Growing up, I found death both fascinating and terrifying. I felt that knowing what happened after death was essential for finding purpose and meaning in life. After all, if death negated everything I’ve spent my life investing in, is it really worth doing anything at all? It would be like spending years crafting a wonderful novel, only to set it on fire when it’s finished. If the only meaning to life is enjoying the moment and “Being in the present, the here and now, is the ultimate reward of life”, what’s the point in existence for all the billions of people globally whose lives are full of suffering and hardship? My question was, in the words of Tolstoy, “Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?”
How about you? Have you ever wondered what happens when you die? Are we just a bunch of random atoms that will be rearranged into something else when we snuff it? Do we just cease to exist? Will we be reincarnated as someone or something else? Do we have an eternal soul that will survive our physical death? Will we face judgement? Is there hope of a life to come? Do we simply live on in the memories of the generations that come after us? If the passing on of our genetic material is our legacy, where does that leave the millions of people who don’t have children? Whatever you believe happens when you die, it seems a pretty significant question to wrestle with.
The reality is that most of us will be completely forgotten in a couple of generations. According to a recent YouGov survey, just 7% of Brits expect to be remembered for more than 50 years after their death. Even people who have made a significant contribution to human history only have the sketchiest facts associated with them after a few hundred years. William Shakespeare is one of the most famous people who ever lived and yet what do we actually know about him? What was he like to talk to? What did he really care about? What was his daily routine? Who were his best friends? We don’t even know if some of the plays attributed to him were actually written by him.
With many of us living our lives increasingly online and sharing more and more information and experiences, we now we leave much bigger footprints but the question is: who is going to go looking for them in a couple of generations time? Most of us – however notable in our culture’s eyes – will be completely forgotten, even by our own families. Each generation gets diluted; we have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents and so on. Even at the stage of great-great-grandparents (just four generations) you’ve got 16 people from whom you’re removed in time and in genetic similarity. That’s how transient and ephemeral life is unless it’s given some transcendent meaning.
The book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible highlights well the ultimate futility of life if God is removed from the equation. (Chapter 1: 2 – 4 and 11)
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.”
What do people gain from all their labours
at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.
So where can any of us find ultimate meaning? Perhaps the answer lies with religion. Most religions teach that there is some kind of afterlife, whether that is reincarnation, rebirth or resurrection. The concepts of heaven and hell are known but widely misunderstood in our culture. We have a vague sense that good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. The message of Christianity is radically different from any other faith (and from what you might expect). It teaches that none of us deserve to go to heaven as we’ve all messed up. But the good news is that Jesus has paid the price for our rebellion against God by his death and resurrection. The historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection guarantees that anyone who puts their trust in him can enjoy an everlasting life as it’s meant to be, free from suffering and pain.
This is at the heart of what Christianity is all about and what gives ultimate hope to life. Jesus teaches about having the right priorities in life – living for the eternal rather than just the temporary. He counsels us to invest in that which won’t be rendered void by the inevitability of death, and instead work for that which lasts (Matt 6: 19 – 21):
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
If we turn to Christ, we will have an inheritance which can’t fade or be destroyed and will last for ever. We will enjoy eternal life with him and all the goodness of a restored creation, restored relationships and a new body long after our bodily death here. Whatever you think about death, that’s worth checking out.
 The Daily Dish, What Do Atheists Think Of Death? The Atlantic (2010) https://www.theatlantic.com/daily-dish/archive/2010/05/what-do-atheists-think-of-death/187003/ Accessed 2 June 2022
 Leo Tolstoy, A Confession, Chapter 5
 YouGov Death Study conducted from 19-23 March 2021 on a sample of 2,164 UK adults aged 16 and older. https://yougov.co.uk/topics/lifestyle/articles-reports/2021/10/06/yougov-death-study-britons-their-funeral-and-how-l Accessed 2 June 2022
 To investigate the evidence for this, see Historical Evidence for the Resurrection, Desiring God https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/historical-evidence-for-the-resurrection Accessed 2 June 2022. Resurrection – fact or fiction? BeThinking https://www.bethinking.org/booklets/resurrection-fact-or-fiction Accessed 2 June 2022.
 The Bible, Revelation 21: 1 – 4