What happens after physical death?
Is it the end?
An explanation of Christian theological views
of the human after-life.
Eternal life or damnation.
The ability to accept there is life after death, relies on religious faith. Note that within this website, the words “belief” and “faith” have different meanings. Probably, most practising Christians have come to ‘believe’ in God’s existence. They consider they have proven to themselves, beyond reasonable doubt, that God does exist.
‘Belief’ is achieved by recognising the presence of God in the Church (particularly in the Born Again/ Charismatic movement) and our day to day life experiences. Evidence of God’s presence, as far as I am concerned, must be evaluated within a sound framework if it is to stand the test of time. A whole section, “Journey of faith” has been provided on this website to assist readers.
But although we may soundly believe that God exists, it is not possible to actually prove to ourselves that there is life after death, i.e. it can never be tested during this life. We can only accept through ‘faith’ that the Christian Bible’s promise of life after death is truthful. We Christians are able to accept that this is so because we have proven to ourselves that other statements within the Bible, e.g. God provides unconditional loving care for us, are truthful.
2. HOW DO WE GAIN A PLACE IN HEAVEN?
That all aside, how do we assure ourselves as Christians, in this life, that we will gain a place in Heaven after death? The subject of ‘life after death’ actually provides a complex area of debate within Christian circles. The most common and accepted outlook (throughout the wider Christian Church) is that all who have faith in Jesus, as their Lord and saviour, will have everlasting life in Heaven after physical death. If that view is accurate then other people lacking faith may not gain eternal life.
2.1 Maybe everyone gets a seat?
However, a number of Christian theologians have trouble with equating God’s grace and mercy [examples are Psalms 77:10, 107:1, 136, 165:8-9, Isaiah 49:15] to the view that eternal life comes only to committed Christians after death. These theologians ‘hang their hats’ on verses that indicate that all humankind will receive eternal life after physical death [examples are Micah 7:18-20, Isaiah 45:22-23, Luke 20:38, John 12:32, Acts 3:20-21, 1 Timothy 4:10-11, Philippians 2:9-11, 1 Corinthians 15:22]. This view is termed, “universal salvation”.
2.2 Maybe only the faithful get one?
Yet other Biblical verses appear to indicate that agnostics, atheists and those who belong to other religions will be permanently damned after death. Verses including the term “gnashing of teeth” are common in the New Testament Gospel of Matthew and they are often used by Christian fundamentalists when offering damnation as the punishment for those who have not ‘made the grade’. The following verses are examples, “Matthew 8:11-12, 13:41-42, 13:49-50, 22:12-13, 24:50-51, 25:29-50, Luke 13:28”. Mind you, the ‘opposition’ can again provide counter interpretations!
2.3 A reality check!
Now, even if everyone does make it to Heaven (as in the principle of universal salvation), this does not mean that all people will enjoy the same level of eternal life. For example, if a person does not have a relationship with God prior to death, how will that person know to enjoy such a relationship afterwards? Hell is viewed by some theologians as a place where, after death, those people previously infatuated with the physical world and its pleasures, spiritually ‘lock themselves away’ from God and his beloved family because, in ignorance, they know no better.
It is certainly important to understand that the environment and conditions we currently experience during our Earthly lives will probably have little or no bearing on our existences in Heaven. Our place will be with God. His basis is in Eternity which is outside time and space as we know them,. And it is unlikely that our current lives will just be transferred to Heaven after physical death. We hear all sorts of so-called idyllic suggestions, from those who have recently lost friends and loved ones, don’t we? You know, “Heaven is the big golf club in the sky” or “We’ll have a drink with so-and-so when we meet up again in Heaven”. No, I really do not expect any such possibilities at all! But? All we really know through faith is that Heaven is a wonderful place.
As to our interpretations of Biblical verses relating to being saved, it is clearly up to us, as individuals, to accept the view that seems the most reasonable and in keeping with overall scripture. Of course the issue is of little consequence to those of us Christians who already have faith in Jesus as our Lord and saviour.
However, God’s ‘unlimited’ love for us, and his habit of giving far more to us (through his ‘unconditional’ love) than he expects in return is made very clear in the Bible. I will say no more than that on the subject.
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