Anatomy of an Afterlife

My wife is hooked on "Grey's Anatomy," ABC's primetime soap opera that chronicles the life of surgical resident Merideth Grey and her life within (and occasionally outside) the walls of Seattle Grace Hospital. If you've never seen the show, think: Days of Our Lives meets ER and you'll be in the right ballpark. I'm not really in to the show, but I'm in to my wife who is in to the show, so I do my part and watch it alongside her so I have leverage when there is a basketball game on TV.

Tonight's episode was the third in a three-part series in which the lead character struggles with whether or not life is worth living, and ultimately falls off a pier during the rescue efforts from a tragic ferry accident, and finds herself in today's culture of the afterlife. In the afterlife, she is confronted by past characters on the show who died prematurely, and faced with the decision of whether or not to return to "real life."

Let me repeat: I'm not in to this show. But tonight's episode provided such profound insight into the mind of today's culture as it relates to the afterlife and spiritual things that I found myself glued to the TV. Here are a couple of observations about the anatomy of an afterlife, as preached by prime time television.

1. Everything you want is on earth, and the afterlife contains only moments of that thing.

On tonight's episode, Merideth met Denny - the deceased fiancee of one of her fellow residents. As she considered whether or not she wanted to return to earth where her own "true love" waited for her, Denny told her of his afterlife experience in which he is doomed to only experience moments of closeness with his fiancee. He feels her, and dreams that she can feel him, but warns Meredith that that's all there is to the afterlife - "passing moments."

If it is true that everything we want is on earth, and the afterlife contains only moments of that thing, where do we find hope? What is our source of confidence that justice will be served, mercy will be shown, and this life proven worthwhile? The Bible presents the exact opposite truth: Everything we want is in heaven, and the current life contains only glimpses of that thing. Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.

2. The afterlife is relative to the person who experiences it. Furthermore, the afterlife is an experience rather than a destination:

At one point in the drama tonight as Merideth attempts to determine whether she wants to return to earth, she asks Denny "Is this really happening." His reply sent chills down my spine. "I don't know," he said. "This is your afterlife, not mine."

Not only is this type of worldview contrary to what biblical Christianity teaches, again it doesn't provide any source of hope for the future. If each of us faces a different afterlife experience, we cannot be certain that the God of justice will reconcile the fact that right now bad things do happen to good people. There is no hope for justice, or any hope period.

The idea that the afterlife is an experience rather than a destination is appealing because experiences change. And from the human perspective we have control over what happens to us in our experiences - although they may be the result of our decisions, we have the ability to "un do" the decisions in order to change our experiences. We get a chance to rectify bad decisions and make things right - no matter what the decision is.

Again, that's a different perspective than what Christianity brings to the table. We have been given the gift of life by an Eternal God, and have been given the responsibility to do good in this life. Since we have all chosen at one time or another to do bad with this life, God offered us justice and mercy at the same time - by sending His Son to pay the price we owed for breaking God's law. And God offers us eternal life by faith, but He's clear that the terms of His gift are to be accepted in this life. Death isn't the doorway into a new transitory experience over which we have a great deal of control. Hebrews 9:27 says "it is given for man to die once, and then the judgment."

So What?
Many in today's culture would have no significant problem with the way the afterlife was presented on tonight's episode of Grey's Anatomy. They wouldn't die for the portrayal, but would probably say something like, "Their guess is as good as mine."

As Christians - those who believe in One who returned from the grave - we're staring directly into the eyes of a world that has no hope. Hope that is found in this messed up world is no hope at all. This world is a good place. I have much of what I want, need, and desire. I have a loving wife, a great job, some terrific friends, an outstanding family, and much to enjoy on this earth. But even with that, I'm weary from turning on the news and seeing injustice, war, hate, tragedy, and death.

As much as my world is a great place, the world is no place to hope at all.

I'm looking for a city, whose builder and maker is God. I'm looking for a time when there won't be injustice. I'm looking for a day when I won't have to worry about which of the bad candidates will be my ruler. I'm looking for a day when I won't get sick, won't see death, won't have sadness, or pain, or tragedy. And I'm not going to find it here.

There is hope, but it's not in the fleeting moments of good I see here. I have an eternal hope, and it's found in the God of the Bible.


chloeadele said...

Like your wife, I really enjoy this show. And I cry every stinking time. If Ben comes home to find me crying, it's almost a no brainer - I've been watching Grey's. For whatever reason, it pulls my heartstrings this way and that, and I LOVE it.

I got the sense they were trying to portray Meredith's afterlife as a sort of purgatory. And she only had a short period of time to decide what would happen to her next. I even thought I faintly heard one of the 'dead guys' say something like 'this isn't heaven and it isn't hell.'

I hadn't occured to me that it reflected our culture's mindset in regard to a God-less afterlife where what happens to them is up to them. How very sad. I appreciate you pointing that out. and you're right, as usual. We're not going to see justice here on earth. How hopeless it must feel to think that your afterlife will not have it either?