By William Malcomson
Is there life after death?
Of course there is in the sense that the dead live among us. Our ancestors, our grandparents and our parents live in us in our genes, our personality characteristics, and in our memories. How many of us often think about what our father or mother or uncle or aunt might do in a situation we are facing? How many of us, in our dreams, sense the presence of those who have left but seem to be still able to return? I tend to identify with my paternal ancestry. There are historical reasons for this, which I will not go into, but as I observe my sons and daughter, my grandchildren, I see my grandfather, my father, my uncles and aunt in them. There seem to be certain Malcomson characteristics, that, for good and ill, continue from generation to generation.
In our culture, I think we tend to think of life after death in terms of individuals. Do we, you or I, live after death? Does or will a person whom we care about, live after death? We tend not to think communally. In the Bible the general view was that when persons died they went to "sleep." When the world as we know it would come to an end, then those who were sleeping in death would rise together. Resurrection would be a communal event. As it says in Revelation, there would be a new heaven and a new earth, for all beings. But in our culture, there is a tendency to think of each person dying alone and becoming immortal alone. And we usually think of it as more or less instantaneous. That is, we die and then we are or are not in some kind of new state of being.
One of the really difficult facts to think about in terms of life after death is that we only experience embodied life. We live in bodies. There you are, and there am I. I can deal with you, because I can see, hear, sense you as a distinct person, separate from me. If we were disembodied, or somehow out of a body, would we be you and me? I only know me as an embodied distinct individual. So to think about an after death existence is hard, because it is rather obvious that my body will no longer be around. It will be in a grave, deteriorating, or it will be burned up in cremation. The only "I" I know will not be in existence.
Thus the question that is often raised is whether or not there is a soul or spirit or consciousness within our bodies which can have a life without a body such as we know. The body dies, but the soul lives one, as it were. But do we experience a soul or its equivalent without it being embodied? Aren't brains which think, contemplate, required for us even to experience what we may call soul? Contemplatives talk of moving down deep into their spirit or soul and feeling one with it. But they contemplate as a being with a brain, emotions, blood, personality characteristics, etc. Some of us may think we sense being in our soul without a sense of also being in our body, but do we? We are capable of thinking about a lot of possibilities that might be, but our ability to think of a soul apart from a body, does not make it so.
The possibility of life after death raises a lot of questions, does it not?
In my next blog, I am going to talk about near death experiences, our agonizing about mortality, and some options for how to think about life after death.
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist