There are a number of very well written books offering ideas on heaven and what eternal life involves. Among those I have read are Heaven by Randy Alcorn, One Minute After You Die by Erwin Lutzer, and Heaven Revealed by Paul Enns. These are wonderful works and are filled with the insights of years of research and the authors’ life lessons. Regardless, questions remain in my mind that are unanswered.

I can’t match the scholarship or authoring skills of those three men, so let’s stick with something more definite. One certainty is that at some point we will pass into eternity and we will then leave behind everything we earned, worked for, accomplished and had. The old joke that there are no U-Hauls following hearses is another truth.

The serious question I want to ask is, “What about the stuff you leave behind?” It mattered during your life and at least some of it reflects your life. What will your legacy be; what will you leave behind for others?

Of course, the time to ask that is long before you die. We never know when that time will come. As I write this article, friends are going through the tragedy of a 37-year-old daughter-in-law who suffered a massive stroke leaving her tragically close to death and leaving a husband and their 7-year-old daughter with heartache and many questions. I also worked as an attorney on parts of the several legal cases involving Terri Schiavo in the Tampa Bay area. She was a 27-year-old lady who suffered a form of cardiac arrest resulting in massive brain damage. She was diagnosed after time to be in a persistent vegetative state.

The crushing impact of these early and sudden illnesses is immeasurable. The shock that it happened to people so young is great. Those two real life examples exemplify the brevity and uncertainty of life.

Our time is uncertain. Solomon’s often morbid and depressed words in Ecclesiastes, likely written while he was older and was struggling with the disparity between what he had hoped for and what life had actually presented to him include the following:

Ecclesiastes 9:12
12     Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come:
As fish are caught in a cruel net,
or birds are taken in a snare,
so people are trapped by evil times
that fall unexpectedly upon them.

 Or from Proverbs, likely written when Solomon was younger and still full of hope,

Proverbs 27:1 
1      Do not boast about tomorrow,
for you do not know what a day may bring.

Consider also the wisdom of James:

James 4:14-16
14     Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
15     Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 
16     As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.

Life is uncertain and, at times, for some, tragically short. Nothing of this world will last forever. Ecclesiastes 1:11. But that certainly does not mean we should do nothing. Nor does it mean what we do today does not matter. It does matter – a lot! The questions we face now are how we can best live during the time we do have and how we can leave what we have done to do the most good as we most desire.

How we live now is a life-long topic covered by the Bible as a whole, dependent upon your relationship with God, and founded on your recognition of the depth of His love. That question takes a lifetime to answer. On the other hand, how we can best leave behind what we have is a question we can answer now.

We can leave a mark, even if it is a temporary mark to be passed on from generation to generation. The mark we can best leave is a positive legacy. The best set of comparative legacies for illustration purposes are the legacies of the Puritan preacher of the 1700’s, Jonathan Edwards, and lifelong criminal Max Juke. A study was done near the year 1900 and these comparative legacies were found.

Jonathan Edwards was an outstanding preacher and Christian. Out of Edwards’ descendants came 1 U.S. Vice-President, 1 dean of a law school, 1 dean of a medical school, 3 U.S. Senators, 3 governors, 3 mayors, 13 college presidents, 30 judges, 60 doctors, 65 professors, 75 military officers, 80 public office holders, 100 lawyers, 100 clergymen, and 285 college graduates.

On the other hand, Max Juke’s family included illegitimate children, 7 murderers, 60 thieves, 190 prostitutes, 150 other convicts, 310 paupers, and 440 who were physically wrecked by addiction to alcohol. Of Juke’s descendants that were studied, 300 died prematurely, at least 67 suffered from syphilis, and over 100 spent an average of 13 years in prison. See Multigenerational Legacies – The Story of Jonathan Edwards and In Defense of Max Jukes.

It was estimated that the crimes and care of the Juke family cost the state of New York over one million dollars (a lot more in present dollars), while Jonathan Edwards never cost the government a single penny. Instead he and his family made contributions of incalculable worth.

Legacy matters! Even if the name Jonathan Edwards had not lived on to this day, the benefits of his life well-lived lasted many generations. The blessing he left compared to the dubious curse of the Jukes’ family is striking to say the least.

You will not live forever on this earth. Very likely, memories of you will also fade away. But the impact you can leave by a life well-lived and by a careful estate plan can, like the legacy of Jonathan Edwards, last long beyond your life. You can help fund a ministry you love, a mission trip or trips to a country needing the gospel, or almost any other part of the church or its mission that you can imagine. The result? A positive impact on the lives of others, perhaps many others.

Idlewild Church offers many opportunities to serve the Lord. This is a church with ministries and mission opportunities where your gifts and donations can leave a lasting impact on the lives of thousands. To learn more, give The Idlewild Foundation a call. The Foundation was established to promote planned giving and would be happy to discuss with you the options available. We love to promote the idea of creating and leaving a legacy for you through planned gifts.

Legacy giving is one faithful way of leaving a positive future for those you love.

About the Author

John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus.  He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016.  He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.