by ProfDave, ©2022
(Feb. 1, 2022) — The fourth fundamental question that every worldview must answer is the question of destiny. Life, any human life, requires a beginning – a past. It needs meaning and morality – a present. It also needs a destination – a future. This future, whether light or dark, robust or ephemeral, casts a long shadow on the significance of one’s present, and by extension that of society. It reaches back to one’s origins. Are we creatures of time or eternity? Do we come from our parents, our heritage or from our God? Is our destination disintegration, absorption into the All, reincarnation or resurrected life? Does the self begin in the womb and end in the grave? Hmmmh.
The Christian worldview offers decisive and integrated answers to these questions based in the self-revelation of God in the Bible. Our origin, as revealed to us through Moses, is not from nature or from ourselves but from the spiritual Maker of all things. He has given mankind His image as spiritual and immortal beings. This explains our universal yearnings that reach beyond physical death and our search for meaning beyond out biological existence. Finally, our awareness of moral law demands a resolution, a final judgment, of all that is immoral and wrong in our world. If it all is to make sense, there must be another world beyond.
The conclusive evidence of life after life, for the Christian, is the resurrection of Jesus. He taught resurrection, arguing that the prophets had predicted that Messiah would be crucified, dead and buried, but rise again on the third day. Repeatedly he promised his own resurrection, but his followers disbelieved, ignored and misunderstood. Jesus also resuscitated at least two dead people and proclaimed himself “the resurrection and the life.” Someday, he claimed, the dead would hear his voice and live again. He had the power, he said, to lay down his life and to take it up again. He taught quite a bit about the afterlife and promised to “go and prepare a place for you.”
Then He did it. He was dead – thoroughly, efficiently, professionally executed, confirmed by spear thrust and officially certified dead. Flayed, asphyxiated, dehydrated, bled out and heart pierced. Dead, dead, dead. Buried for three days (or parts of days, interpreters say), thoroughly cold and beginning to decompose. A Roman seal, a heavy stone, and armed soldiers guarded the tomb. But something happened on the third morning. The seal was broken and the stone removed. The soldiers fainted in terror, then fled to their masters. Inside, the shroud was an empty cocoon, and the body was gone!
Crucified, dead and buried, Jesus rose again. He spoke with Mary Magdalene, restored Peter, met with his disciples, appeared to 500 followers in Galilee, and to Paul on the road to Damascus. They saw him with their eyes, they heard him with their ears, they touched him with their hands. He walked, he ate and he cooked breakfast. This was no apparition, no vision, no ghost, but Jesus himself in the flesh.
They were convinced. Belief in the resurrection of Christ became the cornerstone of Christianity. His resurrection validated his teaching and his identity as God the Son. It was a prototype and promise of their own resurrection – the demonstration of life beyond the grave. Because He lives, they lived with certainty that they would live too – beyond suffering, beyond death and particularly beyond martyrdom. They could and did die with confidence. And so can we.
The resurrection of Christ, for all its supposed implausibility, is an historical fact. It is a fact that had a decisive impact on the course of human events globally and speaks volumes to the worldview that allows for an order both in and beyond nature. The veil, the barrier between God and mankind, has been breached as symbolized by the tearing of the great curtain between the Holy and the Most Holy place in the Jewish temple. It is now possible for human beings to live in direct contact, in the Presence of the Holy One – without being incinerated! God in Christ has reconciled us to Himself – those who receive Him. He has sent His indwelling Spirit into us to prepare our undeserving beings for the courts of heaven! Out of sheer unilateral love! Oh! the riches of the glory of the mighty mercy, grace and condescension of God!
Through this Veil, then, we catch a glimpse of our destiny – and it is blinding! Our threescore-and-ten (or a hundred and ten) cannot be compared with eternity. Temporary achievements, fulfillments, pleasures and thrills pale before the permanent presence of Him who made us for Himself. Likewise present temporary sufferings, sorrows, disappointments and handicaps are not to be compared to the yet-to-be-revealed eternal glory. We have something to live for, no matter what! Bring on the lions! We will either triumph here or there! More than triumph! With resurrection faith, we cannot lose!
An interesting side-note: St. Paul calls Jesus “the first-fruits of them that sleep” (I Corinthians 15:20). The offering of the first fruits to God, in the Law of Moses, made the whole harvest holy. He is a prototype for the rest of us. His body was the same, but different. Not everybody recognized him at first. His major wounds were visible but caused no impairment or discomfort. He wasn’t bleeding. He invited Thomas to reach into his heart! He ate and breathed normally. He passed through locked doors and/or seemed to appear and disappear. At the end of forty days, He ascended in a cloud of glory, later to appear the same way to Paul on the Damascus Road.
We could suppose that the risen Lord had a different relationship to space and time. There is a lot we do not know about our future state, but the Bible tells us what we need to know. “It is appointed unto [us] once to die and after death the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Life is linear, not cyclical, in that respect. Death is a separation, but not a termination of existence. Judgment means that we are responsible for our lives and our destiny. At the moment of death, we are told, we pass the boundary between worlds and enter the presence of God. For those who know and love Him it will be the ultimate joy; for those who have ignored and hated Him it will be the ultimate horror. In that world time and space are different and, from this side, we cannot comprehend.
What we do know about that other world is what Jesus told us. He spoke with some authority, having been there. On the eve of His crucifixion, He said:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. … Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you (John 14:1-3, 20).
