The question “After death, what then?” primarily turns minds toward the answer, “heaven or hell.” As Charles Wesley wrote in his Hymn 59 in Hymns for Children (1763): “Soon as from earth I go, What will become of me? Eternal happiness or woe Must then my portion be!”
A secondary, yet important, concern is “What will I leave behind?” Sunday during my sermon I thought of the following song by Sherrill Brown,[i] but could only remember the distinct question. It is not in our church book, but I found it in the Mull’s Singing Convention Book, No. 5.
1. After I leave for worlds unknown, over the border line;
Never again on earth to roam, what will I leave behind?
2. Will I be missed by those I love, or have I been unkind?
Have I been true to God above, what will I leave behind?
3. This is my prayer, O Lord, today, let me be wholly Thine;
And when I am called from earth away, let heaven then be mine.
Chorus: Leave behind, yes, leave behind, what will I leave behind?
After I leave for worlds unknown, what will I leave behind?
Will I leave behind care or unconcern?
Jerusalem’s king Hezekiah, during the last 15 years of his life, is an interesting case study of one’s attitude toward a future of which he will not be part. 2 Kings 20:19 records his response to Isaiah’s prophecy that the wealth of the kings would Judah would be carried into Babylon, as well as his male descendants being carried into captivity and made eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. “Then said Hezekiah unto Isaiah, Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken. And he said, Is it not good, if peace and truth be in my days?” His response is a mixed signal. “Good is the word of the Lord” expresses resignation to the will of God. But it is tinctured with a bit of “après moi le deluge” – what happens after his disappearance matters little to him.[ii] Hezekiah has gratitude of the “peace and truth” in his days but thinks little on the consequences to his descendants. Hezekiah may find peace in the facts that (1) postponement of judgment is evidence of God’s mercy; (2) the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy assures Hezekiah he will have male offspring to sit upon his throne; and (3) there is some rest for the nation, since their current struggles will not be immediately followed by another. Yet Hezekiah is a study in contrast. When he found his future was shorty ending in death, he turned his face to the wall and prayed and cried and sought God. When he found Judah’s future end in defeat by Babylon, he simply agreed to it.
In contrast Joseph, also resigning to the good word of the Lord, made future plans in what seems a strange request. One who had spent 93 years of his life in Egypt and only 17 in the promised land (Genesis 37:2) identified himself and his future – even the future of his bones – with God’s people and God’s promise, “God will surely visit you.” Hebrews 11:22 – “By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.” Compare Genesis 50:24-26. We should have some concern for the future of our families, our churches, our countries, our world. When I am dead, all else is not dead. God’s work is this world is much larger in time than my little threescore and ten. What I can, I should “pass it on.” See 2 Timothy 2:2.
Will I leave behind a witness, good or bad?
If we are remembered, we will leave behind some witness, whether it be good or whether it be bad. Adolf Hitler in a sense still speaks to us. His witness is evil, “turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways.” (Cf. Psalm 37:38.)
Abel, the first recorded man to physically die, killed by his brother, is an example of a lasting witness for good. Hebrews 11:4 – “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.” As Watts says, “The living know that they must die; But all the dead forgotten lie.” But some of the dead are remembered – what they did, what they wrote, what is written about them, what is said of them. By his faith and offering Abel has something to speak to us. By serving God now, in the time he has given us, we may have something good to say after we are gone. Of David it is said, “he had served his own generation by the will of God” Acts 13:36. God’s principle sets the future in the minds of the past, that they prepare a witness for it. See Psalm 78:4-7.
We do not know what the future holds. Someday God will bring the time of this old world to a close. He shall do so as he pleases, but in the meantime we should not live if all of time is wrapped up in us. Consider, when you are gone, “What will I leave behind?”
[i] Copyright 1958, Stamps Quartet Music Co., Inc., Dallas, Texas in Happy Songs: Our First 1958 Book for Singing Conventions, Singing Schools, Sunday Schools, Etc., John T,. Cook, editor; Here are two versions that can be heard on YouTube, by the Chestnut Grove Quartet and Elder Jason Lowery. Other songs by Brown include “A Little Touch of Heaven,” “God Will Wipe Our Tears Away,” and “I Will Meet You There.”
[ii] “Après moi le deluge” is a French expression meaning “after me (let) the deluge (come).” The phrase is usually attributed to King Louis XVI. It refers to the excessive lifestyles of the French aristocracy and its continuing detriment to France. Let the deluge come; it makes no difference to me. So Hezekiah seems to suggest that what happens after his death matters little if the kingdom can enjoy good days under his rule.