The Views On Death And The Afterlife In World Religions
Death is something that every human will eventually face one day or another. As human beings it is in fact just a part of life. Death comes knocking on the door for some much quicker than others, but what happens after death? Well, in many religions there is a belief of the afterlife. The afterlife is essentially life after death. There are many ideas that are swayed around through all of these religions even along the realm of science as well. There have been supernatural accounts where people have encountered the afterlife during a near death experience. To add on to this, there are many who believe that there is much more to life than our present moment. Within all these ideas, it is generally believed that when death comes the afterlife begins which only consists of a partial element of our bodies, which could be our soul or the spirit of an individual that carries on to the afterlife. According to much research pertaining to the many views concerning the afterlife it is believed that our continued existence takes place in the spiritual realm.
In Christianity, this is what we highly believe. For us believers, we understand that God has created us in His image and we recognize that our flesh or even material things will not go with us into the afterlife. God created us out of the dust and to the dust we shall return. It is only our spirit that lives on. This paper will explore different views of a couple of major religions and explain their basic view of the afterlife and what that entails. After those views are addressed, we will then explore Christianity and what the Scriptures have to mention concerning the afterlife. All across the board there are some similarities between belief systems, but then there are many differences as well.
In Islam, it is believed that when death comes it marks the end of the worldly life, but a new life begins which is the afterlife. For those who follow Islam it is believed that the soul lives on and for those who do not believe in Islam, death is seen as a painful experience. Now for those who do believe they see it as the beginning of another journey that is considered as a gift. Muslims believe that (just like Christianity) there will be a day of judgement where all of humanity will be separated between two places, which we know as, heaven and hell. One of the doctrines of the Quran is one of Muhammad’s teachings that on the last day (known as judgement day) that any previous people who have died will remain in the graves until this day where those who have believed and followed the things of the Quran will be resurrected and will then be in Heaven.
As we see here the Quran is fairly similar to the Christian belief. In Islamic tradition, it explains in specific details what exactly happens to a person when they come to encounter death. Specifically, in three ways, which occur before the death, during the death, and after the death. It is believed that the Angel of death (which has a name in Arabic: Malak al-Maut) appears to those who are experiencing death in which he comes to extract the soul in either the most painful way or the easy way. The painful way happens to those who have not believed in the things of the Quran or have not had more good deeds done than bad deeds. Now for those who have believed and their good deeds outweigh the bad then their soul is extracted in a lesser pain. After the death is experienced then two angels appear to the body to question the dead person as to test their faith. For those who are found righteous they will then live in paradise with no punishments to serve. For those who are found unrighteous they will then be punished. In addition to this, in this tradition they believe that the end of the world is is called the life of barzakh. This essentially means that there will be a purgatory. This means that there is a stage between the world and what lies after that. The literal meaning of ‘Barzakh’ is basically a barrier that does not allow two things to meet. This is essentially the halfway point between being rewarded or being punished. For those who are still alive, there are a couple things that are considered as major sins, which are, suicide, euthanasia, and unjust murder.
Overall, death is seen as a an event in the Islamic tradition that then gives their people the access to another world that God has prepared for those who have done everything they can to outweigh their good deeds to the bad deeds. Every individual has one chance in this life to make the most of it before the judgement day comes, which is also known, as the day of separation. As death approaches then the beginning of the afterlife begins. For many Muslims when death approaches they are required to give a profession of faith which states that there are no other Gods but Allah. Just as in most traditions, death is seen as just a part of life and that the afterlife is the mark of a new beginning.
