Is Christianity Just Wishful Thinking?

“Martyr in the Arena”, by Fyodor Bronnikov, 1869

I was reading a book by an atheist author who claims to be a former minister yet seems to know very little about Christianity. While the book was heavy on sarcasm and light on reason, there was one point I’d like to address today. In one section, he proclaims that Christians merely “yearn for… an escape from death.” So what about that? Am I, as a Christian, just a victim of deluded, wishful thinking, only too eager to believe death isn’t really the end of me in spite of the cold, hard reality? Let’s work through that today.

Before the comment about Christians yearning for an escape from death, author David Madison proclaims, “There is no exit from death. Period. It is unbecoming to be so afraid of death, and it’s disgraceful that religions have specialized in marketing ways to get out of it.”[1] Let’s start by refreshing our former minister’s memory of some Scriptures that speak on this matter of death, and see if his charge against “religions” applies to Christianity.

  • The author of Hebrews writes that “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” [Heb 9:27] The Christian is under no delusions of either escaping death or death being an escape. Instead, we face it head-on, knowing it is coming.
  • Jesus reminded His listeners, “I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” [Lk 12:4-5] We are not to fear death, but rather the wrath of God that justly lies on all of us until we are reconciled to Him.
  • Jesus told His disciples that “an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.” [Jn 16:2] We are to not be surprised when death is a consequence of following Christ.
  • The apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians of his earnest hope that “Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” [Phil 1:20-21] Paul was prepared to serve God whether that involved a long hard life or imminent death, and every Christian is to be similarly prepared.
  • John tells us of the martyrs he sees in his revelation who “did not love their life even when faced with death.” [Rev 12:11] In fact, almost every book in the New Testament mentions that Christians would experience persecution, with several explicitly stating that it could include death.

Indeed, Tertullian wasn’t exaggerating when he said that the blood of martyrs was the seed of the Church [1]: Christians were massacred for much of the first couple of centuries after Christ, and have continued to be killed in Communist and Muslim countries in particular. And these are the very places and times when Christianity has grown the most. If Christians were afraid of death and seeking an escape from it, choosing a life that often led directly to death – and cruel, torturous deaths at that – sure seems a strange way to go about it!

Historically, Christians have not been afraid of death. And why would we? We know this life, that can end in the blink of an eye, is not our home, and so we can hold on loosely to it. Madison’s comment about fear of death makes absolutely no sense when compared to the vast, consistent testimony of Christians over the last 2 millennia sacrificing their lives as they counted physical death a small price to pay in service to their Lord. That fear of death is antithetical to Christian trust in our risen Savior can be confirmed with even a brief reading of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, or the testimonies of the many Christians who suffered and were brutally killed in atheist countries like the USSR, Red China, and the Eastern Block countries of Europe after WWII, or watching videos of ISIS beheading or crucifying Christians.

With all this acceptance of death, then, is Christianity some kind of death-obsessed cult like the “Heaven’s Gate” group that all committed suicide back in 1997? Hardly. As Paul pointed out, going home would be good, but there was also still good work to be done here. So we can live joyfully for the Lord while also looking forward to being with the Lord someday. But are we really only seeking immortality when we become Christians? It’s not a matter of wishing for immortality, but rather recognizing the fact of our immortality, as testified to by the God who has proven Himself trustworthy throughout history, and then choosing wisely how we will spend eternity. If we had nothing on which to base this idea of life after death, then Mr. Madison might have a point. But we have the testimony of God, as recorded in His Word, as well as the evidence of the Resurrection of Jesus, the “first fruits” of those who have died. [1Cor 15:20] Death may be a closed door where we can’t see and measure what’s on the other side, but that is no reason for skeptics to assume that it is just an impassable brick wall when we have the testimony of our Creator that it is a doorway each of us can and will pass through. Will you be ready when the door opens for you?


[1] Although it’s certainly not a book I can recommend (in fact, it’s probably the worst atheist book I’ve read so far), for completeness, it’s “Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: A Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith”, by David Madison (Valley, WA: Tellectual Press, 2016), p.145.
[2] Tertullian, Apologeticus pro Christianis, Chapter 50 (as commonly paraphrased).

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