The path of life invariably leads towards death. This gloomy fact is universal. We tend to bury our heads on this one, but let’s face the facts for a moment. You are going to die one day. This cannot be avoided. What’s next? Are you ready for that?
There are four main possibilities that people have imagined which nicely bypass the problem created by our moral failure.
1) The Big Sleep. Death is the end of existence. Nothing continues except the memory of you and some of the things you set in motion. Best case scenario? You “live on” in other people’s memories for a while, until they too enter the sleep of unconscious termination. But at least you don’t have to worry about answering for your misdeeds. There may be no dream of eternal bliss, but neither would there be the nightmare of endless torment. If this fantasy were true…
2) The Lobotomy. Life is a cycle and you will be recycled, though all your memories will be removed. You don’t really die. You are “reincarnated” in another body—so that’s a plus. Also there is no hell-like future torment you need to fear for living the present life with on-going moral failures. You won’t even remember this life in your next life! So whatever future version of you is fated to suffer for your failures in this life, well, that’s not really your problem, is it? Your problem is working through the suffering of the present life coming to you from failures of the previous one which some other (forgotten) version of you loused up.
3) The Sucker’s Bet. There is a heaven of endless perfection for you to enjoy. Everyone is going to go there! In fact all paths lead to God and heaven. So don’t worry, be happy. There is no hell to fear, no sins you have to avoid. God loves everyone too much to allow anyone to suffer for sin. This belief sounds too good to be true and it is. It is a foolish shot in the dark, since you have to bet against your own conscience which tells you that right will be rewarded and wrong won’t be. Conscience never lies. Don’t play against the odds on this one—they’re way too long.
4) Mindless Bliss. You merge with the vast ocean of God’s consciousness. This may sound pretty good on the surface. You don’t get punished for any of your moral failures, misdeeds or bad attitudes. But you do have to give up being a real person. Instead of being the unique symphony of ever shifting thought, emotion and action (which you are in this life when the internal orchestra is in tune), you become a single note going on into the endless reaches of time. You as an individual—as an actual person—entirely cease to exist. You have been swallowed up by the Eternal Mind. Good for the Mind, too bad for you.
“That’s OK,” you may be thinking. “I could handle that.” (No you couldn’t. There would be no you left to deal with it one way or the other, but let’s don’t pause to debate this.) “What I can’t handle is the thought of being punished, of having to answer to some maybe not-so-friendly God for having messed up my life.” That possibility is exactly why we need to be looking for a savior—now!
What if there really is a fifth possibility at the end of this life? What if there really is a God we will have to face? What if the guilt we wish we didn’t feel is a warning from conscience that our moral failure is going to have to be answered for one day? What if there is a God who really does care how we chose to live our lives? What if there really is a place or time of punishment and a place or time of reward hidden on the other side of the veil of death? Shouldn’t you be prepared for that—just in case?
5) Heaven and Hell. Life on earth is very short compared to whatever life after earth will be. Where do you want to spend the endless years? How do you want to spend them? Will you be gloriously aflame with holy love or will you be wretchedly burning in the infernal fires? You can gamble on one of the first four possibilities being right and hope you luck out, but what if you don’t?
A robust majority of all the people ever born on the planet have displayed a belief in the afterlife and carried a hearty suspicion that it is a place of reward, one way or the other. Where did they get that? From religion? No, certainly not! If religion is of human origin (as it is alleged that all are), then the common themes of religion are our ideas, not aberrant notions foisted upon us. We need look no further than ourselves to discover the true origin of beliefs about the afterlife. The “majority view” got it the same place we get it—from the sense of a moral law within our hearts and the fact of an awesome creation surrounding us.
The Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant was hardly an ardent follower of the Christian faith, though he drew heavily on many of its principles. At the conclusion of his Critique of Practical Reason he famously wrote:
Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.
We get our ideas of the afterlife as a place of reward and punishment from the inward sense of a moral law requiring the operations of an overseeing justice. We experience no conflict in wanting it applied to others; conscience, however, insists that it applies to us as well. And it is conscience, no less than the starry heavens, which points us to something or to Someone far bigger than ourselves, to which or to Whom we are ultimately accountable.
“Why do I need to be saved?” This is the second reason: Facing God’s judgment and coming out on the side of reward, rather than punishment. We are going to need to have some help standing up to close scrutiny! This brings us to the third reason we need to be saved…