Unity views on...Life After Death
Before we begin to think about life after death, it is necessary to come to an understanding of the experience called "death."
Death seems like such a final thing. In order to conform to the practices of our society, we find it necessary to make all the trying funeral arrangements, even though we may not agree with the practices involved in a contemporary funeral.
There are visiting hours, the memorial service itself, and a trip to the cemetery. When the committal service at the cemetery is over, it all seems so final -- we often even refer to the gravesite as the "final resting place." A life is over.
Is it? Is life over when we leave the body of a loved one at the cemetery? Obviously, the body is no longer alive. But is the body the person we loved? Hardly! We really loved that person's character, his or her responsive mind and loving heart and compassionate soul. These do not die. If nothing else, they live on in our memory. We are the ones who choose how long and how pleasant our memory of them shall be.
Life is the supreme quality of God. Without life, none of the other qualities could exist. The human body is fragile. Surely the God who created this life would not confine it to the limitations of this fragility. The actual quality of life itself is eternal. It has lived on through ages and shall continue forever. this is the nature of life, as dictated by its history, its present, and its prognosis.
At the time of death, or soon after, the soul is believed to leave the body. This part of us that lives on is an unseen self, spirituality with its own identity. But where does this invisible substance go? Traditionally, we have thought that it goes wither to heaven or to hell, depending on the quality of personal behavior.
But let me give you an alternative-and please hear it through before you reject or accept it. It is reincarnation. This is the teaching that the "dead" person lives again as a human being in another human body. The teaching of reincarnation is not foreign to religious thought; it is enthusiastically embraced by many of the major world religions, especially the Eastern ones. It is not even foreign to Christianity.
As a matter of fact, it was fairly well accepted in Christian thought until the Council of Constantinople in A.D. 533, when a ruling was made by the church fathers against it.
The question we are dealing with is simply this: Have we lived before in another body and will we live again in another body after we leave this one?
Jesus Christ did not deal directly with reincarnation, but He did refer to it. It was a part of the teaching of the Essenes, a prominent sect of His day. There are some historians who believe that Jesus was an Essene in His thought, if not in fact. Reincarnation, it seems, was one of the accepted ideas of those times. Jesus opposed many if the teachings of the times, but we have no record that He ever repudiated or denied reincarnation.
There is an interesting observation record by Matthew, in which Jesus referred to John the Baptist, saying, "I tell you that Elijah has already come," and again in Mark 9:11-13 we read: "And they asked him, "Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?" And he said to them, "Elijah does come first to restore all things... I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him." It is generally accepted that Jesus was declaring that John the Baptist was one and same as, the reincarnation of, Elijah.
In Matthew 16:13, 14 we read that Jesus asked His disciples: " 'Who do men say that the Son of man is? And they said, 'Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' " From this statement we may conclude that reincarnation was a common idea.
Note that Jesus did not rebuke them for talking nonsense, nor did He condemn the idea. He went on to ask them not who the people said He was but who they, the disciples, said He was; and Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ."
We cannot say that reincarnation is actually taught in the New Testament, but we can see that it was a current idea, which was neither denied nor criticized. When the early church, through the Council of Constantinople, rejected reincarnation, the teaching was discarded by a slim vote. However, even after official church rejection, the teaching was accepted by such notables as St. Augustine and St. Francis of Assisi.
There are exciting possibilities to think about in relation to reincarnation. For one thing, it means that we do not have just one physical lifetime in which to "qualify" for heaven. Rather, life is much like going to school, and each lifetime can be seen as a grade in our education.
We learn the lessons we need to learn; then we move on to the next grade. Ultimately, we will graduate. That is, we will reach perfection.
This may be what Jesus meant by saying, "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Perfection surely cannot be attained in one lifetime, we do not even know what perfection is.
Most persons do not fulfill their potential in a lifetime. But there is great hope in knowing that we shall have another chance, more opportunity than we can dream of. God is calling us all to perfection and intends for us to enjoy eternal life. surely the loving God who created us does not demand that we accomplish all in one brief earthly experience. Even so, with God, all things are possible.
If you accept reincarnation as a viable alternative to what you have previously believed concerning life after death, you can get excited to know that this lifetime is preparation for the next. This gives incentive to grow through whatever challenges you are now encountering.
If you learn the lesson of any challenge, you will never have to learn that lesson again--either in this "lifetime" or in one to come. this means that subsequent lifetimes will be easier, as you move toward that great and final objective: to be perfect, as you God in heaven is perfect.
Though a radical change from conventional thinking concerning life after death, reincarnation is possible and logical. this makes it an exciting alternative.
This item is an excerpt from the book "Alternatives" by William L. Fisher, and reproduced with the express permission of Unity School of Christianity, Unity Village, MO.