What is death? Is there hope of life beyond the grave?
Life After Death
Would you really like to know about life after death? Are you really sure? What if I told you that there is nothing after this life: that when we die we stay dead? Or if I said that we might be roasted in the fires of hell forever, unless we do something about it now? Would you really want to know?
Hope Springs Eternal
The intriguing thing is that every civilisation has had its own view about what might happen when we depart – whether it’s the American Indian off to his happy hunting ground; the Buddhist migrating from one form of reincarnated life towards Nirvana; the Christian going to heaven; or the Muslim going to Paradise.
If you’ve been to a funeral recently, even people who have no religious convictions like to think of the departed as having started life again in a happier environment. It’s an in-built hope that we all seem to have: the hope that there is something afterwards. And perhaps we have that hope because life can be such an exciting and fulfilling experience. Nobody wants to think that it just ends when we die; like switching off the light and going to sleep forever.
How Can we Know?
Some people think that the only real way of knowing, one way or the other, is by getting a message from someone who has already died and who is able to get through and tell us what it’s like. But the messages that appear to be coming across, if they are coming from anywhere beyond the medium, paint a vastly different picture of what the departed are experiencing.
One psychic researcher concluded that, by and large, whatever the departed enjoyed on earth was what they were supposedly enjoying in the afterlife. If they were enthusiastic coffee drinkers – the coffee in heaven was marvellous; if they loved sport – the sporting opportunities were wonderful; and so on. It seemed that the enquirer, who knew the departed, was projecting such thoughts in the hope that a really good time was being had by all.
Harry Houdini, the escapologist, was also an illusionist and after his mother’s death he took a keen interest in spiritualism, attending many séances before his untimely death. He became convinced that they were all a set-up and was very critical of the whole movement. Before he died, he had told his wife Beatrice (known as Bess) that if anyone could get across the divide and communicate, he would. But although she attended many séances in the years that followed, she died in 1943 without ever hearing anything from him.
Back from the Dead
There are people who have had near death or out-of-the-body experiences, in the operating theatre or after life-threatening accidents, from which they later recovered, and they sometimes have recollections. One lady said that she felt that she was “swept into a peaceful, loving place of brilliant golden light and warm comfort.” She saw, “for the first time, the meaning of life and death”. But again, different people have different recollections, and no coherent or convincing picture emerges of the afterlife. For some, the experiences are deeply distressing: they can involve experiencing absolute emptiness, or an encounter with frightening or evil forces.
Some think that these various happenings come from the subconscious mind. But how can you know for sure? Even if you had such an experience yourself, could you really be sure that it is an experience of what life after death will be like when your time comes? Getting an authoritative and absolutely convincing view of the subject is hard. And there is something else.
We all have preconceptions which spring from deep-seated hopes, desires and beliefs. Changing those is likely to be hard for all of us, and because there are widespread beliefs about certain things, it takes a lot of personal courage to go off in a new direction. So, even if you were told something different, if it was new to you, the chances are that you would be wary and suspicious. You might need an awful lot of convincing. That’s something common to human nature in all ages.
Jesus once told a parable which was based upon the beliefs which some Jews then had about what to expect after death. They believed that the faithful went to ‘Abraham’s bosom’ – a place of comfort and rest; and the unfaithful went to eternal torment. In the parable, Jesus told how a beggar who had lived outside a rich man’s home ended up in luxury, while the rich man was in misery. The rich man asked if the beggar would come across the divide and bring him some water, but the beggar could not help.
You can see the point of the story at once. Unless we help one another in this life, we may lose out in the life to come. But here’s the punchline. In the parable, the rich man asks if a message can be sent back to his brothers who are still alive to warn them, so they can change their lifestyle while there is still time. But Abraham – the father of the Jewish nation – says this:
‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them’. And he (the rich man) said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead’” (Luke 16:29-31).
What Jesus was saying was that if we have very fixed views, nothing will change them unless we can really approach the issue with an open mind and are ready to accept what God has to say about the matter. That’s the real value of the Bible – it gives us an insight into the mind of God and answers our most profound and far-reaching questions.
So, if you really want to know the truth about life and death: read on!