I will never forget the first time that it happened to me. I was a young pastor and had been talking to one of our church member’s friends. I didn’t know all the details, but it was obvious that he was really down on God and really down on the church. He was involved in a dark movement whose followers focused on death, wore black all the time, and were adamantly against God, the Bible, and the church.
In some conversations about spiritual things with his friend, I heard phrases like, “There is no God, we live, we die, and that’s it! We’re just like the animals, and when you die, you return to dust. I don’t believe in God, I don’t believe in life after death, and I don’t believe in the church”—all said with more than just a little emotion.
Sometime later, a young man from our church who lost his way for a season became involved with the group. He was one of those kids everybody liked and had that wow factor about him that made him the center of every social relationship. A drug addiction eventually led him to rehab and restoration with his family and the Lord. Tragically, in a moment of weakness, he overdosed on heroin and died a few days later. I found myself doing a funeral in our church with about forty of his friends from this dark movement, all dressed in black, attending the service.
One by one these teenagers got up and spoke with love and affection about their friend. And then something very strange occurred—they talked about him being at peace and being in a better place. Out of the blue, and in complete contrast to their intellectual arguments, were comments about a positive afterlife and seeing him again out of his misery and struggle with drug addiction.
That was many years ago and I’ve watched this phenomenon many times since. You see, it’s one thing to intellectually argue against an afterlife, but something deep inside us happens when someone we love dies. The thought of no hope, of finality, of separation forever challenges the very core of our being.
One of the most important questions we don’t ask very often is, what happens when we die? What actually happens when we take our last breath, our heart stops, and the brain waves are completely flat? What occurs?
Is it intellectually feasible to believe that there is life after death? What do you believe will happen to you when you die? Why? What does the Scripture say? What did Jesus and the Bible teach about what happens to people after they die?
Since 100 percent of the human race will die, this is a really important question for all of us to answer. I want to share with you in this chapter why I believe there is life after death. I want to journey together with you and examine the case for life after death.
I would like to introduce our journey on this topic by reviewing six indicators from various disciplines that make a compelling argument that there is life after death. The question is, what really happens? Is it possible to know while living in this life what the next life holds?
The answer is yes, and for good reason. We know that the Bible and what it says about Jesus is reliable. In addition, Jesus talks very specifically about what happens to us after we die. And having been resurrected from the dead as the Son of God, He is an authority on the subject. But before we explore what Jesus and the Bible teach about the afterlife, let’s look at six strong indicators that there actually is some kind of existence after our physical death.
Six Strong Indicators of Life after Death
The pattern and the cycle of nature provide us with evidence that there is more than this life. Watching colorful, spring flowers appear from winter’s cold, hard ground gives us a picture that winter is not the end. When seeds fall to the ground and die, they bring forth new life. The caterpillar creates a cocoon that it stays in until it is ready to emerge in its new life as a butterfly.
Plato is often quoted as writing, “There’s a cycle in nature that is obvious to us all. I’m not sure what’s after death, but nature seems to give us a picture of what it will be like. Some kind of new life after death.”
When we look at humanity across time, of all backgrounds and all religions, what do we find? Anthropologists say that every culture on earth, from those who live in primitive parts of the Amazon, to the Himalayas, to urban cultures, all believe in some kind of afterlife. Most societies treat death not as an end into nothingness, but as a transition into some unknown state. It seems that there is something built into the human soul that not only transcends culture, but intuitively knows that physical death is a door, not a dead end.
In fact, there is a common thread for all human beings in that we innately think there is more than this physical life—the sense of “there’s got to be something more.” The hunger and thirst for meaning and significance that is never quite satisfied.
We see it in the pyramids built by the Egyptians, or in the Greeks putting coins in the mouths of their buried so they could pay the ferry man at the River Styx. For some it is seeking that paradise level or achieving the virtue of goodness before death. People often have a sense that there needs to be a reconciling of good and evil. There’s a weight that we feel down deep inside our hearts that after we die, there must be more.
C. S. Lewis logically deduces in Mere Christianity, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”1 The writer of Ecclesiastes put it this way in chapter 3 when he said that God has placed eternity in our hearts (v. 11). We are made for something longer and deeper than this world can ever provide.
You have probably noticed that the world is not fair. Good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people. The rationale for an afterlife from ethics goes something like this: to have morality, there needs to be justice and fairness. Evil must be punished and good must be rewarded. Yet when we look at our world, we see people do really bad things and yet good seems to happen to them, at least for a season. By contrast we’ve all known people who seem to be honest, kind, and loving and yet they suffer abuse, get hit by a drunk driver, or experience a premature death. The argument from ethics states that an afterlife is essential for life to be fair, because good must ultimately be rewarded and evil must be punished—if not in this life, then in the next.
The argument for an afterlife from philosophy really takes the ethical argument and makes the logical deduction that if life has to be fair and it’s not fair in this life, then an afterlife is required to balance the scales of justice. Justice doesn’t always occur in this life, so there has to be another time of judgment or reconciliation of good and evil.
Immanuel Kant took the reasoning of ethics and basically said, “If there is a good God and there is morality, there has to be an afterlife for any of life to make sense.”
Psalm 9:7–8 says, “The Lord reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment. He rules the world in righteousness and judges the peoples with equity.”
6. Science and Near-Death Experiences
If you have been to the movies recently or downloaded a bestseller, you have probably noticed that near-death stories are very popular. People want to know what comes after life here on earth. Millions of books have been sold by those claiming they have died and experienced what life is like after one dies. Although their accounts vary widely, let’s take a look at the research on near-death experiences.
In 2014, the largest medical research study ever conducted on cardiac arrest patients was released. The UK-based team spent four years analyzing survivors’ interviews; nearly 40 percent experienced some form of awareness during the time they had been declared dead. The experts’ currently held belief is that once the heart stops beating, the brain ceases functioning within twenty to thirty seconds and awareness is no longer possible. The results of this study contradicts this belief.2
The research, published in the Journal of Resuscitation, included 2,060 patients in fifteen hospitals in the US, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Of those who survived their cardiac arrest, 46 percent experienced a broad range of mental recollections, 9 percent had what was called a “classical near-death experience,” and 2 percent had an out-of-body experience after death where they reported being able to see themselves and describe what the doctors were doing. They were also able to recall jokes that were said, specific events that happened in the room, and other facts that would be impossible for them to know.
Ingram, Chip. 2017. Why I Believe: Straight Answers to Honest Questions about God, the Bible, and Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
We have just completed a 6-Week Bible Study Lesson Series on Chip Ingram’s book, Why I Believe. It is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription plan. The idea is to invite each participant to purchase their own book and discuss it each week.
Why I Believe, Lesson #1
Chapters 1, 2
Why I Believe in the Resurrection
Did Jesus Really Die?
Why I Believe, Lesson #2
Chapters 3, 4
Why I Believe the Bible
Don’t Take My Word for It
Why I Believe, Lesson #3
Why I Believe in Life After Death
Why I Believe, Lesson #4
Chapters 6, 7
Why I Believe in Life Creation
Science or God?
Why I Believe, Lesson #5
Why I Believe in the God of the Bible
Why I Believe, Lesson #6
How is that Working for You?