So many questions, so few answers! Every answer raises more questions. The great secret for old people is how certainty decays with old age but be careful! Ravenous, young sharks skulk in the shadows nearby! Be dogmatic no matter how pretentious it is!
Such is the tug-of-war between old and young people over who knows more. Such is the disparity between what is known and unknown! The lifelong Q&A quest begins with obnoxious toddlers asking “Why?” every time an adult says something. Kids asks questions about everything, but adults rarely notice the kids don’t care about answers. The funniest commercial has a kid asking his dad what torque means, and while the dad starts pontificating the kid interrupts to say, “Why can’t I see my eyeballs?” That was not a meaningful Q&A. Adults keep explaining things long after kids grow older, stop asking questions and they start rolling eyes. Why is that?
The battle of who knows more lasts through a lifetime. Kids or juveniles or young adults pretend to know the answers and get irritated when adults explain anything. I know all about this. Now approaching my own death, I realize I am a walking, talking Wikipedia full of answers to important questions, so I try passing my priceless answers along. The responses are not what I anticipated. “I know, I know.” Or no response. Or, “I never asked a question.” Or, “Are the drugs talking now?” My problem is that I prefer M&M’s more than Q&A’s—”My Monologues,” all mine! If I cannot get my M&M’s with people, I can turn to writing, since writing naturally is composed of monologues. But this time I will approach writing differently and promise to ask more questions.
Why are people so unwilling to ask questions? Is it necessary to pretend “I know, I know,” regardless of what’s true? At any age beyond toddlerhood few admit how full of questions they are, how insecure their answers are, yet everyone throws answers around. As maturity progresses into the Sage stage of “old” age, the answers are full of propellant but no substance. “This is what matters! …It only makes sense… It really works, what else can I say? …Everyone knows… Everyone agrees.” Or, with more authority, “They say…Trust me, it’s true! …Seen it before.” Then, dappled with expertise, “The NY Times said…My pappy always said…” So many ways to fill answers with hot propellant!
True, adults know more than kids, but adults also grow dim-witted and forget that young people have x-ray vision. Kids see through the hypocrisy and arrogance of adult-like answers. Like despicable teens, adults hide a personal glut of questions and suppressed, unresolved issues that slowly grow, just like their fat guts. Crazy youngsters say I-Know-I-Know as if true, but adults also say I-Know-I-Know in more sophisticated ways. All of the pretense covers up Know-Nothing answers.
The Immortal Legacy
Adults are insecure in one pronounced area which produces answers that pop like popcorn. Consistently high percentages of adults believe in the Afterlife in survey after survey, but inconsistently most adults claim to be unconcerned about it. Is this adult genius or adults saying I-Know-I-Know! Like insecure teens? It is not easy to be unconcerned about Immortality, however, since “God put Eternity in their hearts” (Eccl.3:18). It means God deliberately planted in humankind the need to ask questions. “Yet He did not reveal His plan for Eternity,” it says, which clearly means I-Know-I-Know is not an authentic response. What amazes is how adults do respond with a tremendous lack of integrity.
One survey on immortality shows most adults wrestle with unresolved immortality by focusing on building a legacy—an Immortal Legacy—which means keeping memories alive in this life after passing into the next life. An Immortal Legacy is like leaving the luggage behind while boarding a flight overseas, or like building a home in Dallas while moving to Cleveland. What is the advantage of an Immortal Legacy? Legacy nails someone’s name on something, but how valuable is a dead person’s name? People care about how useful something is, not its name. The name on a legacy is a curiosity, at best, or it’s a lingering, bad smell in the bathroom at worse. The Rockefeller Plaza is a useful place in NYC, but if the Rockefeller name conjures memories of greed and Cleveland-based Robber Barons from the Gilded Age—as it does for people who know about Rockefeller—perhaps a better name would be Keith’s Plaza. The name doesn’t change the usefulness of the plaza.
