By Pete Garcia
I know I know…I’m supposed to write a Christmas article because it’s the Monday before Christmas and that’s what’s on everyone’s mind. And I will…I promise, but in more of a roundabout way. As ironic as it seems, in the season when everyone focuses on the birth that changed history forever, I find myself thinking about death.
According to the Bible, human beings can only exist in two states of being, either life or death (2 Cor. 5:6-8). But as Christians, we understand that death for the believer is not the end, but more like a stepping-off point where we enter into the real and infinitely more permanent state of existence. It is moving from one realm of existence into another without any hesitation or delay. In other words, death is not the termination of consciousness, but rather, an immediate transition from one reality to another separated only by a heartbeat.
For those of us who have lost someone close, understand, that their existence now is more real than ours is presently. They are in a greater state of being and consciousness than even the smartest person(s) who have ever lived in this life. They understand everything.
The world we live in was designed to accommodate our temporary existence. This means that the current world is also temporary and fading away (1 John 2:17). The world we enter into at death is permanent and eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18). So in one sense, our current world is very much like the Matrix, in that it is merely a copy or a façade of the corresponding spiritual reality. Our world and the next is not separated by distance, but by dimensionality. During certain periods of time, the veil between our world and the spiritual realm was either very thin or non-existent (ex. before Adam and Eve’s fall). During other periods, the veil was impermeable and marked by its opaqueness. The Apostle Paul notes…
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. 1 Cor. 13:12
When someone passes away, the common and socially respectful thing to say in acknowledgment to that, is either “they’re in a better place now” or “rest in peace.” Truth be told, we don’t know if either is true unless we knew whether that person was a born-again believer in Jesus Christ. We say what we say because it would be considered rude and inconsiderate to do otherwise.
It has become vogue in the military to respond with “till Valhalla” as a means to acknowledge a fellow soldiers’ passing. They say that since Valhalla was the place (according to Nordic mythology) where warriors supposedly went to after they died. The trip to Valhalla required the winged-escort by the famed Valkyries (women warriors) to the great hall. The great hall was where the immortals joined the eternal party marked with copious amounts of drinking, fighting, revelry, and more drinking for all eternity.
From a purely fleshly standpoint, that sounds like a lot of fun.
But then I got to thinking…at what point, in that particular version of eternity, does Valhalla go from being fun to not being fun.
I mean, if you did the same thing over and over and over for all eternity….at what point does that become hell in and of itself? I mean, after a thousand years of fighting, drinking, and revelry, you’ve only just begun. Now repeat that same scenario times infinity, and I can’t see how that remains interesting or entertaining unless you existed in some type of perpetual time-loop like the Groundhog Day movie.
The same could be said for Islam’s version of the afterlife. On the surface, a paradise world with 70 virgins sounds fantastic? Especially if you grew up in the Middle East where all you knew was hot dusty deserts, fighting and violence, poverty, and brutality. But let’s say for the sake of argument, even if their version of the afterlife were true, and each virgin was absolutely stunning, the food was the best eternity could offer, and the atmosphere was completely serene…at what point does even that Islamic paradise quit being fun? At what point does their version of paradise become hell?
Let’s be honest, as sentient beings, we can’t do the same thing over and over and over without repetition killing our enthusiasm.
Buddhism and Hinduism vary slightly as compared to the above scenarios because of their views on reincarnation, but the premise remains the same. If you keep having to come back to this reality to “get it right,” at what point does that repetition turn into a living hell? Even if one made it into Nirvana and had complete enlightenment, and ‘oneness’ with the universe, at what point does even that become old, and eventually, torturous? After a million years? A hundred million years?
And yet, eternity drones on.
Likewise, Mormonism teaches a form of this for those who have dutifully followed the Mormon faith. Those who have, are promised to enter into the highest form of existence (celestial) where they are promised to be creators (and gods in their own right) with their own worlds. Now add infinity on to this. This creates a huge dilemma for the Mormons, as they now have the conundrum of eternal-progression, but I digress.
The reason I mention all of the above examples is that eternity is forever. I might have just sounded like Captain Obvious here, but we mortals have no real way of dealing with the topic of eternality since we can’t fathom something existing without an end-point. We can’t wrap our finite minds around the subject because it exceeds any known, tangible example we could render as comparable. Even to the most hardened atheist, the universe and all its mysteries had a beginning (i.e…the Big Bang) and will likewise have an end at some unknown future point.
