How amazing and wonderful and kind and loving and kind and wonderful and amazing He is! Did I mention He was loving? Not nearly enough!
Ridley Scott’s depiction of Elysium, the Afterlife in Greek mythology.
It looks OK at first since his long-lost wife is running toward him in the distance. But where is God? The Greeks had no answer for that. Unfortunately, neither does Ridley Scott, who struggles with the Afterlife in his movies, like Blade Runner.
There truly are millions or billions of “gods” of all different shapes and sizes. Since He calls Himself “the Real and Living God,” asking the God of the Bible for answers is far more rewarding than asking an
“unreal and non-living god,” especially for understanding the Afterlife. His answers explain all those overloaded exclamations about JC, which are not the ravings of a cancer-ridden madman. Many others agree: “Every creature in the heavens and on the earth and under the earth will say together, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and honor and wealth and worship…'” and every other word to describe the joy of knowing the Real and Living God. It is a fascinating foundation for understanding the Afterlife as well as This Present Age (this lifetime) since both are moving along the same trajectory, which is time, the Bible says. Objectivity and facts are immensely helpful for framing big events like death in the real world, which is better than piecing together imaginary possibilities to understand death or the Afterlife.
Time occupies a central role in life and in history, especially from God’s perspective, like, “At the right time, God saved the helpless,” the Bible says, when JC joined humankind. He was “born of a woman” into this sad, pain-ridden world of war and cancer, poverty and injustice, and like a human, JC died. JC stepped into This Present Age and made an indelible imprint on humankind, splitting the human timeline into BC and AD, which is recognized as the basis for all international trade or treaties.
“The right time” was the first time when civilization could witness and preserve a reliable record of these events and JC’s life, while broadcasting his life across a network of international roads using Koine Greek (the “Common Greek”) language to blast through cultural barriers, and eventually continents. That point in time became God’s beacon of light reaching into distant history and the distant future, tying it all together for our understanding. All of it revolved around “the right time” because God is engaged in the real world of human history.
Salvador Dali viewed time as a (warped) memory.
However, time also reaches into the future, into the Afterlife.
Time is more than a calendar system. It is foundational in God’s physical universe, so astrophysicists and people like Einstein mathematically describe how “space-time” ties the universe together. The God of the Bible owns time. He describes the prominence of time using some of the most profound words in recorded history:
For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.
What do people really get for all their hard work?
I have seen the burden God has placed on us all.
Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time.
He has planted eternity in the human heart,
but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work
from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 NLT2)
Time also touches Eternity, since God “planted eternity in the human heart,” which is one way that “God has made everything beautiful.” Life in the Present Age is time-bound, but the Eternity factor adorns Creation with beauty. Touching Eternity is like living with one foot already in the Afterlife.
Eternity and time are not opposites. Time flows into eternity, beginning in the everyday, Present Age. People overlook how the Afterlife begins on planet Earth according to the Bible, with time, gravity, and all the natural forces familiar to us in place. There is continuity between human life now and in the Afterlife, with some excellent differences. Splashing straight into the Throne Room of God like I envisioned is not exactly the way it goes, according to God’s Word. More important, there is good reason to not fear death as an unknown, even though it is horrible or painful and a heartbreaking disruption of love relationships.
A Timebox That Matters
Time matters in the Afterlife, but even more so in the Present Age where a single lifetime holds very little of it. A lifetime is a splash of freedom locked in a Timebox of 20, 30, maybe 90 years, but incredibly insignificant compared to the span of time enfolding human history. It looks even smaller floating in a ocean of time the universe holds. This Timebox limits the significance of any event or anyone living in it and changes whatever is trapped inside. Year after year, decade after decade, time changes human life, and nobody can do anything about it. Time is an enemy-overlord limiting the available power and significance of every human life, not only for people closer to death like myself.
The Timebox limit is also fortunate, so Hitler’s time was extremely limited! It is unfortunate, since time turns the flower of youth into fat folds and ugly wrinkles and sagging, baggy muscles no matter what plastic surgeons do. People who ignore the Timebox or try to break out of it or reverse its forward momentum are dancing in a Fool’s Parade. In the real world people live in a ticking Timebox.
