Valuing this Life

How We Picture The Next Life Affects What We Think About This One

 

[This article was taken from our book The Christian’s Hope: The Anchor of the Soul.]

 

A person’s perception of the next life has a significant impact on his or her view of this life. People who believe there is no future life are likely to live in excess in this life, exhibiting attitudes like “get it while you can” or “do unto others before they do unto me.” The Bible points this attitude out in Isaiah.

Isaiah 22:13
But see, there is joy and revelry, slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine! “Let us eat and drink,” you say, “for tomorrow we die!”

In such people’s minds there is no ultimate punishment for wicked behavior or ultimate reward for good behavior, so this life and what they can get from it is all that matters. Then there are people who do believe there is a next life but view it as completely disconnected from this life because it takes place in some kind of vaporous, cloud-filled, angels-with-wings kind of world. These people tend to discount this world and may even be repelled by it. It is this latter viewpoint that will be the starting point of this chapter because it raises the issue of what “spiritual” is. The importance of having an accurate understanding of what is spiritual cannot be overstated because it dramatically impacts a person’s view of the next life and, in turn, dramatically impacts the person’s view of this life.

Attempting to determine what is “spiritual” has led to much confusion in the religious world. When someone believes something is or is not “spiritual” it has a great impact on his life. It shapes his values, and therefore defines what he feels comfortable doing. Many Christians base their definition of “spiritual” on their concept of heaven. Traditionally, heaven is a place where the souls of the saved reside in sublime bliss, fulfilled just by being in the presence of God. The result of this perception is that many Christians think there is very little about this life that is spiritual.

In an effort to clarify the word “spiritual,” it is important to first dismiss the common misconception that there is a direct conflict between that which is spiritual and that which is physical. Based on this misconception, spiritual is “good” and physical is “bad” and the Christian must choose between them. The Bible, however, indicates that the opposite of “spiritual” is not “physical” but “fleshly” or “worldly.”

God created people with physical bodies. People then decide whether they will focus on that which is spiritual or on that which is fleshly. People can be very spiritual and yet enjoy the physical things in life at the same time. One of the reasons God created the heavens and earth the way He did was for man to enjoy all its physical beauty. He created the sun and moon and hung them in the sky knowing that, besides being functional, they would be enjoyable. He created domestic animals such as dogs and cats knowing that they would be more than just “work animals,” but friends and companions as well (Gen. 1:24 and 25). [1] God created plants that are both “pleasing to the eye and good for food” (Gen. 2:9). He put Adam and Eve in “the Garden of Eden,” which in Hebrew means “the garden of delights” or “the delightful garden.”

There is no question that God intended man to enjoy life in a physical environment. However, because many Christians are taught that this world is physical and therefore “bad” compared to “heaven” which is spiritual and therefore “good,” the real value and enjoyment of the earthly life God has provided is lost. In fact, most Christians assume that when they die, their lives will change drastically and all the things they now know and enjoy will pass away. Such a mindset often dilutes the fulfillment available in many daily activities. After all, what is the real value of something that will pass away into oblivion? But what if the activities of this life will not pass away? What if they continue on into the next life? Would it not be easier to see the value in them, and would it not be easier to relate to the future life?

In orthodox Christian teaching, there is almost no relation between this world and the next. The way some Christians disdain this life and look forward to being in “heaven” almost makes it seem as if God made a gigantic mistake when He created this earth for mankind. A good question to ask is what would have happened had Adam and Eve never sinned? They would have lived on earth forever. Was it God’s will for them to sin? Of course not. The only logical conclusion is God’s will for mankind is to live on the earth forever—not in a corrupted world like this one, but in a perfect world like that which He originally created. If God made Adam and Eve to live on earth forever, it just cannot be true that “the earth is evil but heaven is wonderful.” [For further study read “Gnosticism: Gnostic ideas have had an influence on Christianity.”]

The point is this: just because something is related to earthly life or is “fun” does not mean it is not spiritual or valuable. Are there things about this life that are not spiritual? Certainly, and we are not to be so invested in this life that we forget about the work of the Lord and get lost in earthly pursuits alone. However, there is a great difference between realizing that we are to seek first the Kingdom of God and believing that nothing in this life is of any real value because it will all pass away and thus has no relation to our “real” life in the next world. There is also a great difference between realizing that we must be about the Father’s business and thinking that having fun is somehow innately ungodly or unspiritual. Though we live in physical bodies on a physical earth, there is much about earthly life that is wonderful, godly, and “spiritual.”

The somewhat ironic truth is that because God designed life to be lived by those who believe in Him, Christians should be the ones who most enjoy the things God placed on the earth. It is unfortunate that the misconception of heaven and what is truly spiritual has caused some people to withdraw from many of the activities that God intended for people to enjoy. God knew Adam would have to focus much of his time and energy on keeping the Garden. He also knew that when He told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth that they, just like any other couple raising children, would have their hands full. Much of the work of parenting is due to the fact that children require a lot of time and energy, not because of the fallen nature of man. Surely no one believes that had Adam not sinned, all those children would have raised themselves. God planned work for man, including parenting. Not only do these activities not hinder salvation and holiness when they are carried out with dependence upon God and obedience to His Word, but they even contribute to man’s spiritual growth and wholeness.

