“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
What happens when we die? There aren’t many questions that people both don’t want to ask out loud, but about which they are less curious than that one. There are many, many stories about folks who have died, experienced something, and then come back to life vividly remembering what they saw. These can be encouraging, confusing, and just plain wild, but they don’t give us a very firm foundation. What can we actually say with confidence?
A few things. The first thing is that there actually is something. Physical death is not the end of existence. And for now at least, I’m not basing that on any kind of scriptural authority. I’m basing that on the fact that every single culture across the millennia of human history has had some sort of story about what happens after our bodies expire. All of them. Some have been more colorful or detailed than others, but all of them have had something.
Why does that give us any kind of confidence? Because if just one or two did, we could fairly accuse them of making it up, and mostly ignore it. The fact that all of them have suggests rather insistently that in spite of the counter claims of the modern, secular worldview, there is a human memory of something after death. It’s like we have an inherent sense that our end is not really our end. And again, if one or two cultures across the eons “knew” this, we could write it off. All of them knowing it puts this in the category of “take note.” This observation doesn’t tell us anything about what it might be like—the stories are all way too varied to give us anything solid to put our hands around—it just tells us there’s something. That’s a start.
To get any more specific than that, we need something more to go on than our collective, if wildly varied, human memory. As followers of Jesus, we have that in the Scriptures. They allow us to speak with more authority than mere stories.
In particular, we have the words the apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth. After writing about some of the trials he had been facing and our frailty as creatures, Paul turns a bit reflective and begins to think about what comes next when this life ends. His words have offered hope to many, and over the next few days, I’d like to explore them with you.
Let’s start here: Paul isn’t talking about camping tents here. He’s talking about the human body. He describes it as a tent because, like a tent, our current bodies are temporary. They will not last forever. They will eventually wear out or be destroyed in some way. And while the thought of that certainly isn’t encouraging, what is encouraging is what comes next: We who are in Christ Jesus have another dwelling place waiting for us in the coming kingdom that will not wear out or break down.
These are the permanent, heavenly bodies we will receive in the final resurrection from the dead and which Jesus Himself modeled for us as a prototype of what is to come. This means that while we need to take care of this tent—it’s the only one we have in this life—what ultimately happens to it should not be of greatest concern to us, because if we have placed our faith in Christ, we have another, better, one coming. That’s a reason for hope. It’s a reason for hope and it gets better. We’ll talk about that next week.