In the early 1830s, when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was less than three years old, the Lord invited members of the Church to seek wisdom by study and by the exercise of faith:
“And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118).
This is more than a simple exhortation to learn about the gospel. It is an invitation from the Lord to recognize that not all sources of knowledge are equally reliable. Seeking “out of the best books” does not mean seeking only one set of opinions, but it does require us to distinguish between reliable sources and unreliable sources.
Recognizing that today so much information about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be obtained from questionable and often inaccurate sources, officials of the Church began in 2013 to publish straightforward, in-depth essays on a number of topics. The purpose of these essays, which have been approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has been to gather accurate information from many different sources and publications and place it in the Gospel Topics section of LDS.org, where the material can more easily be accessed and studied by Church members and other interested parties.
The Church places great emphasis on knowledge and on the importance of being well informed about Church history, doctrine, and practices. Ongoing historical research, revisions of the Church’s curriculum, and the use of new technologies allowing a more systematic and thorough study of scriptures have all been pursued by the Church to that end. We again encourage members to study the Gospel Topics essays cited in the links below as they “seek learning, even by study and also by faith.”
The topic of death is front and center in my line of work as a hospice chaplain. A corollary topic that immediately follows is the question of life after death. Most of my patients, especially those with a Christian religious background believe in after life; Those from non-religious backgrounds are usually non-believers in life after death. Their view was best articulated by one of my Jewish patients thus: “When you are dead, you are dead; you go six feet under and that is it; end of story.”
Among believers in after life, there are two groups. Those who have no doubt that there is a heaven for those who live a good life and hell for those who are evil. This heaven is a far away location beyond the clouds with a pearly gate and singing angels where “there is no more sorrow or pain.” They would find meaning in their grief or comfort the bereaved using the following cliche: “He is in a better place.” Others in this group are less sure about the nature or location of heaven or hell, but believe that there is “some kind of life.”
As a Catholic, I once believed in heaven, purgatory and hell as post-death destinations for the good, the bad and the ugly. However, my work and studies in the field of death and dying and my emerging consciousness in a multi-religious and scientific culture has reshaped my understanding of life and death and what may lie beyond the grave or the urn. I am not a blind believer any more. I don't just believe in something just because it is written in a holy book or stated by a learned expert or proclaimed by a pious preacher. I am a strong proponent of “faith seeking understanding.”
At the outset, let me state that nobody knows for sure what happens after death, the operative word being, knows, because, as a wise man once said:” human life is like a book whose first and last chapters are missing.” Because of this lack of knowledge, religions have come up with different theories about our beginnings and our endings. Creationism, evolution and intelligent design are some of the major theories about our beginnings and heaven, hell, and reincarnation are advanced as theories of our endings.
I would like to propose six arguments for life after death, moving away from the blind faith of the religious to the faith seeking understanding of the spiritually curious.
First, let me start by defining death differently. When someone dies, we usually say: “the soul left the body,” which implies that the soul came from “somewhere,” inhabited the body for a few years and at the time of death, “left” to go back to where it came from. It also implies that the body existed first and and the soul came later to inhabit the body.
I think we should reverse that statement and say that at the time of death, “the body left the soul,” because the soul is eternal and ageless; It has no beginning or ending because the soul is part of God who is eternal. The soul that we carry within each one of our bodies, is a “piece” of God. That is what the Bible means when it says that we are created in the image and likeness of God.
So our body is just an impermanent and perishable wrapping for the soul; The seven billion people on this planet are wrapped in different colors, shapes and sizes, but inside, each one has a piece of God, a spark of divinity or the soul. Some have better wrappings than others. Some decorate and maintain their wrappings better than others, but at the end of the day, they are all wrappings. Death removes the wrappings, and the soul continues to live.
To illustrate this point, Deepak Chopra uses the analogy of a house and the space it occupies. The space existed before the house was built there. The house is the body and the space it occupies, is the soul. If the building is destroyed in a fire, the space it occupied is still there, and one can build another house there. (This is also a viable argument for reincarnation, but we won't get into that here).
Neale Donald Walsch describes each human being as a “localized” expression of the divine Being or as Singular Output of Universal Life (SOUL). Each human life is “God made physical.” We are gods with skin.
He uses the analogy of the ocean and the wave to describe the relationship between God and man. “What is important is that there is no single way in which life makes God physical. Some waves are small , barely a ripple, while other waves are huge, thunderous in their sweep. Yet, whether minuscule or monstrous, there is always a wave. And while every wave is different, not a single one is divided from the ocean itself. The wave lands on the beach,but it does not cease to be. It merely changes form, receding back into the ocean. The Ocean does not get “smaller” every time a wave hits the sand. Indeed, the incoming wave reveals the ocean's majesty. Then, by receding into the ocean, it restores the ocean's glory. The presence of the wave is the evidence of the existence of the ocean. Your presence is evidence of the existence of God. You are different from God, but you are not divided from God. The fact that you are not divided from God is why you can never die.”(emphasis mine)
Wayne Dyer uses the following expression to describe life, death and life after death. “We come from No- where, we are Now-here and we go No-where.” We come from no special location, because God is everywhere, we are now here on earth for a few years, and we go nowhere, which means not to any special location, because, like God, the soul could be present anywhere and everywhere at the same time.
