Tuesday, September 20, 2005

No Second Chances After Death

Spotted her after service looking like all her flesh had been sucked out of her, leaving the sallow skin hanging loosely on her jutting bones. Looking into her lifeless sunken eyes, I asked,"How are you doing?", a furrowed brow of worried shock conflicting with the attempt to smile at the same time.

"Not too well", she replied, "I'm not coping well with his death at all..."

Someone whom she loved dearly had died suddenly and without expressly taking hold of the salvation held out by Christ. It is bad enough to lose someone you love without warning. It is far worse to be unsure if that person was saved...

She'd had insomnia for weeks on end, was suicidal and prone to frequent breakdowns, even at work.

What comfort could any one of us give her?

It is the consequence of our Christian worldview that if one does not repent from living life as if he himself were God, and turn around and acknowledge God as God and king, then his fate will be as it always has been: eternal death and destruction; destined to be thrown into the fiery pit where there will be, forevermore, weeping and nashing of teeth.

So the Catholics and Mormons attempt to temper this harsh horrible truth with more platable lies: that perhaps, just perhaps (and now they teach it with certainty) after death, there will be another opportunity to repent and be saved. Another chance. Surely this cannot happen to the people we love...

But much as we'd like the universe to be arranged so comfortably, the reality set out in the Bible is that there is no such thing: man is destined to die once and face judgement (Hebrews 9:27). The parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 warns of the urgency of repenting now precisely because there will be no second chance after death.

Tried cooking her some comfort food. Chicken is a good source of the amino acid, tryptophan, which the body is supposed to synthesize to make seratonin (a calming neurotransmitter) and which is said to increase melatonin (a drowsiness-inducing hormone) production. But even the curry chicken looked pale:

Choong Chee Pang, once principal of Trinity Theological College in Singapore, now lecturer at universities in Beijing and Shanghai, told us that the most difficult pastoral theological situation he ever encountered was when a theological student who asked him,"Do you think we will still remember our lives on earth when we are in heaven?"

CCP replied,"Yes, I think so." [shadow: Jesus did. His resurrection life just seemed to be a continuation of his earthly life. So since he was the firstborn from the dead, assumedly our resurrection lives will be like his.]

TS:"Then we will remember the people we love now and how much we loved them?"

CCP:"Yes, that assumption follows."

TS burst out:"Then how can we ever be happy in heaven?! If we remember our lives on earth and the people we loved and we know that they are in hell for eternity, how can we ever be happy?!"

CCP didn't have an answer for him.

My friend did. "Trust God", she said,"just trust God."

We trust God for a lot of things: we trust that his words in the Bible are true. We trust that he is indeed our Creator and our Sustainer and so also our Lord and Master. We trust that his words are an accurate reflection of reality: we are doomed to destruction if we do not take hold of the rescue by Jesus' blood alone. We trust that God is both just and loving, both judge and saviour. And we trust him for our salvation.

We cannot trust that God will do what we want, not even that the people we want to be saved will be saved, for that is not what he promises, although he promises to hear our prayers and our prayers do have an effect (a topic for another day methinks). But we can trust God to be perfect and to always do what is right. We can trust in God's goodness.

This is not the silly blind Panglossian "metaphysical optimism" of Voltaire's Candide. God has always proven to be trustworthy. He has always done what he promised. God's character has always been consistent.

And so he tells us in Revelation 21:4 that in the new Jerusalem, at the second coming of Christ, God will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away. We can trust God that this will be true. We may not understand how this could ever happen. It may be because our minds and hearts will be so transformed then that we will think and feel differently. But we don't know this for sure. There are loads of the things of the eternal God that we finite creatures cannot even begin to comprehend with our puny little brains. We can only know what God has, in his perfect wisdom, revealed. And his revelation is sufficient for us (Deuteronomy 29:29). And what God has revealed and promised, we can be sure will come to pass: he is good and he will always do what is right, he is just and merciful, and in the new heavens and the new earth, there will be no more mourning or crying or pain.

And we can trust God on that.

********

A further thought: We can't ever know for certain whether our neighbour is saved. We can be assured ourselves that we are saved but not other people, for that is between them and God. So we cannot say for certain that all our ARPC pastors are saved, although if we know their lives, we might say their words and actions show a high probability that they are. And we cannot say for certain that all who are not professed church-going Christians are unsaved, for we do not know what is their real relationship with God and if they have quietly repented and believed in him.

But we evangelise urgently so that everyone would have had the opportunity to at least hear the full and true gospel once in their lives and they will perhaps unbeknownst to us turn, repent and call on God, for "how...can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"" (Romans 10:14-15)

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