Heaven. Hell. Death.
Seems I've covered quite a few afterlife-ish topics of late.
But today, I'd like to present you with an important question and “thought exercise.” Similar to the exercise of writing your own obituary as a potent practice to give you more insight into whether you are wasting your life or, instead, making maximum impact, or the exercise of sensually visualizing the experience of another to truly live out the Golden Rule, or even Warren Buffet's well-known “Ovarian Lottery” exercise, this exercise will—if your experience is anything like mine—give you valuable insight into what you should consider prioritizing during your relatively short physical existence here on earth.
Are you ready?
What If You Could Live Forever?
Imagine that you've suddenly discovered that you are going to live forever.
Now, forever is basically the equivalent of infinite. And infinity is a pretty darn massive idea. I mean, it’s easy to understand the concept of infinity, but our frail human mind can’t truly comprehend how “big” or “never-ending” infinity is, simply because our perception of time, from our very birth, has always had a beginning and an end, measured in seconds, minutes, days, years, and lifespans.
But just humor me for a moment and try to imagine what it would be like if you could truly exist ad infinitum—if you could actually live forever. That's right: the concept of limited time has suddenly vanished, and—even should you decide you still want to think about life in respect to time—your affluence of time is a never-ending bank account that will never diminish.
Furthermore, imagine that even though you are going to live forever, your current physical body will eventually fade and perish at the end of 70, 80, 90, or (if you're genetically blessed or some kind of biohacking-transhumanist-life-extension-obsessed-anti-aging-enthusiast) 100 years and perhaps slightly beyond. Yet imagine that even if your physical body fades, your soul will live on, and eventually, you will be given a perfectly new and restored body to enjoy and savor in a new heaven and new earth for the rest of all time, a thrilling concept I write about here in my article on what happens after you die.
Next, imagine in that new and infinite existence, as I write about in “A Slice Of Heaven” and as Randy Alcorn so beautifully details in his groundbreaking book Heaven, you're not limited to being dressed in a white fuzzy bathrobe and playing a harp while sitting on a fluffy cloud somewhere in the ether. Instead, all those things that you crave to do now, all those things you have a bit of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) built around, all those things you really want to do but just don't seem to have enough time of day to do are all things that will be fully available for you to engage in during your infinite existence.
That massive pile of books in your personal library that keep on piling up and driving you crazy or guilt-ridden because you simply don't have the opportunity to read them? No problem: you've got forever to read all those books and many, many more—should your heart desire.
All those sports you really want to learn but just don't have the time to deliberately practice? The new earth will have all the golf courses, tennis courts, boats and wakeboards, snow covered-hills for skiing, mountains to summit, and ping pong tables you'll ever need for the rest of all time…
The language learning books and podcasts that have left you feeling like it should be so easy to learn a new language if you just had the time to implement those tips? Fear not, you'll have time to learn every language that has ever existed, for all time—with absolutely no rush…
All the new skills you wish you had the time or knowledge or connections to develop? There's also no good reason to think you won't also be able to devote as much time as you'd like to hobbies such as wood crafting, boat building, home construction, computer motherboard tinkering, car engine tinkering, gardening, painting, discovering new recipes, and beyond…
That vast array of exotic locales you've always wanted to visit? The good news is that God made all his creation good (Genesis 1:31), and every last region, beach, mountain, valley, river, lake, and beautiful travel destination and hotspot isn't going to get suddenly wiped away and destroyed—instead each will be a perfect (both literally and figuratively) place for you to explore whenever and wherever your heart desires…
Ultimately, as the thought-provoking book Not Home Yet so clearly details, our final destiny is not some disembodied, heavenly existence but rather life with God on a renewed earth. Or as I write in my book Fit Soul:
“What masterpieces could you form if you had millions or billions of years on your hands? This doesn't seem silly to me. God created the human constitution with a driven desire to create, experiment, design, manufacture, fashion, fabricate, and formulate (there's that darn alliteration again, sorry!). This isn't some modern evolutionarily acquired trait: archeology constantly reveals that from cave paintings to Stonehenge to the Pyramids, humankind has created from our very beginnings. It's the way God made us and there's no reason to believe he won't continue to take joy and pleasure in our Creation when we are in eternal union with Him in Heaven (which the Bible clearly tells us is actually a “new Heaven and new Earth”).
