An Olympic ice skater in Sochi, Russia chose John Lennon’s Imagine as the song to accompany her performance. The tune is quite beautiful, but it was the words that struck me. I know, I know, the song was written in the 1970s and I’m decades behind the times. But the song’s iconic status and recent use in the Olympics makes it timely. Here are the opening lyrics to Lennon’s song:
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today
The song continues, asking us to imagine a world with “no countries … no religion … no possessions … all the people sharing all the world.” “No heaven … no hell … living for today.” In John Lennon’s imagination this would enable people to live in peace and harmony.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, and one who believes that He was physically and eternally raised from the dead as confirmation that he is the Lord and Savior of all who believe, I see things quite differently than John Lennon did. If indeed there is no heaven and no hell, there is then no resurrection of the dead, no ultimate judgment and no eternal existence for human beings. Another way of saying this is that if John Lennon is right, then there is no ultimate justice in the world.
On what does our hope for justice rest? It rests on the reality that every person will ultimately answer to God for the life he has lived and that God’s perfect love and discrimination enables Him to know what it right, and God’s absolute power enables Him to do what He knows is right. If this is not true, then there is no ultimate justice. If there is no ultimate justice then life’s winners are those who live long upon this earth and get everything they want by any means they choose. Life’s losers would include all those whose lives are cut short by whatever cause, and those who do not “get from this world” the good life (good food in sufficient quantity, peace and prosperity, freedom from bloodshed and violence, etc.).
In short, if John Lennon is right, and there is no afterlife, and no God to whom we must answer, then Hitler was a winner based on the fact that he lived a much longer life than most of his millions of victims, and he enjoyed far more prosperity that most. The same could be said of Joseph Stalin, who died an old man, and yet he was responsible for the early death of tens of millions. If Lennon is right, every aborted baby, every child who dies, every person whose life is taken early by cancer or violence, and the millions who live on battlefields (Syrians, Afghans, Sudanese, etc. of our day), are losers.
I could carry this argument on until it is book-length, but I hope you can see that there is no justice if there is no heaven and hell and judgment from a God who has ultimate love and power. Moreover, if there is no justice, there is no ultimate fairness and there is no true basis for hope. My brother died at age 14 from an unknown cause. His heart simply stopped while he was running. How does a family deal with that if there is no hope of heaven?
My hope for justice and mercy and fairness is founded upon a God who knows the right and will do the right. If I did not believe this, life would be void of meaning. Life would “boil down” to the survival-of-the-fittest, with the certainty that advancing age robs every person of their fitness for life.
As the Scripture says, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). And, “We will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will all be changed (1 Cor. 15:51b-52).