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Death and the Afterlife

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Andrew Midgley

on 5 May 2017

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Transcript of Death and the Afterlife

Christianity and Resurrection
'They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon." Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how
Jesus was recognised by them when he broke the bread
. While they were still talking about this,
Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."
Christian Teaching on Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory
to 'elect' someone means to 'choose' them. There is a complex debate within Christianity over whether God
people for eternal life, or allows them free will to choose ... or whether there is some other way of understanding God's sovereignty.
Interpreting the Afterlife
- some evangelicals take the ideas
- other Christians (some also evangelicals) understand the ideas
; mental health issues or bereavement could be described as 'hell' for example
- many Bible passages seem to indicate a
physical existence of some kind
after death
Thank you!
Christian Beliefs
1] reincarnation
2] Platonic dualism
3] resurrection
Death and the Afterlife
Developments in Christian Thought
The Last Judgement
believed that most Christians do not enter heaven until the final
Day of Judgement
, when the universe, and time itself, come to an end. Irenaeus said that while they are waiting, they
sleep in peaceful happiness
. There are some exceptional people (prophets, saints, martyrs) who go to heaven without having to wait.
Jewish sources
believed in resurrection in New Testament times.
, who was obviously Jewish, also believed in it.
Old Testament
sources refer to the possibility of resurrection, even if they do not state it explicitly. For example ...
'Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a
good old age
, an
old man
full of years
; and
he was gathered to his people
.' (Genesis 25:8)
The verse emphasises that Abraham has lived the full extent of a human life.
Can you see how?
he was gathered to his people
cannot mean
that his
body was returned to a family grave
, since this same phrase is used when lots of OT patriarchs die, and not all of them are returned to a family grave.
Could this be a hint that the person who died was going to join with other people that he knew
- perhaps ancestors or others with whom he shared something?
Other OT passages also make clear reference to resurrection. For example, the prophet Daniel:
'Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.' (Daniel 12:2)
... But Daniel was written at a time (around 165BC) when
Jews were being persecuted
for their faith. Could Daniel have been devised
to help them cope with their circumstances
? The promise that God's love and justice would be revealed in an afterlife would have been
very comforting
By the time of
, opinion was
still believed in resurrection,
did not. Later on, people understood that
the coming of the Messiah would prompt the raising of people from their graves
, to live new, liberated lives at a time of God's choosing.
Greek sources
's ideas had a massive influence on Christian ideas. Many Christians to this day believe that we are
physical beings
with a
non-physical soul
that will survive after the death of our bodies. Plato would have said that our released souls will return to contemplating the
Form of the Good
They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see;
a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?"
They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence
.' (Luke 24:33-43)
At the end of the gospel accounts, Jesus is
killed by crucifixion
outside the city of Jerusalem.
Guards make sure of his death
; no-one is in any doubt. Yet from the third day after the event,
people report sightings
of a Jesus who is
at once the same
and different from
, the Jesus who died.
Why might Christians believe this?
NT Wright lays out several reasons why Jesus' bodily resurrection is the most likely explanation for the gospel accounts:
The empty tomb
. Alternative explanations for this have been suggested, but none seem to hold water ...
a] 'Jesus wasn't really dead'.
he wasn't, escape from a sealed tomb would have required a superhuman effort, particularly after having been crucified three days previously and having eaten nothing since. But Roman soldiers knew how to check for signs of life. The chances of Jesus still being alive after they had taken him from the cross are extremely small.
b] 'The body was stolen.' Variously by Romans, Jews, or the disciples. The Romans and the Jews are unlikely condidates because they would simply have produced the body when the Christians began claiming Jesus had resurrected. The disciples are equally unlikely because many of them went on to be martyred for their faith. They would not have been prepared to die for something they knew was a lie.
c] 'The visitors went to the wrong tomb.' This would have been fairly easy to check.
There are also good reasons to think that the empty tomb stories are
a] It was unexpected. Nothing in the usually circulated Jewish traditions suggested that their Messiah would die and then rise. If it was made up, it is likely that people would have tried to fit the story in with existing expectations.
b] Shortly after this, the early church became extremely reckless about sickness and death, and would visit contagious patients with wilful abandon. Why did they not consider these things such an issue any more?
c] The first witnesses were women. At the time, this would have stopped any stories about Jesus' resurrection being believed. This was the kind of thing that Jewish society thought:
Any evidence which a woman [gives] is not valid (to offer), also they are not valid to offer
' (Talmud).
The only reason this detail (of women at the tomb) would have been recorded is because it was true - if they had just wanted to convince people, the gospel writers would have made up men as the first discoverers of Jesus' tomb.
The idea of what the resurrection would be like
goes from multiple views (Judaism) to
a single view
: an incorruptible, spiritually-oriented body composed of the material of the previous corruptible body (Christianity).
Appearances of Jesus to various people after his death
, in Luke 24, John 21 (on the shores of Lake Galilee), Acts 1 (on the Mount of Olives), and several others. This is in addition to his appearance to more people (e.g. Saul's conversion in Acts 9) after his ascension.
The stories of Jesus' resurrection provide a template for Christians' beliefs about what will happen to them after death. Much of this is found in Paul's writing in

