It has often been said that there are only 2 things for certain, death and taxes. As we all know, the latter is not certain, since many pay no taxes. Death however is something that none of us will escape, that is, if past history is a reliable guide to the future. And in this case, it is.
Understandably the question of what, if anything, happens after death has fueled the careers of many philosophers and theologians. Life is much like an unfinished novel left behind by a deceased author. Many try to complete the novel with their own idea of how it should end. Interesting. But no one can really know how the author intended to end the story.
What happens after we die? It seems absurd to assume that this brief material existence is all that there is. The material body decays and eventually returns to the vast repository of elements from which it was composed. But surely something–call it consciousness, spirit, soul, or whatever—continues on in some form or other.
Recently, while serving as a volunteer usher at local theater, I listened in on a discussion about the theater’s resident ghost that apparently chooses to manifest himself from time to time. One individual assured her audience that a colleague swears to have seen him while closing one evening. Others claim to have seen the ghost, also. As the discussion continued, it became clear that there are rumors of ghosts hanging out in a number of the old mansions and downtown buildings. It is, after all, a very historic city. I hesitate to name the city for fear that our relatively quiet community might be suddenly invaded by ghost hunters and others attracted to locations of reported paranormal phenomena. Having ghosts sighted may be as destructive of a community’s tranquility as a visit from extra-terrestrials. Need I mention Roswell, New Mexico?
The above is a rather lengthy introduction to a short review of a rather brief book by Tony Evans, ETERNITY: UNDERSTANDING LIFE AFTER DEATH (Chicago: Moody Press, 2016, 80 pp.). Dr. Evans is a much-respected evangelical Christian pastor and author of a number of books dedicated to helping Christian lay people understand their faith in the Gospel, or good news, that Christians have testified to throughout history since the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I have benefited from reading several of his books. We need servants in the Church like Tony Evans, Francis Schaeffer, Tim Keller, and many others who can communicate profound truths in prose that the average lay person can understand.
ETERNITY has the appearance of being a summary of what was perhaps a sermon series on the question of what awaits the individual after death. For the Christian whatever knowledge is available on that question must come from the Christian Bible, which Christians affirm is the only reliable and infallible truth regarding all matters of faith and practice. But it is more complicated than that. It is easier for us to agree on the Bible’s infallibility and inerrancy than it is to agree on what it reveals or teaches. Since the 16th-century Protestant Reformation, there is no agreed upon authority to which the individual believer can turn for a definitive interpretation of the Bible on any particular issue.
Dr. Evans presents his interpretation of various Bible passages that together provide a picture of what eternity holds in store for the believer. The event we refer to as “death” is a conjunction, or bridge, “between this life and the life to come” (p. 7). From the moment we begin our life in a physical body, we are on our way to a destination, a place where we will spend eternity. For the believer, that means eternity in the presence of God, eternal fellowship with our risen Lord Jesus Christ, and the saints, all those believers who preceded us or will follow us. It is a specific place, prepared for us by our Lord, where we shall truly live as we never have here, in our resurrected bodies. It is not some mysterious, shadowy realm of disembodied spirits or winged angels in white robes sitting on puffy, white clouds while playing harps.
I find Dr. Evans’s description of eternity interesting. I have heard other descriptions in sermons from the pulpit. They vary. Some have believers eternally gathered around the throne praising God along with the heavenly host of angels, cherubim, etc. The truth is that none of us know exactly what awaits the believer after death. We know that death, called the last enemy in the Bible, was defeated when Jesus Christ rose from the dead. We know that we will spend eternity in his presence in a place he has prepared for us. Beyond that, we can only speculate on what certain verses may mean.
I am of the opinion that Dr. Evans takes too much liberty with the biblical text, taking as literal what is most likely only figurative language. Eternity as described by Evans is a place where there are class distinctions, where some live in the heavenly Jerusalem and others reside outside and only make pilgrimages to Jerusalem as Muslims do to Mecca in this fallen world, and where those who “go into eternity after the millennium” will enter with “physical glorified bodies, not spiritual glorified bodies like we will have, because they did not experience death and resurrection” (p. 45). The latter are the “millennial saints” who will require constant nourishment provided by “the leaves of the tree of life. . . as they carry on life as we know it, except without sin, as they fill the earth” (p. 46). I am sorry, but I find much of this rather bizarre speculation unjustified by the text cited. The notion of a thousand-year millennium itself is questionable, being considered by many Christians more a theological construct than biblical teaching.
Dr. Evans concludes with a description of Hell, which is also generously seasoned with his own speculation of what may be. At one point in Mark’s gospel, when Jesus makes a reference to hell, he describes it as a place where
“‘the worms that eat them do not die,
and the fire is not quenched,”
a reference to Isaiah 66:24 in the Old Testament. Are we to assume that the souls in hell are literally being gnawed on by worms and burned by flames for eternity? Or, is Jesus using figurative language to describe an existence forever separated from God’s presence? I think that all we can say with certainty, based upon images used in the Bible, is that heaven is a beautiful existence of eternal fellowship with our Lord and fellow saints for those who accept God’s free gift of grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and hell is just the opposite. The former is desirable, a wise choice. Hell is a most unpleasant place to be avoided.
So long as one understands that Tony Evans’s ETERNITY: UNDERSTANDING LIFE AFTER DEATH is one person’s idea of what the Bible teaches concerning eternity, it is worth reading. Whether this 80 page “sermon” is worth the purchase price is another matter.
Until next time, be good to all God’s creatures and always go under the mercy.