Mar 27, 2019 | Corey Porter
What will happen to my soul after I die? Where will it go? What will it be like there? Will I recognize anyone? What will I do for eternity?
Well into my adulting years, my thoughts of the afterlife were characterized by misconceptions and fear. It was the great unknown. For starters, I was uncertain about my ultimate destination. Although I was blessed from a very young age to hear and know of God’s love and forgiveness offered in Jesus, I was still living as if my acceptance into heaven was contingent on my ability to make myself acceptable enough to God.
At times, I doubted whether I would qualify as good enough to go to heaven. I feared I was in danger of going to hell, especially when I felt intense guilt and shame for my bad thoughts, motives, words, and actions. I was believing that my entrance into heaven was based on my good works. I found it difficult to function as though I was totally forgiven by Jesus, thus my imagination ran wild with fear about my afterlife.
Heaven: life in outer space?
Hell was indeed a scary prospect, but, with increased understanding over time, I was comforted to know that Jesus took all my sin upon himself and suffered the wrath and penalty of sin for me. Even though I was more convinced that I was going to heaven, I still had a hard time trying to picture what my disembodied soul would look like there.
To be certain, I was influenced by what I had heard preached, what I had seen in artistic images depicting angels and heaven, and my own misconceptions. All these together formed an image in my mind of an eternal dwelling place for my disembodied soul: everlasting confinement to God’s celestial throne room, in an undisclosed location in outer space.
It felt almost science fiction-like to me. But, to be honest, I’ve never had much of a desire to live in space. I felt like I wouldn’t like it, or that I wouldn’t fit in there. I kind of liked earth and my body—being human, doing things humans do on earth—even though it has its share of challenges in its present imperfect state. I was also unable to put the images of sterile spaceships and space suits needed to sustain my life in that inhospitable habitat out of my mind. It felt like nothingness.
I preferred what I knew (life on earth) to what I didn’t have a clue about (life in space). Space looked inhospitable to me. I also didn’t have much reason to want to go to heaven. I was dreaming about, concerned for, and absorbed by making my way on planet earth: getting an education, meeting people, travelling to different places, establishing a career, experiencing marriage, and preparing my kids for the next generation.
Heaven’s scare and lack of appeal
Given my misconceptions about eternity (my disembodied soul floating around in heaven) and my stronger affections for this present world, I was hesitant about going to heaven. I struggled to visualize what I would be doing for eternity there.
I had the impression it would be like going to an eternal praise and worship service. My soul would be snatched up from this world and dropped into a crowd of angels and disembodied human ghosts. By the way, I had a hard time discerning between angels and human souls in my visualizations—both immaterial.
To be certain, it was bright and glorious, and filled with the eternal singing of songs, many of which I would eventually learn because it would go on forever. Oh, and I pictured that this great gathering of souls would be standing forever. Not sure what it feels like to have no body and stand, but in church we always stand when we sing.
At best, I thought my soul being transported from earth to heaven would at least be one big blast of glory, a free, instantaneous and exhilarating ride to outer space. But then, after some of the initial adrenaline rush diminished and I had joined the eternal worship service for some time, wouldn’t the novelty wear off? Then what?
It seemed to me that it would grow old quickly. Dare I say that I thought it would become boring? My perceptions of being a disembodied soul living for eternity in heaven left me with a mixture of more and less desirable impressions.
Why would I ever want to go there forever?
What about my social life in heaven?
I’ve always been plagued with social anxiety here in this life. I tried to imagine myself crammed into God’s throne room with masses of Christians for eternity. I had seen enough conflict and division in the church that I could hardly picture Christians actually living together for eternity and getting along. Despite being saved, the way we treat others is still very much affected by our selfishness. We Christians living in this world are totally forgiven by God, no doubt, but we are still often self-centered.
I felt anxious about whether my personality would stay in tact after I died. I often had doubts that it would, because of things I would hear people say, without considering whether or not it was biblical. I thought that my brain would be wiped of all prior memories from my earthly existence, that I would lose myself. I feared being alone in the crowd. Would there be any continuity in my relationships with family and friends? Would I know anyone there? I’ve never liked going to a worship concert where I don’t know anyone.
Until even now, it somehow never occurred to me that the physical resurrection of Jesus’ body had implications for my afterlife personally. I confess that my view of God’s plan of redemption has been far too small. For so long, I have only pictured myself as a disembodied spirit forever worshipping God in a mysterious throne room located somewhere in the heavens above.
Rediscovering the end in light of the beginning
I understood from a young age that God had made the earth and entrusted it to humankind to steward and care for. After creating it all, God said it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). I also understood how the good of all things was corrupted when the devil (manifested in the snake) tempted Adam and Eve, and they ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:1-7). They then had the eyes to see evil, and sin entered the world, tainting humans and all of creation. Corruption and death entered into every part of the universe.
I understood this to be the cause of the mess I live in every day. I had perceived of a good and powerful beginning, but for some reason I had never discovered that the story was one with a powerful and redeeming end. Satan’s lie, combined with Adam and Eve’s sin, seemed to forever change God’s original plan to have righteous men and women be stewards of the earth.
It seemed to me that ever since this curse of sin and death came upon all of creation, all of the material universe that God created was destined for destruction: our bodies, the earth, and the heavens. All, that is, except for our human souls. Thankfully, I believed, God still managed to snatch and spare our human souls and would take them to heaven upon death. I’ve now learned there is so much more to the story, and the future ending of the present world as we know it.
I am embarrassed to share with you just how naive my view of the afterlife has been until recently. But I am discovering that I am not the only one. God is gracious, revealing to me that he has a larger plan than just redeeming our souls out of this mess. My hope is being strengthened by biblical scholars and teachers who are themselves rediscovering the full scope of God’s plan of renewal. And it is far better than I could have imagined. It is radically changing my desires for my afterlife.
Is your curiosity aroused? Join me in two more blogs devoted to my rediscovery of my life after death.