Here we look at --
- the afterlife
- the Greek view of immortal soul
- ancestor worship
- near death experiences
- other popular concepts
In the context of this article, I acknowledge that these reviews will be very brief.
Outside of the Words of Scripture there is an almost universal belief among religious/spiritually oriented people that 'at death human beings don't die.' The true element that makes us what we are is released from the constraints of the earthly body at death. Rather than lapsing into non-consciousness at death, the true self is released and experiences a higher, more profound state of existence in the afterlife. True consciousness is achieved. And man enters the pre-planned, predestined, and preordained relationship with his God and with the universe. After death he lives at his highest level.
This belief finds huge support across many otherwise wide cultural and religious divides.
The very first lie that Satan ever fed the human race was this. You shall not surely die... your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods. (Genesis 3:4, 5) This is widely believed today.
Having said that, we need to acknowledge that a considerable number of people do see the death of the body as the cessation of life and of consciousness.
Purgatory is a place of transition between earth and heaven. In purgatory the departed soul may undergo purification and cleansing to fully fit it to enter the absolute pure abode of heaven.
Righteous souls may ascend directly to heaven. They do not pass through purgatory, they are already pure.
But purgatory offers hope to many who in this life appear to fall considerably short of the righteousness God requires.
Limbo is a place where a considerable number of souls will spend eternity. Why is this so? Before we can truly answer this question we should review the several options available in the afterlife.
Heaven -- a place of bliss (reserved for the righteous)
Purgatory -- a place of purification (reserved for the faithful en route to heaven)
Hell -- a place of torment (reserved for the wicked)
Limbo -- a place of oblivion (reserved for souls that cannot gain access to heaven yet do not deserve the eternal torments of hell)
Limbo is a place reserved for souls that fail to qualify for heaven. For instance, it may be because they did not receive the prescribed rites of the church. As well as this, they are deemed not to deserve eternal punishment; for instance, because they died at birth or before birth. Why should they be eternally punished seeing they obviously didn't partake wholesale of the world's sins. Limbo lets them rest.
Greek view of immortal soul
The ancient Greek view of the universe was this.
Everything above that line where the birds flew was the realm of the gods. Thus the moon, the sun, mercury, mars, and venus were gods. For example, Mars was the god of war; Venus the god of love. This was the spiritual realm. It was pure. It was perfect. It was holy. It was to be desired.
From the level of the birds and everything below was the realm of the earth. This was the material realm. It was corrupt. It was impure. It was unholy. It was to be cast off.
The immortal soul was that little bit of god inside each of us that makes the individual what he is. It was the soul that made the real man. The belief was akin to an ancient theory of DNA. A man's soul (DNA) determined the man. Being born with a mouse's soul; made a mouse grow to be a mouse. A horse's soul made a horse a horse, etc.
The soul defined who the person really was. Thus it was at death that the soul could be released from the sinful and corrupt constraints of the body, and become free to inhabit the realm of the gods.
It all sounds very much like the lie of Genesis 3:4, 5 - you shall not surely die... you shall be like gods.
To people holding this point of view, the resurrection is especially hard to comprehend as the resurrection provides a physical body; and to the Greeks anything physical was utterly corrupt and was meant to be left behind.
Paul preached to the Greeks in Athens, and when he taught about the resurrection of the dead, some sneered, and this topic concluded his discourse. (Acts 17:32)
Acts 17:18, 32
18 … he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.
32 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, we will hear thee again of this matter.
Jesus' resurrection opposed typical Greek thinking, Jesus did not leave His body behind in the tomb -- the tomb was empty.
After His resurrection, Jesus made considerable effort to convince His disciples that 'He was not a body-less spirit.' He left them in no doubt that His resurrected body was real.
36 ...Jesus appeared to His disciples...
37 ...but they supposed that they had seen a spirit.
38 Jesus asked, Why are you troubled?...
39 Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.
40 And when he had thus spoken, he showed them his hands and his feet.
41 And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said to them, Have you any food?
42 And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and honeycomb.
43 And he took it, and ate it.
Jesus said to Thomas, Reach out your finger, and behold my hands; and reach out your hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
Jesus showed that a 'physical resurrection' and any 'future eternal life' go hand in hand.