Being able to work on a watercolor art masterpiece for a thousand years, play a guitar until I have the skills of the greatest guitarist our current world has ever known, or design a new spacecraft that can carry me to the moon and beyond gets me pretty excited. Who knows? My passion for creating here on the “old Earth” is just a tiny slice of the creative cake I'll be blessed to consume on the “new Earth.” Possessing an infinite and unchained power of Creation is a pretty exciting and stimulating thought, isn't it?”
I think you get it.
Vast, immeasurable time and opportunity at your fingertips, forever.
What Becomes The Most Important Thing?
So you are now equipped with the thrilling and exhilarating knowledge that you are going to live forever.
What, then, do you do now?
What becomes the most important thing that you can do with your short time here on this “old earth,” for the span of those brief few decades that you have in your current physical body, before your perfect and infinite existence begins on a new perfect earth?
Would you continue to stress yourself out about that pile of books you don't have time to read?
Would you rush through your day in a frenzied attempt to squeeze in work, food, hobbies, family, friends, social life, learning, exploring, travel, and whatever else you desperately feel the urge to squeeze in before you die?
Would you experience FOMO every time you open a social media account and see your friends lounging on yet another beach in yet another exotic locale that you simply can't seem to fabricate the time to get to?
Would you grasp at every last second of life as though it might be your last?
Instead, here's what you might be thinking, and, if not, what you should be thinking…and saying to yourself and to others…
…”I've just found out I'm going to live forever! I have to go tell as many people as I can about how they can all go and live forever with me in a perfect existence and the fullest joy they could ever imagine for all time! I must rush out and share this good news with all my family, friends, neighbors, and shout this good news from the rooftops! Hey, look everyone…I've discovered an opportunity to live forever and this means you can stop all your striving and rushing and worrying and stressing and squeezing and selfishness because you don't have to grasp at life anymore like it's a fading sunset! Your life can simply be a glorious beginning and a mere taste of what you're going to experience in the afterlife! C'mon everybody! Let's do this! Who wants to join me to savor God's creation forever, and ever, and ever?”
After all, how could you ever keep this “secret” to yourself?
Furthermore, who would ever want to live forever all by themselves? That's pretty much the definition of hell that I write about here.
Instead, wouldn't be nice to take a few of your fellow human beings, members of your own taxonomical species, those who you have a built-in ancestral drive to protect and to ensure long-term survival for, those with whom you have a deep hominid bond from the very dawn of time, along with you to live forever?
Isn't that the first most important thing to do if you know you're going to live forever? Isn't that a full manifestation of The Golden Rule?
Well, Jesus Christ certainly thought so. That is the whole point of his so-called Great Commission found in Matthew 28 verses 19-20, in which he says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
How To Live Forever
See, the Great Commission that Jesus taught didn't simply involve a commandment to spend our lives finding random people, telling them they're sinful scumbags, sprinkling a bit of water on their heads, and then dragging them to a church.
Instead, the Great Commission was a message of good news. No…more like electrifying and exhilarating news.
It was a message that God so loved the world that He sent His only precious son Jesus—a great deity—down to our uncomfortable, sin-ridden, painful, hard old earth, to become human to suffer, to be tortured, to die, to be buried, and to eventually conquer all of death and all of sin for all of time through an ultimate resurrection. That's the thrust of the entire greatest Hero's Journey tale you can read about here.
It was a message that you and I can indeed live forever by simply believing that this epic event happened, and then laying all our burdens at the foot of the cross.
It was a message that, by simply saying a few words, we can unlock the door to eternal life and go on to live forever.
What are those simple words?
“Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name. Amen.”
And once those words are uttered, and spoken from the heart in an act of pure faithfulness, like taking the first step off a giant cliff and trusting that a staircase will materialize, or like being a child and showing up to the kitchen table and believing that somehow all the sustenance you need will be provided for you, your life becomes absolutely transformed. It becomes magical. You begin to live an existence filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—not because you have to as some kind of litmus test to determine if you're actually good enough to be granted the gift of eternal life, but because you want to from the deepest corners of your heart because the love of Jesus washes over you with such an intense feeling of hope, joy, and salvation that you can't help but crave with the deepest of your heart's desires to not only “obey everything I have commanded you” with zero drudgery or obligation…
…but to shout that good news from the rooftops, that message of the secret of how to live forever, with every last person you can tell for the rest of your life, because you simply can't hold yourself back!
What To Do Now
Wait, wait, wait.
Am I implying that, if you have discovered the secret to living forever, and if you have unlocked that secret to living forever by believing upon the message of Jesus's deity, death, burial, and resurrection, that you then must spend every last second of every day in an act of pure self-denial and an existence of utter poverty as you wander the planet in sandals and a toga as a selfless missionary?
