Go back to normal view
There is no shortage of opinions in respect to this question. Every culture throughout history has wrestled with the troubling issues of life and death and sought to explain or rationalise it in a myriad of different ways, some of which, to a modern mind now seem very primitive and superstitious.
Add to this, the major religions of the world all have a perspective and clearly not everyone agrees, which incidentally, does not mean that all are wrong. But we’ll come back to ‘religious’ claims later.
In our modern western world less credibility is given to religious belief. For those who are critical of all things religious, hopes of a life beyond this are rejected as a version of ‘pie in the sky when you die.’ But given that the prospect of a life beyond this one is probably more attractive to many than the idea of nothing, it raises the question as to why many no longer believe in the Christian hope of resurrection, for example.
There are at least three reasons that may explain this:
Evolutionary teaching – or a variant of it – that maintains that human beings are only higher forms of animals. In other words, we are merely the product of the randomness of the evolutionary process. Life may be amazing but it remains a cosmic accident. There is no design, no handiwork of a creator and therefore we are not, as the Bible claims, made in the image of God. Even though I am writing as a Christian, I accept that this position is perfectly rational. If there is no God, then clearly there is no basis at all for believing that our lives continue in any form or fashion once our body dies.
Modern neuroscience has taught us much about how the brain functions and is wholly integral to our personality and the way we think and act. If certain parts of the brain are damaged, this invariably causes changes in our behaviour as much as in our ability to function. The general view, therefore, is that ‘we are our brain’ and that when our brain dies, ‘we’ die too.
Thirdly there is a high level of scepticism about the claims of religious teaching and whether the claims of a life hereafter can be verified. Let’s put this for a moment in a Christian context to explain what I mean. Christianity is unique in all religions in claiming that its founder, Jesus Christ, is fully human and fully divine. It claims that his death on the cross and burial in the tomb was superseded by his bodily resurrection – a changed and transformed body that is incorruptible (eternal and unchangeable). More than this, it claims on the basis of Jesus’ teaching as well as that of his apostles, that all who believe and trust in Jesus Christ will also inherit eternal life and be given a new body like his at the end of human history. This is the teaching of the New Testament part of the Bible.
Now, many people dispute whether what the Bible teaches is true. If you begin with an atheistic world view, then its teaching must be false – that much must follow. But there is another way of looking at it. Plenty of people, atheists and agnostics alike, have come afresh to the teaching and person of Jesus and come to the view that this has a compelling ring of truth about it. They have studied the evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and found the evidence hard to resist.
So far as I know, no other religious prophet died and was raised to life except Jesus Christ. Throughout his teaching, Jesus taught much about this life but also what was to follow when this life was over. More than this, he described himself ‘as the resurrection and the life.’ He claimed that those who believed in him would live even though they would die physically. He talked about going to prepare a place for those who believed in him so that they would be with him when this life came to its end. And as for the future, he spoke of returning to this earth at the end of human history. There would be a day of judgement for all who had lived, to give an account before him for how they had lived their lives. Beyond this, is a promise of a new earth – a new creation that is perfect and without suffering and death, a place where God and man will finally dwell together.
Jesus was very clear in his teaching about these matters. And to claim that you were personally, the ‘resurrection and the life’ would be absurd unless of course, you rose from the dead to prove it was true!
If the God that Jesus reveals to us is true, then we are much more than animals. We are people created with a purpose. Life has meaning and this is to be found in knowing our God and walking in fellowship with Him and in obedience to His teaching. The Bible affirms that the universe was no accident and that life on earth did not begin by chance but by intent and with purpose. Human life only reaches its full potential when we understand the purposes for which God has given it.
What about brain death? If we are created by God and made in his image – each person unique and special to Him – why should we believe it to be beyond God’s power to ‘keep’ that which is unique about each one of us and to provide our essential being with a new body when that time comes. True, it cannot be proven but this does not mean that the New Testament evidence for belief is unfounded or unreasonable. If we think that science is the only basis for what is true then we have a very limited view of life. Science can only test phenomena that can be observed. Quite clearly, life beyond this cannot fall into this category.
The claims of the Christian faith are really worth examining because they offer meaning, purpose and hope to each one of us. These claims can be tested and certainly this applies to the core of the Christian faith which is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Most Christians are fully aware that if Jesus was not raised from the dead, then our faith is in vain. His resurrection is the basis for our hope and for that of all mankind. Why not research it for yourself. As someone reputedly said, we shall have a long time to regret getting it wrong!
Suggestions for further reading:
The New Testament gospels.
The Case for Christ, written by Lee Strobel , published by Harper Collins.
The testimony of Ian McCormack. (http://www.aglimpseofeternity.org/)