I am paraphrasing from Brian McLaren's book, A New Kind of Christian. Actually, I'm really downright copying it word for word almost. But he sums up some things I've been thinking about lately, and he writes them better than I can think them.
"Once upon a time, the universe banged into being for no apparent reason and with no apparent purpose. Someday it will end and there will be no one left to remember it ever existed. In the meantime, we live and die. And that's about it."
If I am aware that I am going to die someday, I have to cram all the experiences and pleasures I can into the limited time frame I am allotted, and I have to fear or flee from every pain or frustration, since they are wasting precious time that I wish were being filled with pleasure. Effectively, I have just eliminated from my life all the pleasures that take a long time and all the virtues that require discipline and difficulty. And what's the consequence of that? I become superficial, hurried, maybe frantic, always disappointed, always afraid that I won't get happy and stay happy. It is bad enough if I choose to live that way, but what if a whole world of people live that way?
But what if I believe differently?
"A creator designs the universe to produce life. The Creator cares about everything he has made, including us. The Creator reaches out to us in many ways, constantly inviting us into a relationship of trust. When we die, we enter into the Creator's presence so that in some sense this life that we now live is a prelude to a dimension of life that never dies."
What is the consequence of this belief? I realize I should focus on things that will have value not only in this life but also in the life to come. I am able to maximize the joys of life, to slow down and really savor them, rather than rushing through them to cram the next one in. I find myself being grateful for every small pleasure of this life, seeing it as a gift from God and seeing a preview of heaven. I am enabled to see the hardships of life in a new perspective too, as character-building opportunities to grow and develop the sinews and muscles and backbone of my soul. I feel that the trials of this life aren't even worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed in the next life. I feel a confidence and freedom from worry in the face of every trial, including the trial of death. I do not live life in a hurry or in a desperate attempt to distract myself from a meaningless end; instead, I live life to the fullest, life as God intends it to be lived. If many people believe this way, then the world will become a very different kind of place, so that in some real way we can say we are entering and experiencing the kingdom of God.
One note, I know atheist and deists (defined here as those who do not believe in an afterlife but who need something besides chance to account for our existence) who clearly do not live like they believe. They do much good in this world. But, I think, perhaps, they are voicing a different belief than they are actually living, in a sense they are being dishonest with themselves. We are all created as images of a perfect God, so I believe it can't be helped.
On the other hand, I profess to follow Christ, but sometimes I am anxious and I worry. Mostly I worry about the safety of my children.
But I am learning.
To live within the Kingdom of God on this earth is a discipline.