Jeff Bezos suddenly jumped up on the world stage as the richest man alive, by far, with $150 billion in his pocket—Billion—even after his divorce agreement. Among all the projects he pursues with his billions, he is reportedly investing in research to prevent death. How can anyone override God the Creator?
The last 20th and early 21st Centuries are really the first time in human history where people mistakenly think a lifetime is incredibly long. Usually people have died much, much earlier, like by age 30 or 40 was the average not long ago. People died at home, so death was an everyday affair and people were accustomed to seeing it all around. In the modern era life seems to go on forever, but adding another few decades is a deceptive advancement. The Timebox of a lifetime still is not very big.
“All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field,” God declared. The big problem, He said, is “the grass withers and the flower fades” (Isaiah 40:6-7) in the Timebox. Adding a few years does not eliminate the obvious direction time pushes everyone and barely adds significance to that blip of time. Perhaps adding a few extra years of life makes old, old people far more insignificant as they become more dependent and wreck inheritance funds? Today’s young people will be paying the social security checks for these extra decades old, old enjoy at the expense of reduced inheritances, so what will the old, old person look like? A greedy monster?
“Teach us to number our days so we can present ourselves to You [God] hearts of wisdom,” it says (Ps. 90:12), because time can be a privilege, not an enemy, a great resource, not a prison in “hearts of wisdom.” The limitation on time is fortunate in a world full of injustice or poverty or any of the great evils saturating this Present Age, which includes handicaps, sickness and pain like cancer. Thank God that chemotherapy is limited! I discovered it is possible (not preferable) to endure post-surgery agony for hours while deprived of pain meds knowing it would soon be over, by necessity. The heartbreak of getting dumped by a True Love also will pass. “There is a time for everything,” but not an endless time for everything.
Therefore, “make the most of your time, because the days are evil, ” God said (Eph. 5:16). Evil times pass soon enough, fortunately, but it also means good times and good opportunities also pass. God wants us to understand how privileged good times are, not to be devoured and pursued with greed the way some people try to make every day as fun as possible. We should not watch time flow past with indifference, so “make the most of your time…and do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is,” must be an obvious implication of living in a Timebox (Eph. 5:17). To “understand…the will of God” means understanding why God limits our time, appreciating those limits, not resenting the limits on good times, not fighting the Timebox, not ignoring the Timebox. Living in a Social Media world, a gaming world or a video world are good ways to not understand time in the real world!
Tracking time is not a huge burden. We track time with atomic clocks and smartphones and endless ways that demonstrate an acute human awareness of time. The practice goes back to Stonehenge and beyond. Tracking time is a daily activity-turned-asset if we allow God to “teach us to number our days,” since it creates “hearts of wisdom,” it says. God’s way is simply a better way to mark the passage of time by understanding it. The Timebox contains the privilege of freedom, ticking away. To let time pass without understanding it produces produces nothing but guilt and regret, but grasping God’s viewpoint on time produces wisdom. God’s wisdom means “change without regret,” it says in 2 Cor.7:10. (Literally, “God’s rescue without regret!”) Drawing near to God means escaping guilt and regret while enjoying “rescue without regret”.
When people live as though trapped entirely inside a single lifetime, they limit their entire existence to a little drop of time which disappears so quickly, so death becomes far more tragic and scary, death becomes the final word of a very short sentence. The brevity of a Timebox makes a lifetime very trite, by comparison, to the vast span of all time, so one lifetime is incredibly insignificant, and insignificance is torturous to humans because humans long to be significant and fight against being treated as insignificant or viewed as insignificant all lifelong.
The addition of time in the Afterlife suddenly turns an insignificant little drop of time into a huge ocean of significance. It is good that God gives us more time in the Afterlife. This is why the Afterlife is so incredibly important, yet the Afterlife does not wipe out the importance of the Timebox in the Present Age.
The goal is to building something within our personal Timebox, so God says “number our days” and “make the most of your time” right now. It takes time to build anything of value. Tracking time is essential to build anything. Tracking time is the difference between an unrealistic and realistic project, a successful or failed project.
