Reflections on Eternity: Lorraine Boettner’s View of Immortality
A few years ago, I was invited into a charity warehouse to choose some books. That organization has done a lot of great work in Eastern Europe, and they wanted to do something to support my ministry in Romania. I am always willing to accept any such help, so I gladly agreed to visit. This took the form of giving me some of their second-hand books. I was extremely thankful for the opportunity, but little did I realize what gems I would find as I dug through the piles of books. Three of the volumes I came home with were by Loraine Boettner. I had known about Boetner’s work on Predestination; however, I had not heard of any of his other books. Finding a book called Immortality was intriguing to me, so I took it.
Fast forward to today, I was recently out of action due to an inflamed tendon in my foot. This gave me plenty of opportunities to get through a significant chunk of my unread books. One of those books was Immortality. Taking it in my hands, I devoured it in one day and did not regret it. Boettner lays out a biblical understanding of death and eternity in a very satisfying and faithful manner.
We often think about Heaven and how we “cannot wait to get there,” but we often forget that we have to cross the river of death before Heaven’s gates are opened. When we do finally cross that river, we will wake up in the sight of our glorious Savior. There we will be immortal in His presence as He guards our souls for all eternity. Boettner works to show his readers these vital truths, and I want to make a similar effort in a much more condensed way in this article.
Death – the Road to Eternity
I was very thankful for how Boettner handled the subject of death. He did not downplay the seriousness of death and its heartbreaking consequences. Neither did he forget the reality that we, and our saved loved ones, will be gathered in the throne room of God. Boettner’s own words show his thoughts on death:
“Death holds no terrors for the true Christian. He sees it rather as the boundary line between this world and the next or as the portal through which His Lord entered to prepare the way and through which he now follows. He has prepared, watchful, sober, knowing that his appointed salvation is sure and that when his Lord comes, it will be for the purpose of leading him into his inheritance. The day of his death becomes, in fact, his coronation day. It means leaving a world of sin and sorrow, pain and disappointment, toil and hardship, and entering into a far better world, a world of holiness and blessedness, of happiness and freedom and accomplishment, and direct fellowship with God. In comparison with the present world, the future and eternal world is by all odds to be preferred. In fact, so great is the contrast that we may even say that the terrestrial life, as compared with the celestial, is of no value at all.”[i]
Boettner wanted to be clear about the result of death: we get to go to Heaven. Finally!
You may be well and healthy, but death is coming for you one day and may come at a surprising time. Are you ready for that day? Alternatively, you might be in your twilight days of life, and death is at your door. Take encouragement. You may have your ankles in the river of death, but march on. The Lord has promised that after a little more suffering, you will be free from pain forever.
Physical death is a reality which we all face. There are uncertainties and (if we are honest) small doubts behind that impenetrable veil. Experience may be silent, but we can be encouraged by studying the Truth about eternity. Read the Scriptures and see what there is to be learned about your eternal security in Christ (Jn. 6:39; Phil. 1:6). Remember that: “The death of the believer and of the unbeliever may appear outwardly to be the same, but from the divine viewpoint, there is a great difference.”[ii] You live in the light of that difference. You will see that in its fullness once you finish crossing the river.
The Impact of Eternity
Eternity is a long time. The endless stream of either suffering or paradise is what awaits each one of us after death. It is worthwhile taking some time from our busy schedules to think about where we are actually going. Are you awaiting the embrace of your Savior after death, or will you be swallowed up by the second death?
When we remember our immortal state, we will either be filled with joy or shocked to the core. The thought that you will be with Jesus as your immortal soul is unified with His is breathtaking. But thinking about the wrath that will be poured on you in Hell if you are not in Christ is terrifying. We, as Christians, rejoice in knowing that we will be with our Savior.
Boettner hits the nail on the head when thinking about this: “It must be admitted that if the prospect of a future existence be not illuminated by the light of the Gospel there is little in it to make it appear attractive and much in it to make one apprehensive if not indeed frightened.”[iii] Think about your view of Heaven. It may be that you need to reorient your thinking a little. Are you thinking biblically or emotionally? Take the time to reflect just now. What are you expecting when you get to those streets of gold? Is it being reunited with your lost relatives? Is it, perhaps, wandering around the city of God in all its splendor? Both of these are good things, but they are not the reason we go to Heaven. We go to Heaven because the Lord allowed us to respond positively to His gospel. He is the center point of eternity (for everybody: Hell and Heaven). We cannot consider death and eternity without the gospel. It is hopeless otherwise.
This should be something that gives us hope and thankfulness. We will go to Heaven one day, and we will be with our Savior because of His Gospel.
What about those who have not accepted the gospel? These are people we should keep in mind all our lives. They are people who need to hear the gospel repeatedly. As a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, you have the privilege and responsibility to take the Good News to your lost friends and family. The Lord works through those who are willing to speak His Word into people’s lives (Rom. 10:14); will you do this for the sake of lost souls?
The Reality of Mortality
A life with the correct eternal perspective is one of hope, joy, and peace. This perspective helps us remember that our trials in life are nothing compared to the pleasures awaiting in Heaven. It makes us useful towards building up and evangelizing. We recall Jesus’ own words about our temporary mortal state: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (Jn. 17:15). We are temporarily left in our mortality for a purpose. There are millions of people around the world in every generation, desperately clinging to false religion. These people need to hear the truth.
We are all mortal in our bodies, but our souls will all be immortal in eternity.
This reality has been realized by probably every culture throughout history (Boettner makes a similar point, and I have also written about this elsewhere).[iv] Nations of people realizing this has led to entire civilizations being built on the lie of false religion. This is such a bland hope of reaching eternal Paradise (think Egypt and Greece). Immortality is so clear to us in our earthly existence that we are destined to think about it. We must know what eternity will look like and how to make sure it will be good. This has led to many false religions, but we have a sure hope in the gospel. Those tribes and nations may try to earn their salvation, but we do not have to because all the merits of salvation are from Christ Himself. He is the One who said, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30), and so, it is finished.
People need to hear this message. Their current mortality is fading, only to be replaced with a judgment that determines their immortal state. Will you take the message of immortality to them? Their souls are staked on if they believe it or not. Moreso, do you truly believe it in your heart? You might have occasional doubts and fears, but do you truly know that Christ has saved you according to His Word? We must take that knowledge, grow in it, and inform our lives in the light of that reality. We are Heaven-bound, and nothing will stop us from getting there.
Boettner had a brilliant theological mind. History has scarcely seen a man as doctrinally informed as Boettner. I hope that this article will spark some interest in the hearts of its readers towards the works of Loraine Boettner. Who knows, maybe a publisher will even be willing to reprint it in our day.
Writing on biblical immortality is not a popular subject because it has to grapple with serious truths about death and the possibility of Hell. I am thankful that Boettner did not back down from this challenge, instead of standing face to face with his subject and producing such wonderful work. May we be encouraged in our day, not only to think more about immortality but also in reading Boettner’s works.
[i] Boettner. L. Immortality. Presbyterian and Reformed. Philadelphia: PN. (1975). 24-5
[ii] IBID. 21
[iii] IBID. 61
[iv] IBID. 61-64; Norman. R. D. Glorious Love: Christ’s Great Mediatory Prayer. North Star Ministry Press. (2020)