If you believe in an afterlife or a heaven, you are in the company of 74% of Americans. (Pew Research Center) A quote from 1 Corinthians 2:9 reminds us of our limited knowledge: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”
Before the recorded sacred books, there were the indicators that early human beings believed in an afterlife. This belief was one way to cope with the inevitability of death. We have learned from archaeological sources that people prepared corpses for another life. The 34,000-year-old Sunghir burial site in Russia is a good example. It included ornamental and practical accessories, suggesting that people believed the corpse would have an afterlife. Similar sites have been found, and archaeologists often use the contents of graves to detect religious practices in early societies.
Early cultures coped with death by fashioning their beliefs about an afterlife. They had common beliefs: Death is inevitable; the possibility of an afterlife eases the pain of death; judgments for good and bad behaviors were weighed after death; and the final destinations had multiple levels of rewards and punishments. I selected the early Egyptian culture as an example. Egypt had one of the earliest recorded religions. They believed that death was not the end; therefore, it was important to ensure the preservation of a body by mummification so the rebirth could occur. A rewarded afterlife required a review of the person’s actions in life and afterlife testing. With the acceptance of the gods, the spiritual body would live in a paradise, the Field of Reeds.
A view of Abrahamic religions will give insight into the beliefs of 54% of the world’s population. The eschatological beliefs of the Abrahamic religions reveal similarities. Eschatology is concerned with death, judgment and the final destiny of the soul. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are monotheistic. They believed in divine judgment based on predetermined requirements about their actions and faith.
Jewish people have various views about an afterlife, with early references to Sheol as the place where dead spirits go and Shamayim as heavens.
According to the Rabbi Evan Moffic, “Faith begins in mystery. Among the greatest mysteries we face is the afterlife.”
Rabbi Howard Jaffe gave a summarized view:
“The attitude of Judaism might best be summed up as ‘We really do not know, but if there is a life after this one, and a reward for what we do, then surely it will be dependent upon the kind of life we have lived. Therefore, let us strive to follow God’s path for us as closely and as enthusiastically as possible, for then we surely will know all manner of rewards, especially the one of seeing a world that is a better place for our efforts.’”
Most Muslims believe that after death they will stay in their graves until Judgment Day. A good overview of the Islamic beliefs is found in the Koran: “Everyone shall taste death. And only on the day of resurrection shall you be paid your wages in full. And whoever is removed away from the fire and admitted to paradise, this person is indeed successful.” Those who have more good deeds than bad will enter paradise. It is described as a garden of bliss and a peaceful home. Hell is a place with both physical and spiritual suffering. Muslims believe that Allah is forgiving, merciful and compassionate.
For Christians the promise of eternal life is based on faith in Jesus. In 1 Peter 1:3-5, the blessing is described: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” A vision of the new afterlife is found in Revelation 21:1, 3-5: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ ”
Being a person of faith is a journey of the heart! Express gratitude, extend kindness and pray.