An Easter Question — Is There Life After Death?

Title: An Easter Question – Is There Life After Death?

Text: Ecclesiastes 3:21, John 11:25-26, Luke 24:36-39

Time: March 26th, 2013

 

 

I’ve always said that Easter is a great time of the year to talk about life, death and life after death, because the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ touches on all three of these fascinating topics. But it bothers me today how often people put the topic of life after death, for example, in the category of strange, bizarre or mysterious. I was recently listening to the radio in the bathroom as I was shaving in the morning, and the local radio station was advertising a late night program called Coast-to-Coast with George Nory. The announcer said something like, “UFO’s, Crops Circles, Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, Life After Death, all these and more on late night Coast-to-Coast.” And I thought to myself, “Why are they lumping the topic of life after death in with all these fringe topics?” Have we gone so far away from the Lord in these modern, secular times that we now put the survival of the soul at death mixed together with Big Foot and the Lock Ness Monster? It’s pretty pathetic. I think it says more about a growing secular skepticism today than any real evidence or argument against the continued existence of the soul after death. Life after death isn’t a strange or unusual belief, because in fact most people believe it in one form or another. Certainly all Christians believe it, or should believe it if they are truly Christian. But the Easter season gives us a reason or excuse to talk about this topic because of Jesus Christ and the attention we give him during this time of the year. What about life after death? Is it something that there is evidence for, or is it all just a matter of faith? Today, I’d like to talk about the evidence for life after death starting with any scientific evidence there might be for the continued existence of the soul. Then, I’ll turn to any research evidence, not limited to the scientific method, but really any academic or scholarly evidence for life after death. Finally, I’ll talk about the biblical evidence found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ for belief in the soul’s existence after death. In any discussion of evidence for something like life after death, as well as other related topics such as evidence for the existence of a soul or spirit in and of itself, we aren’t necessarily looking for mathematical certainty; that’s too high an order of proof. I’ll merely be looking to present any kind of rational or reasonable evidence that would support the claim that one’s soul or personality survives the physical death of the body. We all die eventually, but is this the end, or is there a part of us that will live on? I believe there are rational reasons for believing we will continue to live.

 

First, what does science say about life after death? Ecclesiastes 3:21, “Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of animals goes down into the earth?” I remember studying topics such as life after death and the difference between the mind and brain at Wheaton College in the philosophy department. I earned a degree in philosophy so I was able to take a lot of courses that cover a lot of the really big questions of life, the questions that people have asked for hundreds and thousands of years. I was amazed at just how limited science, that is, the scientific method of observation and testing, really is as far as determining a definite answer one way or another on many topics. For example, as common an assumption as that we all have minds, thoughts, ideas separate from our physical brain is something that science really can’t determine even after many years of observation and testing. Hear that again. Science, as of right now, still can’t tell whether we all have minds, that is, something separate from our physical brain. The only thing a strict scientific test reveals is that something is taking place in or around the brain. But it can’t tell whether everything that we call thinking is taking place in the brain, or whether it’s taking place adjacent to the brain in some mental or spiritual area. I was shocked to hear that as simple as the thought process is still not known in its entirety. Well, the same thing holds true for life after death as far as strict science is concerned – whether our personality continues on in some form, in some way after the physical death of our body is still, scientifically, indeterminate. In other words, we still don’t know scientifically speaking whether life after death is possible or impossible. Now for some people like atheists, this is proof for them that life after death isn’t possible, because science can’t prove it. But that conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow. All science says is that as of right now it can’t prove one way or another whether the human personality continues to live after death or not. Science has most definitely not proven that human consciousness and personality can’t live beyond the death of the body. So it’s really too early to tell scientifically one way or another. I don’t think this should discourage anyone from believing in life after death, just because science can’t prove it one way or another. The reason is, like I said before, science is limited to mostly natural and physical realities. If the soul were of another substance, say spiritual for example, then it make sense the science wouldn’t detect it, simply because it’s not a tool that is made to pick up on spiritual reality. So if we want to know about life after death science isn’t a very good place to look.

