Meaning In Life Without An Afterlife?
This past Sunday I finished a lesson series entitled “On Death and the Afterlife”. I basically took four different passages of Scripture in which Jesus talked about Heaven & Hell and discussed why people, secular and religious, actually agree with what Jesus said about the afterlife. This past Sunday I examined a modern-day argument against Heaven in particular. The argument goes like this:
‘If you believe in an afterlife you diminish the importance of the present life and thereby devalue it.’
The Journey of Purpose publications tell us,
“The concept of an afterlife places value on things to come rather than on what currently is, thereby diminishing the significance of the here and now…If an afterlife is something greater to look forward to, then relatively speaking our current life is lesser, and so we stop appreciating something that is for something that could be.”
The modern day argument against Heaven is that believing in an afterlife makes us less concerned with the present life, both with enjoying the present life and with contributing to its welfare. Now I will say that some Christian people are absolutely guilty of using the doctrine of Heaven as a sort of escapism. By focusing on the world to come they choose to give up on making this world a better place. But this is a misapplication of the afterlife and has a lot more in common with Ancient Greek philosophy than it does the Bible.
The question I want to pose in this blog is, “Is it possible for life to have meaning if there is no afterlife?” Many modern, Western people say yes, but listen to these respected thinkers.
Leo Tolstoy in his Confessions talked about a time in his life when he could no longer avoid thinking about ultimate meaning.
“My question — that which at the age of fifty brought me to the verge of suicide — was the simplest of questions, lying in the soul of every man from the foolish child to the wisest elder: it was a question without an answer to which one cannot live, as I had found by experience. It was: “What will come of what I am doing today or shall do tomorrow? What will come of my whole life?…Today or tomorrow sickness and death will come (they had come already) to those I love or to me; nothing will remain but stench and worms. Sooner or later my affairs, whatever they may be, will be forgotten, and I shall not exist. Then why go on making any effort?...How can man fail to see this? And how go on living? That is what is surprising! One can only live while one is intoxicated with life; as soon as one is sober it is impossible not to see that it is all a mere fraud and a stupid fraud!” (Confessions, p.13)
Tolstoy said you can only go on living in this insignificance when you are intoxicated with life; as soon as you are sober and motionless it is impossible to see that this whole rat race is a mere fraud, and a “stupid fraud”.
Another gentleman who did some serious thinking about this was the French Philosopher and Nobel Peace Price winner Albert Camus. In his Myth of Sisyphus Camus told the story of a crazy man who was fishing in a bathtub. A doctor with ideas as to psychiatric treatments asked him if they were biting, to which he received the harsh reply: “Of course not, you fool, this is a bathtub.” Camus went on to say,
“[Our] world is in truth an indescribable universe in which man allows himself the tormenting luxury of fishing in a bathtub, knowing that nothing will come of it" (p. 129).
Camus and Tolstoy would say if nothing ever comes from this life; if the Universe does not care whether we live or die, if there is no life after this life to which all of this life points, then this life is completely without value or purpose: it is “a stupid fraud” without any meaning whatsoever.
On a less philosophic note consider this also; If this ship is going down anyway and nothing will ever come from it, then what does it matter if we go down hugging or mugging? If there is no afterlife; if there is no Judgment Day, if there is no Heaven or Hell, then you can’t say it matters how we live. It absolutely does not matter how we live or what sort of people we become. If there is no afterlife and the Universe will be no different after we die than it was before we were born, then we could be priests or perverts and it makes absolutely no difference whatsoever. If there is no afterlife then even Jesus Christ lived a meaningless, insignificant life. Why? Because what will the life of Jesus mean in a million years if all that exists is the physical universe?
So instead of devaluing the present life as many modern people think, an afterlife actually gives value to the present life, value it could not have otherwise. What meaning then does the afterlife bring to this life? According to the Bible our desire to find meaning in life is itself a testimony to the fact that there is meaning! The fact that we long for beauty, love and justice is evidence to the fact that we were made to experience beauty, love and justice. These are not accidental benefits of life; according to the Bible these are the very things we were made for!
However everything good in this life has been tainted and tarnished by our collective sin so that it is no longer totally beautiful, totally loving or totally just. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that a totally beautiful, totally loving and totally just God came from down Heaven to restore us to a life of meaning through the cross. Jesus Christ came down out of Heaven not to finally make us suffer for all the sins we committed, but to take upon Himself all the sins we committed and suffer for us. The God of the Bible is not a god who remains remote while his minions suffer. The God of the Bible is One who intentionally comes down to suffer so that one day we won’t have to. And if we will suffer along with Him now, by surrendering to Him, taking up our cross and following Him and Him alone, the afterlife is ours. Jesus Christ invites each of us to find our life in Him, do everything in life for Him and make everything in life about Him. When we do so, our good works become a part of His good work of restoring the world to its original meaning, a work He has been after since the beginning of time!
Now sharing this Gospel every week!