Former US President Jimmy Carter taught a Bible lesson on life after death on Sunday, less than two weeks after breaking his pelvis in a fall.
Carter took to the front of the crowded Maranatha Baptist Church in the southwest Georgia town of Plains, slowly, using a walker. He then transferred himself to an electric seat with the help of Secret Service agents and pressed a button raising the seat to the height of the pulpit.
Once seated, the 95-year-old Democrat’s physical frailty was easily forgotten by the crowd as he charismatically engaged with the crowd, asking visitors what state they were from and welcoming them.
An African American who identified herself as a visiting United Methodist missionary was invited to lead the service in prayer. She said: “We thank you, God, for a servant leader who has exemplified the characteristics which we attribute to you. Strengthen him, Lord, as you have in all of different things – I don’t know if he has nine lives or 20, but he keeps coming back and we’re so grateful for that.”
Carter began by saying, “I’m going to start by asking you a very profound question. And one that addresses every human being on earth … How many of you believe in life after death? Be honest with me now.”
“So why can’t you and me come back to life, if God wills it? We believe God is omnipotent, God can do anything.” – Jimmy Carter
About three-quarters of the congregation raised their hands and Carter acknowledged, “That’s a very difficult question to answer. I had trouble with it when I was a growing up and more recently, as a matter of fact.”
Carter then talked about Job, describing him as a “kind of a pioneer theologian” who addressed the question more than anyone in the Bible except St Paul.
“Job addresses the question very profoundly, ‘Is there life after death?’ He says if a tree can be made a stump by cutting a tree down, well, a tree can come back to life. So why can’t you and me come back to life, if God wills it? We believe God is omnipotent, God can do anything.”
Carter went on to comment that though Job dealt with the question comprehensively, articulating both answers to it, he never actually makes answers it for himself.
Carter revealed that, as a child, he was troubled by his lack of faith in life after death and used to finish his prayers by asking, “God, help me believe in the resurrection.”
“You can’t be a genuine Christian and not believe in life after death.” – Jimmy Carter
Then, as a young man working on submarines in the US Navy, having studied science and knowing that life after death could not be scientifically proven, he was still “very troubled” by doubt about life after death.
Carter explained that Paul taught “very assiduously and adequately” that when Christians died, they were like a seed and that God, being able to do anything, could transform us.
“It’s incompatible for any Christian not to believe in life after death,” said Carter. “You can’t be a genuine Christian and not believe in life after death.”
Carter then shared the story of his cancer diagnoses, describing how he had been sent home from Guyana, where he was helping with an election process – despite his protests – and was then diagnosed with liver cancer. He had it operated on and “a good part” removed. He then had a scan that revealed four cancers in his brain.
“So I assumed, naturally, that I was going to die very quickly,” explained the former President. “And I obviously prayed about it. I didn’t ask God to let me live but I just asked God to give me a proper attitude toward death. And I found that I was absolutely and completely at ease with death. It didn’t really matter to me whether I died or lived…”
“I didn’t ask God to let me live but I just asked God to give me a proper attitude toward death. And I found that I was absolutely and completely at ease with death.” – Jimmy Carter
“So I have since that time been absolutely confident that my Christian faith includes complete confidence in life after death. So I’m going to live again after I die – don’t know what form I’ll take or anything like that, but I have confidence that there is a God and he’s all powerful. That he keeps his promises and that his promise is life after death.
“And also I’m a Christian; I believe in Jesus Christ having been raised from the dead and that Jesus told us that we can also be raised from the dead. So, you see, that’s what I’ve gone through…”
Carter said that the thing he wanted to convince those he was teaching was “if you have any doubt about life after death, forget the doubts and ask God to let you have complete faith that you’re going to live again after death if you believe in Jesus Christ.”
“So if God does exist – and I will presume that every one of you believes God exists – does that mean there is life after death? The answer is ‘yes’. If you’re a Christian, is there life after death? The answer is ‘yes’. There’s no question about it.”
“And for those who have doubted in the past like I have almost all my life, just be reassured that you have a wonderful eternal life to look forward to … in the presence of God.”