Summary: God wants to give us life beyond this life, for God is love and live is never diminished. It is not something we attain by knowledge, but by trust. Two sweatshirts are pulled on and off to illustrate two ways of thinking about life beyond this life.
God is love. So the Bible says, and that is, in a sense, all we need to know. God is love; and just as when you love someone you do not abandon them, so also the love of God, richer far than tongue or pen can ever tell, reaches to the highest height and to the lowest hell, and keeps on going from here to eternity. God is love, and in that love He wants to keep us alive not only all our lives long, but even beyond this life.
I take you today to a place you likely do not want to go. I take you to a funeral home. In the parlor of that place there is a middle-aged man, with his wife and daughter. In the room next door, is the body of this man’s mother. That very morning, only a short while before this moment, I had been asked by the funeral home if I would come over and do some sort of service for this woman. Why me? Because, said he, the family thinks Momma may have been a Baptist back when, and so, as an afterthought to her life, maybe the nearest Baptist minister ought to provide some sort of ceremony. I asked them to tell me a little about their mother and grandmother; they looked at each other and shrugged, and finally the man said, “Well, she was a nice person, I suppose.” Not much for the preacher to go on; and not much to summarize a life either. And so I said something or other to the grand total of eight people who showed up to commemorate this life. Clearly death had come with no preparation; and clearly this life had not meant very much either. She lived, she died, and that was that.
By contrast, I take you to another place. I take you to a church building. In the parlor of that place there is an older man and his daughter, his son-in-law, and three grandchildren. Around the corner before the altar is the body of their wife, mother, grandmother. In the eyes of each there are tears; but on their faces are smiles. Smiles! For only a few days before all of us had gathered around a hospital bed, where the medical crisis had deepened. Around that bed we had spoken words of love; around that bed we had heard the Scripture; around that bed, with choking voices, we had offered our prayers and had wept openly while the son-in-law sang, “Amazing Grace”. And around that bed, a short while later, we had held each other when the ventilator was removed and life ebbed out. There we had wept; but a few days later we smiled and celebrated her life with hundreds of others. How can that be? How can these things be? And why such a profound difference between the lonely family in the funeral home and the close-knit and well-supported family at the church?
You might venture a variety of answers to that, but one way to look at it is to draw contrasts between the two families as they understood life and death and life beyond this life. There are two attitudes here, two sheer and stark postures, as different as night and day.
I describe these two ways of understanding life and death and life beyond this life as, on the one hand, “This is all there is” and, on the other hand, “There is more to come.” Some people live with the assumption that this life is all there is, and when you are dead, you are dead, and there is nothing more to say. You are just a lump of flesh decaying into dust, so let go. Be done with it.
But others live with the confidence that there is more beyond this life, and when you die, that is not the end of it. You are something more than a speck of dust living on a small planet orbiting around a minor star; you are a child of God, and there must be more than just this life.
Between those two attitudes there is no middle ground. There is no reconciling them. Either you live with the assumption that this is all there is, and so live it up, do what you feel like doing, because you won’t get any more; or you live with the faith that there is more, and so live in the light of eternity, do what your Creator wants you to do, because He has vastly more in store for you. Two ways to understand life and death and life beyond this life.
Jesus dealt one day with a man who operated out of the “This is all there is” syndrome. But Jesus made him consider whether and how there is more. The man’s name was Nicodemus. He was a scholar, a smart man, a good student, after a fashion. He knew lots of things. But he didn’t know the one thing he most needed to know – that God had in store for him more than he could measure, more than he could grasp with all his learning.