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Live Forever

eternity

by Dennis Pollock

When the science fiction author Ray Bradbury was 13 years old, the carnival came to his town. As he walked past the various rides and booths, a man dressed in a strange costume approached him. This man was known as “Mr. Electrico” and he carried a battery-operated wand which gave off a faint charge of electric current. Touching young Bradbury’s forehead with his wand, he solemnly commanded, “Live forever!” Not long afterwards the young teen was in his family’s car as they made their way to the graveyard to bury his uncle. The boy surprised everyone when he jumped from the car and raced away. He made his way back to the carnival as fast as he could, desperate to find Mr. Electrico. Bradbury noted, “I realized later I was running from death back to life.”

Death is the cold reality that the world has no answers for. It is not for lack of trying. Every philosophy and religion has something to say on the subject. Even atheists take a stab at it. One author, writing in the Humanist Magazine defined death thus: "Death is … universal, intrinsic to human experience, and inevitable … death is a natural event.” Of course this is a fancy way of saying that we all die, which is not exactly earth-shattering news! (Or as kids would say, “Well, Duh!”)

Headed for Extinction

Those who hold a secular view of life tell us that death is exactly what is seems to be. When you die, you cease to exist. You are not in your body; you are your body. Famed humanitarian Albert Schweitzer said that he could not conceive of an individual that survives his physical death. He mocked, “Let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egotism, cherish such thoughts.” This does not exactly put a sunny face on the nature of human experience. If we are all headed for extinction, if the grave and non-existence are all we can hope for, life becomes nothing more than a cruel joke. Meaning and purpose are stripped from us. Some of the more hardy (and honest) atheists admit this.

Robert Ingersoll, the brilliant atheist and evolutionist of the 1800’s lost his brother to death suddenly. He had loved his brother dearly and was determined to show respect by a proper funeral. But how does an atheist have a funeral? In his funeral “sermon” Ingersoll stated, “Every life, no matter if its every hour is rich with love and every moment jeweled with joy, will, at its close, become a tragedy, as sad and deep, and dark as can be woven of the warp and woof of mystery and death … Life is a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities. We strive in vain to look beyond the heights. We cry aloud, and the only answer is the echo of our wailing cry.” Not exactly Rebecca of Sunnybrook farm kind of stuff!

Looking for Answers

Former Prime Minister of France, Francois Mitterand, was another brilliant atheist, who wrestled with the issue of death. It became a very personal struggle when he developed cancer and realized that he was, himself, dying. During his last year he poured himself into trying to find a satisfactory answer to this mystery. He was said to have known the final resting places of many of France’s greatest figures and made frequent visits to their tombs. He constantly read books and articles on death and questioned the so-called experts on the subject. (One wonders how you get to be an authority on death without actually dying!)

A few days before he succumbed to prostate cancer, he felt he had an answer that satisfied him. He told a close friend, “Now I have my philosophy.” With his philosophy in place, he stopped taking his cancer medication, delivered hand written instructions for his funeral to his doctor, and completed the finishing touches on his 800 page memoirs. With his newfound philosophy in hand, he marched bravely toward the valley of the shadow of death, not realizing that it was not a philosophy he needed, but a Savior.

Raymond Burr is another example of a secular approach to death. As the Perry Mason star began a real life struggle with cancer, he liked to quote Dylan Thomas’ famous line: “Do not go gently into that good night.” He fought hard to survive. At one point in his struggle he sat up in bed for 30 hours, afraid that if he lay down he would die. But that was one case that even Perry Mason was not going to win. At last exhaustion overcame him, and he lay down in his bed. Within 48 hours he was dead. While he was fighting so tenaciously to live, someone asked him what he had learned from his struggle. He replied that he had learned that “death is ugly and messy and not one whit romantic.”

Unprepared

Alfred HitchcockAlfred Hitchcock was known as the master of suspense to a previous generation. This talented director and producer made movies that were extremely intense, and nearly all revolved around a murder or a potential murder. His shower murder in Psycho was so vivid (without even showing the murder weapon) that it caused more than a few folks to stop taking showers for some time afterwards. Despite Hitchcock’s preoccupation with death and murder, when it came his own time to die, he had no inner resources to face it. The movie master of suspense, horror, and murder had tears streaming down his face when, on his deathbed, he told actress Ingrid Bergman of his terror before the grim reaper. He who had done it so well on the silver screen was pitifully unprepared for the real thing.

It has always been thus. Atheists, skeptics, and philosophers often talk proudly about life and death in their youth, but as they get closer and closer to the big event, much of their bravado evaporates. Al Brumley, a writer for the Dallas Morning News, put it this way:

If we’re honest with ourselves … we might admit that what’s really bothering us is that troubling little voice we pretend not to hear whenever someone we admired has died. It’s the voice whispering ever so softly that nothing – no amount of talent, no measure of grace, no list of accomplishments – can separate us from our own mortality. And the only way to quiet that voice is to forget…”

This “troubling little voice” is perhaps part of what the Scriptures are referring to when they state that Jesus: "likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Hebrews 2:14,15).

We are told that those who have no hope in Christ are subject to bondage for all their lifetime, because of the fear of death. Most people without Christ are not in daily terror of death. It is not so much a constant conscious dread that puts them in bondage. It is more likely a subtle nagging thought that lies half-hidden in their subconscious. It is the thought that no matter how nice things are now, no matter how beautiful and wonderful your life is at present, it will eventually collapse, and you and your loved ones will all die.

New Age Perspective

If the secular world’s view of death is pessimistic, the new age perspective is incredibly optimistic. The secularist says you die, you rot, you cease to exist. The new age folks tell us that death is merely a transition – one of many the soul makes as it wends its way toward godhood. George Lucas, famed creator of the Star Wars movies, is a passionate new-ager, as is easily apparent in his movies (“The Force is with you, Luke, close your eyes and depend on the force.”)

Lucas gave his personal view of death to a reporter for Time Magazine, opining:

When you are born, you have an energy field around you … When you die, your energy field joins all other energy fields in the universe, and while you’re living that larger energy field is sympathetic to your own energy field.”

According to Lucas, death is not the cessation of existence; it is a joining up with all the others and becoming part of the God force. Lucas’ hopeful view is quite a contrast with the secular view of decay and worms! Where both views miss it is that they base their ideas upon opinion. How can people who have not died come up with definite conclusions about death? We have seen this side, but we have not seen the other side. We can muse, we can speculate, we can opine, but we cannot make definitive judgments.

The Expert

That is we cannot, apart from divine revelation. What would be nice is if we had a true “expert” on matters of life and death. Francois Mitterand went around to quiz the experts on death, but of course there were no true death experts. None of them had been on the other side. The best they could give him was a philosophy.

There is an Expert who has come from the other side. His name is Jesus Christ, and He is the One who holds the keys of death and Hades. His view of death is neither the fatalism of the secularists nor the pretentious fantasies of the new agers. He spoke of two different types of deaths – the death of the sinner and the death of those who belonged to Him. For the sinner, He declared that he would enter: "into the fire that shall never be quenched where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:43,44).

He told us that our greatest fear should not be of death, but of the One who has power over us after death: "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).

He called this fearful place hell, and described it as “outer darkness” and a place of torment, using the expression “gnashing of teeth” over and over again to emphasize its misery. He warned us that if it took us cutting off our hands, or plucking out our eyes to stay out of it, we should by all means do so. This is the eventual end of those who die apart from the grace of Jesus Christ. We have it on the testimony of an expert witness.

The death of the believer is altogether different, according to Jesus. He tells us that:

  1. He who believes in the Son has everlasting life (John 3:36).
  2. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you (John 14:2).
  3. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God (Revelation 2:7).
  4. (to the thief on the cross) Today you will be with Me in Paradise'' (Luke 23:43).

In His revelation to John, Jesus granted him a view of the glories of this Paradise that is prepared for those who trust in Him. It is a place where there are no tears, no sorrow, and no death. We shall live with our God in righteousness, peace, and joy forever. Does it sound too good to be true? Believe it. We have it on very good authority. The ultimate Expert on life, death, and eternity has declared it.

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