Today's Pondering: A World of Neverending Happiness…?

Perhaps they are not stars in the sky, but rather openings where our loved ones shine down to let us know they are happy.~Eskimo saying

Today, I am thinking about death.  Not in the sense that I think I’m dying, but from the standpoint of what happens to us after we pass on from this life.  Some religions believe that we are resurrected, some believe that we simply evolve into greater consciousness.  Over the years, my own views about what happens to us after death have changed slightly.  As a child, I was taught that there was a Heaven and a Hell and that if we did what we were supposed to do we would go to Heaven.  As I got older, I figured that God must have a reason for taking us from this place and that He must be taking us somewhere.  Otherwise, what’s the point? 

Depending upon the circumstances surrounding our deaths, the belief in an afterlife can either be comforting or confusing.  For instance, I lost my grandfather last year following a lengthy illness.  He was eighty years old and his passing, although sad for our family, seemed to be necessary as a means of ending his suffering.  Though I would have preferred to have him around forever, his death made sense.  A few years earlier, my aunt passed away unexpectedly and her passing just didn’t make sense to me.  I took comfort in the idea that she was going to a better place, but somehow, it didn’t seem like the right time.  Even more confusing were the five miscarriages I suffered over a seven year period.  There was really no way for me to rationalize His taking these souls away from the Earth before they had even had a chance to exist.   Since my belief in the afterlife hinged on how well we live our lives, it made no sense to me that those who hadn’t really gotten to live yet would be taken so arbitrarily. 

My grandfather’s death, being the most recent, actually helped me to understand that the soul is the thing.  Though in the back of my mind I might have believed this all along, I now feel sure that the person we come to know and love really is just a shell for the spirit and that the spirit passes on into some other realm after death.  I’m still not exactly sure what I believe in terms of an “afterworld,” but I can see validity in what some other faiths believe.  Granted, there is no good way to test these theories.  At least none where we can report findings to anyone who isn’t on the other side with us.  But, for the sake of argument, here is some information on the different beliefs that exist out there:

Jehova’s Witnesses believe that “after the world is purified, a theocracy “God’s Kingdom” will be established on earth for 1000 years. Those who survive Armageddon, the “other sheep,” will live in peace in the newly created utopia. They will be joined by the worthy dead who have been resurrected.”

“The final goal of salvation in Hinduism is escape from the endless round of birth, death, and rebirth. That can mean an eternal resting place for the individual personality in the arms of a loving, personal God, but it usually means the dissolving of all personality into the unimaginable abyss of Brahman.”  

Orthodox Jews believe in resurrection and physical life after death while Reform Movement Jews reject all notions of this.  Instead, they believe in the immortality of every soul which will eventually return to God.  Some Native Americans believe that death represents the beginning of a new journey for the soul.  Sikhs believe in reincarnation, and that  “death is only the progression of the soul on its journey from God, through the created universe, and back to God again.”   

“Conservative Protestants believe that everyone has the gift of eternal life. The body dies, but the soul lives forever. The big question is where each person will spend eternity. Heaven is a glorious location where there is an absence of pain, disease, sex, depression, etc. and where people live in new, spiritual bodies, in the presence of Jesus Christ. Hell is a location where its inmates will be punished without any hope of relief, for eternity.”  Muslims believe that each man will be judged according to his situation, and every man who lives according to the truth to the best of his abilities will achieve heaven.   There are very vivid descriptions in the Qur’an about Heaven and Hell.

No matter what your belief, one thing is certain; death is often where we look to find the meaning of our own lives.  When we lose a loved one, we go through our respective rituals and practices for observing their passing hoping that we are doing what our God wants us to do to honor both their life and their death.  Hopefully, out of all of this comes a deeper understanding of God’s plan for us.

All descriptions were taken from and from the book, How to Be a Perfect Stranger by Stuart M. Matlins and Arthur J. Magida.