1 Corinthians 15
If the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either
. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile;
you are still in your sins
. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied
. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the
firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep
. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.' (1 Cor 15:16-23)
Problems ...
What exactly is this 'spiritual body' that Jesus had in his resurrection?
How does it happen?
Key Beliefs
1] Resurrection involves a
bodily life, but transformed
2] The resurrected person is
the same as the one who died
3] Resurrection is not a 'natural' process, but a
miraculous gift of God
. It is not just something that all bodies do.
The New Testament
Thomas Aquinas
Aquinas was a follower of
, as well as a
, and he thought the soul was a 'life principle' and the 'form' of living things - that which made them recognisable. Human souls are 'rational', and this enabled the possibility of life after death. But Aquinas also thought that the human would survive death and witness God face-to-face in the
beatific vision
. Here, all doubt would be gone. Aquinas used 1 Corinthians to support this idea:
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
' (1 Cor 13:12)
Aquinas believed that this existence would be
. Thus, we needn't worry about getting bored.
A problem with the beatific vision idea is that it is hard to see how a timeless being is the same as our physical being. Everything about us works in sequences.
The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” But Abraham replied, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.”
(Luke 16:22-26)
Ideas of judgement are also prevalent in Christianity ...
Although Luke 16 is not *about* life after death, it shows that a Christian belief of heaven and hell involving some kind of physical existence, comprised of souls and bodies.
There are many
figurative descriptions of heaven
in the Bible, as the place where
God lives
seated on his throne
surrounded by the angels
. However, this doesn't mean that Christians believe in a geographical location called heaven, since
God is present in all places at all times
Other characteristics of heaven are:
('Our Father, who art in heaven ...' [Matthew 6:9])
('the great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass ...' [Revelation 21:21])
Bernard Williams had worried whether 'eternity' would really be desirable -
, however pleasurable it was at the start,
it would lose its appeal after thousands of years?
He argued that
part of the pleasure of living was in making choices about what to do with our limited lifespans
, and setting ourselves objectives, so that if we did, we might feel a sense of pride.
There have been various images used for describing hell:
separation from God
eternal pain and punishment
a rubbish dump
a site where 'weeds' are thrown after 'wheat' has been harvested
a lake of fiery sulphur
Conceptual difficulties
If punishment in hell is eternal, this calls into question
God's goodness
argued that
no amount of finite sins warranted infinite punishment
. However, others have responded that wronging God is
eternally bad
, therefore any and every sin necessitates eternal punishment. But many would consider that
punishment ought to be rehabilitative, not just retributive
John Hick
argued that hell could not be eternal along the lines of previous objections about God's goodness. Hick said that the belief in an eternal hell was developed as a means of
social control
, so that people would not disobey the religious authorities.
The Great Divorce
CS Lewis wrote a 'theological dream' about
. In it, he showed many different kinds of people travelling in a
bus to heaven
, and how they coped (or not) with heaven when they got there.
In one part of the story, a
who claimed that she did everything for her children was revealed to be placing all her identity in her mothering - her love for her children was really just a cypher for her
Another person was a '
', who considered themself hard done by life, and thought they deserved better. They were consumed by
- another kind of
the moralist
is one of the easiest to understand. The moralist defines themself by their
moral standing above or below others