Since we can’t conceptualize eternity into anything tangible, we use analogies that help to understand the gravitas of the subject. Jack Kinsella once put it this way when speaking about the death of Osama Bin Laden.
Suppose a seagull were to take a grain of sand from the East Coast and drop it off on the West Coast. Every ten thousand years, our seagull would transport another grain of sand from the East Coast to the West Coast. When every grain of sand on every beach on the entire East Coast has been transferred to the West Coast (one grain at a time, every ten thousand years), Osama’s eternity will be just getting started. From Here to Eternity
The Bible describes only two potential realities for those who enter into eternity. We either go to be with our Creator God, or we are separated from Him forever. Those who die without placing their faith and trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ’s atoning work on the Cross will forever be separated from God (John 3:36, Hebrews 9:26-28). That might sound overly exclusive, but Jesus Himself said this of salvation, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. John 14:6
Truth be told, even if hell was not the biblical definition of a place where final judgment consisted of: Eternal separation from God, darkness, pain, fire, brimstone, lake of fire, etc., doing the same thing over and over for all eternity (no matter what it was) would inevitably become a living and torturous hell. This is why every religion and belief system apart from biblical Christianity, are equal in their inability to deal with the concept of eternity and the afterlife.
But as it is written:
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 1 Cor. 2:9
As one who personally saw it with his own eyes (2 Cor. 12:1-5), Paul had no way to put what he saw into words. This should validate and distinguish Christianity from any other, since only Christianity truly deals with man’s inadequacy for dealing with something far outside his scope of comprehension. Furthermore, what Paul quotes here (Isaiah 64) still can only describe God’s attributes in how it interacts with our physical world. In other words, as indescribable is God’s Being is as a Being (He is the Becoming One), so too is the realm in which He physically dwells.
A popular misconception people have about heaven is that it will be one, long, extended church service. If that were true, even that would become hellish if we were allowed to retain who we are as sentient beings. Simply put, we weren’t wired to do the same thing over and over forever. Will we worship in heaven? Absolutely. I’m sure even the most spirit-filled and inspiring worship we have here, will absolutely pale in comparison to the ones there. But I do not believe that is all there is to heaven.
We finite beings cannot comprehend the things which God has in store for our eternity-future, thus we default to compare it to what we think Christianity consists of today, which primarily centers on the church. Since the Bible acknowledges that we cannot comprehend heaven in any meaningful sense, it is of comfort to me since anything we try and contribute to it simply can not do it justice.
Another popular misconception is to view all eternity in light of what the Bible says about the Kingdom Age (Isaiah 2, 11, 66, Rev. 20, etc.). The truth is, the Bible only hints at what is beyond the millennial (1,000 years) reign of Christ on the earth. Only Revelation chapters 21-22 mentions what comes AFTER the Kingdom (or Millennial) Age.
But if God was able to speak our universe into existence in a matter of days, how much more could He do in two-thousand years? Some will argue that to God, a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years, a day (Psalm 90:4, 2 Peter 3:8), and thus it’s only been two-thousand years (or two days) since Christ ascended. But Moses tells us in Exodus 24:11 that God created our existence in six literal 24-hour days. If God used our measurement of time to show us how He did it, how much more could He do in two-thousand years (John 14:1-3)? After all, Our God is a Creator by His very nature. But not only is He a Creator, but also a Sustainer. Jesus is the Word of God and through Him, every molecule in the universe is held together by Him (Col. 1:27).
A Bit of Speculation
I think the problem we have with thinking that God can’t create any new beings in eternity future, is since Christ has come once to pay for sins (Hebrews 9:26-28), any new sentient creations would be outside the realm of redemption. However, if Satan and his influencers were no longer a factor in corrupting said future-race, they may not need it. Free will (or what was allowed to us) may also not be available as it was for us in the future eternity. Those beings (if there are new beings) will have their own operating system they fall under, perhaps some perpetual state of innocence whereby we (the redeemed from our ages), were finally deemed worthy to co-rule with Christ in their future history.
Lastly, if we can fall so easily in love (or at least fascination) with the things of this life, how much more will we be when given glorified bodies that are the perfect, incorruptible, versions of ourselves that will never age, sicken, or die, all the while presiding with our God and Creator for all of eternity? This is the same God who left the glory of heaven and all of its indescribable attributes and wonders, to be born in a lowly manger, to an unknown family, with only the angels and a few shepherds as fanfare. He did all of that, so He could redeem us from being eternally separated from Himself. God is good.
So in that light, Merry Christmas and Maranatha!