Tuesday, July 19

Afterlife and Egoism

Recently a friend posed a very challenging question to me: "If you were to die, and find out that there is no afterlife (that there is no existence after death), would you feel that the time and energy you devoted to your religion was a waste?"

Heaven can be a number of things for Christians. Most commonly it is viewed as a Christians home, this world being only a "pitstop" to where we truly belong. Others emphasise the rewarding nature of a christian afterlife, characterising heaven as a "divine thankyou for all the time and energy I spent serving God". Or maybe as a "place where I can finally attain rest from the perils and plights that fill this earthly existence". Whatever we see it as, Christians tend to view this lifetime as something that has to be endured, something repulsive, and the afterlife as perfection that we are waiting for.

Evangelicals use a whole lot of rhetoric on heaven when trying to convince potential converts to join the fold. "Be a christian and you will get to be in heaven!" they exclaim, "Christianity's blessed hope is that we have an eternal future dwelling in perfection, all we have to do is get through this life following Jesus... and heaven is ours!". Heaven is a big reason why people become christian. Hell also takes center stage during the preaching of salvation messages, and is consistently used as a tool to get people scared so they will convert (that's why I got saved when I was young).

For many, Christianity and Jesus is merely a way for them to get into the perfect afterlife. The underlying philosophy is "Although this life sucks pretty hard, it'll all be over soon and I will finally be in heaven". What we have to understand is this perception of an afterlife is based on self-interest and an acute sense of egoism. We only act morally because we know it will benefit us sometime later (in heaven), and although few christians would accept that they think like this, modern Christianity's theology and worldview is reek with this egoistic thinking. We serve God because of what he can do for us, we evangelise to others because we will be rewarded in heaven for it, we believe Jesus because he promised us salvation, and we pray to God because we think we can get something out of it.

Jesus, however, was starkly opposed to this. When the rich man came up to Jesus and asked "How may I inherit eternal life", Jesus could sense the egoistical nature of this man, and told him to sell all of his possessions to get into heaven (which he couldn't do). We can be alot like this rich man, refusing to give up physical wants and comforts for Christ. Humanity in general have always been interested primarily in temporal things, and accordingly jesus 'separated the wheat from the chaff' by demanding that his disciples give up all physical comforts and securities to follow him. Jesus advocated a life lived in servitude and selflessness, and told people that they had to die to the world before they were able to follow him.

Admittely, throughout his ministry Jesus did offer eternal rewards for the extraordinary dedication his followers exhibited, but the foundational principle of Jesus was sefless love as the means for a fulfilled existence. Jesus said that "this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." (John 17:3). Jesus crucified the worldly preoccupations these men had, and revealed to them a life that can truly be meaningful and pleasing to God. Paul had in him this Christ-like attitude, and expressed it amazingly when saying "That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:" (Romans 9:2-3)

Here is real Christian love, Paul says if he could he would give up his own salvation and eternal life for the benefit of his brethren. Modern eschatology is ripping apart the christian attitude of self-sacrificing love, heaven is the one responsible for our greed. Someone show me an evangelical pastor that would give up his 'salvation' so a homosexual could know Christ, show me a fundamentalist that says to God "I refuse to be raptured, I want to be down here as long as possible so I can help others through the tribulation". (I dont believe in the rapture or any of that, im just using this as a good example as how a fundamentalist could show Christ-like attributes within his theology)

So what am I saying? Is there no afterlife at all?... I certainly think there is, but the nature of it is a mystery to me, and I think it would be alot healthier for Christianity as a whole if everyone saw it as a mystery and started focusing on this life.

9 Comments:

Blogger silentsoliloquy said...

Good thoughts.. so much more would be possible if only people would focus on the work God could work through them in this life. Of course, some might say we should be "heavenly-minded".. but I don't think that meant that we should be fixated on the afterlife, but rather than our actions in this life should be weighed with eternal consequences in view.

Oh, btw, you might have heard of Brian McLaren. In his book "A New Kind of Christian" there is an interesting chapter titled "It's None of Your Business Who Goes To Hell." The crux of the message in the chapter is similar to your post. :)

9:50 PM  
Anonymous Daniel said...

"If he should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust." ~ Job 34:14-15

If we start with a view of God and not ourselves, things look much differently. Instead of thinking "see God, I believe in You, now I deserve good things (on this earth, or after we die)." It was a breathtaking experience when I realized that I don't deserve heaven. God is Good. That's a foundational truth that isn't open to contingency. If God somehow changed His mind and decided to send me to hell, there's nothing I could say! He's God, and His goodness is more true than my somehow deserving heaven. But it is true that He has made promises and will back them up. The truth is found in the balance between the extremes, between realizing that you don't deserve anything good, and trustiing God's promise. If we hold to one without the balance of keeping the other we end up with a skewed view of God and ourselves. This type of thinking applies to life in this world as well... Great post, you're the only person I've heard that echoes many of the thoughts that I've been having lately, it seems like our generation (i'm 20) is in the process of rediscovering Who God really is apart from all of the centuries of human speculation on Him, but we must (again) maintain the balance of taking those things into mind and not arrogantly thinking that we don't need anyone else.

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