War inevitably turns people’s thoughts to the most important questions about life and death. Does life have any meaning or is it just a battle for survival? Is death the end? Is there a God or are we just here by chance? The First World War was a time when millions discovered a Christian faith which sustained them. But it was also a time when many turned their backs on any kind of religion.
This is what Christians believe about life and death:
Firstly, there is a God. Before the Big Bang began the process through which everything we know of came to be, something existed. That something was God. God not only has power, but has love and goodness. And God can be known.
So life is not just a phenomenon that overtakes some planets in their dying years. Instead Christians believe that God always intended human life to be the climax of a vast plan, driven by love and goodness. He didn’t intend humans to make such a mess of the planet and their own lives – that is something men and women have done by their own choice.
Two thousand years ago God showed the absolute extent of his love for human beings. A man called Jesus gathered around him a crowd of supporters in the part of the world that is now shared by Israel and Palestine. At the height of his popularity they numbered thousands.
Broken people found hope, suffering people experienced healing, brutalised people saw the possibility of justice, and for three glorious years there was wonder in the air.
But the popularity that led people to want Jesus as king was threatening to political and religious leaders. It led to an end that seemed inevitable – arrest, trial and execution.
But something unprecedented happened. Within days, the followers of Jesus announced that, despite witnessing his death, they had subsequently met with him. They believed that their leader had been raised in a unique way from the dead. What’s more they proclaimed that, in Jesus, God himself had been walking among them as a human. They began to worship him. They were following Jesus, and Christianity had begun.
For two thousand years the followers of Jesus have found that their lives have improved as a result. They have a restored relationship with God, and it transforms life.
When they know they have done wrong, there is someone to go to for forgiveness.
When life is inexplicably full of wonder, there is someone to thank.
When life is at its lowest point, they know they are not dealing with it alone.
All this is because the universe is at this moment full of the Spirit of God – very much alive and active.
When they face death, Christians have a credible hope that it is not the end. They believe this because of what Jesus has done. Jesus said, ‘Follow me,’ and his followers do so in life, through death, and into eternity with God. Love and goodness will be made perfect in God’s presence. Christians trust this is so because we have a God who knows the way out of a tomb.
Jesus promised that his followers’ lives would have a real sense of purpose. He said memorably, ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’ That’s why it all matters so much!