Why do most religions believe in an after-life? Is this just wishful thinking or a sentimental, comforting thought?
And why do we sometimes feel that life is meant to go on for more than 70 or 80 years? The thought may come at the funeral of a much loved parent or partner. Somehow it doesn’t make sense to us that these close relationships should end so abruptly after many years of loving and understanding each other. Or think of the character, talents and wisdom our older friends and relatives acquire over a life time – or the genius of Einstein or Mozart — only to be lost — forever? It seems like a waste.
Most religions including Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity promise or hint at some kind of afterlife – be it reincarnation or a type of heavenly or better place – or maybe a worse place depending on the type of life you lived on earth. Although the teachings differ slightly, it’s a concept that “makes sense” to an instinct we have deep down about life. We feel we are more than just disposable “animals” that can be replaced by the next generation. In fact, none of us can be replaced, since there never has been anyone uniquely like you born into this world – and no one who will be exactly like you in the future – even your own children. As human beings we are the most highly developed creatures intellectually and spiritually on our Earth – able to comprehend and express personalities that are much more complex than that of the other animal life. So whether or not we are religious people, it seems to makes sense to us that “the end” should not really be the end.
But isn’t this just a comforting, sentimental thought we have – especially at the funeral of our loved one? Is there any rational basis for this view? Karl Marx dismissed religion as “the opium of the masses.” Has anyone ever come back from the dead to tell us what it’s like?
A Neurosugeon’s Near Death Experience
In his book “Proof of Heaven, “ Dr. Eben Alexander describes in detail his near death experience in an American hospital in 2008. Dr. Alexander was raised in a religious home but was himself sceptical about whether there was a Creator or life after death; he would have described himself as an atheist (someone who believes God exists but doesn’t believe that God is involved in the lives of His creation). After contracting a rare brain virus Dr. Alexander was in a coma for 7 days while the medics fought to save his life. During this time he had a near-death experience of heaven that changed his life and belief in a loving Creator God. There are many other accounts of near-death experiences – but these are just a hint of what lies beyond this life.
There is one man who stands out in history as the only person who has truly died and come back to life to tell us about it. This man was Jesus Christ, who lived in Israel more than 2000 years ago and who was killed by expert Roman executioners in 30 A.D. The account of his life is told in the book of John in the Bible – a book which itself has more historical credence than any other religious text.
Jesus Christ is regarded by historians as a moral teacher and no charge was made for his execution. He himself said that he was the Son of God and even God Himself. “I and the Father are One” (John 10:30) and predicted his own death and resurrection to heaven. He promised this same after life to his followers. When his crucified body was laid in a stone tomb by the Roman executioners who guarded his body (lest his disciples steal it) Jesus miraculously came back to life and appeared in different places to his followers. At one point he let a doubting Thomas put his fingers into his side and ate fish with others to assure them that he was indeed alive and not a vision or spirit. He then left the earth forever and his body never found.
Why was Jesus’ body never found? Could someone have hidden it? The Roman guards faced death themselves for failing to guard the tomb. In fact, the Roman authorities bribed the soldiers to say it had been stolen – to save face with the crowds. (Matthew 28:12-14) As belief in this Jesus Christ grew, the Roman authorities could have paraded his body through the streets to prove this was false. The newly named Christians themselves were dismayed at the death of their leader and faced torture and death for their beliefs. Why would they die for a lie – even taking their children with them to the lion arenas?
Today more than 2000 years later there remain a group of people who call themselves by the name of this man, Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead and promised that there was a life after death which His Father had planned from the very beginning. Jesus told not only of an eternal after-life, but the possibility of a purposeful life here and now. He said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Could getting to know more about this man Jesus Christ explain not only what happens after death but why we are on this earth? If you’d like to think more about this question, click on one of these links to read more.