Will Everyone Live Forever with God After Death? Not Necessarily!

Recently we discussed whether people of other religions, or those who have never heard, participate in the life after death that Jesus offers us or whether this life is available to only the limited number of people who respond to Jesus in a certain ‘appropriate’ way. I concluded that Jesus is inclusive and offers life with God after death to everyone—without restriction. And I believe that God, like Jesus, is also inclusive.

While some believers point to biblical passages they think create restrictions on who is able to have life with God after death, other passages indicate that life after death is available to everyone, including the famous John 3:16 which is so misunderstood by restrictive believers.

John 3 reads:

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

I think it significant that God loved the world and did not send Jesus to condemn the world but to save it. God did not love a select few and send Jesus to save them only—but the world. Now I think both aspects of eternal life are seen here: the quality of life during our present existence that includes being saved, not from punishment in hell, but from a life of brokenness, pain, and alienation; and also having life after death with God. Those who do not follow him during this life miss the temporal benefit, but I think life after death is available to ALL.

How Might Those Who Have Never Heard Finally Learn of the Offer of Life After Death?

Many believers assume that in order to have eternal life (or ‘go to heaven’) we must hear the good news of Jesus and personally respond to it and become ‘a Christian’—and that we must meet these conditions before we die. This view is often tied to penal substitution theory.

While I agree that one must make a clear-headed acceptance of the gift of eternal life, I don’t think it involves some fabricated ritual of repentance, confession of sin, and symbols of commitment. I believe that each of us will have an opportunity to grasp the reality of this invitation with a clear understanding devoid of any prior misconceptions about Jesus, and without any cloudiness of mental deficiencies, scarred psyches, or twisted thinking. And there is no reason to think that people who have not heard or understood the good news of eternal life cannot understand and accept it at or after death.

universalism

Universalism–will all be saved?

The conclusion that life after death with God is offered to everyone raises a significant question—is this, then, Universalism? Will everyone who ever lived have life in God’s community after death? Not necessarily! While I think God is accepting of everyone, I also think individual free will is an issue; there could be some who don’t want eternal life with God for some reason, and I don’t think God overrides a person’s free will to impose eternal life on them by force.

There is always the prospect that some might choose NOT to align with God, even though their thinking is clear; these are those who would say, ‘I would rather die than live in God’s community!’ Will God force them into his/her place of peace and happiness against their will? I don’t think so.

What! Who Would Reject Life After Death with God!

Why would anyone reject eternal life after death when all the facts are clear? What possible objection might they have to living forever in God’s community? We can only speculate, but I am impressed with Christian writer C. S. Lewis’ proposed possibility in his book Mere Christianity (Christian Behavior, chapter 8); it is pride or egotism. Lewis does not mean common pride in our accomplishments or relationships but rather competitive, dominating pride.

There are those who MUST be the dominant ego in any relationship. This accounts for a lot of evil among us, but there is no room for such ego-competition in God’s community of peace and happiness. Even if there were, the power-seeker would still be unsatisfied because, even if they subjugated every other ego in God’s community, they would still find themselves competing with God. And this is a no-win for the egoist.

This situation would not constitute peace in God’s community, nor would it bring happiness to one driven by such ego needs. It seems that God would be cruel to force a person like this into his/her peaceful society with no opportunity to exploit others; it would be hell to them.

So I believe God will honor the free-will decision of such people to reject eternal life in God’s society.

What Might Become of Those Who Reject Eternal Life in God’s Community?

What happens to them? If someone rejects God’s offer, what will happen to them? Different groups of believers suggest several scenarios:

1. Everlasting punishment in a burning fire
2. Everlasting punishment without fire
3. Universalism-everyone will go to heaven
4. Conditional immortality-annihilation

We will talk about these next time.

Articles in this series: Jesus, World Religions, and Eternal Life

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16 Responses to Will Everyone Live Forever with God After Death? Not Necessarily!

  1. pvcann says:

    One of the issues with the English word saved is that it is a poor translation of the Greek, especially Acts 2.21 which can be nuanced as – whole and healed

    Liked by 1 person

  2. newtonfinn says:

    To what extent should our views of the afterlife be influenced by the increasingly well-documented evidence of the paranormal–NDEs, OBEs, mediumship and the like? It’s interesting that the recent book on death written by my favorite NT scholar, “Night Comes” by Dale Allison, addresses this subject with a substantial degree of openness, while avoiding what often appears to be naive and gullible New Age rhetoric. These paranormal experiences reach back to prehistorical shamanic times and were, in the modern era, given intense scientific scrutiny by the British Society for Psychical Research. While many psychic phenomena were debunked by the SPR, a substantial core of seemingly hard evidence remained, and serious research in this area continues as I make this post. Biblical sources, after all, are not very forthcoming about the nature of the afterlife. Christianity has nothing to compare, for example, with the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Personally, I find that the life-changing accounts of many ND experiencers–and some of the descriptions of the afterlife provided by certain mediums–amplify and clarify, rather than contradict, my Christian beliefs about the afterlife, shedding light on issues of judgment, universality, etc. One point repeatedly made in these accounts is that the indescribable, unimaginable power of love and goodness that flows from the Being of Light is far beyond the ability of any human being to resist.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Newton, I think all speculation about what happens at and after death is just that–speculation. But we want to know, of course; and so we try to find answers the best we can; I depend heavily on the resurrection of Jesus and the character of God.

