POSTED ON JUNE 15, 2011:
It's the End of the World ... or Is It?
Wrestling with eternal destiny can bring life after death
When Woody Allen said, "I do not believe in an afterlife, although I am bringing a change of underwear," he was, in a way, summing up the thoughts of what most of the world believes about life after death: there isn't one but if there is, it will be a shocker.
Harold Camping believes that there is an afterlife. The 89-year-old founder of Family Radio warned the world that the Day of Judgment, which Christianity believes serves as a pivot to the afterlife, would begin on April 21, 2011, at around 6pm
He was wrong. It didn't happen. At least not yet.
This isn't the first time Camping has made such a bold prediction. He made previous pronouncements that Judgment Day would happen on May 21, 1988 and again, on Sept. 7, 1994.
If you are playing at home, 1988 -- strike one. 1994 -- strike two. 2011 -- strike three.
Camping is now saying that the April date was an "invisible" judgment day ushering in the last five months before the final judgment and destruction. In the words of Glen Beaman, "Stubbornness does have its helpful features. You always know what you're going to be thinking tomorrow."
Most of the world saw this for what it was -- a false prophet making a foolish prediction. But amidst all the media hubbub and judgment day chatter, it's possible that people may have been asking some weighty questions about the end times. The obvious one: is there such a thing as the "end times?" And if so, what does that have to do with me?
There is a passage in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus is teaching his disciples on this issue. In it, Christ says, "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only." Christ specifically told his disciples not to infer such knowledge. But notice what He did infer: I am coming back. He didn't say He wouldn't come back, He just said we can't know when He will come back.
Yes, Jesus forbids anyone to claim the comprehension of specific dates and times of his second coming. Jesus acutely instructed that the Father has not conceded timing but has withheld that understanding for only Himself. It would be incredibly presumptuous to state that a human could somehow discover God's timing through an elaborate mathematical formula or find a hidden code or system to unlock a secret date.
That is the misfortune of the recent Camping brouhaha. Many will disregard that there is a day when Jesus will judge the living and the dead (1 Peter 4:5) because a fringe religious zealot made a wacky prediction and it didn't come true. But according to the Bible, Christ will return. In Hebrews 9:28, we see that Christ will come a second time "to save those who are eagerly waiting for him."
To say that there are multifaceted angles on the topic of the afterlife would be an understatement. Depending on your religious/non-religious stripes, you may believe in an afterlife (Christianity), no afterlife (atheists and secular humanists), reincarnation (Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs Rosicrucians, Spiritists and Wiccans), or that an afterlife is unknowable (agnostics). No matter where you find yourself within this spectrum, at one time or another, all of us have wrestled with what lies on the other side of our last breath.
For me, funerals have always been a place for me to feel the tension of what life might look like after death. It is as if they place a flashlight on my soul and force me to peer into unlit places to deal with the bigger questions of life. Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? What I have accomplished? What legacy will I leave behind when I die?
If there is no afterlife, these questions and the debate on the end times are moot. We are born. We die. We fill in the in-between. Period. But if there is life after death, we have to come to terms with the words from the writer of Hebrews -- are we a part of the "who" that are "eagerly waiting for him?" If not, how do we become a part of the "who?"
There once was a member of the religious establishment in Jesus' day named Nicodemus that had that same question. Nicodemus' life consisted of separating himself from the general population and obeying the law, as much one could do humanly. But there was something about Jesus and his teaching that Nicodemus could not shake. As not to be noticed by his religious friends, Nicodemus decided to seek Jesus out in the middle of the night to bring some resolution to his nagging inquiry.
Nicodemus begins his conversation with Jesus by saying, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." And Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."
This absolutely baffled Nicodemus because he knew that no one could physically be born again. Jesus was trying to teach Nicodemus (and wants to teach us) is that to have life after death, one must be reborn spiritually. Spiritual rebirth doesn't happen by following the rules, it happens by following Him, the Christ.
Jesus would go on to die a cruel death on a cross and raise three days later to signify something very important: following Him would mean trusting in the good news of His life, death, and resurrection. That is how you become a part of the "who" that are "eagerly waiting for him" to return.
I believe Nicodemus knew that this world could not give him the peace and freedom he so deeply desired, so he sought out the One he knew that could. It reminds me of something C.S. Lewis once said:
"Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise.
... I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to the other country and to help others do the same."
Lewis is right. I think we know deep down that what we really want can't be found inside of us but rather, is located outside of us.
If we place our faith and trust in the One outside of us, I'm convinced that we will enter that "true country" on the last day. And the last day will be the first day of an eternity for those who have believed in the Christ.
Jesus, in the Gospel of John, said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day." On the last day (the Day of Judgement), if we have placed our faith and trust in Jesus, death is not death. Death is life and that life is eternal.
-(Brad Andrews is lead pastor at Mercyview)
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