Can You Be Saved After You Die?
Times Two, Daddy
Can you be saved after you die?
Many years ago…
It was bedtime and I was snuggling Eva. I told a story about a bunny princess named Gertrude who only wore plaid and a squirrel prince named Hank who only wore pajamas.
I paused for the expected interruption and then listened, smiling to tears, as Eva made her revisions. Gertrude became Lizzy with a beautiful pink dress. Hank became Lizzy’s best friend Molly. She too had a beautiful dress, hers was purple, and they also had ponies.
And as Eva imagined out loud, I thanked my Father for the wonder of this girl. At that moment, I knew love like I never had before.
We transitioned from storytime into our goodnight communion.
“Eva, you’re my favorite. I love you best,” I said. It’s a family phrase, a motto. I say this to all my kids. And it’s true, every time.
“I love you best too, daddy,” she responded and the game had begun.
“I love you to the tops of the trees and back.” I smiled.
“I love you to the tops of the trees, the moon, the stars, to Jupiter and back.” She knows how to play the game.
I went big, “I love you to the top of the trees, the moon, the stars, Jupiter, the universe, and to infinity and beyond.”
We continued for a few more minutes each taking turns surpassing the last statement, a million, billion, gazillion to infinity and beyond.
I had just exhausted my imagination with a litany of love when she looked at me cleverly; I could see the wheels spinning in her little mind.
Then she said, all clever like, “Times two, daddy.”
Times two, daddy. It flips everything on its head.
A five-year-old applies the smallest multiplier she comprehends and it blows up the foundations of all measurement-based thinking, including all the measuring that goes on within the Christian faith.
We have all played this game in some form or another. And we love this game because it reveals something profoundly beautiful and true.
You see, this is a game of measurements but it’s played with a measureless revelation.
Measureless & Timeless
“Can you be saved after you die?” I think that’s a question asked from a finite perspective on the nature of love…
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Eph 3:16-19
Paul, using the language of earth, plays the game I played with my five-year-old describing God’s love as wider than forever, longer than eternity, higher than a million, billion, gazillion, and deeper than infinity and beyond. And then he encourages us to try and take Loves measure; to be “filled” to “the fullness.”
After Paul has exhausted his imagination with a litany of love, he smiles cleverly. At least, that’s how I imagine it. Then, with all the guileless wonder of a five-year-old, he says, “times two, daddy.”
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.” Eph 3:20-21
The nature of God is love (See 1 John 4: 7-8).
Love is an infinite revelation (See Eph 3:16-21).
Love was before time existed (See John 17:5 & 24)
“Before time existed?” That statement stretches the imagination of most time travelers like us. What does it even mean?
I think it means that the nature of love is beyond our capacity to comprehend. The moment we think we have its measure, a five-year-old blows up our understanding with, “times two, daddy.”
God in Christ on a cross,
beyond time and space,
beyond our capability to count or measure;
beyond our capacity to comprehend,
and beyond our ability to describe.
But wonderfully, we try, and along the way, we awaken to discover and rediscover LOVE’S measureless ways.
And we know this love is true. We know beyond understanding that the measureless nature of LOVE is truer than anything else that’s ever been true; truer than life or death, powers or principalities, fears or worries, the present or future, not even the powers of hell can separate us from this measureless love… (See Rom 8:38)
Penal Substitutionary Atonement
“Can you be saved after you die?” The question I’d ask in response is, “Is God’s reconciling love limited to the constraints of time?”
God is love. He was before and will be after. His love is an ever-expanding revelation. Every measurement we attempt to apply to LOVES nature can be undone and exposed as infinitesimal with a five-year-old’s multiplier of two.
As Christians, we’re aware of the indwelling measureless nature of love, know it to be wonderfully true beyond our capacity to understand, know it’s our salvation from sin and every lie sin propagates. But like Adam and Eve, deceived by the self-righteous delusion of control, we often demand that God’s love fit into the box of our finite understanding.
And this is where a proper academic theologian would write in-depth about atonement theories, and specifically, the theory of Penal Substitutionary Atonement, as that theory has ravaged Western Christian thinking. But I’m not writing as a proper academic theologian, I’m writing as the dad of that five-year-old.
