Why are people deeply afraid of death?
I was recently interviewed about my book, Eternity: Heaven or Hell?, by Rethinking Hell contributor Chris Date. We discussed what has become a very controversial topic among many Christians, and that is the duration of time those in Hell will spend. Eternal or limited? I share from the Bible why I am convinced that Conditionalism is the biblical view of final punishment. Tempers can flare over this topic, so I ask you to read this interview in blog format as a good Berean, testing the Scriptures to see what God will teach us.
The Fear of Death
Chris Date: Let’s talk about you book, Eternity: Heaven or Hell. What initially prompted you to write it, and what sort of overall impact do you hope it has on its readers?
Dr. Reagan: I’ve always been concerned about what happens when you die? I never had any preaching or teaching about it growing up. Were were only told that just when you died you went to Heaven. Today you can ask any Christian, “What happens when you die?” They say, “I’m going to Heaven.” You can then ask, “Okay, what does that mean?” There is just silence, because they don’t know what that means. They haven’t really studied what the Bible has to say about the afterlife. So, I really got fascinated about that almost unspoken topic and I started studying it day and night.
One of the first in-depth articles that I wrote when I formed this ministry in 1980 was, What Happens When you Die? That took off like a rocket, and this was before the age of the Internet. It got passed around from person to person and by word of mouth. We’ve gone through many, many editions since then. People have been handed it on their death bed. We’ve had all kinds of testimonies of how it has impacted people on their death bed. People want to know what happens when you die and the average pastor just can’t give them any details. All he can say is, “You either go to Heaven or Hell.” That is how I got into the topic to begin with.
Chris Date: Very good! One of the things that really bothers and frustrates me is how few Christians are even aware that they are going to rise from the dead in the future. They sort of think that eternity is just about floating around in clouds in Heaven.
Dr. Reagan: That’s what I was taught, Chris. I was taught that when I died I went to sleep and I laid in the grave for eons of time waiting for the Lord to come back. When the Lord came back, the whole world blew up and ceased to exist, and then my spirit was resurrected and I went on to Heaven to float around on clouds playing a harp for all of eternity. Needless to say, I just couldn’t get excited about the future. I couldn’t get excited about going to Heaven, for it sounded like the most boring place in the world.
I used to go home and get in the closet and die laughing, even when I was 12 years old, because I went to a church that taught that the worse sin you could ever commit was to play a musical instrument in a worship service. Here was the pastor was getting up and condemning musical instruments, and then telling us we were going to play one for eternity in Heaven. It made no sense!
Chris Date: That does indeed not make any sense.
In the introduction to the book, you wrote about man’s innate fear of death. Can you tell us about how that serves as a very appropriate introduction to a book discussing Heaven and Hell? Why is it that we have a fear of death, and what should that fear prompt within us?
Dr. Reagan: That fear is the reason why I wrote the book. In Hebrews 2, it says that Jesus came to deliver us from the fear of death. Mankind lives in the fear of death. I give a lot of examples in the book of famous personalities who were scared stiff as they approached death.
I find that the average Christian also has great difficulty dealing with their fear of death. I see people all the time who are desperately ill and whose only hope is clinging to this life. “I’ve got to cling to this life. I’ve to go to another doctor and get another pill and do this and do that. Some way or other I have to cling to this life. When I heard these statements, I kept wondering, “Don’t you know what is coming?”
The Apostle Paul said, “The sufferings of this time are not even worthy to be compared to the glory that is yet to be revealed to us.” When people don’t know anything about the future, when they don’t know what the Bible says is going to happen to them, then they become afraid. They cling to this life, because this life is the only world that they know.
Chris Date: That’s sad.
Dr. Reagan: I remember John Wesley once wrote, “One of the proudest accomplishments of my ministry is that my people know how to die.”
Chris Date: That’s a good accomplishment to have.
Other Topics on the Afterlife
Chris Date: As this is Rethinking Hell, naturally I’m going to want to focus on the chapter of your book discussing Hell. But, I’d also like to give you an opportunity to tell a little bit about the other topics that you discuss. What are some of the misconceptions that you attempt to correct in the first three chapters of your book titled: What Happens When You Die?, Resurrection and Judgment, and What Heaven Will Be Like?
Dr. Reagan: I get into a number of topics in those chapters, of course. I talk about resurrection and judgment, about the fact that most people don’t understand that there is going to be a bodily resurrection, that there is going to be a judgment for both believers and unbelievers and that those judgments are doing to be very different. The judgment for believers is going to be a judgment of their works to determine the degrees of reward. Their works will not determine their salvation, because we are saved by grace. Christians are to be judged by our works to determine degrees of reward. The unbeliever is going to be judged by his works to determine his eternal destiny. Since nobody can be justified by works, then the unbeliever will be consigned to Hell.
Then I get into a chapter about what Heaven is like. I like to talk about that because, again, people have really weird ideas about Heaven. I talk about how we are going to have a real body, and we are going to be recognizable, and we are going to live on a New Earth that has been redeemed and refreshed and restored. God is going to put His whole creation back to the way He originally created it. People often find that fact really amazing, because they’ve never been taught that the Book of Revelation means when it says when it says we are going to be living on the New Earth rather than in Heaven for all of eternity.
Chris Date: That brings us to chapter four which is the chapter on Hell, and we will soon talk about that chapter in a moment. First, what about the three chapters following it? This books isn’t just about correcting common Christian misunderstandings about Heaven and Hell, but the chapters that follow the chapter on Hell cover some different topics, don’t they?
Dr. Reagan: I write about what is rapidly becoming the Christian viewpoint in America, and that is that there are many different roads to God. You go out and do polls, even among Evangelicals, and you’ll surprisingly discover that 40-50% of them say there are many roads to God. Of course, 40-50% of them also say that Jesus sinned. It just shows the famine of the Word in the Church today as our pulpits are filled with people preaching modern psychology and anything but the Word of God. The average person in the pew is simply ignorant of God’s Word today as this is the age of tolerance, and therefore who are we to say that somebody might be going to Hell? “Surely there must be many different roads,” they conclude. But, Jesus said, “I am the only way. You must come through me to get to the Father.” In response, I have a whole chapter on proving that there are definitely not many roads to God, but only one through faith in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
I have a whole chapter on how we can be certain of life after death. That focuses them on the resurrection of Jesus and the evidence of His resurrection. There is overwhelming evidence that we can be certain of life after death because of Jesus’ resurrection.
Finally, I conclude by addressing, “Are you Living With An Eternal Perspective?” Most of us are so caught up in this world and so caught up with the problems of the world that we very rarely have an eternal perspective. And yet, we are supposed to be living with an eternal perspective, because we are all pilgrims who are passing through this world on to the eternal world where we will either be destroyed in Hell or we will live eternally with the Lord.
Chris Date: Hopefully that sort of summarized the other chapters in a way that encourages our listeners to pick up a copy of your book for themselves.
In the third segment of Rethinking Hell’s interview of me concerning the Conditionalist View of Hell, Chris and I will discuss why the world and even the pulpit misunderstands and so trivializes the reality of Hell.