Benjamin Franklin said, "In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes." His humorous words remind us of a grave truth: Everyone dies.
Since death is completely unavoidable for each of us, it's necessary to confront the question "What happens when we die?" Since the beginning of time, philosophers, scientists, and world religious leaders have explored the idea of life after death.
What others have found
Philosopher Immanuel Kant, for example, concluded that practical ethics requires life after death as well as the existence of a just judge. Albert Einstein's first law of thermodynamics, which states that energy and matter cannot be created or destroyed, has been used to argue that life does not end at death.
More recently, interviews of people who have been declared clinically dead, only to be revived later, reveal their experiences during that time interval, suggesting that there is life after death.
What Christianity has to say
Christianity is not silent on this matter. The Bible tells us that God has set eternity in the human hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). This is one reason why death makes us sad: We weren't made to "end." Throughout Scripture, we see that we do not cease to exist when our earthly bodies die.
The Bible also teaches of the existence of a literal heaven and hell. From an external standpoint, to be present in one is to be absent in the other. Heaven is void of all evil, which leaves hell as a terrible alternative.
Every human being that dies will spend eternity in either heaven or hell. A natural response might be to wonder why there are two options.
First, we remember an important, but often overlooked, attribute of the God of the Bible: His holiness. To be holy is to be perfect in goodness and righteousness.
Next, we must keep in mind a truth about ourselves: our lack of holiness. The Bible teaches that all of humankind has fallen short and missed the mark of perfection, which is referred to as sin (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:23).
The eternal dilemma
Bill Bright, wrote of the resulting dilemma. "God is holy and people are sinful. A great gulf separates the two. People attempt to reach God through their own efforts, including having a good life, holding to a certain philosophy, and practicing religion. But no human efforts enable a person to reach God."
A holy God in a holy heaven cannot allow us, in our sinful state, to enter His presence. Thus, left to our own devices, we are prohibited from going to heaven when we die. Although most people assume they will go to heaven, the default is actually hell.
Fortunately, the Bible does not leave us without hope.
The main message of Christianity communicates about God's love. The concept of love does not blend well with the idea of eternal hell. How can a loving God send people to hell?
The Bible tells us that we earn eternal separation from God because of our sin (Romans 6:23), resulting in an eternity in hell. But what if there were a way for this penalty to be paid and for us to be rescued from the tortures of hell?
God, in His great love, did not remain silent. He cared so much that He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to live a perfect life and die a terrible death on a cross in order for us to have eternal life in heaven (John 3:16). Jesus' death paid for our sins and thus, bridged the gulf between us and God, and made a way to alter our eternal fate.
The real question
So, how will we respond? We can choose to accept the free offer of Christ's payment for our sins, or we can reject Him. It is no longer a question of "Why would a loving God send people to hell?" Instead the real question becomes "Why not receive the free gift of heaven?"
As you ponder the questions about life after death and the uncertainties of how many days you have left to live on this earth, consider your options. God has provided a way for you to know for sure where you will spend eternity. How now will you answer the question, "What will happen when I die?"