Lewis said that all of these people find heaven uncomfortable, because
heaven will not let them continue in their different varieties of self-love
Only those who give themselves up to God will be able to enjoy him
In the 6th century, Pope Gregory developed the idea of purgatory, based on a passage in Matthew's gospel, where Jesus says:
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven,
either in this age or in the age to come
. (Mt 12:30-32)
Gregory considered that this passage spoke of the possibility of forgiveness 'in the age to come'. Therefore, forgiveness is a possibility after death, so there needed to be a place to facilitate that.
In purgatory the soul is purged - made clean, or purified, before the person is ready to enter heaven. According to Roman Catholic teaching, some souls are not in a sufficient state of sin to warrant being sent to hell, but they are also too impure to enter heaven.
The Catholic theologian
Karl Rahner
developed the doctrine of purgatory, seeing it not as a place of purifying pain, but a
metaphor for the soul's greater awareness of the consequences of sin in the time between death and the Last Judgement
Protestant Christians tend to reject the doctrine of purgatory, feeling that a] it is not sufficiently supported by the Bible, and b] that it implies that Jesus' act of salvation on the cross was insufficient.
The doctrine of election arises from a belief in God's
. If he is
, this must mean that
everybody's motivations and decisions are known to him in advance
There are divergent views about how this might work:
held to
limited election
. In his disputes with
, Augustine often had to refute the idea that people were born with a blank slate, neither good nor evil, and could earn their place in heaven. Augustine believed that people were born with
Original Sin
and consequently no-one could earn salvation, because that would be the same thing as saying to God, 'I deserve reward in heaven'. This, for Augustine, was impossible.
In Augustine's
writings, he concluded that God's foreknowledge meant that he knew everything for certain, so
he knew people's destinies before they were born
. However, this was knowledge of
what people would freely choose to do
In Augustine's
writings, he moved towards the belief that
not only does God know, he also chooses who will and won't be saved
from Original Sin. He found back-up for this in the Bible:
'And we know that
in all things God works for the good of those who love him
, who have been
called according to his purpose
. For those God
he also
predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son
, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he
, he also
; those he called, he also
; those he justified, he also
.' (Romans 8:28-30)
While this may seem harsh, said Augustine, it is a sign of God's grace. All people sin, so no-one deserves eternal life. That God allows anyone at all to be saved is evidence of his great love.
John Calvin
believed in God's
. He wrote (in 1536) that God is in total control (has absolute
) of everything that happens. Thus, no-one could surprise God by coming to Christian faith, and no-one could reject God when God had expected otherwise. So God already knew who would be saved and who would not, meaning he had to have chosen the destiny of each human life before it began.
'All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestined to life or to death.' (Institutes of the Christian religion, 1536)
Many Christians have argued that this gives such a
controlling picture of God
no room is left for human choice
. This could undermine our moral responsibility or our efforts to rightly worship God. One could argue that if our ultimate destination is already decided, we can behave however we like.
Karl Barth
(1886-1968) developed the doctrine of
unlimited election
. He argued that Jesus Christ brought salvation for the whole world. He saw election in terms of choice - not humans' choices, but the choice that God made to send Jesus, the elected man, into the world.
In this way, Barth tried to combine the idea that people are only saved if God chooses (rather than through their own efforts) with the idea that a loving God would reject the possibility of salvation for some. Consequently, humans who accept Jesus as their representative - in other words who have Christian faith - may have eternal life.
John Hick was a
. He went further than Barth. He argued that God would save all people, regardless of their beliefs. He believed this because he met good people who weren't Christians, and found it difficult to believe that God would not accept them.
Hick believed that the afterlife would provide further opportunities for people to grow into making choices for God. In his view, different religions are merely different expressions of the same universal human desire for God - there are no 'right' or 'wrong' religions.
Hick's view has been criticised, however:
Joseph Ratzinger
argued that
Hick's universalism makes Christ's death on the cross pointless
himself, in
John 14:6
, said,
'No-one comes to the Father except through me.'
3] Not only Hick, but other interpreters of election, must reckon with passages like
Matthew 25
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32
All the nations will be gathered before him
, and
he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats
. 33 He will put the
on his
and the
on his

