What is Your Image of An AfterLife?

How do you imagine the afterlife? According to one theologian, your image of the afterlife evolves from your image of yourself and God. Dr. Geddes McGregor, in his book Images of Afterlife (Paragon House) describes the journey mankind has taken in developing its afterlife images. He explores the scriptural heritages of both Eastern and Western civilizations detailing how these cultures have looked at man’s destiny.

In the "Great Scheme of Things" who am I? Why am I? What is to be my final destiny? Man has wrestled with these perplexing thoughts for ages. The ancients evidently felt the dead departed on a journey. A journey that was a continuation of one’s present life, but ‘in the stars’.

Images from the Eastern religions brought purpose into the concept of an afterlife. The soul is immortal because that is its nature, being created by God. Afterlife is repeated earthly incarnations which allow the soul to grow by learning to relinquish the self.

Contrary-wise Judeo-Christian and Moslem religions have no doctrine of pre-existence. A person is created body and soul at the time of birth and the soul has no immortality except as granted by a loving God. Afterlife belief—resurrection—includes bringing the whole person back to life in some form.

By the time of the early Western civilizations, the soul still had a vague, other-worldly quality about it—the "essence" of a person; a shadow which survived death. Afterlife concepts began to evolve destinations. The Greek Hades and its Jewish counterpart-Shoel-were thought to be underground and dreary, but not eternal.

Biblical emphasis on ethical teachings influenced early Christian thinkers into considering the need to purify the soul. New elements of afterlife thinking appeared in the Medieval church. Hades/Shoel developed into a fiery Hell; Heaven and Hell became eternal. Eternal life was only attainable through the auspices of a God of Grace.

Common to all afterlife belief systems is judgment: the question who shall be raised up and who not? The idea of judgment is universal in all established religions, and inevitable. We have come to realize that the universe is governed by moral principle—to love God completely. Without this governing principle, why should there be any concern for afterlife at all except to grow into its full compliance. If therefore I am to be judged then I am responsible and I must be allowed the opportunities to grow.

The author notes through these examples that there is too much for a person to accomplish in one lifetime. He proposes reincarnation as the process which enables us to enter into God’s plan for His universe. It is the instrument by which we are constantly judged and educated. Karma—the record of our deeds and misdeeds—is the universal law which enables our moral balance. Sooner or later, virtue will be rewarded; vice punished. All systems of afterlife point to growth in the spirit. Karma, the law, will be fulfilled through reincarnation, not as punishment, but as development—an educational process for moral and spiritual growth. Our image of an afterlife reflects our image of ourselves growing closer to God.

(Digest by Myron Gantt, Atlantic University.)