Longing for the Hereafter

Reuben David

A journalist by profession, Reuben David  has spoken in Europe, Asia, and America, and to university audiences around the world. He has addressed media and religious leaders in several venues, including a remarkable session entitled, “Understanding Islam: Challenges to Democracy and Diversity,” organized by the Association of Muslim Social Scientists in Washington, DC.A former Visiting Scholar with The Wilberforce Forum, the Christian worldview think tank founded by Charles Colson, Mr. David has written extensively on world religions. Born and raised in India — home to Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism — Reuben is well versed in the practical realities of comparative religions today. His first-hand knowledge of religions, cults, and the competing philosophies and ideologies of our day has made him a popular lecturer and seminar leader with university students and adult audiences alike. Mr. David holds masters’ degrees in mass media, psychology, and religion from Regent University in Alexandria, Virginia, and from Bangalore University in India. He is currently a professor of journalism at the North Central University in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The quest for a better, healthier and longer life is a deep desire in every human being. We all aspire to lead a full life. We eat, drink, exercise, work, make money and spend our leisure in pursuing our interests. We do these things to keep ourselves fit and trim and we long to experience a better life. The bookstores and libraries are full of books that talk about the art of living better. Think about the weight-loss industry and the amount of money people are willing to spend in order to get in shape.1 The weight-loss industry in America is estimated to be a $50 billion a year industry. Americans will spend massive money on all types of diet programs and products, including diet foods and drinks. People like to stretch their physical bodies to the maximum hoping to make the best out of their physique.

There is also the cosmetic industry---an industry that has long since promising the fount of eternal youth.  It’s another 10 billion dollar industry with an endless array of pills, creams, powders, liquids, gels, Botox and plastic surgery. We use these products and services to enhance our physical life. According to a  CNN report2, even the recession has not seemed to stop people from making themselves feel good. Again, the instinctual desire to beautify life drives the insatiable spending on cosmetic goods.

There’s a hidden longing that runs deep in our hearts and minds. The longing to preserve our youth hood and somehow resist the tell tale signs of aging. In 1993 Indian medical doctor turned philosopher Deepak Chopra wrote a book titled, “Ageless Body, Timeless Mind”. It instantly became a bestseller as it tugged at the heart of the common man for immortality. Dubbed by TIME magazine as "the poet-prophet of alternative medicine." Chopra wrote, "We are not victims of aging, sickness, and death. These are part of the scenery, not of the seer, who is immune to any form of change. This seer is the spirit, the expression of eternal being."  Although I don’t agree with Chopra’s idea about God, his book underscored the pervasive desire for immortality among people.

This longing for the eternal fount of youth hood has haunted mankind from ancient of time. Interestingly, the longing does not just stop with just enhancing the physical life and the cosmetic life but is expanding to even resist death.

It’s hard to imagine that life would cease at death. Is that all there is to life? Is that all there is to all our deep seated immortal longings. What happens to our dreams, thoughts, memories, do they just cease to exist? From what we see, read and hear people are always interested in surmounting every challenge that threatens their desire for a better life.

We long to live on. Socrates said long ago, “I am confident that there truly is such a thing as living again, that the living spring from the dead, and that the souls of the dead are in existence." 

One of the mighty challenges that loom large in the face of all odds is death. We can lose our weight to look slim. We can cosmetically reshape our nose, alter our hair, change our complexion but we are challenged by death that seems to rob us of everything that makes us who we are.

Death is a big blow for the seeker of eternal youth but interestingly enough science is advancing to reverse this trend. The pursuit to extend life to immortality has profoundly interested scientists to come up with newer research. One of such research is the science of cryonics. It's the deep-freezing of human bodies immediately after death for preservation and possible revival in the future.

Believers call themselves cryonicists and they pay big money. It costs $150,000 for the whole body and about half that for just the brain and head. There are discounts for entire families and pets. The Arizona based Alcor Life Extension Foundation has established itself as a place where legally dead human bodies can be preserved in liquid nitrogen in the hope that someday science would advance to jump start them back to life. This is a revolutionary idea and a farfetched one at that. It’s built on the hope of science.
Some scientists believe it may take decades for science to advance to reverse death. Imagine, your dead body being brought back to life by scientific technology. All this is to say that human beings are deeply passionate about living forever. Some critics are of the opinion that science may never catch up to make dead people alive thus disappointing all those frozen chosen.