BUT to the Greeks anything physical was anathema. To the Greeks, even a resurrected body could not possibly be perfect. Therefore they believed that no physical form whatsoever would ever inhabit the realm of the gods.
Throughout ancient cultures, ancestor worship was widespread.
The spirits of the departed were called upon to advise and assist the living. The spirits of the dead now lived in the spirit world. As such they could exercise considerable power that was not available to mere mortals. Their allegiance, aid, and assistance were greatly valued.
It seems but a small step between pagans invoking the spirits of the dead, and Christians invoking the spirits of the saints.
Reincarnation is the ability of the soul of the deceased to be born into the body of another. Thus eternal life is experienced by being continually reborn into different bodies. The quality of the life one has just lived determines whether the soul enters a higher or lesser life-form. Deceased family members may now be living as cows, pigs, dogs, or rats -- God forbid.
Near death experiences
Some people seek knowledge about the afterlife through the study of near death experiences. People who have not died - yet have come close to death - report experiences of being transported to an afterlife. (Some may dispute this definition and claim that the subjects had actually died and had come back to life.) The things these people 'see and experience' have a degree of commonality. Their experiences are purported to describe aspects of the afterlife.
Every person is obviously free to make up their own mind on what they believe about the afterlife. Every person is also free to source their information where they see fit. As for me, I see no value in pursuing near death experiences. Firstly, the body and mind of a person near death is obviously traumatized. If this were not the case they would not be near death. Secondly, on top of this, the person may have received reasonably large doses of drugs or sedatives. Remember that even relatively healthy persons can hallucinate. I believe that if the experiences of people 'near death' are our window into the next world, we should think again. We should seriously consider looking elsewhere.
Heaven and Hellfire
Peter standing at the pearly gates allowing entrance, or turning the petitioner away, is probably the nearest many unchurched people come to knowing what Christians believe about the afterlife. This concept has been made immensely popular throughout the ages by the many cartoon sketches which have presented it. We indeed live in a world of fables.
If this is our view of heaven, then what is our view of hell and hellfire? Firstly, we understand that those who are turned away by Peter end up in hell. Secondly, we share a fairly universal picture of the Devil and his demons who being in charge of hell turn up the heat and make the place as uncomfortable as they can. Our very description of the Devil has been imported into Christianity from pagan sources.
Many claim 'in the name of Jesus Christ' that the penalty for sin is eternal torment.
23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Many teach that death in Romans 6:23 is in fact -- remaining alive in never-ending torment.
A life of eternal torment awaits the wicked. They point out that in a future trillion years and more all the wicked will still be paying the penalty for their sin. This applies equally to all the wicked; it applies all the way from the longest living, most hideous sinner to the most premature stillborn babe.
Sin is a serious matter, and God will never bring the torment to an end. The full price must be extracted -- in fact the full price never actually gets paid for eternity never ends.
God as we know is a God of love, but He is also a God of justice. Jesus paid the full price for every man's sin. His sacrifice was on behalf of everyone (Romans 5:19-21). Believers are saved and escape the torment of hell by virtue of Christ's sacrifice. Unbelievers pay their own debt.
Jesus sacrifice was this. He was nailed to the cross on Good Friday. He died that day. And Jesus went to heaven on that very day and He and the thief rejoiced together in paradise. ("Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise." Luke 23:43)
On Easter Sunday, His spirit reunited with His body and He rose from death, victorious. He had fully paid the price for mankind's sin. Those who don't accept Christ's sacrifice will have to pay the full price for their own sins themselves.
I disagree with the above. I believe that death always equals death. And this is true in Rom 6:23 -- just as it is true elsewhere.
23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
My questions to you, the reader
- Did Christ pay in full the penalty for sin?
- What is the penalty for sin? Is it three days in paradise -- or eternity in torment -- or death?
- Can the full price for sin actually ever be paid?
- Does a time ever come when the wicked have paid the penalty in full? (Perhaps it is never paid!)
My personal answers
- Yes, Christ paid in full the penalty for sin.
- The penalty for sin is death.
- Yes, the full price for sin can be paid.
- Yes, the wicked will have paid the penalty in full when they have died the second death.