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 five-year-old Eva. I told a story about a bunny princess named Gertrude who only wore plaid and a squirrel prince named Hank who only wore cotton pajamas.
I paused for the expected interruption and then listened, smiling to tears, as Eva made her revisions. Gertrude became Lizzy in a beautiful pink dress. Hank became Lizzy’s best friend, Molly. She, too, had a beautiful dress—hers was purple. They also had ponies.
As Eva imagined out loud, I thanked my Father for the wonder of my girl. At that moment, I knew Love like I never had before—eternal life in the ever-present now.
We transitioned from story time 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 knew 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 mischievously. I could see the wheels spinning in her little mind.
Then she stated, all clever like, “Times two, Daddy.”
“Times two, Daddy” 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. We love this game, because it reveals something profoundly beautiful and true.
You see, this is a game of measurements played with a measureless revelation; a game where we apply finite equations to a Love that transcends dimensions of time and space.
Measureless & Timeless
Can you be saved after you die?
Is my perspective on the nature of love finite?
In Ephesians 3, Paul wrote, “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.” (Ephesians 3:16-19)
Using the language of earth, Paul played 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. Then, he encouraged us to try and take Love’s measure—to be “filled” to “the fullness.”
After Paul exhausted his imagination with a litany of love, he smiled cleverly—at least, that’s how I imagine it. Then, with all the guilelessness wonder of a five-year-old, he said, “Times two, Daddy.”
Or, “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 linear 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.”
Jesus on a cross,
one with Father and Holy Spirit,
transcending time and space,
beyond our capability to count or measure;
beyond our ability to comprehend,
and beyond our capacity 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. Even the powers of hell cannot separate us from this Measureless Love. (See Rom 8:38)
Penal Substitutionary Atonement
Can you be saved after you die?
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 Love’s nature can be undone and exposed as infinitesimal with a five-year-old’s multiplier of two.
As Christians and, more significantly, as humans, we’re aware of the indwelling measureless nature of love, know it to be wonderfully true beyond our capacity to understand, and know it’s our salvation from sin and every lie of separation that sin propagates. But like Adam and Eve, who were deceived by the self-righteous delusion of control, we often demand that God’s love fit into the box of our finite understanding.
This is where a proper academic theologian would write in-depth about atonement theories—specifically, the theory of Penal Substitutionary Atonement, as that theory has ravaged Western Christian thinking for a long time. 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, God’s beloved child, became that cruel and bloody payment.
As I’ve already noted, many of us have probably heard it presented this way: “God can’t look upon sin,” or “The Father looked away.” In other words, “Papa turned away from His boy.”
This theory propagates the idea that God’s reconciling love is only available because Jesus has been punished as a payment for our sins. It’s an atonement theory constructed to support a retributive lens on God. This atonement theory is built on the delusion that sin is powerful enough to separate us from God’s love, and it makes a religion out of measuring the distances between us.
It suggests that Measureless Love took measure and determined humanity to be 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 Love must submit to our finite equations regarding salvation and reconciliation; as if God counts our sins against us.
My five-year-old exposed this foolishness with a multiplier of two. And 2 Corinthians 5:19 tells us that at the cross, “God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting anyone’s sins against them.”
The notion that God counts sin is an arrogant finite approach to His love, because it preaches separation and retribution with vague promises of some future reward that cannot be experienced today. It’s the “What am I still lacking?” superhighway that promises eternal life but never delivers. This notion so belittles the nature of Greater Love as to be laughed at. Yet sadly, so many Christians have had to navigate their faith through this measurement-based certainty.
We cling to experiences with Measureless Love as 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, despite this Good News, many sincere people keep drowning in the ocean of the church’s religious infatuation with making people pay. And punishment is the payment.
Many Christians believe most people must pay by being condemned to some form of conscious, eternal torment.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.
The Clock Is Ticking…
Can you be saved after you die? 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 a clock attached to it, and it’s counting down. 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 even higher, and it’s smithereens for the whole world.
It’s called “the race against time.”
Without time, we have nothing with which to measure the severity of the potential destruction. If the clock isn’t ticking, the bomb can’t go off, and, well, there’s no money to be made off that movie—or that religion.
For those who practice retributive thinking, God is not ultimately LOVE; God is ultimately TIME, and when time runs out, God’s measureless reconciling love must submit to it.
In measurement-based systems, God’s forgiveness, grace, kindness, and reconciling love are ultimately limited aspects of His nature, while we redefine wrath and condemnation as God’s eternal and defining punishing attribute.
Every measurement-based system essentially preaches that Adam’s actions leading to the fall have had eternal ramifications, whereas Jesus’ reconciling work at the cross is limited and constrained to the finite ticking of a clock. It’s as though God’s forgiveness, mercy, grace, healing, freedom, redemption, reconciliation, and restoration must submit to some finite measure of time.
Measurement-based systems focus on the measure of sin instead of the measureless nature of reconciling love.
And Jesus dismantled that ticking time bomb.
He stepped inside the delusion of separation and retribution. He set us free to play the game I played with my five-year-old—a game in which “Times two, Daddy” unveils an ever-expanding, never-ending, beyond all we can ask or imagine, measureless revelation of the perfection that is the nature of God and His heart toward us.
I believe the idea that Christ died as a payment made to span the distance between us is a fallen, finite way of thinking—a transactional delusion. Jesus stepped inside that lie at the cross and blew it up from the inside—get it?
Even better, the bomb has been dismantled. “It is finished,” Jesus declared. Reconciling Love transcends dimensions of time and space!
So, “Can you be saved after you die?”
I don’t know.
Yes, I sure hope so.
And 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. Even the powers of hell cannot 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 book, Leaving and Finding Jesus
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.