However, the longing for the hereafter is deeply real. It’s as real as watching the grass bloom and fade and spring again. Contemporary Israeli rabbi, the late Y. M. Tuckachinsky explains this concept of afterlife in a fascinating parable:3

“Imagine twins growing peacefully in the warmth of the womb. Their mouths are closed, and they are being fed via the navel. Their lives are serene. The whole world, to these brothers, is the interior of the womb. Who could conceive anything larger, better, more comfortable? They begin to wonder: "We are getting lower and lower. Surely if it continues, we will exit one day. What will happen after we exit?"

Now the first infant is a believer. He is heir to a religious tradition which tells him that there will be a "new life" after this wet and warm existence of the womb. A strange belief, seemingly without foundation, but one to which he holds fast. The second infant is a thorough-going skeptic. Mere stories do not deceive him. He believes only in that which can be demonstrated.

He is enlightened, and tolerates no idle conjecture. What is not within one's experience can have no basis in one's imagination.

Says the faithful brother: "After our 'death' here, there will be a new great world. We will eat through the mouth! We will see great distances, and we will hear through the ears on the sides of our heads. Why, our feet will be straightened! And our heads-up and free, rather than down and boxed in."

Replies the skeptic: "Nonsense. You're straining your imagination again. There is no foundation for this belief. It is only your survival instinct, an elaborate defense mechanism, a historically-conditioned subterfuge. You are looking for something to calm your fear of 'death.' There is only this world. There is no world-to-come!"

"Well then," asks the first, "what do you say it will be like?"
The second brother snappily replies with all the assurance of the slightly knowledgeable: "We will go with a bang. Our world will collapse and we will sink into oblivion. No more. Nothing. Black void. An end to consciousness. Forgotten. This may not be a comforting thought, but it is a logical one."

Suddenly the water inside the womb bursts. The womb convulses. Upheaval. Turmoil. Writhing. Everything lets loose. Then a mysterious pounding -- a crushing, staccato pounding. Faster, faster, lower, lower.

The believing brother exits. Tearing himself from the womb, he falls outward. The second brother shrieks, startled by the "accident" befallen his brother. He bewails and bemoans the tragedy--the death of a perfectly fine fellow. Why? Why? Why didn't he take better care? Why did he fall into that terrible abyss? As he thus laments, he hears a head-splitting cry, and a great tumult from the black abyss, and he trembles: "Oh my! What a horrible end! As I predicted!"

Meanwhile as the skeptic brother mourns, his "dead" brother has been born into the "new" world. The headsplitting cry is a sign of health and vigor, and the tumult is really a chorus of mazel tons sounded by the waiting family thanking God for the birth of a healthy son. Indeed, in the words of a contemporary thinker, man comes from the darkness of the "not yet," and proceeds to the darkness of the "no more." While it is difficult to imagine the "not yet" it is more difficult to picture the "no more."

As we separate and "die" from the womb, only to be born to life, so we separate and die from our world, only to be re-born to life eternal. The exit from the womb is the birth of the body. The exit from the body is the birth of the soul. As the womb requires a gestation period of nine months, the world requires a residence of 70 or 80 years. As the womb is prozdor, an anteroom preparatory to life, so our present existence is a prozdor to the world beyond.”

Yes, our present life is temporal. Apostle Paul says I Corinthians 15 verses 54-55, “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’”

Science can go only so far and no further. Life and death are in the hands of God. Christians around the world will celebrate Easter, an event that marks the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the glorious truth of Christianity: Jesus defeated death. Jesus rose back from the grave, appeared to his disciples and is alive today. According to Luke 24: 1-12, it says, “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.”

Jesus had risen. He was alive. Thousands of years ago, Job, the Old Testament saint raised a powerful question in Job 14 verse 14 “If a man dies, will he live again?”  To that question, Christ offers the answer in John 11 verses 25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” To one who believes in Jesus death is no more the enemy. Its sting is removed. Jesus has vanquished death. Being preserved in liquid nitrogen and hoping for science to defeat death will never ever happen. But faith in Christ will offer you the hope of eternal life. It’s better to believe and accept Jesus as your savior and look forward to the glorious eternal life rather than spending thousands of dollar and looking up to science to reverse death.

The core of Christian faith revolves around the resurrection of Jesus. Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 15 verses 17-19, "...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 to be pitied more than all men..."   He avowed, "...if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."  (1 Cor. 14:15)

If you are a believer in Christ you have a great hope of eternal life, one that science cannot deliver. If you are a non-believer you have the invitation to accept Christ into your heart and receive the gift of eternal life. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------