Am I saying that since you're going to live forever, you should spend your short time here on old earth doing nothing but sharing the good news about living forever, and that ribeye steaks, a nice Bordeaux, a fine cigar, and all those books, hobbies, sports, travel locales, thrilling adventures, and wonderful joys of God's creation should be postponed until the afterlife, since they'll all be there waiting for you anyways, forever?
See, as pastor John Piper often writes, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.
Furthermore, the two greatest commandments in all the Bible are to “love God and love others” (Matthew 22:37-40). We love God by glorifying him (e.g. being satisfied in Him) and we love others by not only sharing the good news with them, but also by, as I write about here, creating inspiring art, composing beautiful musical masterpieces, growing a garden that can feed you and perhaps your neighbors too, barbecuing mouthwatering chicken, crafting cabinets, writing thrilling tales, and sharing your unique creations with others in a spirit of love and altruism. This means that while our greatest purpose in life is to spread the good news of redemption, forgiveness, and eternal life, we can do so while simultaneously appreciating, enjoying, and relishing all of God's good creation in a manner that loves and shares that appreciation, enjoyment, and relishment with our fellow humans.
And here's the best part: by savoring God's creation, you are, in a very special way, fulfilling the Great Commission.
What do I mean by that?
It's simple, really…
…fellas, when you love your wife, dote on her, hug her, whisper sweet nothings into her ear, and hold her hand when you're walking through the parking lot into the grocery store, you're modeling for your family and for the world what true Christ-like love actually looks like, and you're also doing that when showing precision and honesty in all your business dealings and waking up to do the most excellent job you can with whatever tasks God has placed upon your plate for that day…
…ladies, when you are swaddling a child in a soft blanket to prepare them for refreshing sleep, caring for the family garden, yard, and home, driving an SUV full of excited neighborhood kids to the trampoline park, reading to a group of children at the local library, or revealing a mouth-watering pile of freshly grilled corn-on-the-cob and cheese-drenched burgers for a dinner party, you're displaying God's qualities of empathy, care, kindness, sacrifice, joy, and creation…
…when you or your family go on a hike and smile and wave at every last person on the trail, perhaps throwing in a “God bless you!” or “God is good!” to your fellow hikers as you bend down to pick up a stray littered beer can and stow it away into a plastic garbage bag, you're demonstrating a living, breathing example of holy gratefulness and savoring and caring for God's creation…
…just think about it: every last thing you do—from how you treat the waitstaff at your favorite restaurant, to who you invite to your home for a Sunday night dinner party, to how you care for your yard and home, to the songs you choose to blast in your car as you commute to work, to what you do when your neighbor needs help moving at the last minute—is all a special way for you to display what it truly means to be like Jesus, to the entire world, and a perfect way to demonstrate the secret to the forever life in your own daily dealings.
And it's actually quite joyful and satisfying to recognize that those six ribeye steaks smoking on the grill, that bottle of wine decanting on the kitchen counter, and that glorious salad of heirloom tomatoes from the garden are going to be enjoyed by your family and two neighborhood families, and those two neighborhood families may not really know the secret to living forever, but when they see the demonstration of God's love in your own lives, they're probably going to ask you questions about the hope and peace that they see vibrating within you as your family gathers, prays, sings, and begins to savor every last element of God's creation, and when they do ask, you can and should certainly share with them that secret to living forever that you have discovered in the form of a free gift God graced upon the world, as you simultaneously wipe steak juices from your chin and sip on a rich cabernet.
That, my friends, is basic “cultural evangelism,” and that's the best thing you can do now if you have discovered the key to eternal life: live a satisfied, joyful life and share that satisfaction and joy with as many other people as you can. Demonstrate to others a tiny glimpse of heaven through the beauty and goodness that pours forth from you and your family.
But, I'll admit, in the whole process of being satisfied in God and savoring his creation, I have also, multiple times in the past, felt a bit guilty that I’m not “fulfilling the Great Commission” in a more boots-on-the-ground sort of way, such as via “inconvenient” and laborious mission trips, helping build schools, churches or hospitals in needy, foreign countries, or supporting missionaries in a very direct manner via financial giving or hospitality outreach vs. spending that money on groceries for a neighborhood party.
In other words, I often ask myself whether I should be at home entertaining and caring for my friends and family with beer and roasted chicken, or whether that time would better be spent under a bridge serving soup, or wearing sandals, or holding a hammer, or climbing a ladder, all while getting eaten alive by mosquitos somewhere in a disadvantaged village in Africa. After all, the world needs missionaries—people sent into an area to declare their faith and perform ministries of service, such as education, literacy, social justice, health care, and economic development—just as much as it needs neighborhood parties, barbecue bashes, and church potlucks, doesn't it?
