What will you be like when you are dead? People have been obsessed with this question for millennia. Ancient Egypt established the afterlife as a destination, a passing over to another realm, at least for the worthy (or wealthy). Emperor Qin Shi Huang (259 BCE – 210 BCE) did take it with him— 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, all in earthy terracotta. Dante Alighieri’s 14th century Divine Comedy describes for us the Nine Circles of Hell (Dante’s Inferno)— Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Avarice, Wrath, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, and Treachery; as well as a depiction of Heaven as the Four Cardinal Virtures— Justice, Fortitude, Prudence, and Temperance, coupled with the Three Theological Virtues— Faith, Hope and Love. Hinduism offers us Reincarnation, Islam— Paradise, Christianity— Heaven (or Hell, depending). And postmodern scientific uncertainty— well, uncertainty, or nothingness, or, just the end. Then there are those Near Death Experiences, when people seemingly return from beyond and tell us of visions of light, a tunnel, even Jesus. Hum. Oddly, they report that it is the little things in life, kindness, caring, touch, forgiveness, that truly matter.
What seems amazing, though, is how much energy we expend on preparing for death, or at least for retirement. It’s all about protecting ourselves, isn’t it. Nothing wrong with that, of course; but history reveals just how obsessive we can become with it. On the other end of the spectrum are those who live for the moment. Future be damned! Live for NOW. This disregard for the consequences of our actions, though oft pleasurable, has its own built in self-destruct machinery. Obviously, we need to establish a happier, more sensible middle arrangement.
Though most religions offer us some revelations of the afterlife, most can be considered to be speculative, metaphorical, or at best, scant. Even within my own faith, Biblical Christianity, the descriptions of the afterlife usually describe encounters with God the Father, Throne Rooms, Judgment, etc. Even if these descriptions are merely metaphorical, versus actual, they are enough to give me pause about my own position before a Holy God. Shouldn’t we be giving our energies to making a difference in this life, on this planet, in the lives of some of those we know, and some we don’t know— quite yet! I’m not living my life, being good, to avoid Hell, or to gain a reward in Heaven. I live my life as honorably as I know how, as compassionately as I can be, and as in line with the principles set-up by God at Creation for this world to run smoothly.
As long as I am alive, I want to be someone who makes a difference in other people’s lives. (I’ll probably drive God crazy when I’m dead.) How ‘bout you?
Have a nice week.