So far, I have presupposed the “existence” of the soul. How do I answer someone who denies the very existence of the soul itself? I define “soul” as that which makes us “more than” our body. It is common experience that we are more than this physical body. When I look at a beautiful sunset and tears starts running down my cheeks, I am experiencing a “manifestation” of the soul. When I look into a stranger's eye and behold divinity, it is the soul seeing that. When I hug some one and whisper in her ears “I love you,” it is my soul speaking. When a mother jumps in front of a car to save the life of her child, it is her soul acting.
For many, lack of “physical proof” is the main reason for disbelieving the soul or life after death. I would argue that something does not have to be physical to be real. As a matter of fact, something that is spiritual can be MORE real than that which is physical.
Consider the example of person sitting next to you in a crowded New York subway car. You are rubbing shoulders with that person, you can see and touch that person, but your loved one miles away whom you are not seeing or touching can be “more real” than the person sitting next to you. Similarly, we cannot “see” time, or truth or love, or gravity or air, but they are all real. So, let us get away from the notion that something has to be physical to be real.
Now, let us return to the life of the soul after the body has died. Imagine you are watching your favorite television program. Fifteen minutes into the program, you shut off the TV and close your eyes. What happens to the program? It is still “in the air” as electromagnetic waves. Just because the television is “off'” the program does not cease to exist; just because the radio is “off” the music does not stop; just because the body has “died” the soul does not cease to live.
During our physical life on earth, we live in a three dimensional world and experience life mainly through our five senses. We also experience a “sixth sense” every now and then. The soul lives in a different dimension that is not accessible to our five senses. I believe that at death, our physical limitations end, and we begin to live in a different dimension which our eyes cannot see or ears cannot hear. According to String theory, there are thirteen dimensions in the universe and and we access only three during our physical life on earth. Is it possible that Jesus was referring to these dimensions when he said that there are many “mansions” in my father's house?
My third argument for life after death is the notion that all life is energy and energy cannot be destroyed but only transformed. I wonder if that insight is behind the thinking of the editors of Newsweek magazine who refer to someone's death not as an “obituary” but as a “transition.”
A seed that is planted in soil “perishes” but produces a new plant; a leaf that falls to the ground disintegrates and becomes part of fertilizer for new leaves to emerge; hydrogen and oxygen lose their separate identities as gases but when joined together, transform into a new reality called water; water in a container “evaporates” but comes down again as rain; Is it possible that the cyclical and trans-formative nature of everything around us is also endemic to our own existence?
My fourth argument for life after death is that, everything in life has opposites but life itself has no opposite. Let me explain. There is black and white, night and day, up and down, joy and sadness, etc. We cannot experience reality without its opposites. We would not know what “up” is without the concept of “down.” We cannot speak of “night” without “day.” In a sense, night “ends” day and vice versa.
So, what is the opposite of life? The usual answer is, death. As a matter of fact, we have “life and death” paired together in common parlance and most of literature. But “death” is not the opposite of “life.” The word that should be paired with “death” is actually “birth.” It should be “birth and death” not “life and death.” Life is the only thing in life that has no opposites thereby making “life” unending or eternal.
My fifth argument for life after death is from the field of technology. It was reported that the last words of Steve Jobs before his death, were, “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.” Is it possible that at that point of his transition, this tech genius was “seeing” something magnificent and beautiful? It is no coincidence that Apple products have no “on-off” switch on its devices.
Steve Jobs' biographer, Walter Issacson, remembers a conversation he had with Jobs about God, afterlife etc. during a 60 minutes interview: “I remember sitting in his back yard in his garden one day, and he started talking about God. He said, "Sometimes I don't. It's 50-50. But ever since I've had cancer I've been thinking about it more, and I find myself believing a bit more. Maybe that's because I want to believe in an afterlife, that when you die it doesn't just all disappear. The wisdom you've accumulated, somehow it just lives on." But then he paused for a second and he said, "Yeah but sometimes I think it's like an on-off switch. Click, and you're gone," he said. Paused again and said, "And that's why I don't put on-off switches on Apple devices."
My sixth argument for life after death is a refutation of the common argument that “if there is life after death, how come we don't know anything about it; or how come no one who has died ever came back to tell us?”
When we were in our mother's womb, we had no awareness of the life to come after our birth. We had no advance knowledge that we would be born into a world that has pizza and donuts and beaches, hills and valleys and cars, trains and plains and Ipods, and Ipads and Iphones. We had no idea that such a beautiful world existed, and yet it did.
May be there is a more beautiful and thrilling world awaiting us after we shed our temporal wrappings and no one knows enough to be a pessimist about it.
Let me conclude with another thought. When we were in our mother's womb, we lived in total darkness mostly slept through the nine months. Is it possible that, despite being outside the womb, we continue to “live in the dark” mostly “sleepwalking thorough life” and that is why it is hard for us to imagine life after death?