In his book, Heaven, Christian author Randy Alcorn begins with an inspiring thought which I will paraphrase. Suppose you had the kind of job that was so great you would move anywhere in the world to keep it. And suppose that you heard a strong rumor that the company was moving to New Zealand within a decade.
If you knew you would be living in New Zealand within the next ten years, what would you do? I would guess that you would get travel books and read about New Zealand. You would research the history of New Zealand. You would find out what city you might live in and what life is like in New Zealand. Wouldn’t you want to know everything you could about New Zealand?
A famous pastor, J.C. Ryle, once said:
Now surely, if we hope to dwell forever in that better country, even a heavenly one, we ought to seek all the knowledge we can about it.
Studying and imagining the World to Come is the most inspiring thing I have done since the early days of my discovery that God is real.
Here is an excerpt from the preface about Tom and Jerry faith:
I wasn’t raised in a religious home, so my earliest thoughts about the afterlife came from cartoons like Tom and Jerry. Whenever a character died, they became transparent, grew wings, found themselves in a white robe, and ascended into heaven. Heaven, apparently, was a purely spiritual or non-material place. Cartoons can be surprisingly influential in a person’s worldview. Although I considered myself an atheist as a young adult, I defaulted at times to my earlier view of the afterlife. I wanted to believe in something.
Most people believe that death is not the end. The hope that death is not the end is too important for most people to dismiss. It is not common to find someone who will baldly assert that death leads only to non-existence.
Yet there are voices opposed to the idea of the hereafter and occasionally they even come from religious leaders. A friend was shocked when attending a liberal Jewish funeral where the rabbi implied that we live on only in the memory of loved ones. Where was the powerful Jewish hope, “All Israel has a share in the World to Come”?
Then there is the perspective of famed atheist Isaac Asimov:
I don’t believe in an afterlife, so I don’t have to spend my whole life fearing hell, or fearing heaven even more. For whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse.
In some deep place, I think many people fear that the afterlife will be boring. The Tom and Jerry version of heaven, floating on the clouds in a white robe, is an uninspiring vision to be sure. Who wants to spend eternity as a ghost with angel’s wings?
In fact, that Tom and Jerry heaven is more than just an idea in a cartoon. Certain very real philosophical ideas stand behind a view of the afterlife as ghostly and non-material. Are material things somehow unspiritual and unworthy of eternal existence? Is the body a prison for the soul? If our view of the afterlife is non-material, then we will look at material things in this world as less important than the “spiritual.” Ideas about the afterlife have relevance for living life in the present.
What is the World to Come? Why does Jewish tradition use this term for the afterlife? Why not talk about going to heaven or to the great beyond? Many and varied views of the afterlife present themselves to us.
Can we know too much about the World to Come? Can the details of this subject be in any sense boring?
Well, it certainly would be boring if the hereafter was anything like the Tom and Jerry version.
It’s not just Isaac Asimov who worried that the life to come would be boring. Randy Alcorn, in an informal survey, found that many followers of Jesus were worried about exactly that thing. Why?
Their thinking goes something like this: “I like going to worship at congregation. I enjoy singing 3, 4, or maybe 6 or 7 songs. I enjoy being with other believers. I like the atmosphere of joy and celebration. I like it, that is, for about an hour, hour and a half. But for eternity? Come on!”
Many people are absolutely convinced that the life to come is one unending church service!
That can only be the view of someone who has not studied the World to Come.
I will share a few bits and pieces of the book in the weeks ahead. But I’d love it if you ordered one and read the whole thing. If you read this blog regularly, then the book should be right in the center of what interests you. And you could never have too many books on this topic anyway.