Eternal life for all?

Ask a Pastor
11/04/2013

Eternal life for all?

Recently I heard a very fundamental nondenominational pastor say, “We will all live forever, the difference being where we live it.” Is that biblical? — Dee 

Ron: Dear Dee, I have always found great power and wisdom in the Ash Wednesday liturgy when we say, “You are dust and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). It is a basic truth that we all die. So, I’m not totally sure what it is that the pastor was trying to say or actually did say. I do believe that quite often Christians understand that the kingdom or reign of God is something that happens after we have all died and gone to heaven. But Jesus was pretty clear about announcing the good news that the kingdom is unfolding right before our very eyes. 

Monica: Dear Dee, there are many who seek to bring salvation to people by way of threatening eternal damnation. It’s a fear tactic. Recently I asked my congregation if they had heard of the “Rapture.” A lot of heads nodded! Then I asked, “Has anyone ever told you that you better get your life in line or else?” Again, a lot of heads nodded. Our Scripture reading for the day was Revelation 21:1-6. As we near the end of Scripture in Revelation 21 and 22, nowhere is the “rapture” mentioned. It’s not biblical, and it’s poor theology. God does not destroy the earth while saving a select few. This is not the God who sent his only Son not to condemn but to save. Again not just a few — but the whole world! No matter what challenges life brings we can remember that Jesus himself descended into hell, conquering even the darkest of places. And then, only after conquering hell, Jesus ascended into heaven. This is the promise of the resurrection — that we too shall ascend. Will we be judged? Yes. Where will we spend eternity? I trust the God of love who first loved us in Christ Jesus. 

David: Dee, this is a big question, and I don’t know if I can give you a really good answer in 200 words. But I’ll give it a shot.

The short answer is no — or at least, the statement of the pastor you heard is pretty incomplete. The idea of an immortal soul owes more to Greek philosophy than it does to the Bible. Most of the Bible assumes that if the soul continues to exist after death, it does so only because of the power of God — not because souls are eternal. For example, 1 Timothy 6:16 speaks of the resurrected Jesus Christ saying that “he alone has immortality.”

The Christian church has affirmed that when Christ returns, there will be a judgment. (See for example, Matthew 25:31-46). The question is whether only the righteous will be resurrected, or will both the righteous and the wicked be resurrected at Christ’s return? And on that question, many very intelligent and faithful people (much smarter than I) have written at length and disagreed.

At the end of the day, the answer resides in God’s control and not in mine. My trust is in God’s grace, and my hope is in the resurrected Jesus Christ. I will let myself be satisfied with the mystery, and know that all will be clear when God makes it so.


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