I have been preaching on the eleven Christian doctrines that I depicted from Mere Christianity, which C. S. Lewis suggested to be “common to nearly all Christians at all times.” I am going to talk about “Life beyond Death” today.
A Variety of Perspectives
As we talk about afterlife we should admit that it is no possible to prove life beyond death. Precisely speaking, it is not possible to prove whether there is life beyond death or not. This is the reason why there are a variety of perspectives on the question “What will happen after death?”
One of the disciples asked Confucius, “What will happen after death?” Confucius replied, “We do not know our life yet. Then, how dare you try to know death?” It is written in The Analects of Confucius, which is a collection of sayings and ideas attributed to the Chinese philosopher Confucius.
One day, a widow who had lost her only son, came to see Siddhartha Gautama and cried out, “Sir, my son died. Please teach me how to get my only son back to life.” Siddhartha Gautama gently said to her, “Go back to the village and find any family who hasn’t experienced death among their household. Then, ask them for some curry seeds and bring it to me.” Of course, the widow returned empty-handed. And she realized what he meant: “Human beings cannot resist death, but should accept it as it is.”
There are a variety of enculturated Buddhism. They teach that death is not the end of life, but rather the door for another life. For example, Pure-land Buddhism teaches that there is Paradise and Hell beyond death.
I don’t think we need any more explanation on the viewpoint of atheistic science. It argues, “At death all will disappear like the TV screen without power.” Simply speaking, “There is no life beyond death”
Agnosticism is the viewpoint that argues “Human beings should not say they know or believe that which they have no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe.” It says, accordingly, that “No one knows if what they believe about God is true, for God cannot be proven, nor disproven.” Simply speaking, “We do not know.” I’ve found it interesting that the agnostic say not only “We do not know” but also “There must be something else we do not know.” For example, when someone argues that “Either of the two beliefs is true: God exists or God does not.” Then, an agnostic may say, “Well, there might be a third choice that we do not know.” When someone argues that “There must be Creator in the beginning because it is scientific truth that nothing comes out of nothing,” an agnostic may say, “Well, there might have been another way for things to come into being,
which we do not know.”
Can you understand their position? I think, the agnostic have got a powerful debating tool, which is so powerful that they are able to negate any argument, any suggestion, or any idea. Personally I am wondering if the agnostic have a genuine heart to seek the truth. As far as I know, they believe themselves to be open, flexible, embracing, and inclusive, but not many people want to engage in conversation with them. I think, people know that they should be ready to be denied by the agnostic comment that “There must be something else we do not know.” No doubt, no one wants to be denied even before the conversation. Anyway, the agnostic viewpoint on life beyond death is: “I do not know” or “There may be another option that we do not know.”
C. S. Lewis’ Imagination
C. S. Lewis repeatedly asserts on life beyond death in his book Mere Christianity that: ¬(a) Death is not the end but “an important part of the treatment” for being as perfect in love, wisdom, joy, beauty, and immortality as the Absolute—God—is. (b) “Passing over from the temporary biological life into timeless ‘spiritual’ life” is the divine business. (c) “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.” Also he writes in The Problem of Pain that: (d) “Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it—made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.” (e) “To enter heaven is to become more human than you ever succeeded in being on earth; to enter hell, is to be banished from humanity.” (f) “If there is not [Heaven], then Christianity is false, for this doctrine is woven into its whole fabric.”
C. S. Lewis introduces a number of symbols and images for Heaven in his novels and children stories. In addition to the images that I shared with children, there are more images: (a) The light, which is “drinkable.” (b) A story, in which “every chapter is better than the one before.” (c) The silence, which is “rich and warm and full of life.” (d) “The most beautiful noise,” that was ever heard. (e) The air, which is “so sweet that it almost brought the tears to your eyes.” (f)The peaceful sleep that “came like a fruit which falls into the hand almost before you have touched the stem.”
Of course, C. S. Lewis also offers some images for Hell, and yet not as many as for Heaven: (a) A “pitch-black, poky, smelly little of a stable.” (b) The prison, which they are “so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.” (c) The place, where a soul is “spreading and dissipating itself like a gas through formless and lightless worlds, waste lands and lumber rooms of the universe.” (d) The silence, which is dead, cold, and empty without any sign of life.
C. S. Lewis’ rich imagination, which describes Heaven and Hell, helps us understand life beyond death better. And we know that all the images and ideas in his novels are not alienated from the Bible. As we look at the biblical expressions on Heaven and Hell, we can see how compatible Lewis’ descriptions are with the Scripture.
I think, I should stop here. This sermon will be continued the Sunday after. Next Sunday we have a guest speaker from Christchurch Methodist Mission. Closing my sermon today, I want to point out that all perspectives on life beyond death can be divided into two categories. The one is based on the thoughts and ideas of human beings. The other is on the revelation of God, who reigns the universe that He created. The perspectives from Confucianism, Primary Buddhism, Enculturated Buddhism, Atheistic Science, and Agnosticism, are all human-centered, which are based on human thoughts and ideas. On the other hand, the Christian perspective is based on the revelation of God, who not only created heavens and earth in the beginning, but also knows “when I sit down and when I rise up and discerns my thoughts from far away,” (Psalm 139:2) and who has prepared a room for each one of us in Heaven (John 14:1-3).
I will continue the second half of the sermon the following Sunday after. Let us say “Affirmation of Faith” together:“We believe in God: who has created and is creating, who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh, to reconcile and make new, who works in us and others by the Spirit. We trust in God. We are called to be the Church: to celebrate God’s presence, to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil, to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our Judge and our Hope. In life, in death, and in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.”
3 June 2018. Rev Joohong Kim. Crossway Community Church. “Life Beyond Death”.
Reading: Psalm 139:1-24.