|Series Theme: Questions of Eternity|
Title: 1. What Happens after Death?
A simple consideration of the existence of Life after Death
This page is an introduction to the two other pages that go with it, “Is there a Heaven?” and “Is there a Hell?” We recommend you read all three pages.
Death is the great unknown. If forms the subject matter for plays and films and it crops up every day in the news. It is constantly there and forms the foundation for virtually all crime series on TV. Once upon a time it was the thing not to be talked about. That has changed somewhat but the questions still remain there in the back of our minds.
This series seeks to establish clarity using the Bible as our source book. Later on in this page we'll cite a number of Bible references. To catch the full import of what is being said, we recommend you read this page with an open Bible on the table next to you so you can look up the verse references.
2. Death the Great Uncertain Certainty!
There is only one sure-fired, guaranteed thing that will happen in your life – it will end! Of that we can be totally sure.
For fans of the film “Highlander”, it must come as a disappointment that in fact people do not keep on and on, they do not keep cropping up in different periods of history!
Yet although death is a certainty, what happens after death is a great uncertainty for so many of us. There are actually only a limited number of options really:
1. We cannot know – there is nothing.
That is the blind faith leap that so many follow. It is the belief that you cannot know what comes after death so we'll just HOPE that there isn't anything!
After decades of living on this planet where so many strive to achieve “meaning” and “purpose” to life, it would seem rather strange if there was nothing further.
That desire for meaning and purpose often hopes that there is something more after death and that it is better than what we've known here.
2. Get ready to return – reincarnation.
Followers of certain eastern religions believe that Karma – the power resulting from an individual's acts of will – determines their future and specifically in respect of reincarnation – being reborn in a new body before they attain release from this world.
There is a strong deterministic element in karma in the belief that present circumstances are the result of past actions. There is also, therefore, a strong fatalistic element – I'm stuck with my circumstances!
The weakness of this belief system is twofold: first there is the uncertainty of what will happen in the future, and second, there is a failure to recognise genuine human weakness, and so it condemns such weakness to ongoing failure.
What is to stop there being a constant downward spiral? A truly depressing result which, if it was believed, may result in the individual casting aside all restraint for, “After all, if I'm doomed, I might as well go down making the most of it!”
No, reincarnation is based on uncertainty and fear and simply generates more uncertainty and fear. There must be a better option!
3. There is Life after Death
In other words, after the body stops working, somehow part of us continues living. This is what some call the soul or the spirit.
Now the fact that there might be life after death could be an incredibly scary thing.
Suppose that “afterlife” is horrible? Suppose the worst we've ever encountered on this earth is just a glimpse of the horror yet to come?
Is that why part of our society goes to every length possible to prolong life and stave off death?
But surely there is another possibility – that life after death is absolutely wonderful!
Perhaps that is the hope that some people have. If that is so, then simply prolonging life is keeping that person away from something much better than they have here today?
Now there are three questions that must arise at this point:
3. How can we KNOW?
What evidence is there for an afterlife? Is there credible evidence that might be able to reassure us?
a) Reincarnation Testimonies
There is evidence in the form of testimonies of people who say they have lived in the past and have come back? The only trouble about this, is how are we to we know they are not frauds or that they are not demon inspired? The answer, of course, is that we cannot know!
b) Resuscitation Testimonies
Then there is evidence of death-bed experiences, or near-death experiences– experiences of those who have just died and have been resuscitated. These seem more possible in that the things they say simply sound more credible. The only trouble is that such testimonies might be subject to the claim of “wishful thinking in a coma state”. They may be true, but they may not.
c) Revelation Testimonies
Finally we come to the claims of the Bible. Here we find a tremendous body of testimony, written over a two thousand year period, all saying the same thing.
The fundamental thing that they say is that God, THE one and only God, has revealed Himself and has revealed truth about eternal issues (not total truth, but sufficient truth to reassure us).
We'll look at what the Bible says under a separate heading below.
4. What Determines which way we go?
Assuming there is life after death, and there are possibilities of it being very good AND very bad, what are the things that will decide our destiny? Some of the deciding criteria that people suggest are:
Let's look at each of those, one by one:
a) Being Nice?
What is “being nice”? Well the obvious things that it isn't surely must include murder, violence, rape, etc., i.e. what we might call the “big crimes”.
Well probably we ought to include theft, mugging….. Pardon? You get the point – where to we stop? Is it OK to speak badly to your partner or your children?
No, the problem is that when you start talking about deciding whether someone is “nice”, it varies according to your viewpoint, or more precisely to your tolerance of wrong!
Trying to achieve some level of moral high ground excludes every human being.
b) Being Religious?
What does that mean? Performing particular acts of religious behaviour? Praying? Reading the Bible? Going to church? Well how much?
Why should some form of outward behaviour determine eternal destiny? No, this is obviously a ridiculous means of deciding!
c) Being Spiritual?
Well this starts to sound like it might make sense, because God is spirit after all. But actually what does being spiritual mean? Many people who would deem themselves “spiritual” have no time for God.
No, their “spirituality” is purely another form of performance and as such will fall short, just as the other ones did.
There must be some other criteria that is more reassuring!
We need to recap where we've come to:
There is either:
We have no grounds to believe there is no afterlife. Everything in us wonders if there is and what it will be like.
If there is an afterlife is it good or bad, or both, and if both what decides what we experience?
When we consider behaviour as a deciding factor, it gets very depressing, because failure is the thing we know most.
6. What the Bible says.
To see why we may trust the Bible, you need to go to the pages on “The Trustworthiness of the Bible” on this site.
Below are some of the key things the Bible says about death:
2. It is the separation of body and spirit - Eccles 12:7
13. Because Jesus passed through death, taking our punishment upon himself, we no longer need fear death – Heb 2:14,15
14. Living in relationship with God TODAY, through the work of Christ on the Cross two thousand years ago, and His Holy Spirit within us now, are the things that will give us confidence when we face eternity with God in heaven on the other side of death – 1 John 4:13-18
In addition to these there are many other references to death, and many other references to heaven and hell (see the two pages on those subjects).
Remember this is only an introductory page and all three pages should really be read together.