Biblical Belief in the Afterlife: a Foundation for our Society

How important is biblical belief for the good of our society? In the 18th century, one of the greatest philosophers of all time, though not a Christian, put forth arguments that still have great force. Immanual Kant argued that three beliefs were important to a society if it was to produce a humane and lawful social order. They were: God, freedom and immortality.

Kant argued that it is obvious that human beings do not always get their just desserts in this life. Sometimes the wicked prosper and the righteous are defrauded and suffer terrible injustice. This undercuts our motivation for moral behavior. Kant said that only the belief in an afterlife, where God rewarded righteous behavior and punished evil behavior, could provide an answer to the dilemma.

We also have to believe that we are responsible and accountable for our choices. This can only be defended if we are free creatures that can choose good or evil. I think Kant was absolutely right. Psalm 73 gives the same answer. Indeed, many of the founding fathers of the United States agreed with Kant. John Adams argued this most forcefully and held that Christian belief was necessary to a democratic republic. Only then would the people have sufficient self control and integrity.

On the other hand, it is true that in the name of religion great evil has been done. The cultural establishment in past societies has used religion to convince people to act in a way that maintains their position and power. People are told they will receive their heavenly reward only by maintaining the social order. Marx thus called religion the opiate of the people.

Contrary to political correctness, all religions are not created equal, but are vastly different in values. This leads to very different societies. Most societies have affirmed the belief in an afterlife where good actions are rewarded and bad actions are punished. The key is how good and evil are defined. Good and evil are defined in reference to the concept of God or the nature of the unseen reality that is the ground of our world. These concepts may be right or wrong. Therefore religious beliefs can have huge implications. Though there is some ethical commonality among all civilizations, there is also great ethical diversity.

Today atheism and agnosticism assert that an ethical and humane society can be produced without reference to God or an afterlife. I firmly disagree on the basis of the evidence in history. If we do not believe in the sacred value of every human being, a humane ethical order will not survive. This belief can only be maintained with reference to God and His creating man in His own image. We should have learned from Hitler and Stalin. Atheism in communist lands produced barbarous behavior.

Societies, Religion, and the Afterlife: Three Religions

Let us look at three religions that show great contrast in how their conception of the after-life influences behavior.

In Hinduism and other ancient eastern religions, righteousness is based on maintaining the established order of society. Hinduism has many gods, but one ultimate god, Brahmin, who is vaguely defined. The afterlife is reincarnation. One's state in reincarnation is according to one's righteous or evil deeds. After eons of reincarnations, a soul can be purified and escape the wheel of birth and death and attain unity with Brahmin. The soul's bliss in eternity is also vaguely defined. Hinduism is a great force for oppression since the lowest casts of society deserve to be in their wretched state. The belief that the lower castes suffer so as to escape their current lot is unrighteous.

In Islam, righteousness is ultimately defined by acting in every way to spread Islam and to dominate the world. Violent acts in the name of Islam are defined as good. The infidel is to be killed if he will not convert. Jews and Christians can be allowed to live if they submit to Islamic rule with all the depravations that are part of this subjection. However, at the end of this age, they too will be killed if they do not convert to Islam. Freedom of conscience and the worth of the individual are not taught. The depravation of women is tragic. The reward of the afterlife is for those who are good Muslims. There is no emphasis on the worth of individuals who are not Muslims.

The contrast in biblical faith (Christianity and Judaism) could not be clearer. Yes, there have been dark chapters, but the teaching of the Bible is the foundation of a just and humane social order. All human beings are created in the image of God. The Samaritan is singled out for praise in the parable of Yeshua. Love for the stranger, the foreigner, care for the poor, and provision for the widow are all commanded. In the teaching of Yeshua, love for the enemy, doing unto all others as we would have them do to us, brings us to a height of ethical idealism. Because all men and women are in the image of God, all are to be treated with dignity, compassion, and justice. The Ten Commandments clearly define righteous behavior. The value of the individual gives rise to human rights and can provide support for a democratic governmental order.

Biblical faith has even given rise to peace denominations that eschew the sword completely, such as the Mennonites. One can not say that the Mennonites have ever done violence in the name of religion; so here is one case where the claim of the cynic just does not hold true. All religions are not created equal.

God's favor in the afterlife is accorded to those who adhere to these standards. In the New Covenant Scriptures, embracing the salvation of Yeshua is the foundation for the rewards of the afterlife. Yeshua is our pattern for godly behavior. He lays down His life for others. God is defined in clear terms as revealed in the person of Yeshua. The afterlife is not a vague concept, but is resurrection life in glorified bodies where there is fellowship among peoples.

A Battle for World Views and Cultures

The battle today is over world views; a clash of civilizations. Israel is at the center of this clash because the battle over Israel is ultimately the battle over which religion or which world view is true. It is a battle over the sovereignty of God. Is there a God, and what kind of behavior really pleases God? The contrast between the Muslim view and the Bible is stark. In this battle, God will gain victory over all the false "isms" in the world. Israel will embrace Yeshua and the world will finally embrace biblical faith.

The battle with Islam is now the cutting edge of the battle against God's Word. At the same time, this battle provides us with a great opportunity for harvest in Israel and among the nations.

By Daniel Juster

Dan Juster leads the overall ministry Tikkun International. Donate to Tikkun International.

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13:20 02Oct07 Andre Tavares -
Rab Juster, it is also important to say that the Jewish-Christian worldview has an other very important distinction on afterlife: the redemption. As Dooyeweerd taught us, biblical beliefs are rooted in the triad creation-fall-redemption. So, G'd will not only judge at the Yom haDin (rewarding and punishing), but also will redeem all things, the whole creation. And if G'd will redeem, the afterlife is not the end of the life here and the beginning of a "spiritual life" - but, because of the redemption and creation, restoring, afterlife and immortality allow us to wait for complete manifestation of G'd's justice and grace (tsedaka v'chessed). Afterlife is not the end of our life on Earth, it is the very beginning.

  -- Dr Juster replies: I fully agree with your comments. It is my view also.

11:54 03Oct07 Teresa -
This article is well written with truth made simple to understand and explain to others, as the opportunities present themselves to be a witness of the message of the Kingdom of God through faith in Yeshua.

20:36 06Oct07 John R. Peacher -
I whole heartedly agree with Dr. Juster's article regarding our after life; when true eternal life awaits every created being. The choice of where we spend eternity has been placed in our lap. It is our decision. Yeshua (Jesus) plainly states that He is the way, the truth, and the life. There is no other way. There is great advantage to celebrate the multi-culturalism among the many nations of our troubled planet; but none the less, there is only one way to Heaven. And Yeshua is it!

11:30 08Oct07 Adolph Carroza -
Your article is very good. There needs to be a reformation of our thinking as this article lays this foundation for such a reformation allowing the Holy Spirit to confirm the truth. Let those who have eyes to see and ears to hear know the truth.

12:20 08Oct07 Vern -
Well said!

Also in this issue of the newsletter:

Eitan Shishkoff: A Defining Moment
Moshe Morrison: Synagogue Hopping
Asher Intrater: Righteous Government in Israel