Tag: religious issues

What happens when you die?

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.

What happens when you die?

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.”

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Those words of Jesus Christ to Peter

Those words of Jesus Christ to Peter

What is Jesus’ relationship to the new Christian community? Did he leave any provision for its development? To answer these questions we must look at one of the most controversial verses in the New Testament. Jesus says, at Caesarea Philippi:

I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it ( Matt. 16: 18).

One of the most fundamental differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics hinges on how this verse is interpreted. The Roman Catholic says: Here Jesus gives Peter unique power as the head of the Church; Peter is the rock on which it is built. Peter transmits this power to his successor, and that successor to his successor, and so on in unbroken succession, right down to the present pope. Only where the pope is honored as the vicar of Christ on earth does Christ’s Church truly exist. Any Church that does not so honor the pope is not part of the true Church.

The Protestant way of putting it will take a little longer:

1. Some Protestants feel that the words did not come from the lips of Jesus, but were added later. It seems clear to them that if the whole future of Christendom depended on the idea this verse expresses, it would have been mentioned more than once (the other Gospels all omit the verse). This, of course, is only negative reasoning from silence and is not conclusive by itself.

2. Many more Protestant scholars will grant that Jesus spoke the words. But remember, they go on, the context of the statement. Jesus has asked, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter has replied, “You are the Christ.” So the crucial question is: What is the “rock” upon which the Church is to be built? The Protestant holds that the “rock” is Peter’s declaration that “Jesus is the Christ.” Where that faith is present, there is the Church. Thus the verse is to be interpreted, “You are Peter, and on this rock [of your faith in me] I will build my church.”

3. But even, the Protestant continues, if the meaning were that Peter himself were the rock, there would be no ground for assuming that Peter’s power was passed on to his “successors.” The Protestant claims that the apostles, rather than bequeathing some unusual powers to their successors, bequeathed their testimony, their witness, which was contained in the pages of the New Testament. The Church is thus found where men maintain fidelity to the truth proclaimed in the New Testament that “Jesus is the Christ.” It is that faith which distinguishes the Church today, just as it distinguished the Church nineteen hundred years ago.

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