Not one of us is staying here forever. No matter how strong we feel or how full of hope and life, we know that we must one day leave this earth. Perhaps we will live a few more years, perhaps we will even grow old, but what then? Medicine has found ways to extend life temporarily, but sooner or later, everybody dies. Go into a graveyard and behold the rows of silent tombs. Read the dates upon each tombstone and imagine the story each holds. Each individual lying there was once just as alive as you and I. Person after person came into this world. They experienced the same joys and the same trials we experience. They dreamed, they loved, they toiled, and they suffered. Perhaps they were married and raised a family, perhaps they became successful in business venture, or perhaps they accomplished some service in the world. Some stayed a shorter time and some a longer. But each life reached its end. Their days were accomplished, and they had to go. Whatever they had built up here they left forever behind. As certainly as they passed on, so certainly we too must go. But go where? What will happen to us after we leave this realm of mortal existence?
Within each person is a never-dying soul. When God created man, He framed his body from the dust of the ground; but He breathed into him life out of His own eternal self. Scripture says “man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7). That soul was immortal. It was destined to live on somewhere through everlasting ages.
Describing the death of Rachel, the Bible tells us that “her soul was in departing” (Gen. 35:18), implying that it went somewhere. Before Jesus died, He told the thief who hung beside Him that they would meet again that day in Paradise. Regardless of what materialists may deny, God’s Word clearly teaches a conscious existence after this life.
Our own consciences are aware of a reality that exists beyond the experience of our physical senses. We know there are supernatural powers that operate upon our thinking. We have ample testimony from individuals who have come face to face with a supernatural world—a reality beyond this life. Some, before breathing their last, have uttered descriptions of what they saw. In rare cases, people have actually died, and being resuscitated, have described consciously leaving their bodies and experiencing things in another place that would be impossible to describe or experience here on earth. The apostle Paul is a scriptural example of someone who was caught up to Paradise, where He heard and witnessed things he could not humanly utter.
Scripture teaches us that eternity is a place where we will be rewarded for the deeds done in this life. Those who have sinned against their Creator and have not obtained forgiveness will be separated forever from God and suffer His eternal vengeance in hell. But those who through the blood of Jesus have had their sins forgiven, have lived for God in obedience to His will, and have kept a clear relationship with Him, will be rewarded with eternal rest in the presence of the Lord. “Be not deceived,” warned the apostle Paul, “God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). As surely as the seed we put into the soil today will bear a harvest in the days ahead, so surely each deed we do and each word we say now will have its eternal consequence. The decisions we sometimes make so carelessly will have more lasting effects than we realize. It is but a short lifetime of sowing. It will be an eternity of reaping.
Heaven and hell are more real than this earth we know. Paul speaks of things seen now through a glass darkly, but one day face to face (1 Cor. 13:12). Eternity is not some dreamy existence in relation to this life, but this life is a dream in relation to eternity. When we wake up in that other world, we may expect a sharpened awareness and a feeling of being much more alive than we ever were upon earth. Unencumbered by these bodies of clay, our spirit’s senses will be keener and will experience more fully than is possible on earth either the glory or the torment that awaits us.
Eternity is the long part of our existence. It is boundless, unmeasured by time. Consider the word forever—limitless, unending. When eternity will have lasted countless ages, it will yet have only begun. We easily focus on the joys and sorrows of this life, but we ought to focus on the life beyond. What pain or pleasure we feel here is temporal. At its very longest, it will soon pass away. What lies ahead of us is eternal. It will never, never end. The greatest price we would have to pay now to be right with God is but a small price in the light of eternity. This life is only a preparation; eternity is the life that counts.