If that does not boggle your mind, you are not paying attention! In the middle-eastern marriage customs of the time, the groom would, after the engagement, go home and add a room to his father’s house, then come back to take his bride home for the wedding and to live there. This is the analogy of what Christ intends to do with His bride, the Church – that is us! Anyone who knows and loves Jesus will tell you how great the engagement is, but we cannot imagine the marriage!
So, how would you live if you knew your destiny was to be a companion of your Maker for eternity? For starters, you would take God a lot more seriously. Recognizing who you are and who you are dealing with, you would recognize that your choice is true or false, not multiple choice. There is only one Almighty – the alternative is godless, destiny-less rebellion and eternal emptiness we call Hell. Is He the center of the universe, or are you?
Recognizing the reality of the human condition – the cosmos and your place in it – does not make you a slave or an automaton. Nor does denying eternal reality make you a freethinking Übermensch. In some way that we do not understand you are free to be a willing partner of Christ or a lost wanderer. Love Him or lose Him. Which will it be?
Again, how would you live if you knew your destiny was to be a companion of your Maker for eternity? First, you would accept Him as God and your God. Second, you would put time and effort into knowing Him, what He is like and what His purposes are. God is God and you are not, so you should not expect to comprehend Him completely, but you would make a start. The foundation is His self-revelation in the Bible. Start with the gospel of John, then the “fourfold gospel” (Matthew through John), then the whole New Testament, then the whole Bible. Your companions through this adventure are the church – past and present, universal and local – and your pastor (under-shepherd). Your pastor is a mature and authorized spiritual mentor who has your permission to tell you things you don’t want to hear. You need a coach and an accountability team of fellow disciples who are on the same journey. You are not meant to travel alone.
Beyond knowing who God is, you will want to know Him. This comes by practicing His presence in prayer and meditation. The fact is, He is present everywhere in the cosmos. We are just oblivious most of the time – one of the effects of the Eden disaster. Consciousness of His presence can be developed by practice. He is a spirit and you are a spirit, so you don’t need a phone or device. Just talk to Him. He is listening. Jesus taught his first followers to pray using “The Lord’s Prayer” as a template. It starts with adoration, putting yourself in His kingdom and His will, confessing your failures and weaknesses, then thanking Him and finally making your requests and ending in praise. There are a lot of prayers in the Psalms you can use. Or you can write your own – journaling is a great idea. Or you can just talk to Him. He would like that.
Christian meditation – with an open bible and an open mind – is listening to God. As we talk to God, we should wait for an answer. Not that we usually hear voices, but our minds clear and an idea appears that was not there before, or a word leaps off the page. It takes practice, but the objective is to spend the whole day in God-consciousness even as we go about our earthly tasks. Knowing Him, we will be prepared to appreciate our eternal destiny.
An eternal destiny gives direction to life in time. Our lives are going somewhere. Moreover, there is a larger context to our existence. As Rick Warren wrote in his Purpose Driven Life (highly recommended), life is not about us. Our destiny gives us a purpose and significance beyond ourselves – a significant advantage over other worldviews. Is your life too small?
According to Christian revelation, our eternal destiny begins at conception and in the mind of God even before – in ways we cannot fully understand. Our temporal destiny has two aspects, His task(s) for us and His goal(s) in us – our work and His. Our Maker is still making us and we are on earth on a mission. “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper and to give you a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Our general mission: “Go and make disciples … and I will be with you to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). His mission in us: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Each day is a step along the path to your destiny. What has He got for you to do today? What is He doing in you today?
What difference does your destiny make? Knowing our destiny gives purpose to life. If you knew your destiny was to be king of Siam, you would immerse yourself in Thai culture and politics so as to be prepared. Most of the time, we don’t know any such thing. If there is no afterlife, no spiritual realm, then our destiny is to be a moldering corpse. Destiny is purpose. If death is the destiny, then life is a bell curve: pleasure, fame and power increase to a point and then inevitably decline. Yes, you may have a rich funeral with people saying nice things but in the end you are dead and soon forgotten. With an eternal destiny, these things may come and go but life goes onward and upward to the throne of God. Your character and purpose grow into more and more perfect harmony with the character and purpose of your Maker until you join the great symphony above.
A pretty picture, you say, but is it true? Is it best for you? Most of us live a life without considering our destiny or any purpose beyond our personal happiness, trying to get ahead without too much pain and effort. We admire and envy the lucky and the proud who, by some magnificent obsession, rise to the top of the ladder – though it may be leaning against the wrong wall.
Perhaps we should conclude with Pascal’s wager – which somehow fits our post-modern thinking. Suppose I bet that the whole Christian world view is true and you bet that it is false. I spend effort seeking after God, forgo forbidden pleasures and struggle against my vices but live a meaningful and reasonably happy life. You live for today, do it your way, go for the gusto, take the shortcuts and repress the guilt. We both die. If I win – there is a God and a life eternal – I receive infinite reward. If I lose – there is no God and no life eternal – my losses at worst are finite: I’m just dead. Either way I have had a meaningful life and die with a smile on my face. If you win – there is no God and no life eternal – the game is over and your winnings at best are finite: you are just dead. If you lose – there is a God and a life eternal – your losses are infinite. Which is the best bet?
Finite loss / infinite gain
Finite gain / infinite loss
Which is the best way to live? Which is the better worldview?
David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College. He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Holiness in 12 Steps (2020). He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.