      Do you have more specific thoughts on what afterlife might be like?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. newtonfinn says:

    Tim, I, too, depend on the character of Jesus’ God the Father (Abba) when it comes to my views about the afterlife. Kierkegaard once said words to the effect that heaven or eternity could not be conceived of but only believed in, which certainly supports your use of the word “speculation.” That said, you have raised a subject here that is, to me personally (and should be to society and culture as a whole) of profound significance. We’re talking about the ultimate context of our lives, are we not? The big question, as the song put it–What’s it all about, Alfie?

    My reading in the paranormal area has left me with some beliefs about the afterlife that go beyond, but not against, what I can glean from scripture. I am convinced that the NDE is genuine glimpse of the afterlife, but only that. Some of the more common elements of that experience–the reunion with loved ones, the life review, the Being of Light, the overwhelming sense of peace and security–ring true to me. As one experiencer related, she was saturated with light and love and knew instantly that the plan was perfect, that all of the suffering and death and famines and wars were somehow part of a larger inexplicable perfection; that she was safe forever, home forever…and that everyone else was.

    To go a step further into paranormal “revelation,” I am attracted to the descriptions of the various levels of the afterlife provided by (or transmitted through) certain mediums, which descriptions include an initial afterlife world with strong similarities to our own (embodied people, animals, and plants interacting in a transfigured environment that is all life, no death, all good, no evil, all one with God. And there are other realms to evolve into, as one continues to grow in love and wisdom–even more beautiful, more intensely spiritual dimensions which bring one ever closer to the Source of love and wisdom, the ground of being best described and conceptualized, according to Jesus, as our Heavenly Father, Abba, who numbers the very hairs on our heads and observes with compassion each sparrow’s fall.

    What is that part of us that moves into these higher dimensions when we leave this one behind? At one time, I called it the soul, and sometimes still do, but I’ve come to a broader and simpler way of thinking about it. I now believe that life itself–that mysterious, miraculous, sacred force that science can’t begin to comprehend–is inherently eternal, that the soul of each being (including non-human beings) is nothing more nor less than its life, what Schweitzer called the will-to-live, to be, to grow, to fully develop and unfold…to the glory of God. And I have come to believe that no life, at least nothing good in any life, is ever lost. For me, that’s the core conviction of all genuine religion, which Jesus embodied in a stunning, matchless manner.

    I fear that I’m lapsing into babble here as I try to address your difficult question about my specific thoughts concerning something ineffable at its core. But it’s useful to think about these matters, however speculatively and inadequately, and to ponder them as Jesus urged us to do, to view this earthly existence, as best we can, from the standpoint of eternity. Is it not that shift in perspective that leads us, day by day, to the way of living, the state of being, in but not of the world–into that hidden yet powerfully present reality called the Kingdom of God? I’ll shut up now and leave you and your readers with that old song I mentioned earlier. The voice and melody are beautiful, the lyrics haunting and profound.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perry says:

      Agree there’s something to NDE’s. Also, just as the OT puts things in stories ancient folk could understand, I get tickled by friends who are all about streets of gold & gates of pearl & some folks getting bigger mansions. IMO, that’s just people trying to impose materialism and competition onto eternity. Reminds me of the Islamic idea of martyrs getting a bunch of virgins. Surely the Almighty can do better than that!

      Liked by 2 people

      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        Perry, I agree with you about those who are all about streets of gold, gates of pearl, and big mansions. I was at a large church once when the pastor had a member tell about a dream he had of heaven–and it included streets of gold and gates of pearl. Both he and the pastor were very excited of this ‘vision’ of heaven.

        I was not impressed. What person saturated with the book of Revelation, and thinking it is about heaven, might not have this dream. Yet the book of Revelation is not about heaven at all. I have also long thought that if ‘heaven’ is paved with gold and has gates of pearl, then they would not be valuable because anything that abundant would not have much value.

        Yet I must admit, when I was in fundamentalism as a child, from a poor family, I very much looked forward to the gold and pearl, and especially the mansions, which I could only imagine in my poverty.

        You are right; God can do better than that.

        Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Newton, thanks for the elaboration on your thoughts regarding life after death. I find reports of near-death experiences to be interesting; I read a few books on the subject many years ago. But I this point I can’t say that they influence my thoughts about the after life; they might be genuine or they might be some sort of psychological response to the act of dying–I have no idea.

      One thing that concerns me about the reports is that some of them (not as widely publicized) include visits to burning hell-fire instead of the more pleasant reports, and I cannot imagine those to be genuine experiences of the afterlife. On the other hand, I would be happy to discover that the positive reports ARE genuine. I think it is something to explore for those who wish to do so.

      Also, thanks for the video; I enjoyed it!

      Liked by 1 person

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  7. sheila0405 says:

    Before I left theism, I had come to believe Jesus “saved” everyone when he died. I think substitutionary atonement was a doctrine that developed after the early Church began.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Sheila, I agree. Some of the foundation for what later came to be penal substitutionary atonement was developed by Anselm as the satisfaction theory about 1000 years after the time of Jesus; and the actual theory of penal substitution was built on Anselm’s work by Calvin about 500 years after that–so it is really a quite recent theory.

      Liked by 1 person

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