About twenty years ago, I traveled to India. It was both a cultural experience and a place of many surprises. We landed in Hyderbad in the middle of the night. As our bus drove to the hotel, the streets were dark. I could vaguely make out the shadows of something on the sidewalk. I didn’t figure out until the next morning that it was all people who were homeless.
India is a nation that is primarily Hindu. A core belief of Hinduism is that this life’s situation is the just product of a previous life. Consequently, if you are homeless you deserved that fate.
You could even return as another living thing. The consequence was that roads would go around a tree. Still, this isn’t exactly a respect for nature. There was litter everywhere.
Another likely result of believing that you are on a journey through multiple lives was the extremely dangerous traffic situation. Overcrowding and poverty no doubt contributed to the situation, but it is easier to face death if you expect to be born again.
The Bible doesn’t take on the topic of reincarnation directly. It does speak of eternal existence for all, but it denies that this existence will be here–at least not immediately.
27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.Hebrews 9:27-28(ESV)
We die once, not over and over. Death is the separation of body and soul. Something that would never happen except for sin. We don’t lapse into non-existence nor even unconscious existence, we consciously continue in either Heaven or Sheol.
In this article, I am interested in the implications of this fact for this brief life. Is this life a throw-away, because something better is beyond it? Is it a time to pursue hedonistic pleasures because something worse is next? Is it as the famous polka says, “In Heaven there is no beer, that’s why we drink it here.”? Certain pleasure are earthly pleasures, so pursue them now. Some embrace this philosophy because they feel that the truth about our fate after death is unknowable. I obviously disagree. To the skeptic, I would point out not only Scripture, but Near-Death Experiences. What happens at our death is only unknowable if you don’t try to know. For something as important as this, denial is a fool’s strategy.
Far from an approach that neglects this life, the set of promises that come with connection to Jesus Christ makes this life brief but valuable and life-after death the true prize. Jesus takes the pressure of saving ourselves off of our shoulders and places it on His. Forgiveness of our sins, our inability of fulfilling God’s Laws are all settled by His life. Heaven and beyond that a New Earth are ours for the taking. They are God’s gift.
This life becomes valuable because of what we can accomplish here with the presence of God within us. We can make an eternal difference in another person’s life. We can be a visible representative of God Himself. These things are worthy enduring the finite amount of grief that this life will throw at you.
So what are some of the consequences of knowing what God has given to us? First, I protect my life and try to be a good steward of my health and time, because I won’t get the same kind of opportunity to serve once I die. It isn’t beer that I have to get here, it is sharing God’s promises and His love in an environment that lacks knowledge of God. Besides that, they probably do have beer in Heaven.
Next, I value other people, even my enemies. They are potentially savable. They would be transformed by a connection to Jesus. They can be a reward to me. Life is cheap in many places, but it is not cheap to me.
The circumstances in which people live can be the product of many things: misfortune, bad parenting, limited natural abilities, poor education, poor government, injustice, bad decisions. The list goes on and on, but I can be a source of positive change. Their circumstances are not set by a previous life.
I will get older and closer to death every day. I am neither concerned about death nor a loss of purpose on the way. I know where I am going next and why. I am going to Heaven because of Jesus. My purpose may change as I lose abilities, but I will have a God-given purpose to the end.