One of the features of life that I find curious is the way that people often fail to think through the implications of positions which they claim to hold.
A classic example of this phenomenon is the way in which people will happily sing along to John Lennon's secular anthem "Imagine" without giving any thought to the darkness of the world he describes. He is presupposing a world without God and in which death is the end, and that is a very dark world indeed.
This point was well made by the British philosopher Bertrand Russell in his 'Litany of despair.' Russell thought through consistently the meaning of a secular worldview and he wrote that it meant that we must accept:
'...that man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs are but the outcomes of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.'
This bleak assessment ultimately trivialises everything that human beings do. Nothing we do is fundamentally serious because whatever we do eventually disappears into the unending void of death. Whether we live a life of virtue or wickedness, we will all meet exactly the same fate. As Ecclesiastes declares:
'.... one fate comes to all, to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As is the good man, so is the sinner; and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath.' (Ecclesiastes 9:2)
The Christian faith, however, presents us with a very different account of the human situation. On the basis of the witness of Scripture and nature (Genesis 1:1, John 1:1, Psalm 19:1-2, Romans 1:19-20) it tells us that we are not just an accident heading for death. Human beings have been created to know and love God forever and this will happen in spite of the existence of death, as the resurrection of Jesus Christ both demonstrates and makes possible (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-58). Because they believe this, Christians declare in the Apostles Creed that they believe in 'the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.'
It is important to note, however, that life after death is not good news for everyone. As Bishop John Pearson explains in his commentary on the Creed, what the orthodox Christian belief in the life everlasting tells us is:
'..... that the unjust after their resurrection and condemnation shall be tormented for their sins in hell and so shall go to be continued in torments forever, so as neither the justice of God shall never cease to inflict them nor the persons of the wicked ever cease to subsist and suffer them; and that the just after their resurrection and absolution shall as the blessed of their Father obtain the inheritance, and as the servants of God enter into their master's joy, freed from all possibility of death, sin and sorrow, filled with all conceivable and inconceivable fullness of happiness, confirmed in an absolute security of an eternal enjoyment, and so they shall continue with God and with the Lamb forever more.'
This picture of the ultimate fate of humankind reflects the clear teaching of Scripture (see Daniel 12:2, Matthew 25:46, John 3:16-18, 2 Corinthians 5:10, Revelation 20:11-15) and what it reminds us is that, as CS Lewis writes in his book The Great Divorce, there is an inescapable binary choice facing all human beings. 'There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done."'
The biblical images depicting the sufferings of the lost are all symbols of the experience of those who have chosen their way over God's. In the words of the evangelical theologian JI Packer: 'The unbeliever has preferred to be by himself, without God, defying God, having God against him, and he shall have his choice.'
If this is true, then the decisions that we make in this life are not trivial, but dreadfully serious. One fate will not come to all, and therefore we must do the utmost that we can to ensure that we and others experience the eternal joys of heaven rather than the eternal pains of hell.
It is from this perspective that that we must view the recent decision by the Methodist Conference to approve of cohabitation and permit same-sex marriages, and the proposal from the Bishop of Liverpool that the Church of England should move in the same direction. The issue is that Scripture is clear that those who engage in unrighteous sexual activity (i.e any form of sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage without repentance) will not 'inherit the kingdom of God' (1 Corinthians 6:11) but will be lost forever.
Now, we cannot pronounce on the fate of any individual who engages in such conduct, because we cannot rule out future repentance, or mitigating circumstances known only to God. However, we can say that they are running an appallingly serious risk with their souls and therefore the Church and individuals within it cannot, and must not, do anything that will suggest to them that this is not the case.
We cannot risk the loss of people's souls. It's time to get serious.
Martin Davie is a lay Anglican theologian and Associate Tutor in Doctrine at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.