What Happens After You Die, Randy Frazee. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017.
Summary: An exploration of the Bible’s teaching on what happens to us after death, if we know Christ or if we don’t, both before he returns, and after.
Randy Frazee is a pastor, seminary trained, and a teacher of the Bible. Yet when his mother died of pancreatic cancer, and even though she was a believer, Frazee was confronted with a profound challenge to his faith. In the beginning of this book he writes:
“The more I thought about it, the more I struggled to believe that at the moment my mother breathed her last breath, her spirit exited her body and went to be anywhere, let alone with the Lord. I just didn’t have a mental model for this concept, and yet we Christians, base our entire hope on this reality. I know some say they have, but I have never personally met a spirit being. Did such beings really exist?
My mind continued to wander without permission. Even if life after death was true, and a person’s spirit did exit the body, the idea of a naked spirit entering into heaven, floating on clouds forever, and continually singing worship songs–maybe with earned wings, like Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life–just didn’t seem all that compelling to me. It was certainly better than the scriptural alternative, but it was still not something I craved.
‘I don’t believe in heaven.’ I whispered” (p. xv).
This led to an intense time of searching the Bible for answers, and this book is the product of his search. He begins with the question his mother asked him on her deathbed, “Is Jesus enough?” He explores the questions of works and faith concluding that faith in Christ’s saving work is indeed enough.
Then he moves on to the questions of the afterlife, breaking his exploration into two parts–life in between (before the return of Christ) and life forever (after the return of Christ, the resurrection and final judgment). In each case, he considers the destiny of those who have put faith in Christ, and those who do not know Christ. He does not go where scripture does not, with regard to life in between, or the intermediate state, about which scripture says little. He says that our spirits either go on to be with God in Christ if we have believed, or to Hades, the place where those who do not know Jesus await judgment.
Following the return of Christ, he teaches that the unrighteous will face the judgment where the books recording all of what they have done in their lives are opened. By their refusal of Christ and their deeds, they are destined for “the lake of fire.” Frazee leaves it an open question as to whether this is everlasting punishing (eternal conscious punishment) or everlasting punishment (annihilation), indicating that there are thoughtful biblical scholars who affirm each of these possibilities, neither of which are particularly desirable!
For the believer, the destiny is written in another book, the book of life. It means new bodies, life not “up there” but “down here” in a new creation, and the new city God will establish and make his home. Rather than ethereal spirits floating on clouds, we will be embodied creatures in God’s new heaven and earth with work to do. Frazee then concludes the book with a short chapter on “life now”–how we live as people of faith and witnesses to hope until that time.
Each of the major sections concludes with a question and answer section addressing questions ranging from “are there such things as ghosts?” and “Is there such a thing as purgatory or Limbo?” (he would argue there are not) to questions about rewards, pets, marriage, resurrection bodies, and food in the new creation. One of the most interesting was a question of whether we would retain memories, particularly of regrets or griefs, in the new creation. He suggests that the wiping away of tears involves a wiping of memories. I am not so sure, because of how significant our memories are to who we are. I wonder, rather if the thought is the healing of memories, where they remain, but no longer grieve us. After “life now” he includes questions on guardian angels (yes, we do have them), cremation, predictions about Christ’s return, and life after death or near death experiences.
The book not only references the scriptures Frazee studied throughout but includes a section at the back of just the texts, organized by his chapter headings. There is also a discussion guide for small groups.
Frazee gives us a readable, very personal discussion of these matters. It is ideal for anyone from young believer to someone really coming to terms with the question of the afterlife and our eternal destiny. It is straightforward rather than nuanced. Apart from the discussion of eternal punishment versus punishing, he doesn’t discuss differing scholarly views. He is pastoral and honest at the same time. While he thinks pastors should not either assure people that a loved one who as far as anyone knows did not know Christ is with the Lord (or not), he takes the approach that we must trust the Lord with this, and “this is what your loved one would want you to know.” Indeed, this book explores life’s ultimate questions, offering the fruit of Frazee’s own search on these vitally important matters.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.