People believe all kinds of things about the afterlife. Some people have thought about it a lot, and many people try not to give it much thought at all. If we don't think about it, it won't happen, right? But we have to face the inevitable because death is a well-established fact. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “nothing in this world can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Funny, and sad—but true.
Here are five common views that people have about what happens after death.
Buddhists and Hindus believe in a cycle of death and rebirth called samsara. Their hope is that eventually you can break the cycle of death and achieve nirvana, which is an end to suffering. Although not believing in “reincarnation” exactly, the existentialist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche believed that the universe was in an endless cycle of recurrence (“eternal recurrence”), where it will just repeat over and over again forever.
2. Nothing Happens
Other people believe that nothing happens after we die. We just die, and death is the last chapter in our short, meaningless lives on this earth. In view of the whole universe, we're really small anyway, so our lives are not that important. The only thing that lives on is our memory through others, or possibly our legacy in the history books (if people care enough to record it, and war or time doesn't destroy it).
3. Eternal Pleasure or Pain, Based on Our Performance
Islam teaches that there is eternal life in paradise or eternal death in hell. The outcome of each person depends upon how well a person lived in service to Allah. Mormonism shares a similar view in which men dwell with their wives forever, and in which we have the possibility (if we are good enough) of becoming rulers of another planet.
4. We Will All Float On
Nominal Christians today believe that the body dies but the soul goes somewhere else. As the popular hymn from 1929 says, “I'll fly away, oh glory, I'll fly away in the morning,” or as we often hear in everyday speech, “Carrie Fisher passed away.” There is little-to-no confession of a resurrection body—it's the soul that really matters. American Indians also believe that our spirit goes on to live in another world with relatives and friends.
5. Uncertain, but Guessing
Others are uncertain about what happens after death but still believe what people who have “clinically died” say about having a continued consciousness after dying. Mary Baker Eddy believed that there is no heaven or hell, but only a higher state of consciousness for those who lived well. For those who didn’t, there is “suffering love” until they are purified of the bad. Consciousness is what everyone has to look forward to.
A Better Way
I take the view that orthodox Christians have believed and confessed from as early as the Old and New Testaments up through the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, and beyond! Christians believe that there is no eternal cycle of life, death, and rebirth, but only this life that we are given by God. Something (not nothing!) does happen after we die—we are faced with judgment.
Our life will be judged not by how well or poorly we performed but by whether we confessed Jesus Christ as Lord. We are judged by his merit—goodness—before God, and only then are we granted eternal life with God. This continued existence is not one that is absent from the body, but God has promised to restore body and soul in the resurrection of the dead.
We’re not guessing about this either since we have access to many historical facts and evidence that Jesus Christ was indeed raised from the dead. Christians have a very certain belief in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting for all who believe in Christ.