Though people sometimes disagree with the idea, the fact is that the Bible teaches that the eternal state of someone’s soul is determined in this life, before a person dies physically. The question that is often posed in these discussions is, “Why?” Why would God only give us a chance in this life? Isn’t he the God of second chances? Doesn’t he want as many people as possible to be saved?
I found some great thoughts on this in an unexpected place the other day–in a commentary on the Book of Proverbs by Bruce Waltke. He’s writing about Proverbs 1:24-29, which read like this:
24 Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded,
25 Because you disdained all my counsel, And would have none of my rebuke,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes,
27 When your terror comes like a storm, And your destruction comes like a whirlwind, When distress and anguish come upon you.
28 “Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge And did not choose the fear of the LORD,
30 They would have none of my counsel And despised my every rebuke.
31 Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, And be filled to the full with their own fancies.
32 For the turning away of the simple will slay them, And the complacency of fools will destroy them…
Waltke applies the “calamity” and “destruction” spoken about in verses 26 and 27 to eternal things–he sees them as representing, not just consequences of poor choices in this life, but the final consequences someone faces after this life is over. Here are his observations about why Wisdom, personified as a great woman here in Proverbs, refuses to come to the aid of the person who, having spent their life rejecting Wisdom (the “fool” which Proverbs speaks about), has now died and faces eternity:
Fools, seeing no need for “the fear of the Lord,” do not carefully select it as their way of life. In fact, they decide against it and sanction other lifestyles. Theological reflection suggests several reasons why wisdom disengages herself at the time of final judgment, offering fools no second chance after this life.
First, human choices before judgment would amount to no more than preliminary decisions before a real choice was made beyond death.
Second, this life would be preempted of its true dignity if choices made now had no eternal consequence.
Third, fools would be confirmed in treating this life with careless complacency.
Fourth, the disciples of wisdom would be made to look foolish if sensual pleasure could be had without responsibility and accountability.
People deny the doctrine of final judgment because they do not want to give this life such dignity that decisions now affect an eternal future in a decisive and definite way.
What a great, biblical point! The people who say God should give a second chance after death are really asking for a life that’s not real, a life that doesn’t count, like a sports team that only ever plays pre-season games. But God has given us a real life to live, where we do real things, and can make real impact on the world, even for eternity, for good or evil.
It all counts, and it all matters.