When I was a little kid, I used to have a recurring nightmare about burning in hell when I died. At the age of 5, this was a very powerful and vivid picture in my mind. This idea of eternal damnation was planted at an early age. My entire life revolved around my Southern Baptist Church where I had been in attendance since the beginning of my life. From the pulpit, I heard tales of hell, fire, and brimstone. If I didn’t accept Jesus Christ as my personal lord and savior, this tortuous fate would be mine.
I used to believe death was only the beginning. I thought of our lives as finite. In the grand scheme of the universe, they occupied nothing more than a short period of time. If we believed in the grace of Jesus, we would be delivered to heaven where we would live eternally knowing no pain throughout infinity. When you are little kid, scared of what awaits you when your head hits the pillow, there is great comfort to be found in the stories of the bible. Your choice to be saved is such an easy escape route from what scares you most. Wanting to escape a fate I barely understood, I believed them. In the summer of 1991, I gave my life to Jesus. When I did, I sealed my fate. At the age of 8, I knew I would never know hell.
Now, I look at life differently. I no longer look at death as some beginning. Instead, I live a life where I know death to be the end. I have retired from my life stories of salvation, grace, heaven, and hell. Instead, I stand firmly in my ability to not know my fate. I have built a life where rationality wins the day, facts reign supreme, and this life is the only one I will ever have. I don’t know what fate awaits me beyond this world. I don’t know if anything awaits me beyond this world.
This new-found belief doesn’t mean I live a life without purpose. My morality comes from humanity itself and my reason for being is found in service to others. I am inclined to believe that my days are numbered, and I better make the most of them. Each day is a gift. In other words, I have avoided the concept of being “so heavenly minded, I am no earthly good.” Instead, I live every single day being earthly focused in the hopes of doing great things with my time on this planet.
My chase for meaning also doesn’t end because I don’t believe in an afterlife. Again, my meaning is derived from my fellow human beings, acts of services, and earthly experiences. I pause longer, breathe in the air more deeply, and look more intensely because I only get to do this once. My memories serve as opportunities to cherish experiences and I fully do so knowing I don’t get to live with the good thoughts later in heaven. This earth is where I take my stand and it is where I shall fall.
This change of beliefs is perhaps the most challenging of all. It divides people into camps and alienates others. When I speak of what I think to be true, people form a certain opinion of me. Some see a kindred spirit. Others are sure of my damnation. No matter where you fall, the experiences of this life should be intensified by knowing where you stand. If you believe in an afterlife, you should relish in the knowledge you only get to experience this creation of God’s once. If you don’t believe in an afterlife, you should live every day like it is your last. If both camps adopted this mindset, I truly believe our interactions would be more genuine, loving, and kind. We would worry less about collecting things to make us happy and we would spend more time amassing experiences to be proud of when our number is called.
Be good to each other,
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