Here in the United States we are obsessed with youth. We want to stay forever young, so we get nipped and tucked and suctioned and stretched and do whatever it takes to remain eternally youthful. But time marches on. And the body, which is compared in the Bible to a tent, simply wears out. However, the real you—your soul—lives on.
Ancient Greco-Roman mythology tells the story of Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, who fell in love with a young mortal named Tithonis. Aurora asked Zeus to give Tithonis eternal life, but she made a tragic oversight in her request. She forgot to ask that Tithonis remain forever young. Even though he lived on and on, Tithonis grew older and older, experiencing all the problems that go along with aging. The gift of living forever became a curse for Tithonis.
But is living forever actually a curse? That all depends. In a very real sense, you and I will live forever, because the real you isn’t the body you’re living in right now, and the real me is not the body I’m living in at the moment. Yes, certain physical features identify us. (In my case, a lack of hair probably is at the top the list.) But the real you, the real me, is the soul that lives inside each of us, the soul that one day will leave the body, go into eternity, and live on in one of two destinations.
The Bible provides us with a glimpse into the afterlife in Luke 16, given by Jesus himself. It’s an eyewitness account of life beyond the grave. Although Jesus told many parables, this wasn’t one of them. It’s a real story about a real situation in which two people die. One was a believer and one was not. One owned everything yet possessed nothing. The other owned nothing yet inherited everything.
Prior to this story, Jesus had been addressing people who were obsessed with greed and materialism, people who were possessed by their possessions. This wasn’t a condemnation of all people who are wealthy, because being rich is neither a sin nor a virtue.
This story is about is a man who was possessed by possessions and had no time for God. He had too many other pursuits, and he just didn’t care about God. He lived in luxury. He lived flamboyantly. The Bible tells us that he “fared sumptuously” (Luke 16:19 nkjv). This means he held banquets every day. This guy was a party animal. He lived for parties. He lived for fun. He was a glutton. All he cared about was finding pleasure in life. And he not only had wealth, but he flaunted it. He wanted everyone to see how much he really had.
Meanwhile, outside of his gate was an impoverished man named Lazarus. He actually ate the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. In this culture, affluent people would wipe their hands on pieces of bread. Then they would take the bread and throw it on the ground. That bread is what Lazarus lived on.
Then Jesus’ story took a new twist as these two men passed from this life. One was buried and the other was carried. Suddenly they would face the penalty for their sins or come to find what happens because of the forgiveness of sin.
The angels carried Lazarus to heaven, and it would appear that one of the purposes of angels is to usher believers into God’s presence when they die. The moment believers take their last breath on earth, they’ll take their first breath in heaven. That is the great hope and comfort for all Christians.
The other man, however, went into a place of judgment. He faced the consequences of his sin in a place called Hades. The Bible says he was in torment there, and the fact that the man spoke of torment seems to indicate that suffering is a very real thing in the hereafter.
The impossibility of crossing from one side to another, from a place of comfort “to Abraham’s side” (verse 22 niv), where Lazarus was, to the place of torment, where this other man was, suggests that a person’s eternal destiny is settled here and now and not in some future world. Some people think they’ll work it out later. But they had better work it out now.
It would be like saying, “I’m going to board that plane, and once I’m in flight, I’ll determine where I’m going to go.”
No, you’re going where that plane goes. You work it out ahead of time when you buy your ticket. Once you have boarded the plane and it takes off, you are going to the predetermined destination.
The fact of the matter is that you determine now where you will spend eternity. There are no changes later. Do you know where you’re going when you die? According to the Bible, there are only two options: heaven or hell.
Often the question is asked, “How could God of love permit such a place as hell to exist, let alone send people there?”
Asking a question like this reveals a lack of understanding of the love of God or the wickedness of sin. God’s love is a holy love, not a shallow sentiment. The Scriptures tell us that “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 nkjv). Sin is rebellion against God, and the Bible says we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (see Romans 3:23). God does not send people to hell; people send themselves there by refusing to heed God’s call and believe in his son. These are people who have made a deliberate choice to not believe.
C. S. Lewis wrote that “indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
You are headed for one of two destinations in eternity, and you determine where you will go. The last thing God wants is to see you go to that place called hell. He loves you. That is why he took drastic measures by sending his own son to die on the cross in your place. He offers you pardon and forgiveness if you will turn from your sin and turn to him by faith. But if you reject his pardon, if you slap away his loving and gracious offer of forgiveness, then you will have no one to blame in that final day but yourself.