Hello there. This post is a summary of a subtopic in a book.
[[ On the aside… I’ve been wondering about “heaven”. My Dad and my Lolo (grandfather), and other relations as well, are already “there”. I have this wish to be “gathered together” with them someday. I am only one among the billions who think like this. 🙂 Although I have been familiar with it, it has only been now that I have begun to understand and deeply appreciate “resurrection“. For me the hope for it is something beautiful and profound. This is the reason why I share a summary below.
The author of the book is a distinguished Professor Emeritus and currently teaching at Universität Regensburg. The book is anthropological and has a lot to speak on scientific findings regarding man. The subtopic, which is found at the end of the last chapter, puts together in a flowing discussion some views on the destination of man at so-called “death”. The last paragraph in this summary is based on the Conclusion of the book. The summary that follows is a personal composition. It has not been published or featured anywhere and is not intended for commercial use. WELCOME to you who like me has been looking for “how to live“.]]
A Summary of the Subtopic The Final Destiny of Humanity
(of the Book The Human Being by Hans Schwarz)
Contrary to the expectations of those leading and participating in historical movements aiming for an ideal society—like in the founding of America, Marxism, Maoism, Stalinism, Nazism—none of them has succeeded. Events that can be traced to ideologies like those have demonstrated the extent of man’s, including Christians’, capacity for cruelty.
Moreover, even if we do manage to salvage our degrading environment scientific findings still point to an eventual disintegration of our solar system and even of the entire universe as we know it now. So far, therefore, an improvement or at least a continuation of our existence, as far as we define and comprehend it to be, will not involve the physical realm that we know. Man since prehistoric times has grasped this and has manifested it in his practices, specifically in burials.
Archeology points to a belief in man’s existence beyond death as early as about half a million years ago. Practices such as keeping skulls, mummification, sprinkling the corpse with red ochre, placing treasures and everyday necessities such as food with the body, placing it in a fetal position, or orienteering it to the east indicate this. Sociology, such as in the works of Mircea Eliade, points to the pervasiveness of this belief. Isolated communities still existing today, whose Late Stone Age culture of hunting-fishing-gathering remains intact, serve as proofs.
From the beliefs of these communities and from the oldest cave paintings can be seen a concept of the soul that is capable of being separated from the body. It is this soul that sees places or events during a dream or in a trance. The belief in such a “soul”, also referred to as anima (meaning spirit) comes hand in hand with the belief of a human existence even in the absence of the physical body. This anima that can travel independently of the body during sleep, for instance, leaves the body during death.
In some cultures, like Egypt’s, there is an elaborate preparation for the dead where food and items of luxury are stored in the burial chambers together with the preserved body. Egyptians believed that with the correct ritual the united soul and body go to heaven. In other cultures, like the Hebrews’, burials are not as elaborate.
In the Old Testament the tree of life is mentioned, though we are not told if Adam and Eve ate from it before they were forbidden from the garden (or what the effect would have been had they done so). Among the Near Eastern texts there is a story about the Mesopotamian half-god Gilgamesh and his search for the “tree of life”, on the death of his human friend Enkidu, but which did not turn out successfully. For the Canaanites the god of life, Baal, and the god of death, Mot, are responsible for the growth and the death of plants in the continuous cycle of seasons.
The Hebrews regarded death as matter-of-factly the end of living, and then as a transition to when a person is “gathered to one’s people”. Some tombs are cut from rocks, where inside are benches to lay the dead on until decay. The remaining bones are later removed and stored in the “lower pit”, together with the others’ in the family who had died earlier. Though the narration (1 Sam 28:9) about how Saul against the law tried to communicate with the dead Samuel indicates that a belief in an existence after death was present among the Hebrews, yet nowhere is this topic explored in the Old Testament. What is mostly mentioned is Sheol, the place where the dead go.
Sheol is a depressing place full of worms and maggots. This destination notwithstanding, the Israelites project their after-death existence onto their progenitors, primarily through the male children, emphasizing the concept of a continued existence that is within the community. Long life or old age, and having many sons, are proofs of God’s blessing.
This idea of communal existence was modified after Israel’s tragic exile into Babylon. Isaiah 2:2-4 indicates that the hope for the restoration of Israel came to include all the other nations as well, and still with emphasis on the whole group and not on individuals. This “salvation”, couched in mythical language, will have only peace and abundance, with the eradication of violence even among the animals. Apocalyptic writers later intensified this idea, where the time of “unlimited dominion of God” is hoped to come after the many years of human suffering. By then also there came to appear the concept of the individual’s “salvation”, like in Daniel 12:2, which is a picture of the dead being restored to life.
The restoration hoped for by Haggai and Zechariah that will be brought about during their lifetime by the Messiah did not happen. The Davidic-promise theme is also found in Deutero-Isaiah but without reference to its fulfillment in historic time. The hope in the Davidic messiah existed side by side the New Testament writers’ announcements that Jesus of Nazareth was the awaited Messiah; that his kingdom has begun its reign, and that salvation has come to happen. Jesus explains to Pilate though that his kingdom is “not of this world” (John 18:36).
Wolfhart Pannenberg speaks of the Christ event as proleptic; meaning, “At the end of the world there will occur on a cosmic scale, only that which happened in and with Jesus on an individual scale.” That is, Jesus’ resurrection is the first among the resurrections anticipated in the future. Jürgen Moltmann explains that if not for this universal eschatology man’s hopes for a better world would remain within the category of either “ethnic history of men or the existential history of the individual”, where neither of which is theological.
The apostle Paul explains, “there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:15.17). This is just as what Jesus said to Pilate, that his kingdom will not occur within the present world’s history. That is, man alone, no matter how “enlightened” he may be, will not be able to usher in this corporate and individual “restoration”. This hope for a restoration that originated in Israel’s exile has now come to directly address man’s propensity for hoping in an “ubounded” existence. This propensity has manifested in other ways aside from resurrection: in the concepts of reincarnation and immortality.
Those who believe in reincarnation see the cycles of existence as restricted by the amount of meritorious deeds that one accumulates. By an astounding amount of effort one may be able to break free from the cycle to finally exist in Nirvana, the ultimate reward. Some theologians are attracted to the emphasis here on a corporate final destination. However, in this existence a person’s “individuality” is erased––which is not so in resurrection. Tertullian, giving us a hint that reincarnation was known in the Roman Empire during the New Testament times, explained that the Elijah event was not a transmigration –– which is reincarnation –– but that his prophesied coming back would entail him coming as himself after just being translated, him having not died at all. Most of the Christian theologians likewise do not believe in reincarnation. A main point lies in the view that in reincarnation the living thing’s animating element acts independently throughout the cycles. Whereas, the Judeo-Christian tradition holds that this animating element originates from and is dependent on God.
A psychiatric phenomenon explainable as “super-extrasensory perception” seems to point to either reincarnation or immortality. In here highly sensitive persons seem to be able to integrate experiences and abilities of real persons that have lived before their time. However, a major researcher on this field, Ian Stevenson, sees it more of as possibly proof that the human personality is not eradicated in death.
From Aristotle came the idea of a “sensual soul” that is created at birth and dies together with the body, and of a pre-existing immortal “spiritual soul” that goes back to the gods upon death. Plato, on the other hand, advocated reincarnation within “migration cycles” of individual souls from their residence stars to the bodies provided by the gods. The body is a sort of a trap for the soul, which is released in death. Paul was mocked in Athens as he was preaching on resurrection (Acts 17:32), because it gave attention to the body as well.
Worldviews from Greece and Rome advocating immortality as discussed above have been carried over even until today. The Catholic Church teaches this immortality of the soul, the same as Zwingli, Calvin and Luther did, and is still true with many Protestant Churches today.
The confusion stems from this difference: “immortality as a gift of God” and “an innate immortality of the soul, and thereby with a non-biblical soul-body dichotomy”. Karl Rahner says “death marks an end for the whole person”, which is consistent with New Testament notion of resurrection to a new creation like Jesus Christ’s. Luther explains that in God’s perspective there is no earlier or later, and so no time interval as we would perceive it to be existing between death and resurrection. In this sense a person is not totally gone but is in fact in a stand-by mode, so to speak, and is in God’s care. Finally, the end destination is either being separated from God that is “eternal death”, or being with God that is “eternal life”. Again, “There is no suggestion in the New Testament of a continuity through and beyond death, nor of a reuniting of body and soul. It is only God’s graciousness which allows for new life through resurrection, assuring that at death we do not fall into nothingness, but metaphorically speaking, into the all-embracing hands of God.”
Materialists like Feuerbach and Marx by consequence do not believe in immortality as discussed above. However, even the quantity energy dealt with in physics—which continues to exist apart from matter, and is therefore a “disembodied existence” —contradicts materialism, which says that “any existence needs a material base”. Together with the evolutionists they advocated a continual “improvement” by and of humankind, and consequently “no need of a fulfillment in a hereafter”. Frank J. Tipler modifies this hope and declared that eventually it will be computers that will replace extinct humans (who are no more than information processors) and so will enable the fulfillment of immortality in that all who had died, and even those who were still about to be born, will be produced as computer generated emulations—thereby reconciling his Omega Point theory (a “testable physical theory” leading to the Judeo-Christian resurrection) with the biblical resurrection, and with “redemption” by reason (and not by faith).
Tipler, however, projects that this computer-generated world will also have to end, collapsing like the universe subject to gravity. A Christian eschatology that doesn’t consider the physical limitations of matter-space-time is a superstition. According to Karl Jaspers any science-based optimism of this world’s future that does not consider so likewise is a scientific superstition. Nevertheless, what is clear is that man has the propensity to believe in an existence “beyond” what is there at present and one that is “better”. The New Testament’s answer for this is that through Christ God has a plan for all creatures on earth. This plan, however, is beyond man’s comprehension.
Side by side with our conviction that we are more than what we can see for ourselves we must be aware of our limitations, that “[a]ny attempt to attain heavenly bliss by our own efforts is doomed to failure.” Paul Crutzen calls the present epoch Anthropocene, seeing that we are a major agent in the changing of the earth’s surface. God has charged us to take care of creation—this “task includes the sensitizing of ourselves and others, and forming communities of care.” In the present earth and in the coming new earth we have been intended to live as a corporate entity, individuals that are interdependent. Though we have leeway for choice, it is only God who has a will that is truly free. Though made in His image, we are still creatures and as such it is foolishness to aspire to comprehend the entirety of His plan. As it is, trusting Him for all that we need and hope for—most especially “that better life” when there is no more suffering—is not a license for doing less than what we are capable of. ♦