Even hopeful mortals are haunted by the twin enigmas of death and eternity. Both are mysteries, and it is only human nature to shrink in the face of the unknown.
But we know more about mortality and immortality than we imagine — easily enough to live confidently in the prospect of eternal life, free from the fear of death.
If we are people of faith, this knowledge can give us both hope and direction. Even if we are skeptics, we will be struck nevertheless by the convergence of belief that life, once bestowed, cannot end in oblivion. Either way, we will be able to approach the autumn of our lives with greater assurance and self-worth.
Each of us, by dint of our humanity, holds the key to immortality. In truth, we cannot avoid eternity. Happily, the keys to the kingdom of heaven are sensible approaches that free our minds and spirits, not deadly dogmas that shackle our souls.
The beginning of wisdom is to view life and death as complementary rather than adversarial. Each of us lives and dies essentially alone. No matter how many friends and lovers we have, or how caring our families are, we are ultimately isolated in our own thoughts and emotions this side of paradise.
But in eternity we will no longer be alone. All the more reason for making friends with our creator before we become his permanent house guest.
Begin with reverence for life, which is the foundation of faith. Gratitude is faith’s motive. Upon waking each day, very young Jewish children pray gratefully with this verse from the Daily Prayer Book of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who removes sleep from my eyes and slumber from my eyelids. I thank you…for restoring my soul to me with compassion; great is your faithfulness.”
We neither deserve eternal life nor can win it by our effort alone. If heaven were intended only for the righteous, it would be woefully under populated. Jesus himself affirmed that only God is good; the rest of us struggle to be faithful, grateful, caring, and repentant. We are never really ready for heaven, but it doesn’t matter. Heaven is God’s gift to the grateful.
When we think about it, the afterlife is no more miraculous than the life we possess now. If the creator chose to conceive the universe with all its wonders and bring you and me into existence, what would prompt him to discard what he values? His disappointment in us? Our failure to follow his blueprint?
If there remains something in our selves to be forgiven, he is ready to do so. And if, at the end of our sojourn here, we are still not yet ready for eternity with him, he will prepare us to be.
David Yount is the author of 14 books, including Making a Success of Marriage. He answers readers at P.O. Box 2758, Woodbridge, VA 22195 and email@example.com.