Similarly, to Islam tradition the Catholics also understand that death is inevitable and that at one point in one’s life death will be faced. There is a belief that there is a heaven and a hell. In addition to this, there is also a purgatory. The difference between Catholicism and Islam is that in Catholicism Jesus is essentially the game changer when it comes to the afterlife. Catholics believe that Jesus changed everything due to his human identity in which caused Him to be able to pay the price for the sins of the world. Rather than Muhammed being the prophet, or the chosen one, in this case it is Jesus. There are three places that the soul can go to heaven, hell, or purgatory. All this is determined by the beliefs of the person. In Catholicism, Jesus is the one who changed everything. Jesus was able to conquer death and provide a way for those who believe to be redeemed. Heaven is seen as the place where everyone wants to go to. This is the ultimate goal for those who believe. Just as in other traditions there is no specific details on what heaven will entail, but as we all can imagine it ourselves we picture it as being much more peaceful than this world. In purgatory, the people will go here to be purified of any sin which is just a temporary place where people will go until they are ready to enter heaven as pure individuals. In this place people are basically going through a temporary punishment in order to be purified from their sins. Hell is a place that no one wants to go to but of course there will still be people who experience this awful place. The Catholic church just expresses that hell is a place where people will essentially be separated from God which would be the greatest loss to any individual. All in all, there are some similarities along with some slight differences in the belief system of the afterlife. No one knows exactly what happens in Heaven, but for most people that is a destination where everyone wants to go. It is evident to see that there are more similarities than differences between Catholocism and Islam and as we move forward we will see what the Protestants believe pertaining to the afterlife.
Much like the previous traditions, there are many similarities between Protestants and the others. They also believe that there is a heaven and hell, but when it comes to the idea of purgatory the Protestants differ on this topic which will be explained in the coming paragraph. The Protestants believe that there is nothing an individual can do to earn a spot in heaven. God has freely chosen to forgive the sins of some and then they can enter heaven. Now this is only possible because of God’s grace. Concerning salvation the Protestants believe that to an extent one must do good works along with choosing God through faith and growing more like Christ. Speaking of the idea of Purgatory. Most protestants reject the Roman Catholic view because in the bible there is nothing really mentioned concerning this idea of purgatory. The typical response the Protestants have is that it is not mentioned in the bible then there should be no purgatory.
On the other hand, the Roman Catholics argue that how on earth will there be justification or purification without purgatory. How is one supposed to enter heaven fully pure. The Protestant hope is that humans will instantly be sanctified of their remaining sinfulness either at the point of death or immediately afterward. The Protestants believe that sanctification needs to take place during one’s life because who knows when death may come knocking on the door. They believe that sanctification is a process of maturity and not totally about purification. A person is holy not just because they are innocent of sin but because they have lost the appetite for sin and would rather please God through righteousness rather than falling into the same sins.
Within the different denominations along with individual Christians there are some slight differences in beliefs, but for the majority of Christians the belief in an afterlife along with heaven are fairly agreed upon. In this section we will explore the general view of the afterlife and not go into complete detail on the differences. Just as in the other traditions in Christian belief there is a heaven and a hell. Those who believe in Jesus Christ will go to heaven and those who do not accept Christ will go to hell. In Christianity, there is a heaven and there is a hell. Christians have always believed this but there is a way out of hell and that is through Jesus Christ. The afterlife for Christians does not necessary mark and end but simply marks the beginning of a new life. So we as Christians understand that by believing in the One He sent we are set free from the sting of death through our belief in Jesus. Also, within Christianity is the belief in a judgement day. Everyone one will be judged according to how they lived their lives here on earth. Those who live against God’s mercy and grace will then be punished for eternity in hell.
Christianity has always been a religion of hope and Christians have always agreed that those who trust in Jesus there is nothing to fear. As long as one repents of their sins and turns from their wicked ways they will be saved and be given the gift of eternal life along with eternal harmony with God. [footnoteRef:12] This is widely believed by most Christians. For the most part everyone is in agreement when it comes to this matter. Jesus Christ is the living hope of Christianity there is no other name given to man under heaven in which we must be saved. It is not the name of Allah or the name of any other God. It is simply the name of Jesus that gives us this hope into eternal life.
All in all, there are many similarities and differences between other traditions. The important thing for us Christians to understand is that within our denominations there may be some differences but that should not drift us apart from each other. Instead we ought to try to respect the differences between our belief system that some individuals may have. We should not try to argue the differences but rather try and understand our different viewpoints. Roger E. Olson breaks it down so wonderfully and says that instead of arguing with each other about these differences we ought to focus on helping those people who are untutored and help those Christians grasp essential Christian beliefs about life after death rather than letting them continue to pick up misconceptions from movies, television, so on and so forth. As Christians we have hope and that hope is that Jesus Christ has paid the price for all of us we just have to come to accept Him into our hearts and follow His ways. Eternity is ours if we really believe in the one that God sent.
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