A fleeting glimpse into death and the afterlife
The idea behind the word is morbid and the mood it evokes is somber. It brings an air of finality and reeks of separation.
Since there is no right time to talk about it, now is the time. In the last several months I have heard about or seen the death of several people close to me. One, the mother of a friend who was in her 60's, another friend in his 40's and my cousin in his early 30's. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the coronavirus pandemic has brought the topic to the forefront. The virus has thus far claimed more than 500,000 lives, (including a cousin in his 40's) such that most people know someone or know of someone who died of the illness.
My goal is not to examine the different religious views on death and the afterlife. Yet, I will briefly mention the atheistic/humanistic view since it is in stark contrast to the Christian view that I want to discuss.
The atheistic/humanistic view is a nihilistic view of life similar to the Buddhist view of Nirvana. When death happens, it is all over. Nirvana is what is left when you blow out the candle. There is no existence, no relationships, no heaven, no hell, and no afterlife.
Many people today unconsciously subscribe to this view as if it is the most peaceful view. This is obviously not a new idea. John Lennon, in his 1971 ballad, “Imagine” sings that we should imagine no heaven or hell, instead, imagine a life on earth that is blissful.
This, like John Lennon said, is not reality. It is pure imagination. Life on earth is not blissful. It is burdensome and tedious. Yes, there are some fleeting moments of happiness sandwiched between the routines of burden. From the time each of us grew out of the new-born stage, life, from a human viewpoint, has never been truly blissful.
Of all the views, the atheistic/humanistic view is the most hopeless. It is one thing if we all were born into palaces with no pain or discomfort throughout life and then at death, we disappeared into oblivion and the candle was blown out. But that is not the case. Much of the developing world suffers from physical and economic problems, the developed world suffers from mental and emotional issues. A virus that is 120 billionths of a meter has reminded us that even the bravest or wealthiest or most privileged person in the world can be brought to their knees by microscopic enemies.
Then, there is the issue of relationships here on earth. In the atheistic view, every relationship - acquaintances, friends, siblings, parents, children - every relationship disappears at death. There is no chance of ever seeing your loved one again. Is this blissful?
In the age of Covid-19, death and separation are tragically seen too commonly.
Jim Harris, received his late wife's ashes through the window of his car to maintain social distancing rules. He delicately clutched the wooden box with tear-filled eyes.
In contrast, of all the philosophical and religious views on death, the most hopeful is the Christian view. I hope to explain the Christian view of death and the afterlife with an illustration, ironically, of birth. Specifically, the birth of twins.
Death is like the birth of twins.
A set of twins are together for almost 9 months. They grow together and seem more connected to each other than to anyone else. Life is perfect. They are warm, comfortable, and satisfied. Life is bliss, so to speak.
Yet, they were made for another place and the cocoon they are in will never fully satisfy. Both of them were created for life outside the womb. They were never created for life with the womb as the destination. Life in the womb was always going to be a journey until they reach their destination outside.
In the midst of their happiness and togetherness, one day, one of the twins is gone. The firstborn twin is dead from the womb, so to speak. Life was so sure, so comfortable, so certain and peaceful. But now, one twin is gone. If the second twin could talk, it would talk about the grief it feels. His best friend, his lifelong companion is no more. Life is not sure anymore.
But the twin went to a better life, a fuller life, a much more abundant life than could be imagined in the womb. In comparison to the life outside the life in the womb seems so constricted, so shallow, and so limited.
When the other twin is also born, they both will realize that the time of separation was extremely small compared to the life that is ahead. They will also realize that they can have a much fuller relationship than the one they had in the womb.
We are all on a journey. This life is not our destination. In the 1970s, country crooner Jim Reeves sang,
“This world is not my home; I’m just a-passing through…”
The longer we spend on earth, the more comfortable we might become. Yet, our lack of complete fulfillment in this life indicates that there is something else and some other place for which we were created. As CS Lewis argues from longing:
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
None of us are created to exist on earth as the destination. We were all made for a different place, a better place.
When the time comes, we each must exit the womb and make our way to the destination. Many have gone before us. We grieve when we think of those we love who have already gone. Life is not the same without them.
But when we get on the other side, we will realize that this is where we were meant to be in the first place and our time on earth was just a journey to get us here. Life on the other side is real life and what we thought was a good time on earth, will seem to be tortuous and forgettable. How can life on earth be remotely happy with pain, sorrow, sadness, sin, and grief?
But the Bible gives us a keyhole glimpse into heaven:
“Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4
Once we get on the other side, we will also realize that the time of separation from those who went before us is extremely small compared to the life ahead. We will also realize that relationship with God and people can be on a much deeper level than could have ever been experienced while on earth.
Unlike any other worldview, the Christian faith emphasizes the certainty of the blissful eternal afterlife for those who believe in Jesus.
…whoever believes in (Jesus) shall have eternal life’. John 3:16
If there is no afterlife and no heaven, then there is no hope in the face of death.
But, in the Christian worldview, death is not death but the birth of a life that we were meant to live – a life where life is truly bliss and relationships are the most fulfilling.
This hope in the face of death exists because of the resurrection of Jesus and his eternal words of comfort: Because I live, you also will live. (John 14:19). His resurrected life guarantees our eternal life and a joyous reunion with those who went before us.
What a glorious hope!
Picture of Jim Harris: Daily Mail, US Edition 4/24/2020