How can I be sure that there is life after death?
Reader Linda Cooper's sermon on Sunday 19th March
Daniel chapter 12, verses 1–4.
John 3, verses 9–21.
Wondering if there is life after death and can we be sure seems to be fundamental to human nature.
Over the years, research has shown it's virtually impossible to find any society in ancient or modern times that has not believed in the immortality of the human soul. Nor has there been any society which doesn't develop a belief in life after death in one way or another.
The list includes Aborigines, Eskimos, Druids, Hindus, Chinese, Japanese, Shintoists, Taoists, Buddhists, Muslims, Scandinavians, Indians and the list goes on...
Although humanist thought is that life leads to nothing / nothingness, and that any pretence that it does not is a deceit, it seems that the human race does have an inbuilt instinct for an expectation that there is life beyond the grave.
Billy Graham (who was also an anthropologist) said he didn't find a race anywhere in
C S Lewis, in his book The Problem of Pain, wrote, 'There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven, but more often I find myself wondering whether in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else'.
As Christians, we believe that we have some sort of God-shaped-hole which God has given us because He longs for a relationship with us that will last forever: that
You may recall the children's song 'Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so'.
Using a little poetic licence... How does this sound?...
So the Bible – God's word – in both the Old and the New Testaments seems a good place to start.
The book of Daniel, written in the 6th century BC, looks forward to the resurrection and the rising of the dead at Last Judgment:
One of the best known declarations of life after death in the Old Testament is in the book of Job (19: 25–27), which probably records events from 2000 BC, the time of the patriarchs.
And there are many examples in the Psalms... one of the best known being:
Turning to our gospel reading, Jesus' well-known conversation with Nicodemus contains what's known as the most famous verse in the Bible and the 'gospel in the nutshell':
A challenge to us all to ask ourselves, 'Do I truly believe this?'
Martin Luther did. When the great reformer was dying, severe headaches had left him bed-bound and tortured by pain, but he refused the offer of some pain relief, saying:
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow put it this way:
Thankfully and crucially, we have many of Jesus's own words:
Central to all this is Jesus' resurrection from the dead. And we know from witnesses that Jesus made many appearances in his resurrected body during the 40 days after he rose from the dead...
And Paul later devotes the whole of chapter 15 in his first letter to the Corinthians to the subject of resurrection.
What does all this mean for us, and for our question whether there life after death and how can we be sure?
Jesus' words to Thomas in the upper room are the same to us today: 'Stop doubting and believe'. Jesus then told Thomas, 'Because you have seen me you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'
And 'those who have not seen and yet believe are each one of us – for each week, or sometimes several times a week, we declare our faith when we worship together or also may do so in our prayer times. We all know, of course, that simply reciting the creed doesn't make anybody a Christian, but the creed does give us a very useful summary of the main points of our faith.
Most often, we'll use the words of the Apostle's Creed. So we're used to declaring before God that we 'look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come'.
And, with the help and by the grace of God, we're each trying, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to live out our faith on a moment by moment, day by day, lifetime pilgrimage of discipleship, believing in and following Jesus in thought and word and deed – 'being sure what we hope for and certain of what we do not see' (Hebrews 11:1), for as Jesus also said, 'whoever wants to be my disciple must take up their cross daily and follow me' (Luke 9:23).
The way has been called the Narrow Way, but God's arms are open wide enough for the whole world if the whole world chooses to accept the free-gift.
So the question, 'Is there life after death and can we be sure?' asks each of us, 'Do you believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and that whoever believes in him, even though they die will live?' For in St Paul's words,