Is there life after death?
In this increasingly materialistic age in which many believe only in what they can measure, it is a question we tend to defer, but the older we get the more we are inclined to wonder about it.
The great philosopher Socrates, four centuries before Christ, pondered this issue. At the trial that condemned him to die by drinking hemlock, he argued that death was either annihilation – a welcome eternal sleep – or transmigration to an afterlife populated by the great figures of the past, among whom it would be delightful to pass.
The good man, Socrates says, has nothing to fear either in this life or the next. He famously concludes: “Well, now it is time we were going, I to die and you to live; but which of us has the happier prospect is unknown to anyone but God.”
Christians certainly should not fear death. I may fear the process of dying, possibly painful and drawn out, but the eventual outcome, according to the promises of God, is one in which all tears are wiped away, in which all impediments to joy have been removed.
And, according to the New Testament, the first Easter Sunday, nearly 2000 years ago, is my guarantee of that blissful future.
It says the first Good Friday brought the greatest sacrifice in human history, when Jesus took upon Himself God’s proper anger against human selfishness. The claim of Christianity, mysterious though it may be, is that I, along with every other human being, put Jesus on the cross because He sacrificed Himself to redeem me along with others.
But Good Friday was not the end. The first Easter Day showed, as the Bible puts it, that death could not hold Jesus. And His resurrection is the first of many, for those who trust in Him will follow.
Is it foolish to believe that anyone could rise from the dead? Well, atheists and believers alike can agree that it certainly takes faith.
As the writer of the New Testament letter to the Hebrews observes, “anyone who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him”.
But believing He exists is the main hurdle. Leap that, and the resurrection is not so difficult. After all, fallible, frail humans could know little about God – apart from His eternal power and divine nature, as Paul puts it – unless He chose to reveal Himself to us.
Thus it is that Christians praise God at Easter!
Barney Zwartz is a member of the Centre for Research in Religion and Social Policy (RASP) and a senior fellow with the Centre for Public Christianity.