A person posting on Disqus quoted an excerpt from Shakespeare’s Macbeth:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
His question was: Do you believe in an afterlife? The range of answers speaks to the many ways we humans frame our sense of purpose and meaning or perhaps adhere to none at all in any absolute sense.
My answer follows:
Yes, I believe in an afterlife. The question is will this afterlife be “mine” consisting of a “me?” There certainly is this thing called “life” in its many forms, and more importantly this “I” that has a consciousness. That individual consciousness may or may not experience an afterlife, but what about a transcendent universal consciousness that is eternal, and from which all lesser forms of consciousness find their origin and their return? This question is the “drop returning to the ocean” question. The drop is individual, distinct, measurable, even to a degree unique, and then disappears when returned to the ocean, but has not ceased to exist except in form and individual “identity.” The ego, small and fearful, and in love with itself, finds this metaphor very unsatisfying. So what? The truth is not to be decided by our repulsion or despair. The truth is not reshaped according to our feelings.
The Christian view is more nuanced and complex than most Christians suppose. We know almost nothing about heaven (except it is a very good place) and hell (except it is a very bad place). The most important Christian contribution to the afterlife is that a) it is real and b) we are preparing for it now. This latter point is the key one. We don’t just randomly arrive in heaven or hell, we create it in the here and now, and take it with us into the afterlife. Another important general element of the Christian view is that individuality will not be extinguished in the afterlife, although it may exist in a period of dormancy without consciousness until restored in the form of new spiritual bodies [non-material in form and function].
The bad news of organized, rule-heavy religion is that it tries to mitigate the angst about death with “feel-good” formulas for getting to a fairy tale land called “heaven.” Jesus didn’t play that tune at all. He made it clear freedom of choice has eternal consequences, but apparently, we weren’t (and aren’t) ready to know all the details. Heaven for Jesus was a state of being completely aligned with the “Kingdom of God,” that is, the government, authority, character, and purposes of God. In that sense, the Kingdom of God is already here, and our entrance to it (or departure) is already underway. Conversely, if we add to the human accumulation of greed, bitterness, tyranny, theft, and betrayal, our hell is already here as well. The “fire” of hell is a metaphor for the utterly destructive end-game of such evil motivations. War is our best reminder of these evil forces, as the destruction of Syria currently illustrates.
This is the high price of love: the freedom to live outside the “Kingdom of Heaven.” I cannot explain the mystery of suffering, but I believe Jesus mourns as we mourn and that when He was physically with us, his life of suffering was a message to us from the Father that God suffers with us because of our sin, but that a path to true freedom is before us, if we choose it.