Life After Death—The Unanswered Questions
“IF AN able-bodied man dies can he live again?” (Job 14:14) This question, posed centuries ago by the patriarch Job, has been pondered by people in every society over the ages, and there has been no shortage of proposed answers.
The ancient Greeks claimed that the souls of the dead lived on. These were ferried across the river Styx to a vast underground realm called the netherworld. There judges sentenced the souls either to torment in a high-walled prison or to bliss in the Elysian fields. Other ancient peoples thought that souls became stars or comets. Still others held that souls were luminous and were drawn up to the moon; every month as the moon became full, they were transferred to the sun.
Today, theories regarding an afterlife continue to abound. Hindus and Buddhists believe in reincarnation. Muslims teach that the soul survives the death of the body and at the last judgment will go either to paradise or to hell. Most Protestants are taught that souls live on after death to experience heavenly bliss or torment in the flames of hell. To this scenario Catholicism adds Limbo and purgatory.
In some lands, beliefs regarding supposed souls of the dead are a curious blend of local tradition and nominal Christianity. For example, it is customary among many Catholics and Protestants in West Africa to cover mirrors when someone dies so that no one might look and see the dead person’s spirit. Forty days after the death of a loved one, family and friends will feast to celebrate the soul’s ascension to heaven. Thereafter, usually at Christmas or on New Year’s Day, relatives will visit the cemetery and pour alcoholic drink on the grave. They will even speak to the dead, requesting favors and relating family news.
Obviously, there is little agreement among the world’s religions as to exactly what happens after death. Yet, there is almost universal agreement on one fundamental assertion: the immortality of the human soul. Most teachings about life after death are simply variations of this basic theme.
Nevertheless, several nagging questions present themselves: Just where does the idea that the soul is immortal come from? Is it taught in Scripture? If so, why do even non-Christian faiths teach it? These are not questions that should be ignored. Whatever your religious persuasion, death is a fact that has to be faced. The issues thus involve you in a profoundly personal way. We therefore invite you to look into these matters with an open mind.