Tuesday December 1, 2009
But as for me, it is good to be near God, Psalm 73:28.
Well, after a day of nail-clipped joy, it’s time to return to the other item that reminded me of eternity yesterday. Canada.com is my news source early each morning, and yesterday an article suggested that heaven is a preferred story for the crowd than hell! A study of 35,000 people taken across national, religious and ethnic lines, found that “in the presence of the ‘largest possible stakes,’ [heaven or hell] rewards are more persuasive than punishments” by a three to one margin.
Hardly earth shattering findings. In fact, common sense could have easily arrived at the same general idea. The idea of hell is dreadful, and just as we turn off television images of child suffering, we turn off hell. If we are trying to beat hell, what better way than to ignore it, believe it doesn’t exist, or even better, that no afterlife exists. In fact, an Ipsos-Reid poll shows that while nearly half of Canadians believe in some form of afterlife—presumably the nicer variety—less than half that number believes in hell.
That means that over half of Canadians believe we die like dogs—once buried, it’s all over. Or, even if some afterlife exists without hell so everyone made heaven on his or her own terms, who would want it? But the experience of life on earth is a preview of both heaven and hell, and the closer to the hell side we live here, the less we will believe this life is our ultimate destiny.
Probably the greatest evidence of life after death is least recognized, yet the most obvious: it is the ability to conceive of an afterlife. If there is none, we wouldn’t be programmed to consider it, just as if there was no God, the idea wouldn’t cross our minds. But history shows that a search for God and preparation for an afterlife has always been a primary human occupation. Modern human rejection of these things is more rebellious snobbery than intelligence.
Disbelief in an afterlife is a vain attempt to discard any future accountability. If there is no afterlife, there is no real justice or moral accountability, which means that if we can use evil to our benefit in this life and get away with it, we’ve won. Human justice is at best rough, at worst non-existent; not much hope for a heavenly life here. The example of this life is that heaven and hell exist together. Heaven and hell in the next life are simply the separation of the two realities that exist on earth.
In the end, God determines an afterlife, even heaven and hell, and places the search for him in our hearts. God’s approach is something like the saying: “If you love something, let it go. If it returns, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.” Heaven and hell are a choice made on earth. God’s love prevents him from forcing himself on those who do not desire him; he will honour their choice. And when he removes his presence from them all that is left is hell. That’s why today’s text is so important.