Since the Immortal Legacy is a quest of a lifetime and supposedly defines a lifetime, does it work? The Bible raises big problems with the Immortal Legacy idea. “I came to hate all my hard work here on earth. Everything I earned I must leave to others,” wrote King Solomon, who was gifted by God with tremendous wisdom and became an international celebrity in the Ancient Near East. He hated all his hard work because, “Who knows whether my successors will be wise or fools?” Good point. “Either way, they end up controlling everything I worked so hard to build!” (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19). Giving a life’s work to a fool is a messed-up prospectus. It is impossible to say from beyond the grave who gets to control the legacy, so Legacy-builders work hard for a lifetime to produce an uncertain outcome which is meaningless in the Afterlife destination, so it really is like a teenager saying I-Know-I-Know.
Why did God bother to plant unanswerable questions in the human heart? Does God torture? Standing on the precipice of death as I am is a good time to consider immortality and eternity, but we must consider God-Questions all lifelong since they originate from God, not a specific event, built-in from birth, not suddenly appearing at death. God-sized questions loom big over a whole lifespan, and how much do God-Questions affect the trajectory of a lifetime? The question of immortality gives birth to the quest for significance, a legacy and the tragedy of death which humans are so uniquely disturbed by. These questions are a big deal to God, since the Bible from end to end raises God-size questions. God’s recurring point? How useless it is for any human to figure out God-Questions without God.
The oldest book of the Bible is about a rich guy named Job, so it is appropriately called Job. The book ends when God starts throwing endless questions at poor, clueless Job. The first 37 chapters in Job are filled with useless answers from Job’s useless friends, then God finally said, “Enough! My turn. I ask questions, and you answer,” which is compatible with the usual preference to give answers. Admitting he cannot answer one of God’s questions, Job finally said, “Enough!” God’s reaction? He said (loosely paraphrased), “Hold on to your jock strap, son! Here’s a bunch more!” God dismantles Job’s I-Know-I-Know attitude with more questions. God only wanted an opportunity to have an honest Q&A with a sincere, willing heart, and it didn’t matter who asked questions or gave answers. The Q&A greatly benefitted Job, according to Job’s testimony. It is a thrill to hear God’s answers or God’s questions, either way a Q&A with God is a thrill.
God also said, “Come! Let us reason together!” (Isaiah 1:18) God’s Q&A is reasonable. He then gave a most reasonable proposition: “I’ll take care of the big difference between us,” He said (Is.1:18). This changes everything, it makes Q&A with God possible. Figuring out God is impossible for humans; He is just too big. But for God to explain Himself to us and offer to bridge the big gap between the Infinite Creator and a little human is a great approach to understanding God. Questions about life, death, the Afterlife, love, Creation and all the others are God-sized questions mandating God-sized answers. Problem is, nobody else but the God of the Bible tries to explain all these things. Religions are universally focused on morals and earning favor with a god or gods, but this One says, “Set aside the moral issues, wipe away the alienation between us,” and then, “Come, let us reason together!”
“Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened. Ask, and you will receive,” God also said. There are many such invitations threaded throughout the Bible where God only wants a fair Q&A. “My thoughts are not your thoughts,” He said (Isaiah 55:8). “As high as the heavens are from the Earth, that’s how different we are,” He said (Isaiah 55:9). Everything about God is too complex and multidimensional for anyone to grasp without God’s help, so the obvious solution is to engage God in a Q&A conversation, and since God’s Word is translated in just about every language on the planet and readily available, that Q&A begins easily by reading God’s Word.
God’s answers are so vastly superior to the answers humankind invents, and unlike those developed by humankind, God’s answers are correct. Brilliant scientists like Carl Sagan claimed the Cosmos “Is all there is, all there was, and all there ever will be” in his highly acclaimed TV series called Cosmos. After he died, a new generation of scientists with the aid of powerful telescopes discovered the Cosmos “Is not all there is, not all there was, and not all there ever will be.” The Cosmos had a definite beginning and will have an inglorious end. They discovered it is not a recyclable or recycled universe, just as the Word declared millennia ago.
The Big Q&A
“Why me?” is the big question to ask when suddenly trapped in a messed-up life, when Death or divorce or any tragedy triggers it. “Why me?” could dominate the mind of someone dying except I asked it long ago and the answers received came straight from God’s Word not from a bad night’s dream. It sounds strange, but the answers are tethered to the person of JC. All good answers are tied to some expert, and JC is the Creator, the greatest expert in the universe.
