There are three basic perspectives regarding life after death. Some believe such notions are pure fantasy. There is no such future—no continuation of consciousness after death. We live out our days in this world, then it’s lights out. Forever.
A second perspective is held by those uncertain about life beyond the grave. Such people are generally a hopeful lot. While never brimming with confidence, they suspect there is life after death and knock on wood that the experience will be a happy one. It’s all a mysterious prospect.
A third perspective is held by those who live with confident expectation of life beyond the grave. A degree of mystery is acknowledged; but they remain convinced death is a portal leading to continuing consciousness on the other side.
People in either of the first two categories share a life orientation that focuses primarily on the rewards of this life. Some from the first category are bold enough to insist that those who die with the most toys win. Grasp all you can get now. Eat, drink, and be merry. There is no future existence and thus no reckoning or eternal reward. Others in this first category labor less selfishly, desiring to leave the world a better place than they found it. Nonetheless, the focus is on this life. There is no other for which to live.
People in the second category—people hopeful but uncertain about life after death—are also largely oriented to the rewards of this world. Life beyond the grave is uncertain and veiled in mystery. Can there be any wisdom in radically ordering your life by such murky prospects?
Sharing confidence in life after death with a number of other religions, Christians who view the Bible as a revelation of divine truth calibrate their lives to the prospect of future consciousness in the presence of God. Confidence in this future is sufficiently strong to affect the choices they make and to order their affections. They seek to be of earthly good by being heavenly minded. They orient their days in this world in anticipation of the next.
Such confidence in life after death rests for such believers on Jesus’ promise to bring His followers to an eternal home which He is preparing for them so they may dwell with Him eternally—eventually on a renewed earth (John 14:1-3, Romans 8:18-25). Confidence in such a future prospect deeply influences the believer’s hopes and dreams, beliefs and behaviors. To genuinely believe that I will face God in eternity—and, if received by Him, will enjoy His eternal presence—has a powerful effect upon how I live each day. And that effect, if genuine, never results in the urge to kick back and wait for the celestial escape ship to land. It translates, rather, into energetic service of God’s kingdom and glory.
Some years ago I took my then 13-year-old son on a trip to Africa. He is a bit of a homebody by nature and had never been away from home for more than a handful of days at a time. When we set out for home, we had been gone for over three weeks.
Flying over the equator we encountered an unnerving patch of turbulence that lasted non-stop for nearly two hours. In that harrowing ordeal, my son lost his supper. He was brave about it all; but it was a troubling experience. We wondered at moments if our lives would end somewhere in the South Atlantic.
Eventually we landed safely in New York City and boarded our last flight home—a flight on which we were seated separately. Midflight I left my seat to check on him as our plane encountered turbulence. As I approached I found my son doubled over in his seat, rocking back and forth. I leaned over to comfort him, upset he had been enduring a second bout with motion sickness on his own. But when he looked up into my face, he showed no signs of illness. I asked him what was wrong—why he was rocking back and forth in his seat. “I’m so excited to get home I can’t sit still,” he explained.
So excited to get home you can’t sit still. That encapsulates the perspective of those privileged to live their days in this waking world with an eye fixed on the next. Confidence that you will be welcomed into the presence of the Shepherd and Overseer of your soul (1 Peter 2:25) translates into a life of perpetual motion in service to Him—service not to earn His favor, but service in joyful response to His saving grace (Ephesians 2:8-10). Such anticipatory joy makes it hard to sit still; and that’s not a bad way to ride out the patches of turbulence we encounter in this fading world.