'If heaven is for real it would change my life' a teenager recently told me. He asked, 'How do you know heaven and hell are real? If I saw evidence that heaven is real then I'd change my life'. For him the reality of an afterlife and the existence of heaven or hell is a matter of accountability. If heaven isn't real then living selfishly for today is all that matters.
What he says makes sense. So what evidence is there for life after death? One of the first things that comes to mind is the 'Heaven is For Real' book. I'm not sure if you've come across this best-selling book-turned-movie. 'Heaven is For Real' is the story of a four-year-old boy who visits heaven during a life-threatening operation. What better way to convince someone of the reality of heaven than a detailed account of someone who went there and came back. This would convince anyone, right?
The problem with our heaven experiences
Several months ago I was chatting with a man at the Canterbury A&P show. I was part of a group talking to people about Jesus at a Christian information stall. This man said that he used to be convinced heaven was real because he believed the accounts of others who had near death experiences. Many people who die briefly report seeing bright lights or getting a taste of the afterlife before they are resuscitated back into this world. He told me he used to find this evidence compelling, but not anymore. His own experience of being briefly dead and resuscitated left him without answers. There were no lights, no visions, nothing! So, he concluded, there is nothing beyond the grave.
This highlights the danger in promoting human experiences of seeing lights or visions as primary evidence for the existence of the afterlife. These experiences are difficult to scrutinise – who can say what you really saw or didn't see? These experiences can be varying and contradictory. Unfortunately human experiences like 'Heaven is For Real' can appear to be the best available evidence for the existence of an afterlife.
The 'Heaven is For Real' book is partly right to go the experience of someone who has died and come back. How else can anyone know what is on the other side of death unless someone does a return trip? The problem is that these books overlook the ultimate back-from-the-dead story – the resurrection of Jesus.
The ultimate back-from-the-dead story
Jesus was dead for three days before coming back to life. He was properly dead, killed by professional executioners (Roman Soldiers). Then three days later he came back to life and was seen by many people – the Apostle Paul writes of 500 people seeing Jesus after he came back to life at the same time. Jesus is the ultimate back from the dead witness.
So what does Jesus say about an afterlife? He says, 'Don't be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God's Son, and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment' (John chapter 5, verses 28-29).
Jesus says that life after death is very real. We will all be raised back to life when Jesus returns and we will all be held accountable for every thought, every action and every inaction. Like the questioning teenager says, knowing if heaven and hell are real is life changing.
What do you think? Are you ready for life after death?
For further research on evidence for Jesus' resurrection check out the video below:
Andrew Sinclair is a proud Kiwi studying theology at Sydney Missionary and Bible College. He is married to Sophia and they have one child, a son named Guy.
Andrew Sinclair's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/andrew-sinclair.html