“What Difference Does it Make?”

Some people say, “I don’t know whether heaven is real or not, and it makes no difference for my daily life. I do what’s right because it’s right, not because I’m chasing my eternal reward.”

This sounds like a noble sentiment. Even some Christians think it’s virtuous to downplay the resurrection. I believe they miss an important point. When Jesus turned up alive after his crucifixion, the excitement wasn’t all about the pearly gates. Thomas didn’t say “Thank goodness, this proves there’s an afterlife.” He exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”

It wasn’t until Jesus crashed his own funeral that the disciples understood who he really was. They had believed all along that he was sent by God, as a teacher, a prophet, or maybe even the messiah. They’d thought his mission was to usher in the “kingdom of heaven.” They may have been right about the mission, but they envisioned a future kingdom, with a program of events that must unfold before God could make His home among men. They overlooked the fact that heaven was already right there with them. God was walking beside them in the flesh, much as he had walked with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.

When Jesus’ death blew away their plans and dreams, the disciples were finally ready to open their eyes to what was right in front of them. They saw the resurrected Jesus for who he truly was: not a divine messenger, but Divinity Himself having chosen to draw near to his creatures, enter into their suffering and make it his own.

Historians note the remarkable transformation of the early Christians from a cowering band of fugitives into an unstoppable sales force. It is widely agreed that the key to this transformation was their belief that Jesus had risen from the dead. Did the disciples become bold because they were suddenly convinced that their own afterlife was assured? Is that the whole story? What drove them to travel across the known world, enduring all kinds of hardships while spreading the good news? If heaven was assured, why not relax and enjoy the present?

I think their encounters with the risen Jesus convinced the disciples, not only of the afterlife, but also of the heavenly reality of this life. When Jesus stood before them, holding out his nail-pierced hands, the disciples realized they were eyeball-to-eyeball with the Creator of the universe, and they finally understood how much he loved them.

During those post-resurrection visits, Jesus gave them instructions. He had work for them to do. For the rest of their earthly lives, those disciples strove to be worthy of the confidence he placed in them. Even when they could no longer see him, they knew that their Creator, Savior and Friend was beside them every step of the way.

What about believers today? What should the resurrection mean to us?

We have the same Creator walking beside us, and he loves us in the same way. (See John 17: 20 & 21) With this knowledge, the distinction between “heaven after I die” and “heaven on earth” pales to insignificance. Life, death and afterlife are all part of a single journey.

An astute reader might say the above paragraph removes the need for any belief in the hereafter. God’s presence in the here-and-now gives us plenty of reason to watch our steps. If we know God is looking over our shoulders, of course we’ll try to be good! To that comment I would reply that our definition of “good” is influenced by our picture of the future. If we’re sure that death will snuff us out forever, then “good” means doing whatever will bring the most happiness to the most people during their short and fragile lives. If, however, we are all eternal beings, our priorities should take a longer view.

The writings of C.S. Lewis spell out this distinction. In Mere Christianity, he said:

Again, Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live for ever, and this must be either true or false. Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live for ever. Perhaps my bad temper or my jealousy are gradually getting worse -so gradually that the increase in seventy years will not be very noticeable. But it might be absolute hell in a million years: in fact, if Christianity is true, Hell is the precisely correct technical term for what it would be. And immortality makes this other difference, which, by the by, has a connection with the difference between totalitarianism and democracy. If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilisation, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual. But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of a state or a civilisation, compared with his, is only a moment.

Lewis’s essay, “The Weight of Glory” paints the same concept in more colorful terms:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ‘ordinary’ people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously — no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner — no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.”

What difference does the resurrection make? It shows that life is more than the body. The materialist world view says that free will is an illusion, that our circumstances control us. Jesus refuted this lie by choosing the path of greatest resistance, conquering every temptation, submitting himself to agony and destruction. He emerged with his heart, mind, soul and body intact. He stands ready to escort us through our own fiery trials.
Free will is not an illusion. No matter what our circumstances, the Lord of Life will sustain us if we submit to Him in love. Consciousness created the universe, not the other way around.