After Death, What?
THERE is no escaping the reality of death. When it comes suddenly, unexpectedly, as the result of an accident or heart attack, we are shaken; similarly when someone still in the prime of life dies of cancer or kidney failure. Such events are so common that we all experience them. We are overcome by the sense of our own helplessness: we cannot reverse what has happened. All human resources are powerless to restore a dead person to life. The grieving relative is not easily comforted.
How do people react to the fact of death? The young frankly do not treat the matter seriously. When they have the occasional shock a friend is killed in a road accident, for example it is just bad luck. The tragedy is soon forgotten. The middle-aged do not care to contemplate death. It is too far off yet to seem a real danger: Better face it when it comes. Older people become more aware that here is a reality they will not escape. Their friends and relations pass off the scene. Failing eyesight and hearing, growing physical ailments remind them that the human frame eventually perishes.
The view which used to be held, as a necessary counterpart, that the souls of evil people go to hell, there to suffer torments, is now very generally abandoned, except for the Catholic Church, which maintains belief in hell, purgatory, limbo and paradise. It must be said that there is a certain lack of reason in the popular attitude here. For if the souls of the righteous go to heaven, where do the souls of the wicked go?
An increasing number of people today are frankly pessimistic. They accept the fact that death is the end of life. I shall soon be pushing up the daisies, as one acquaintance put it. The view has unfortunate consequences, for the person holding it is strongly tempted to argue that his life is all he has; it is his own to do as he pleases; and he may as well eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow he will die. This view of life has a serious effect upon the kind of life to be lived, which can become self-indulgent and self-centred, with the disastrous results for society which we are seeing today.
Messages from the dead?
There are people, called Spiritualists, who believe in survival and claim to receive messages from the dead. But thorough investigation will reveal how unconvincing the claims are. Years ago the present writer attended séances and read widely in the literature. The alleged messages from the dead were so trivial and commonplace as to require no spirit explanation. The descriptions of the after-life were filled with gardens, streams, fruit trees and sweet smelling flowers, enjoyed in blissful idleness. Quite clearly this is just an idealised picture of human longings. C. E. M. Joad, a serious investigator in psychical research, commenting upon the poor quality of alleged spirit communications, robustly declared: It is evident that if our spirits survive, our brains certainly do not!
Then there is the pity of it. Men and women sometimes living worthy lives, humanly speaking, being helpful, kindly and intelligent; some even learned and expert in their field. Need all this just be lost for ever? Is there no way in which the life and character which is of real value can be preserved? Naturally this raises the question, What is real value? We shall come to that later.
The vital question
Do we trust to our own feelings or intuition? How do we know we are right? How could we expect anyone else to accept our view on our own authority? How can any man or woman anywhere tell us the answer? How do they know, anyway? Do we accept the views of religious leaders, either of individuals or of Councils or Synods? How do they know? And what are we to think when prominent religious leaders are seen to be divided among themselves on important issues? One prominent bishop has declared that Christ did not literally rise from the dead; others declare the Resurrection to be one of the foundations of the Christian faith. Who are we to believe and why?
These questions, when sincerely faced, lead us to this inescapable conclusion: the opinion of one human mind is, of itself, of no more value than that of any other. In other words, human thinking cannot give us the answer.
From this a very important conclusion emerges: since no human mind can pronounce with authority on what happens after death, then clearly we need an authority coming from outside and above mankind that is a superhuman authority.
The Bible writers never claim to speak on their own authority, but only the word of the Lord. I have put my words in thy mouth, as God said to the prophet Jeremiah (1:9). Jesus accepted the writings of the law and the prophets (our Old Testament) as the word of God. He himself declared that the words he spoke were Gods words. The apostles said the same thing: Paul declared that all scripture is given by inspiration of God and used a term which means God-breathed. The breath (or Spirit) of God is in what is written, and so what the scriptures say is truth. The earliest believers in Christ, from those who knew the apostles personally, accepted the Old and New Testaments as the true and reliable word of God. For centuries the teaching of the Bible has been the foundation for Christian belief.
Just think what the Bible does. It records how the human race came into being and it explains in clear terms why there is evil, suffering and death in the world. It tells us positively what happens after death. And it also reveals the new kind of life which can be ours, if we will only pay attention to its message.
There is no other book in the world which does all this. In fact there is no book anywhere which shows so many signs of being produced not by human minds, but by the mind of God. Over 100 years ago Henry Rogers wrote a remarkable book entitled The Superhuman Origin of the Bible Deduced from Itself. He declared: The Bible is not such a book as man would have written if he could, nor could have written if he would. The reason is that it is a message to us from God. That is why it deserves our sincere attention.