What can Agnostics expect in the afterlife?
One reader asked: “Agnosticism is a doctrine that man cannot know about things beyond the realm of his experiences, in particular about God. It is a skeptical reservation of judgment in the absence of proof rather than an explicit rejection of any divine order. What do you have to say as to the afterlife of true agnostics? If you can give me your thoughts on this, without Bible speak, as people like myself can only understand 21st century American street language. I would appreciate. Please no parables. Thank you.”
Last week, we began to respond to this by trying to establish a common foundation. One difficulty in answering these types of questions is that every person will come to the table with a different set of presuppositions about how the world works. In the previous column, therefore, I talked about how I believe that God is knowable because he makes himself known. I would encourage you to read that article if you are able. I would like to build on that today.
God has spoken to us, revealed himself, made himself known and knowable in his word, the Bible. Some 2,000 years ago, Jesus stepped into the world as the ultimate manifestation of God making himself known. One biblical author described this historical transition: “God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1,2). In other words, Jesus came as the physical representation of the Word of God, a description of God. In Jesus, God made himself known in a new way. Jesus came as the visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15).
When an Agnostic ponders, “I wonder what God is like,” there is no need to look any further than Jesus Christ. This is what the Bible claims. Jesus’ friend, John, described it like this: “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known” (John 1:18). How? In the GodMan, Jesus, who took on the likeness of sinful flesh and lived among us so that he could be known (John 1:14).
Jesus came to make God known and knowable. This was accomplished in his life and by his death. Scriptures teach that mankind is relationally separated from God because of sin - human rebellion against God. The reason we don’t know God intimately is because of this rebellion. In order to restore the relationship, God is willing to forgive the guilty party (us), but in order to forgive and still remain eternally just, he had to punish someone in our place (Jesus).
Because of this reality, the Bible makes the bold claim that Jesus is the only way to the Father. Jesus stated in John 14:6-7, “I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That is quite exclusive. He is not one of the ways. He is the way, the only way. The only source of life.
This is true because to receive Jesus is to receive the Father. In John 13:20, Jesus says that whoever receives him receives the one who sent him. In John 14:9, he says the one who has seen him has seen the Father. Why is this true? Because, as Jesus claimed, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). As such, to receive Jesus is to receive the Father, and to reject Jesus is to reject the Father.
How does someone receive Jesus and, hence, the Father? Not through works, but by trust. John 3:16 states, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who trusts in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”
And this is the only way: “Anyone who believes in [Jesus] is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not trusted in the name of the One and Only Son of God” (John 3:17). Receiving and rejecting Jesus are the only options. There is no neutral ground. In Matthew 12:30 Jesus said that you are either for him or against him. You can’t be Switzerland in this spiritual reality. You can’t claim ignorance as your defense.
So what happens to true Agnostics - those who don’t blatantly deny God, but simply say that he cannot be known? Well, if the above quoted verses are true, then he stands condemned before a knowable, holy God.
Those aren’t my words, those are the words of Jesus.
If you read this column, you have, in some small way, encountered a knowable God. Will you receive him or reject him? Ignorance is not a claim you can make.