All or nothing

All or nothing
Kent Philpott
Kent Philpott Kent Philpott is pastor of Miller Avenue Baptist Church, Mill Valley, California, and director of Earthen Vessel Publishing.
01 January, 2001 4 min read

Most mornings I have to wait in line at the 7-11 store to buy my newspaper while people place their bets with the California Lottery.

A woman, anticipating my impatience as she took an inordinate amount of time, turned to me and defended her purchase of 20 lottery tickets. ‘I have to have something to look forward to’, she said.

I knew what she meant. All day long she would daydream about the millions she might win. The very thought of it could carry her through the day.

We are all gamblers of one kind or another. In fact, many Californians are hoping to ease tax burdens through institutional games of chance. Someone even said that the state is becoming one vast casino.

The woman at the store was not putting all her money on the proverbial ‘line’; but many are risking far more than their money.

The big gamble

There is an even bigger gamble than the lottery. People are gambling that the grave is the absolute end of life. My guess is that this is the most popular, albeit unnamed, gamble of them all.

The cessation of all life at biological death – this is the great hope of the godless. Nearly everyone who is committed to atheistic evolutionary schemes is hoping for this. These people also reject any form of reincarnation, as taught by Hinduism or Buddhism, though I notice that they do not oppose eastern religions as vigorously as they reject the traditional Christian doctrine about an after-life.

The ‘life ends at death’ theory is powerful because of the abundance of evidence that seems to support it. And I admit there are many claims flowing from the physical sciences that seem to deny the need for a creator God.

Theories and hypotheses are announced regularly. ‘Life has been discovered on Mars’ (or not, as the case may be). Missing links are supposedly being dug up regularly (and then denied by rival anthropologists). Today’s materialistic headline is tomorrow’s small print casting doubt on the ‘discovery’.

Nevertheless, it is all grist to the atheists’ mill, and they airily promise that all objections to their theories will be met sooner or later. There is no question, the theory that ‘life ends at death’ is attractive and powerful.

Where is the proof?

No one committed to this doctrine, however, can be absolutely sure it is true. It is an article of faith and nothing more. It is a gamble, and the stakes are monstrously high – nothing less than eternity. Let us be clear; relying on the theory that ‘the grave is the end’ is a gigantic gamble.

Let me take this as far as I can. Suppose that the theories put forth by agnostics and atheists to account for life are absolutely correct. Who is to say that beyond and behind these there is not a God who started it all?

Even if the universe and the earth are as old as the theories suggest, does this do away with God? Certainly not! Science, contend many (including intellectual giants like Isaac Newton and Michael Faraday), can only discover the handiwork of God anyway.

Besides, experience teaches that scientific ‘truth’ has a habit of changing. God, on the other hand, does not change. It is unwise to wager everything on presumptions founded on scientific theory.

Would a miracle do?

Jesus told the story of a rich man who died and went to hell. A beggar, who had lain at the rich man’s gate, also died and went to heaven. The rich man wanted God (Abraham in the story) to send the beggar to warn his family. He did not want them to join him in that terrible place of punishment and anguish.

But, Lazarus was not allowed to go. God said the rich man’s family had the Bible to warn them. If they did not believe the Scriptures, they still would not believe even if someone returned from the dead (Luke 16:19-31).

It is easy to sympathise with the rich man. He thought a miracle would be persuasive. And this might seem to be the case for the ‘life ends at death’ devotee. How many people have sworn: ‘If I could just have a sign, if I could just know for sure, then I would believe’. And it does seem logical. If God would only grant a miracle, it would make it all a lot easier.

But God has done so! He has given assurance to all men, says the apostle Paul, by raising Jesus from the dead (Acts 17:31). God’s way is faith, faith that is placed in Jesus of Nazareth who died in our place on the cross and then rose from the dead. Those who reject the evidence of the resurrection of Christ are like the rich man’s relatives; they remain unpersuaded, even by a miracle.

The end of the story

The woman at the store buying the lottery tickets was not making an all-or-nothing bet. But so many are doing so, wagering everything on their belief that the grave is the end. Like the rich man, they will be shocked when they lose their bet. But their discovery will come only after the wager has been collected by the ‘house’. Hell is a truth learned too late.

Kent Philpott
Kent Philpott is pastor of Miller Avenue Baptist Church, Mill Valley, California, and director of Earthen Vessel Publishing.
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