I wish to focus today’s spotlight on the idea central to some sort of survival following physical death. “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that 62% of American Adults believe in life after death. Just 17% do not, but 20% are still unsure if there’s an afterlife.”1 That said, “Fewer Americans say they believe in God or pray regularly — yet more people believe in an afterlife nonetheless, a new study finds. It’s a generational thing, with millennials the least likely generation to say they’re religious or to take the Bible literally, the team at San Diego State University, Florida Atlantic University and Case Western Reserve University found.”2
Heaven, Hell, or ???
There are many ideas about what sort of life after death one might experience. For some, it’s intelligence that survives and somehow participates in the whole of intelligence. For others, it’s the soul or spirit that lives on in heaven or hell. Still others refuse to accept the idea of heaven or hell and see the entire matter as a life-school that, through a combination of Karma and Dharma, provides us with the ability to work out our errors and progress toward—well that too differs from Nirvana to the presence of a Divine being.
As regards the soul and spirit, that too is confusing. “In the Old Testament, “spirit” is ruach, found some 378 times in the Hebrew Old Testament, and literally meaning “breath,” “wind,” etc.” Breath itself—this may represent incarnate life but “The term “spirit” can be employed, however, in a higher sense. It also is used to depict the nature of a non-material being, e.g. God. God (the Father), as to his essence, is spirit, he is not a physical or material being (Lk. 24:39; Mt. 16:17).3
“The Hebrew term for “soul” is nephesh and it is found more than 780 times in the Old Testament. Because of the variety of contextual meanings, it is not always rendered by the English word ‘soul.’” The King James Version uses 28 different words by which to translate the original term. Nephesh, therefore, signifies different things, depending upon the passage in which it occurs. ’Soul’ may signify merely an individual person. The prophet Ezekiel declared that the “soul” (i.e., the person) who sins will surely die (Ezek. 18:20), or, as Peter would write centuries later, “eight souls” were saved by water in the days of Noah (1 Pet. 3:20).” However, the most common interpretation defines the soul this way, “’Soul’ can have to do with that aspect of man that is characterized by the intellectual and emotional (Gen. 27:25; Job 30:16). It is the eternal component of man that is fashioned in the very image of God (Gen. 1:26), and that can exist apart from the physical body (Mt. 10:28; Rev. 6:9).”4
Temporal or Eternal
We all naturally wish to live on. The idea of simply ceasing to exist at all is frightening to many and most disconcerting to others. Ceasing to exist at all, in any way, tends to plead for a morbid axiology since our behavior matters only to ourselves. Why not then simply maximize our pleasure and minimize our pain from a purely selfish perspective?
For me, this selfish perspective loses sight of the most rewarding elements to life. With or without an eternal life, our most treasured moments, those with real meaning, what I have often called the warm fuzzy feeling, are derived from helping others, from shared love, from compassionate action, from unselfish motives. My thoughts anyway, what are yours?
- Staff. 2017. “Most Americans Believe in the Afterlife.” Rasmussen Reports. June 8, 2017.
- Fox, M. 2016. “Fewer Americans Believe in God — Yet They Still Believe in Afterlife.” NBCNews.com. March 21, 2016.
- Jackson, W. “Soul and Spirit: What’s the Difference?” Christian Courier.