What happens when you die?
At one point, Job isn’t realistic enough. He asks what he thinks is a hard question: “If a man die, shall he live again?” (Job 14: 14). But the real question is, “When a man dies, shall he live again?” We know that we shall die, and unpleasant as that fact is, we cannot avoid it. So the question keeps cropping up, Is death the end, or shall I live again?
It is amazing how many people hold the “Row, row, row your boat” attitude without realizing that the boat goes down the stream until it topples over a waterfall and everybody gets killed. It is the realization of this fact that often pushes thoughtful people over into the “sound and fury” attitude.
There is something very honest about the “let’s-face-it” response, when the people who hold it do not try to cover up the fact that it implies that we live in an alien, hostile universe, in which our most cherished ideals and values are ultimately of no significance. Work for a good world, if you wish, but do not expect your work to have any ultimate meaning, for even if your ideal lingers for a few generations after you die it will soon pass away, for in the end everybody dies and there is nothing left.
This view of life has been compared to a road built of the ground-up bones of previous generations; soon your bones will be added to the road and it will be a little longer, but the time will come when there will be no more bones to add to it and the road will have no more travelers. Everything perishes along the way, until finally nothing is left. History is merely a row of tombstones.
The “pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die” option
A second false answer, adopted by many people who are afraid to be stark and stern, is characterized by the words of the old song: “You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.” In other words, things may get pretty tough here on earth, but take heart because after you die you’ll get your reward. Eternal life is like the lollipop Mummy promises little Junior if he sits in the nasty old dentist’s chair without screaming while he has a tooth filled.
Life is pretty grim and ugly, but everything will get smoothed out in the end, and “in the sky” everything will be peaches and cream (in case you don’t like pie). There is, of course, a kind of minimal truth in this view, namely, the assumption that there is something more ultimate than the here and now, but the notions that living on earth is simply a process of gritting one’s teeth (thus making things harder for the dentist) against unpleasant things, and that there is some sort of automatic reward for “being good” — these are highly dubious, as we shall later see more clearly.
The “living-on-in-the-memories-of-others” evasion
Other people say that eternal life is nothing more than the “immortality of influence.” We do live on in the memories of others, because our influence, our ideas, our personality, are perpetuated in those who remember us. Abraham Lincoln, for example, is “as alive as he ever was” because his influence is still felt in America, and he lives “enshrined in the hearts of his countrymen.”