Don’t Retreat—Relish!

In contrast to having a godly attitude about work and family, the belief that this world is somehow inherently ungodly can cause people to retreat and withdraw from much of life and even their God-given responsibilities. It is often taught that personal holiness is to be obtained by withdrawing from the pleasures of the world. Unfortunately, it is even occasionally taught that it is also necessary to withdraw from the responsibilities of this life. The well-known historian Will Durant writes of early Christians who, to be acceptable in the eyes of God, withdrew from daily life to pursue their individual salvation, perhaps in a monastery, the desert, or elsewhere.

Too many Christians of these early centuries thought they could serve God best—or rather, most easily escape hell—by abandoning their parents, mates, or children, and fleeing from the responsibilities of life in the frightened pursuit of a selfishly individual salvation. [2]

It is hard to comprehend how anyone could believe that abandoning parents, wife, and children would be pleasing to God, but “holiness” was perceived as being something “other worldly,” something “heavenly” that was apart from the necessary activities of this life. According to this belief, having to take care of a family infringed upon one’s personal holiness. To these people, the daily tasks of life seemed far removed from their perception of “heaven” and “real spirituality.” This viewpoint highlights just how important it is to have an accurate understanding of the future life on earth. Knowing what life will be like in the future provides a context in which to understand the value of this present life.

There are other people whose concept of heaven and what is truly spiritual has caused them to pull away from what most people consider to be fun activities because they believe that those activities will somehow contaminate them. Often, out of a pure motive, they separate themselves because they want to live a “holy” life. It is important to be holy, but it is vital to understand that enjoying what God has made available does not make one unholy. Dancing and drinking wine were part of life for the Old Testament believers. Why then do so many Christians consider these to be categorically ungodly or “unholy”? Some say, “Well, those things can lead to worldliness and sin.” If this is the case, why was it acceptable behavior for the Old Testament believers? Why did the psalmist say to praise God with music, singing, and dancing (Ps. 150, etc.)? Why is there a promise that in the Millennial Kingdom people will enjoy “the best of meats and the finest of wines” (Isa. 25:6)? Would Jesus Christ have turned more than one hundred and twenty gallons of water into wine (John 2:5–10) if drinking wine was ungodly or a sure path to worldliness? Hardly. Anything can be done to excess or done in a sinful manner, but that is hardly a reason to stop doing things that God allows. It is significant that hundreds of years ago, when the concept of the true Christian hope of a wonderful life in a flesh-and-bone body on this physical earth was exchanged for a concept of a life without a physical body in heaven, the belief that there was real godly value in enjoying life on this earth was seriously curtailed.

There is a profound change that occurs in the way you think about the physical activities of life when you realize that many of them will go on almost unchanged in the next life. Do you enjoy a good meal with fine meat and vegetables and a glass of wine? If you are saved, you can relish that wonderful meal you are eating and look forward to plenty more. You can think of what you enjoy now as part of the love God has for you now and a “foretaste” of what life in the Kingdom will be like. Do you enjoy sitting in your back yard, enjoying the fresh air and scenery? There will be plenty of that. Do you enjoy physical activity and working on worthwhile projects such as farming or growing a garden? All that will continue. Do you enjoy walking in the woods or down a country road in the Springtime when the flowers are in bloom and the birds are singing? There will be wonderful flowers and birds on the recreated earth, and you will be able to enjoy the walk without worrying about dangerous people or animals, mosquitoes, poison ivy, or thorns. The hurtful things like poison ivy and thorns are here as a result of Adam’s sin and the curse on the ground (Gen. 3:17 and 18), and they will not be present on the next earth.

God originally created the earth for mankind. When Adam sinned, the ground was cursed, the human body was given over to both decay and a sin nature, and much of life became difficult and painful. In spite of all that, however, it is still possible to find great joy in life today. Christians need to enjoy the things that God, in His love, placed on earth to enrich their lives. Furthermore, Christians need to reflect on how much more they will enjoy each other, good food, productive work, holidays and festivals, and that “feeling good” feeling they will get from a healthy and energized new body on God’s recreated earth.

Endnotes

[1] The Hebrew word translated “livestock” in the NIV and “cattle” in the KJV can refer to wild animals in some contexts, but when it is placed in contrast with words that refer to wild animals, it means domestic animals (cp. Gen. 1:24, where “livestock” is contrasted with “wild animals”). R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Moody Press, Chicago, IL, 1980), pp. 92, 279–81.
[2] Will Durant, The Age of Faith (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1950), p. 76.

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