There are two possibilities — and only two — about our lives. Either everything matters or nothing matters.
On the one hand, it is possible that nothing matters. It does not matter what you eat or what you drink. It does not matter whether you go to college or live in your mother’s basement. It does not matter whether you save the whales or start a forest fire. It does not matter whether you live to be one hundred or die tomorrow. One day, the sun will expire and life as we know it on earth will come to an end.
On the other hand, it is also possible that everything matters. Absolutely everything. Every person you ever meet is a soul that will live forever. Every word will echo into eternity. Every act of kindness, no matter how small, may impact someone’s life forever. As Jesus said, “even a cup of cold water” will have eternal reverberations. Every day. Every moment. Every breath.
These two possibilities.
If the Apostle Paul is correct in 1 Corinthians 15, the determining factor between these alternative possibilities is the historical account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If Jesus is raised from the dead, then there is such a thing as “an afterlife.” It means that our souls will go on living even after we die, and that our bodies will one day be raised again to judgment. But, Paul says, if Jesus is not raised from the dead, then the grave is the end of life. Death – then nothing. And if death is the end of all consciousness, and all meaning, and all memory, and all love – then nothing matters.
The question of the resurrection takes us to the very heart of determining what kind of universe we live in: Do we live in a universe where miracles are possible, or do we live in a closed universe; a mechanistic, cold, random cosmos, in which our souls do not live five seconds beyond death.
Let’s consider both possibilities. But I should warn you, these are radical alternatives..
What If Nothing Matters?
Let’s consider the logical possibility that nothing matters. This is an actual philosophy called “nihilism” which means “nothing-ism,” held by some very learned philosophers. Nihilism holds that all of life is absurd. We are the product of random forces, and the entire universe is a cosmic accident. Life was caused by chance, is driven by unguided evolutionary processes, and will eventually evaporate like a wet footprint on a hot driveway. One day it will go as quickly and mysteriously as it came.
Why would someone want to believe this? On the surface, I am sure there is some attraction to the idea that there is no God “out there” pushing us around. In that sense, at least, the “nothing-ist” is comforted that no one else is controlling his own destiny. Personally, however, if I walked up to the cockpit of an airplane and found neither captain, nor instruments, I’m not sure I’d be very comforted.
Let’s follow Paul’s argument in 15:12-19. He lists several “ifs.”
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. Obviously, if there is no such thing as life after death in general, then the whole Christian story is overturned. Christianity is nothing more than a moving but fanciful story. It is something akin to Sleeping Beauty or Snow White; an entertaining tale but nothing more.
If Christ has not been raised, our faith is futile and we are still in your sins. Faith itself is made irrelevant. He is referring to the Christian faith, but faith in anything, for that matter, would be equally hopeless. What else could we believe in anyways? Humanity? Too violent. Our selves? I’ve let myself down too many times for that. An impersonal cosmos? If it is impersonal, then it is loveless by definition. And then there is the matter of sin. I can pretend it’s not there. I can be a moral nihilist, and say “nothing matters,” but my conscience will not let me.
Paul says, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Why would we be pitied? Well, there’s a huge “baby in the bathwater” principle here. Throw out the resurrection (read: afterlife), and we also eliminate any possible motive for holy living now. Why give to charity? Why love my enemy? If there is no eternity, no judgment to come, then a life of unbridled absurdity makes more sense than anything else.
Remember, to be consistent with their own beliefs, a “nothing matters” person should live as though there is no point. It shouldn’t matter whether we preserve the environment, or our children get a good education; or whether our stocks lose money, or whether this person or that is president. If we choose to adopt the nihilist, “nothing-ist” worldview, we should at least be brave enough to admit it.
But the great irony is that no one actually lives nihislism out consistently. “Nothing-ists” still get out of bed, and go to their jobs. They still make gallant efforts to save the whales and the rainforests. They paint signs and go to political protests. Indeed they cannot escape the thought that somehow, at the end of the day, some things really must matter.
Bertrand Russel was at least honest when he said,
The whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the débris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding DESPAIR, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.
Earlier in the same chapter, Paul says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” If Paul is correct here, then everything does matter in this life for the very reason that this life is NOT the end.
Christianity says something very different from “nothing-ism.” Christianity says we can make a difference in this life. That it matters how we treat people. That it matters whether I show up at my children’s soccer games and cheerleading meets. Christianity says it matters that I stay faithful to my wife “until death do us part.”
One clarification, however, needs to be made. Christianity teaches that everything matters, but it does not teach that all things matter equally. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received.” (Emphasis added). Some things are primary. Others are secondary. Still others tertiary.
According to Paul, here are some things that matter most.
God Matters. God is the one inescapable reality in this universe. We cannot go on ignoring Him forever. It is He who raises the dead. One of the consequences of believing in the resurrection is that we cannot dare to live as though God were just a small part of our lives. I cannot give Him credence just two days a year on Easter and Christmas Eve.
Christ Matters. His death and resurrection are the most significant facts in human history. This is the central event which makes all other events matter. Christ, by grace through faith, is the means by which we take hold of eternal life. If this is true, I owe Him my life.
Sin Matters: We are not free to live anyway we want. It was to save us from our sin that Christ died. We cannot live like Hell and then expect to waltz into Heaven. Our sin sent Jesus to die a grisly death on the cross for our redemption and forgiveness. Therefore we must repent and believe the Gospel.
People Matter. Paul says, “The dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:52). Every person you meet will one day be immortal. The cashier at the gas station. The homeless guy on the street. The brother you haven’t called on the phone in ten years.
C.S. Lewis says,
The dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.
Finally, you and I matter. According to Christianity’s “everything-ism,” we have the potential to do things that matter for eternity. Small things. Great things. It all matters in the end. If Jesus rose from the dead, then the inevitable conclusion is that this life is more precious than we can possibly imagine.
Dr. Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Gospel Fellowship PCA, just north of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Unknown: The Extraordinary Influence of Ordinary Christians and A Theology of Joy: Jonathan Edwards and Eternal Happiness in the Holy Trinity. He is currently writing a book on Edwards’s seventy Resolutions for Hendrickson Publications.
 John Frame, History of Western Philosophy (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R), 467.
 C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: Harper Collins, 1980), 45.