What if you were going to live tomorrow?
The altar call is a familiar scene for most of us who are Christians. There is the speaker up front who encourages the audience to consider their eternal destiny by asking, "If you were going to die tonight, where would you go? Heaven or Hell?" I have heard this question before, and I think there is something to commend it. However, I also think that its effects may be more negative than we would like.
The question about where would you go after you die is helpful in one sense because it causes people to contemplate the afterlife. This is largely a good thing. Many people either don't think there is an afterlife or if there is one, it consists of some sort of reincarnation or reabsorption into the universe. But the possibility of there being a heaven or hell certainly causes people to reevaluate how they could "end up" in the eternal scheme of things. What is the drawback to this question? The problem is that the question focuses on merely the afterlife and not their present life. The call to consider our destination in the afterlife is often viewed as a sort of fire insurance. Pray a prayer, sign on the dotted line, and you are good to go. We need to consider the afterlife and also this present life.
Let's be honest for a moment. Most of us won't die tonight, or tomorrow or the day after. So what then? Do we just wait to die in order to go to heaven? Is that what being a Christian is all about? Is it any wonder that most Christians simply don't know how their declaration of faith in Jesus relates to this present life?
Much of this discussion hinges on the definition of "eternal life." Many of us think of eternal life as something we get when we die. Eternal life, as it is typically characterized, is not something that happens now in this life. However, when we look at John 17:3, the writer of John explains that eternal life is the knowledge of the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom God has sent. According to the definition given here, eternal life begins when we enter into that genuine and intimate knowledge of God. Eternal life becomes more about a different kind of life, a life that lives within the reality of God's active rule in the earth right now. That eternal kind of life, if you think about it, will never end. Eternal life begins now. Heaven follows as a matter of fact.
In light of our present discussion, perhaps we should ask a different question, one that engages both this life and the next. Try this question: What if you knew you were going to live tomorrow? That's right. What if you knew you were going to live tomorrow? What would you do? Who would you follow? How would you order your life if you knew you were never going to die? If we see the afterlife as beginning now and never ending, then we realize that being a Christian has great significance for how we live our lives now and how we will continue to live into the eternal future. Didn't Jesus say, "If anyone keeps my word he will never taste death" (John 8:51)? How will you live, knowing that you will never die?
For further reading, please read Todd Hunter's Christianity Beyond Belief: Following Jesus for the Sake of Others.« Back to all entries