Frankly, why not have both?
As I write in my Marshmallow test article:
“Ultimately, most people could do a better job striking a balance between enjoying and savoring the beauty of God's creation and self-denial or delayed gratification specifically for the purpose of helping and blessing others, and not necessarily for the purpose of self-improvement or self-growth.
…When was the last time you fasted not as an exercise of righteous self-denial or some kind of selfish anti-aging tactic, but as an exercise to delay gratification, bless others with a bit of extra food, money, or time, and pass up a marshmallow now for a reward in heaven later?
When was the last time you skipped dinner to free up an extra hour to go serve the homeless, and perhaps drop dinner off at the soup kitchen on your way?
When was the last time you pulled a big ol' ribeye steak from your freezer and a nice bottle of wine from the pantry, walked past your dinner table, put it into a padded cooler, and sauntered it down to your neighbor's mailbox instead?
When was the last time you took the same mental resilience, fortitude, and ability to engage in delayed gratification that you've used for so many years to “eat the frog,” do the hardest task of the day first, squeeze in a morning workout or meditation session prior to jumping into e-mails, etc., and applied that same ability to simply forego a few pleasures to free up money, time, or resources to help others?
What I mean by that is that you simply need balance.
In the same way that living an extraordinary life and savoring God's creation while simultaneously sharing the message of eternal life are not at odds with one another, neither are evangelism and missions at odds with one another. That's the beauty of Christianity. While hedonistic Epicureanism that involves lounging in bed all day sucking on greasy roast turkey bones while being fanned with grape leaves is certainly incongruous with a Stoic, puritanical self-denial approach of sipping plain soup, eating crackers, and plowing a field for sixteen hours a day, hosting glorious dinner parties at your home on a Sunday night while simultaneously serving soup at a homeless shelter on Monday night are hardly paradoxical.
So yes, you can certainly be both an evangelist for the forever life that you have discovered and a missionary who gets your hands dirty and serves others in the streets, and you can strike a beautiful balance between the two (although I'd still love to hear from you in the comments section about how you've tackled this seeming “paradox” that is not actually a paradox).
Allow me to summarize.
You have been given the glorious opportunity to live forever, and that's a mind-blowing thought. As a result, you don't need to mightily hustle to selfishly and stressfully squeeze every last drop out of life because you only have a few decades to enjoy your short existence.
Access to that eternal life is as simple as saying a prayer of pure faith and simplicity: acknowledging Jesus's deity, death, burial, and resurrection, then casting all your burdens at the foot of the cross.
Knowing that you will live forever, you can now fully enjoy the life God has blessed you with on this planet, while not necessarily grasping desperately at that life.
Furthermore, your very best purpose and calling, upon knowing the secret of eternal life and being blessed with the secret to being able to live forever, is to share that message with as many of your fellow human beings as possible, particularly by demonstrating an extraordinary life as a sort of “divine image bearer“, then, when people ask you, sharing with them the secret to eternal life and the reason for the hope and peace that is within you.
Finally, the knowledge that you are going to live forever doesn't mean that you must spend your relatively short time here on this old earth living a life of stoic drudgery, self-denial, and perpetual service, but it does mean that you should constantly be asking yourself whether you are excessively “chasing” pleasures that, frankly, you'll have an entire infinite existence to enjoy, or whether you're spending your time in wise balance by caring for others, serving others and ministering to others while simultaneously demonstrating to others what pure and powerful gratefulness and enjoyment of God's creation actually looks like.
Want more? Read a few of my articles quite relevant to living an extraordinary life. In particular, read Create. Read Beauty. Read Marshmallows. Read The Hero's Journey. Read Heaven. That ought to get you started on your journey.
Finally, you may enjoy this little gem I recently discovered, written by Eric Berne, an author and psychiatrist (who also happened to create the theory of transactional relationships I discuss here). It goes something like this:
“…the way to walk the earth like a prince is to cast golden apples wherever you walk, and then finish your own apple upon your deathbed.”
What about you?
What would you do if you knew you were going to live forever?
More importantly, are you going to live forever?
Do you see how simple it is to accept the free gift of eternal life by, like a little child, simply taking one giant step of faith and saying a simple prayer—then proceeding to live an extraordinary life that inspires as many other people as possible to join you in that eternal life? Leave your questions, comments, and feedback below. I read them all.