In the past 10 days two good friends have died. One had been ill with cancer for more than a year, the other died suddenly at home after returning from an evening out with his family. One death was expected, the other was not. Both were over 70 years old and had enjoyed long and happy lives, but the news that they had died brought real sadness. Yet, at the same time, there was also real hope because both my friends were Christians who had put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Their family and friends are comforted by the knowledge that both are now with Jesus in heaven and one day they will see them again.
Sadly, some people who are convinced atheists have no hope. They live their lives without any thought of God or experience of his love. Christopher Hitchins, the journalist, is battling with the final stage of cancer of the oesophagus. He says he is more certain than ever of his atheism and does not believe in an afterlife. This, he concedes, makes the thought of death even more frightening. He compares dying with being at a party and being told you have to leave. The party will continue, but without you. “Even people who swear to remember you are not really going to do so.”
For Christopher, however, heaven sounds like an even worse prospect. He says, “anything eternal is probably intolerable.” He says the atheist’s position is bleak, but courageous. “We don’t want to be annihilated. We just think the overall likelihood is that we will rejoin the molecular cycle when we die. We don’t wish it to be true, but we face it.” I pray that Christopher will discover the wonderful reality of God’s love in Jesus before he dies.
By his death and resurrection Jesus gave us a living hope. He triumphed over death and his promise to all who believe in him is “because I live you will live also.” There is nothing intolerable about heaven. It is a wonderful place where there is no more sickness, or suffering or death. Jesus spoke of it as his Father’s house. The apostle Paul said that no one has ever seen or heard of the glorious things God has prepared for those who love him. God created us to glorify him and enjoy him forever. In his presence there is unending joy and Jesus is the way to this glorious realm.