Eternal life

Death is not the end.  This belief has shaped Christian thinking ever since the resurrection of Jesus.  It does not mean that Christians are unrealistic about death and the tremendous sadness that it involves.  Grieving is a very real part of the experience of a Christian life, as it was for Jesus himself.  However, the faith that life is eternal means that a Christian funeral service takes place in a context of hope.  Sometimes there is even a sense of celebration.

Christians believe that everyone will meet God.  To some this seems like the fulfilment of a lifetime’s ambition.  To others it can seem like a frightening prospect.

There is good news.

One of the most significant features of the nature of God is his justice.  Every human will be required to account to God for the decisions they have made and the actions they have taken – both successes and failures.

Jesus made it clear that people’s behaviour, particularly toward those who are vulnerable or poor, will be laid bare in the presence of God.  Those who have been oppressors of others will experience this with shame.  Those who have been sinned against will have an entirely different experience, as they recognise the deep compassion God has always had for them.  Those who have simply been apathetic will confront the realities of wasted lives.

The time after death when all humankind comes into the presence of God is known as the Day of Justice (sometimes called the Day of Judgment).  Christians anticipate meeting God in this way with confidence that it will be a good experience for them.  They know that it will usher in a life through the whole of eternity in which they will experience joy, health and peace.

The reason they know it will be a glad day is not that they can prove they have done more good things than bad – it would be impossible to know that.  Their certainty is not based on their own achievements but on God’s perfect and endless love, even in situations where that love is not deserved.  They trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection, because of which men, women and children know God’s forgiveness and unconditional welcome.  Their hope for the future beyond death is based on God’s utterly generous love.

What the Bible says about it

An extract from the Bible:

The Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Where to find it:

John 3:14-17

About these words:

In these reassuring words, from an account of Jesus’ life written toward the end of the first century, Jesus is described using the name he most often used for himself – the Son of Man.

And they said…

JRR Tolkein, 1892 – 1973, novelist and academic:

I am a Christian, so I do not expect history to be anything but one long defeat, though it contains some glimpses of final victory.

Benjamin Franklin, 1706-1790, scientist and founding father of the United States:

I look upon death to be as necessary to our constitution as sleep.  We shall rise refreshed in the morning.

Philip Gould, political strategist associated with the Labour Party, who spoke of his Christian faith as cancer recurred for the final time, 1950 – 2011:

The purpose now is just to live this life of imminent or emerging death in a way that gives most love to the people that matter to me, and I suppose prepares me for death.

Augustine, bishop of Hippo (modern Tunisia), 354 – 430:

We shall rest and we shall see; we shall see and we shall love; we shall love and we shall pray, in the end that has no end.

C S Lewis, writer and academic, 1898-1963:

Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in.  Aim at earth and you will get neither.

Rossiter Raymond, North American politician, 1840-1918:

Life is eternal and love is immortal.  And death is only a horizon, and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.