The Promise of EternityPosted April 25th, 2011
by Clifford Goldstein
Religion, regrettably, is easily manipulated, and is often used for nefarious purposes. Hardly a day passes without a news report about a suicide bomber, somewhere in the world, blowing up himself and others, all in the name of his faith. Even worse, most do it with the belief that, at death, they will soar off to heaven, a paradise where seventy-two virgins await them for an eternity of bliss.
Of course, Muslim charlatans haven’t been the only ones to use the promise of heaven unscrupulously. Centuries ago, church leaders in Rome, using the promise of heaven (and less time in purgatory for loved ones) lured thousands of men (and sometimes children) into disastrous crusades to the Holy Land.
No wonder skeptics of religious faith have derided it all as fantasy, as pie-in-the-sky nonsense used to oppress people. After all, what better way to keep folks in line in the here-and-now than to promise an eternity of bliss later? That’s one reason for Karl Marx’s famous line about religion as the “opiate of the masses.” Keep them sedated and calm, with the promise of a better future, and they are less likely to stir up things in the present.
A COLD, UNCARING UNIVERSE
Though it is true that the promise of eternal life in heaven has been abused, that does not mean that the promise itself is wrong. The abuse of something good doesn’t make it wrong; it’s the abuse that’s wrong, not the thing itself. Someone might use a car to rob a bank; that doesn’t make a car an evil thing. Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl was once confronted by a woman who wanted to know why he, Frankl, would write books in German, the “language of Adolph Hitler.” He responded, asking her if she used knives. When she answered that, of course, she did, he was ready. How, he asked, could she use knives, knowing that they had been so often used to commit crimes?
The same with the promise of eternal life; though it has been abused, what would we have without it? Nothing at all, but an eternal death in a cold and uncaring universe.
Atheist author Byran Magee, facing the prospect that one day he would die, expressed the fear like this: “In the eyes of eternity a human lifespan is barely a flicker. Death will be upon us before we know where we are; and once we are dead it will be forever. What can anything I do mean or matter to me when I have gone down into complete nothingness for the rest of eternity? What can it matter to anyone else, either, when they too are eternally nothing? If the void is the permanent destination of all of us, all value and all significance are merely pretended for the purpose of carrying on our little human game, like children dressing up.”
Of course, Scripture paints a different picture, and key to that picture is the promise of eternal life. Consider these passages:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
“These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
“But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).
“And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life” (John 6:40).
HEAVEN ON EARTH
Of course, one could argue that the idea of eternal life, at least as life is now lived, isn’t the greatest of all prospects. But that’s not what God has promised. He has promised eternal life in a world without sickness, sin, suffering, or death.
The apostle John wrote, “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:3, 4).
Indeed, all these promises of eternal life deal with another existence, a new heaven and a new earth, a whole new world, one without the things that make our existence in this one so difficult. It will be a world without sin, without suffering, without sickness, hatred, fear, and death.
This promised future life will be more “real” than what we have now because what we have now is transitory. It will one day be gone. In contrast, what awaits us is eternal.
Consider this: Life, now, is real. Death now is real. The earth now is real. Nothing is allegorical about them. If all this is real, why should what’s promised be anything but real as well?
How allegorical do these verses sound?
“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3:10-13).
No question, the promise of heaven and eternal life is easily abused. It probably will continue to be until this broken, fallen, evil world—as real as it is—is replaced by something new, better, and eternal—something more “real” than anything we know now.