34 “Then the King will say to those on his
, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the
will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his
, ‘Depart from me, you who are
, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to
eternal punishment
, but the
eternal life
John Calvin
argued that the dead are not sleeping while they wait for the Last Judgement. They are
conscious, either in peaceful bliss, or in pain
Luke 16:19-31
tells the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, wherein Lazarus is taken
straight to heaven after his death
- this would be another alternative view. However, this is a parable originally told to illustrate a point about how we treat the poor, not to give us firm knowledge of what happens after death.
says (in Luke 23:42-3) to the thief on the cross: 'Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.' This, too, could be supporting the 'immediate transfer' view that the thief would
go to heaven right away
'Eternal' Life?
Further Issues
Thomas Aquinas
believed that the
beatific vision
was an
eternal, timeless moment
, rather than time stretching to eternity. This is because if God is eternal, his 'natural habitat' is eternity, rather than time. This view also avoids the fear of a boring afterlife.
Revelation 19
is but one Bible passage which mentions activities such as singing in heaven. This would imply, not an eternal moment, but the
passage of time
. Also, is our personhood compromised if we no longer exist in time? Passage through time is, after all, something we may consider fundamental about ourselves.
John Hick
unhappy with the idea of an eternal hell
(he was opposed to the idea of hell in general), because he felt it was incompatible with a God of love.
argue that God's goodness and justice means that
those who reject God require distancing from him
argues, contra Hick, that
all deserve eternal punishment in hell
- it's just that Jesus' sacrifice stops this from being an inevitability.
What is Heaven?
Revelation 21:1
speaks of a
'new heavens and a new earth'
, implying a physicality to the afterlife. The term 'heavens' does of course refer to the skies in much biblical teaching. This might imply a world transformed back to the state of Eden before the Fall.
is the name given to the
Second Coming of Christ
, when his judgement will be completed, and all creation will be reconstituted.
Karl Barth
, however, interpreted Christ's Second Coming to mean his
resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
. Still
conceive of the transformation and perfection of the world as
something that is underway today
, begun by Jesus 2000 years ago and continued by Christians through the ages.
Do all experience Purgatory?
Roman Catholics
have accepted the doctrine of purgatory since
Gregory the Great
. They believe that a purifying process is necessary before people may be admitted to the presence of God.
are less keen, believing that
having to make up for sins after death renders Jesus' sacrifice inefficient
Martin Luther
argued in 1517 that the doctrine of Purgatory was being used by
corrupt Roman Catholic priests to sell Indulgences
were spiritual assurances that the suffering of your deceased loved one could be reduced - for a cost.)
Which of these passages support the idea of purgatory?
1 Samuel 6:20
Isaiah 6:1-7
Luke 5:8
Matthew 5:48
2 Corinthians 7:1
How would
respond to each of these four issues?
Critically assess the view that hell is a place of eternal punishment. [40]

To what extent may a belief in purgatory be justified? [40]

'Election is too cruel a doctrine to believe.' Discuss. [40]
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