When my wife, Monica, and I were new believers, we met Colleen and Mark at the church we began attending where they served as missionaries to India. Inspired by their lives, we soon invited them over to dinner where I had the opportunity to ask Colleen exactly how she had come to faith in Jesus. She began to recount her life as a high-end fashion model in New York City and described the night she went walking aimlessly in a blinding snowstorm in Manhattan and how a light had suddenly appeared to her. I remembered leaning in with avid curiosity but was disappointed to find out that it was not a heavenly host of angels but the headlights of an NYC taxi instead. Colleen said the cabbie gave her a free ride to her apartment and handed her a gospel tract (religious pamphlet) entitled “This Was Your Life”¹. When she went into her apartment, she read the small booklet, said a simple prayer at the end, and awakened to a profound freedom the next morning. Colleen had become a Christian.
Twenty years later, I found myself in Moscow for a week as a pastor, teaching church leaders from all over Russia. During a casual gathering one day, I struck up a similar conversation with an exceptionally bright pastor who was a former lawyer and asked about his personal faith journey. He recounted to me the day he was walking through a park in St. Petersburg when a stranger handed him a tract that changed his life forever. Keenly inquisitive, I asked, “What was the name of the tract?” To my utter amazement, he said, “It was called ‘This Was Your Life’.”
Now I realize that God can use any means to bring people to faith, but I was dumbfounded that two different people (on two different continents and in two different decades) had the occasion to share with me that they both had become followers of Christ by reading the very same tract. It made me wonder if every Christian should stuff 10 copies of these in their back pocket to hand out to friends and strangers. When I finally purchased a copy of the tract and read it, I came to realize that the power behind it was based on a fundamental premise—one that every single human being must face as fact—that death is inescapable.
Humans have always feared the end of their present existence as well as the uncertainty of life after death. Religion has tried to soften the blow of death by teaching the concept of an afterlife, thus treating death as a passage to the next world. The ancient Egyptians built elaborate pyramids for their pharaohs, believing that death was only an interruption and that man was immortal. The Romans also had their Elysian Fields. For the Christian, it is heaven.
In America today, there is still a robust belief in the afterlife, but the idea that death ends all existence is gaining traction worldwide. An ad campaign² displayed on London buses in 2009 proclaimed, "There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying, and enjoy your life.” The campaign was sponsored by Richard Dawkins, a prominent atheist and dogmatic evolutionist. Mr. Dawkins has written an entire book on the subject titled The God Delusion³. His bestseller begins with the well-crafted sentence, “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” But does atheism really solve mankind’s universal dilemma? Does the improbability of God really lead to a rich and rewarding life on earth? Does it really keep you from thinking about your mortality?
The Bible addresses Dawkins’s flawed argument by both identifying mankind’s problem and solving it as well. Three prominent ideas flow from the scripture on the life-after-death theme.
Firstly, the Bible teaches that death is inescapable. No surprise here. Solomon wrote, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die."⁴ No one cheats death in the Bible. Moses (one of the most heroic biblical figures revered by the Jews as their emancipator, lawgiver, and greatest leader) died, as did all the prophets and apostles. The time between these events is relatively small, like the proverbial dash on a tombstone. Biblical language accentuates this brevity, stating that “all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away.”⁵ A man’s life is a “vapor”⁶ and "a shadow”⁷. In our modern day, we understand that scientific advancements can’t “cure” death, nor can youth, fame, or money insulate us from it. The death of Kobe Bryant this year exemplified this fact and sent the country reeling, as this iconic figure died tragically in the prime of life.
Secondly, scripture not only teaches but assumes there is a life beyond this one; this concurs with the fundamental scientific law that states energy is neither created nor destroyed. During Jesus’s Transfiguration on the Mount⁸, both Moses and Elijah appear posthumously and can be identified by the disciples. Jesus taught parables that were clear about what life beyond the grave entails, and he also clearly and literally stated in Matthew 22, “But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”⁹ Christianity can be summed up by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, "And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable."¹⁰ In one of His most definitive statements concerning the afterlife, Jesus declares to his friend Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.”¹¹
Thirdly, the Bible is abundantly clear that each person who has ever lived will give an account for their one and only life. The writer of the book of Hebrews states, “And as it is appointed for man to die once, but after this the judgment...”¹² Mr. Dawkins makes the same mistake millions do in thinking that there will be no accountability for their actions. His campaign tells people not to worry (in this life), implying that our enjoyment is hindered by the fact that we are worrying about accountability to God, who Dawkins claims is “probably” non-existent. But why do Dawkins and other atheists have to spend so much time and money arguing against the existence of God, the idea of an afterlife, and the idea of accountability? The reason is simple. There is an innate awareness or intuition that our actions in life have a farther reaching effect than what we can see or know and that after death there is more to the story. In a strange twist of logic, many of the world's despots who murdered millions of innocent people did it with the idea there would be no recompense.
This is where the genius of the Jack Chick tract (“This Was Your Life”) comes in. It chronicles the fate of a man who, after death, witnessed the events in his life on a large movie screen. He realized the many opportunities where God longed to be involved with his life, but he chose a life apart from God’s grace while on earth only to find himself in a place absent of God’s presence in the afterlife. The tract hit home for Colleen and so many others because they realized what Jesus accomplished on the cross and what man could never do for himself—be sinless in the eyes of God. They experienced true forgiveness and grace.
The Bible teaches that no one is born a believer. Regardless of the home or church you were brought up in, everyone must choose their faith. Colleen and my pastor friend decided to follow Jesus, and 38 years ago, on a college campus, I chose to follow Him also. What choice will you make? Your eternity, and current freedom, is riding on it.
¹ Jack Chick, “This Was Your Life”, 1964.
² The Atheist Bus Campaign, 2009
³ Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006.
⁴ Eccl 3:1-2 (NKJV)
⁵ 1 Peter 1:24 (NKJV)
⁶ James 4:14 (NKJV)
⁷ Psalm 39:6 (NKJV)
⁸ Matthew 17 (NKJV)
⁹ Matt 22:31-32 (NKJV)
¹⁰ 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 (NKJV)
¹¹ John 11:25 (NKJV)
¹² Heb 9:27 (NKJV)
Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006.
Jack Chick, “This Was Your Life”, 1964.
The Atheist Bus Campaign, 2009
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