Since JC is the One who answers God-size questions, since JC is the One who built God-size questions in human DNA, the Afterlife suddenly gets exciting. God’s children first meet JC when stepping into the Afterlife, one-on-one, face-to-face. What a friendly face JC will be! He will be instantly recognizable because “the Love of JC controls us” (2Cor.5:14) and in many other places our familiarity with Him is growing here-and-now, before the Afterlife. Meeting JC face-to-face also is not too mysterious. From the eyewitness accounts of those who met the resurrected JC 2,000 years ago, the effect was, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19) What a nice introduction to the Afterlife!
That first step into the Afterlife is where the Big Q&A with God begins or blooms, depending on how much Q&A already transpired in this Present Age. Talking with JC, asking questions, making sense of what just happened on Earth before death are some of the amazing discussions to be had with JC. “Why me?” JC will explain. “Why this way, why not that way? What happened to so-and-so? What happens next?” The discussion is endless, funny, sobering, insightful, humor-filled, all of which marked the recorded conversations in the Bible. More important, the conversation with JC will be warm and intimate because, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are!” (1 John 3:1) That declaration says everything about the intimacy waiting in the immediate Afterlife.
As death descends, life grows incredibly intense and painful, sad and tragic. Immediately after death everything is different, peaceful, comprehensible and full of the presence of JC. There is no wandering around in a fog, alone and bewildered, wondering what’s happening, surrounded by blinding light as if entering an interrogation room where everyone is hidden behind a one-way mirror or behind spotlights. Personal comfort marks this moment of birth into the Afterlife. In the story of a man named Lazarus entering the Afterlife, JC describes how that poor man was held and comforted by God’s comfort. “When we see Him, we will know just as we are now known,” it says. Awareness, coherence and no confusion, since “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33). This Q&A time is a wonderful time for answers and more answers to our most vexing questions.
Stephen was the first recorded martyr of the New Covenant, the post-resurrection of JC, and his entry into the Afterlife was vividly described for us to see for ourselves. “I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man (JC) standing at the right hand of God,” Stephen said as he died (Acts 7:56). Most prominent, JC approaches the newly arrived citizen of God’s Kingdom, the member of God’s family. Everywhere the Bible describes JC meeting and greeting His family members as they enter the Afterlife, first and foremost. “He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, the living One. I was dead, and I am alive forevermore, and I hold the keys of death and of Hades,” JC said (Revelation 1:17-18).
The Afterlife begins with JC, but outside of time and outside of the physical universe without a resurrected body, which means not having a physical body, but it’s not a problem considering the kind of interaction and life the Afterlife begins with. Our interaction with our brother JC is not complex. A common misconception is that spiritual means invisible, so a spiritual body must be invisible. But Paul explains this in an interesting way.
All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. (1 Corinthians 15:39-40)
Although the spiritual body is not physical, it is beautiful and full of “glory”, but it will be humanoid, to be sure, since JC Himself is humanoid, and we are speaking face-to-face at this stage. The surroundings will look glorious as well, not frightening and bizarre. In fact, since our later Afterlife will be taking place on this earth and since humans are designed by God to be engaged in the physical world, the immediate Afterlife environment should look familiar but glorious, which is already evident in God’s nature. Earth is like a blue sapphire hanging in space because, in God’s opinion, as he fashioned Earth and brought together all its complexities, God declared, “This is good!‘. For sure, the surroundings cannot look like the filthy, dirty streets of Cleveland. When JC said, “I am going before you to prepare a place for you so we can be together,” he means he is preparing a magnificent haven of rest conducive to relaxation and easy communication together. I am a nature-freak. This haven of rest must include a lake surrounded by beautiful hills, pine trees, a smorgasbord of fresh smells, adorned with snow or gorgeous flowers, perhaps with a little rowboat to go fishing with Jesus (JC, by the way, was an excellent fisherman and loved fishing). The point is that since “Peace be unto you” is the theme of the immediate Afterlife, shock and awe cannot be part of it. Familiarity breeds peace. The place JC is preparing for us to spend time together cannot be too foreign from what I know and lived with, even if it is beautiful beyond description.
Yet all this is only the beginning of the Afterlife scenario found in scripture. Next time we will dig deeper into it.
- The Time Factor
- A Catholic Lord of the Rings