So, I’ll be brief. Penal Substitutionary Atonement is the belief, “that God is not willing or able to simply forgive sin without first requiring a payment for it.” Jesus, of course, being that bloody payment.
You’ve probably heard it presented this way, “God can’t look upon sin,” or “The Father looked away.” This theory propagates the idea that God’s reconciling love is only available because Jesus has been punished as a payment for our sins.
I believe this atonement theory is built upon a delusion that sin is so powerful it can separate us from God’s love, and then it makes a religion out of measuring the distance between us.
To me, it suggests that MEASURELESS LOVE took measure and determined humanity outside the parameters of His measureless love. As if LOVE could stop being wider than forever, longer than eternity, higher than a million, billion, gazillion, and deeper than infinity and beyond. As if an infinite God must submit to our finite equations regarding salvation; as if God counts, and more to the point, He counts our sins against us.
My five-year-old can blow this foolishness up with a multiplier of two. And 2 Cor 5:19, tells us that at the cross, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, NOT COUNTING people’s sins against them.”
The idea that God counts sin is an arrogant finite approach to His measureless love; it preaches separation and retribution with vague promises of some future reward that’s impossible to partake of today. It belittles God by suggesting He is in the counting business.
It’s so insulting to the nature of God’s love as to be laughed at. Yet sadly, so many Christians have had to navigate this measurement-focused thinking.
We cling to our experiences with Measureless Love like a sailor clings to the wreckage of a ship lost at sea. We know, in our hearts, that only a love that is measurelessly good, measurelessly reconciling, freely given and received, can save us. But we keep drowning in the ocean of the church’s religious infatuation with measuring sin and making people pay.
And the punishment of eternal conscious torment is how many Western Christians believe most people must pay.
And the clock is ticking.
The Clock Is Ticking…
“Can you be saved after you die?” The question I’d ask in response is, “Is God’s wrath eternal but His reconciling love, mercy, and forgiveness limited to the constraints of time?
The ticking clock is one of the most used tropes in Hollywood. There’s a bomb and clock attached to it, and it’s counting down, and there’s a red wire and a blue wire. And if the hero cuts the wrong wire, it’s smithereens for him, or her. And if it’s a good movie, the stakes are high and it’s smithereens for the whole world.
It’s called, “the race against time.” Without time, we have nothing to measure the potential destruction against. If the clock isn’t ticking, the bomb can’t go off, and, well, there’s no reason to watch that movie.
For those who practice in retributive thinking, God is not ultimately LOVE, god is ultimately TIME. And the clock is ticking. And when time runs out, God’s measureless reconciling love must submit to it.
In measurement-based systems, God’s forgiveness, and grace, and kindness, and reconciling love, are ultimately limited aspects of His nature, while we redefine wrath and condemnation as God’s eternal and defining punitive attribute.
Every measurement-focused system essentially preaches that what Adam did in the fall has eternal ramifications, but what Jesus did at the cross is limited and constrained to the finite ticking of a clock; as though God’s forgiveness, mercy, grace, redemption, reconciliation, and restoration must submit to some finite measure of time.
Every measurement-focused system is infatuated with the measure of sin instead of the measureless nature of reconciling love.
I’d like to propose that every measurement-focused paradigm is a counterfeit of who God is; that Jesus set us free from measuring distance and separation. He revealed that we are one.
I believe Jesus dismantled the ticking time bomb that is the retributive mindset, the measurement-focused system. He stepped inside the delusion of separation and retribution and set us free to play the game I played with my five-year-old; a game where “times two, daddy” reveals an ever-expanding, never-ending, beyond all we can ask or imagine, revelation of God’s heart toward us.
I believe the idea that Christ died as a payment made in order to span the distance between us is a fallen finite way of thinking, a delusion; and Jesus stepped inside that delusion at the cross and blew it up from the inside – He blew it up, get it.
“Can you be saved after you die?”
I don’t know.
I know beyond understanding, “…that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow
— not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.
No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord…” Rom 8:38-39
Excerpted from my forthcoming book, Leaving (& Finding) Jesus
CLICK HERE to Pre-Order
Jason Clark is a bestselling storyteller who writes to reveal the transforming kindness of the love of God in a world traumatized by the religious abuses done in the name of the love of God. He and his wife, Karen, live in North Carolina with their three children, Madeleine, Ethan, and Eva.