenly paradise on one hand, and atheistic materialism on the other. So either everyone goes to the big happy dreamy place in the sky, or we simply rot. What’s interesting about this is that the concept of ‘the afterlife’ that’s at work in her understanding of heaven is a million miles away from the biblical portrait of the age to come. In ‘heaven’, according to her, all the right things we’ve done are recognized, all the things we’d like to do are realized, and everything comes out more or less alright in the end. But there is a glaring absence of condemnation, of hell — in other words, an absence of the judgment of God. In fact,  unsurprisingly for an atheist, the glaring absence is God. So in other words, the choice is between inconsistent atheism (we go to ‘heaven’), or consistent atheism (we rot). Which one makes more sense? We rot, obviously.

The second interesting thing is that while this mom’s conception of an ‘afterlife’ bears little relation to the biblical portrait of the age to come, her conclusions bear a striking resemblance to  the biblical understanding of how we  should evaluate the purpose of our lives according to what’s true or not about the age to come. Like this mom, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that if there’s no resurrection life in the age to come, if death wasn’t truly conquered by Christ, if ultimately this life is all there is, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor 15:32), and “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:19). In other words, this mom is reasoning clearly when she says

[I] realised that so much of what screws up this world comes down to not having a sense of urgency: of time passing, and, eventually, completely running out. Our vague, communal, lazy belief that poverty, global warming, various wars, inequalities and vexations are all things that will be sorted out “in a bit,” without any particular application on our behalves, surely spring from the root-belief that, in some way, this isn’t it; that this world is an odd warm-up act for the real thing: lovely old eternity, where the real stuff kicks in. As long a we all think we can “sort it out later,” we’ll never sort it out now. Humanity is hard-wired to push every deadline to its limit. And of course, if we believe in an afterlife, there is no limit. If you believe in an afterlife – where all your goodness will finally be noted, and taken into account, and justice will reign – it’s like playing a computer game in “infinite lives” cheat-mode.

If that’s the way the world works, then I think she’s basically right.

The final interesting thing I want to point out is that, while this mom’s conclusions are in line with the Bible’s — although running in the opposite direction — as to how we should live if this life is all there is, she’s very wrong in concluding that anyone who belives that this life is not all there is, will have no motivation to embrace life now and live it to the full. It is very important that Paul ended this chapter on looking forward to resurrection life in the age to come, with the following words regarding this present life:

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Cor 15:58)

Resurrection life in the age to come is not a motivator to endless deferral, laziness, or apathy; it’s a motivator to work that is not in vain, because the consequences are everlasting. God’s truth, goodness, love, justice and holiness will never pass away. Our hope does not lie in a vague sense of everything working out alright ‘somewhere up there’, but in the concrete reality of the empty tomb of Jesus on Easter morning, the one who is seated at the right hand of God, who will come to judge the living and the dead, who has been judged that we may be acquitted on that Day. Thus Paul goes on:

If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor 15:19-22)

So the choice should be clear to all of us, a choice which shouldn’t allow the vaguely godless afterlife as a viable option: Either, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” — Or, “I believe in the resurrection of the dead”.

One Comment
  1. 16 November, 2009 8:40 pm

    So I read the article. Mum’s lucky the little kid doesn’t know about the killer question: “Mum, how do you know?”

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