Back to all those exclamations about JC. He owns time and He is our brother, our friend, God as human stepped into our timeline to introduce humankind to the Afterlife and all that additional time God makes available. JC used an an amazing conduit to explain the Afterlife—namely, His resurrection from the dead. That event was surrounded by a wealth of documentation and encounters with the risen JC which nobody denied. How many died cheerfully proclaiming His resurrection was undeniable?
Here lies the huge difference between JC and all the other religions of humankind in history—proof! Every religion talks about the Afterlife. Nobody really knows about it, except, of course, JC, who hopped like an Easter Bunny back and forth between the Afterlife and this Present Age as “the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). JC shed clear light on the existence of the Afterlife so it is no longer so mysterious and foreboding. JC threw the door wide open so everyone can see it. Understanding that time flows into the Afterlife greatly alters the perception of today’s Timebox in this Present Age.
For example, “Since his children share the same flesh and blood, through death He rendered powerless the one holding the power of death, who is the adversary.” What does it mean? “He freed those who, through fear of death, were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hebrews 2:14-15). JC was just like us, He died, he entered the Afterlife, then bounced back to demonstrate there is no fear of death itself for Saints (average Jane and Joe Saints like the Bible talks about…biblical Saints are not venerated ghosts from church tradition).
Fear of death dominates the Present Age. Fear of death defines power in the Present Age. Every empire or kingdom, democratic or communist nation, dictatorship or monarchy in history enslaves populations and survives through “fear of death.” Sadly, that includes the USA. Ask the Taliban in Afghanistan—the USA holds the most sophisticated, drone-like death threats over the world’s head. Why? To keep creepy enemies “pacified”. Empires with the greatest ability to inflict “fear of death” survive the longest in the Present Age because the Timebox is so small for every human, so threatening someone’s life is the ultimate, scary way to dominate.
No such domination is possible for Saints! Saints are no longer limited to a little Timebox and it is not easy to threaten those who see their current Timebox as a small drop in the bucket of available time. It opens a whole new approach to life in the Present Age, not based on fear, but based on things that extend beyond this Timebox into the Afterlife, which includes love relationships with each other–the most precious of all our experiences in this little Timebox.
More important, the enduring quality of love is made possible through a love relationship with JC. “We love because He first loved us,” it says. To live a life enslaved to anything or anyone on earth means not “understanding what the will of God is.” Living hopelessly like a loser certainly is “foolish,” the Bible says. Apathy, depression, anxiety and all the other problems stirred by this Present Age are not good ways to “number our days,” as if everything depends on one moment or second or year—as if trapped, like a slave, in a tiny, little timeline. Understanding “how to number our days” means living inside a long timeline, not just a blip of time in one Timebox. It changes goals, activities, priorities, emotions, perception and just about every tool that humans use on a daily basis.
The Hour is Late
Although dying of inoperable pancreatic cancer, I can say with tremendous confidence that living with one foot already in the Afterlife means freedom. “So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late!” Bob Dylan once wrote. Well said, Zimmy! Nearing the end of life, there is no time for narcissistic mind games and false pretenses. The hour is getting late for everyone. Understanding this, I am driving people bonkers with my rejuvenated frankness and “let us not speak falsely now.”
See, I am in a downright good mood most of the time, even when tortured by indifferent nurses and doctors disbelieving I just came from major surgery without any pain meds! This good-mood, good cheer phenomenon accompanied the impending deaths of so many Saints in history, it was always mystifying and hard to believe! But look at Stephen in Acts 7. Or as Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4, “It’s all good!” Yes, Saints die a different way. JC started it. “He despised the shame of the cross for the joy set before him,” it says in Hebrews 12.
I just now heard a famous businessman on TV boast, “We served customers successfully for 40 years! What could be better than that?” Answer: Eternal Life, dude!
But wait! Does this Afterlife scenario, which includes life on planet Earth, contradict the picture presented earlier, where the Bible also says, “it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the Living God!” Is this a biblicaly contradiction, and why some people declare the Bible full of contradictions? No way. The apparent contradiction is not only resolved by the Bible, the Afterlife picture becomes more appealing and significant the more it comes into focus.
- The Beauty of God’s Word
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