Life After Death

Life After Death

Kirk at four years of age

Kirk at four years of age

What I am about to tell you happened when I was a small boy, but the events have remained vivid to this day. Since then, I have had six children and I have learned to never underestimate what goes on in the mind of a small child. 

One of my most powerful, and earliest experiences of God occurred one evening as a small boy when I stepped outdoors shortly before going to bed. It was a small house, some would call it a shack, with no running water, no bathroom, and a trapdoor in the floor of the main room that opened into a large, hand-dug hole where my mother stored her canned fruits and vegetables on boards set into the earth under the house. A dirt road ran past with a forest on the far side that extended to the border of the Riding Mountain National Park. Eight miles from the nearest town and a hundred miles from the nearest city, the night sky was black as velvet with a million stars draped from horizon to horizon. As I gazed up into the universe, I was suddenly struck by the presence of God. He seemed to be everywhere but, at the same time I experienced an enormous gulf between myself and God. I had never felt so lost as at that moment. It was deeply unsettling, and I turned back into the house and tried to think about other things.

Even as a very young boy I knew about death; it’s pretty hard to avoid seeing it on a small farm. Occasionally a cow would die and, one afternoon, someone ran over our dog out on the road. The truck was stopped, men were standing around, and the dog was still alive when I went out there, but he wasn’t looking good at all. Someone sent me back to the house. What really bothered me was that I knew that someday I would die too. I had heard about heaven but, at that point in my life, I was pretty sure I would not be there when I died because I had already done lots of things that were wrong.

Then she asked me if I wanted to do this. I said, “No.”

My mother had not grown up in a religious home, but several years earlier, she had decided to get serious about her relationship with God. One day in the kitchen, she explained to me how I could have eternal life when I died. She was just learning all these things herself, so her explanation was pretty simple and basic … but I found out later in life that that is exactly the way it is supposed to be.

Essentially, I learned three things:

  1. The reason I felt so distant from God was because my own wrong doings had created an infinite gulf between God and me.

  2. God loved the world, including me, to the extent that Jesus Christ took the sins of humanity upon himself, so that if anyone believes in Him, He gives that person eternal life.

  3. I had to decide for myself whether to invite Christ into my life or not.

Because I was a small boy, used to doing what I was told to do, she made it clear that no one could tell me what to do about this, not her or my father. It had to be a “real” decision on my part. To underscore why I needed to be sure about this, she told me that once I decided to ask Jesus to come into my life, I would belong to God for the rest of my life. Then she asked me if I wanted to do this.

I said, “No.”

I explained that I was not yet ready to do that. I did not want to be lost forever, but I was also scared of God.

Milky Way  by Ryan Hutton

Milky Way by Ryan Hutton

I remember those nights that followed, lying awake in my bed, thinking about God and eternity. Often, coyotes would howl in the night, giving voice to my feeling of being lost forever. Still, my fear of God was greater and for no good reason I could think of. I very clearly remember the night when it finally sank in that if Jesus had died for me, then I could trust him. In my young mind, nothing was worse than dying, and He had done that for me. I called my mother into the bedroom and told her I was ready. I was just a small boy and prayed a very simple prayer, but I had thought hard about it and I meant every word. It went like this …

Lord Jesus. I believe in you. Thank you for dying for me. Forgive me for all my sins, come into my life, and take me to heaven when I die. Amen.

I’ve remembered that night to this day. It was the most important thing I have ever done. So hard, but so simple. 

I hesitate to tell people how old I was when I put my faith in Christ, lest they scoff at the idea that a small child of pre-school age could, with understanding, make such a decision. Can it really be that simple? Jesus once said,

Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.”[1]

Isn’t that what we should expect? Something as important as this should not be solely the domain of the most intelligent, or best educated, or the minute fraction of people who have had the benefit of a seminary education. It should be simple enough to be grasped by a child, or a person with mental disabilities, or the completely uneducated. 

You are probably not a child anymore, but it is not too late to receive the gift of eternal life. As my mother once told me, however, from that point on, you will belong to God.

You are probably not a child anymore, but it is not too late to receive the gift of eternal life.

Eternal life started within my soul that night and someday, at the end of human history, physical resurrection will complete that process. I no longer fear death, I am ready to walk through that door that everyone of us must walk. There is something about knowing that you will live forever that changes how you see life and death, as well as how you feel inside, and knowing that the best is yet to come. The most fulfilling thing I have ever experienced, by far, is the presence of God. No longer is there a feeling of infinite lostness when I look up at the night sky. Instead there is the thrill of knowing that the One who spoke the universe into existence, knows me and I know Him … even a child can, and you can too. 

 [1]New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Mk 10:14–15). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

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