 

Second, what does general research or academic study say about life after death? John 11:25-26, “Jesus said to her (Martha), ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’” In this exchange between Jesus and the sister of Lazarus who he raised to life, he says to her that whoever believes will live even though he dies. What does this mean? It means none other than even though the body dies, the soul lives on – and with faith in Jesus, the soul lives on eternally in heaven. Now since science strictly speaking can’t rule one way or another on life after death, what about research or scholarly study? Can these speak to the prospect of life after death? Interestingly, there is a lot of scholarly study on life after death, and the result has revealed there’s good evidence, mostly in the form of testimony from near-death experiences, that the soul continues to exist even after the death of the body. Elisabeth Kubler Ross and Raymond Moody have written books sharing their research in support of life after death, and there’s a growing mass of evidence elsewhere that shows hope for the continued existence of the soul apart from the body. I’ve been able to read books by each of these authors, as well as others, and I find their reasons and evidences for life after death convincing. But the best scholarly evidence I’ve seen lately comes from the neurosurgeon Eben Alexander who wrote the book Proof of Heaven. He shows evidence that while the brain is inactive, the mind can still experience things in the non-physical realm. He suddenly found himself unconscious with brain damage and no brain wave activity, which means he wasn’t dreaming or anything in respect to his brain. Hospital monitoring machines can verify this claim. But also, at the exact same time, he testifies that he was experiencing things, and he describes what he saw and heard in his book, all the while his brain was effectively turned off due to the rare brain infection he suffered. He miraculously recovered, and shouldn’t have recorded any memories during the whole time, since his brain was closely monitored as inactive. But to everyone’s surprise he claims he had experiences nevertheless. Now how can this be explained? The most obvious and simple answer is that he was experiencing things consciously apart from his brain, apart from his body. From this he concludes that he has proof that the soul or spirit or personality or mind of the individual can exist apart from the brain, and that at death it is separated and goes to the next life. It’s hard to argue with that conclusion, after reading the book Proof of Heaven. So here is proof, of sorts, that life after death is real. But there’s more.

 

Third, what does the Bible say about life after death? Luke 24:36-39, “While they were still taking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.’” So from this short passage in the New Testament we learn two things: one, that a separate soul or spirit exists, what the disciples called “ghost” and what Jesus corrects them and shows them his body – he didn’t correct their understanding of a separable soul, spirit or ghost, just that he was more than pure spirit since he also had a body; two, we learn that there is life after death, because Jesus is living proof of it, although life after death is usually by spirit, but sometimes by spirit and resurrected body. This is historical evidence for life after death because it comes in the form of historical, eyewitness accounts of the resurrection of Christ. Now some people object to this kind of evidence, claiming that the resurrection would be a supernatural miracle, yet they would claim that this is impossible, since science rules out the supernatural. But science doesn’t rule out the supernatural, it only assumes as a tool of investigation that everything has a natural explanation. That’s ok for an investigative assumption because it pushes us to look for better explanations and not just settle for the claim, “It’s a miracle,” too quickly and end it with that. But in the case of the resurrection, people have been searching for natural explanations, for example, to explain the growth of Christianity in the 1st Century, but the best explanation for the rapid expansion of the Christian church is that the supernatural resurrection of Jesus Christ really took place. In other words, it’s simply the best overall explanation of what happened that caused the church to expand in the early days. Remember, traditional Judaism was mostly hostile to early Christianity, yet despite this the church grew rapidly even in the stronghold of Judaism, Jerusalem and the Holy Land. How can this be? Something powerful must have occurred to give Christianity the kind of energy and momentum it needed to survive and thrive in a hostile territory. The only explanation that fits the bill is that Jesus really rose from the dead. And because he rose from the dead, two things follow – that a soul or spirit exists apart from the body, and this soul or spirit is capable of living continually apart from the body.

 

Now the resurrection of Jesus is a little different than what happens to a typical person when they die. Jesus had to come back to life not only with his soul, but also with his body, in order to convince people that he rose from the dead, in order to put faith in people. In other words, even if his soul lived beyond his body in heaven, if Jesus hadn’t returned in physical form to his disciples they would never known that he survived death. Yes, the Jews believed the soul survived death, but Jesus needed to demonstrate this to his disciples, which he did with appearing to them body, mind and soul. His complete resurrection was the basis for the birth of the Christian church, without it there probably wouldn’t have been enough faith to provide the spiritual foundations for what is today the world’s largest religion of over 2 billions persons. But for each of us when we die we don’t have anything to prove to anybody, so there’s no need for us to return to earth in body, mind and soul. We can go directly to our eternal destiny – for believers, to God in heaven; for unbelievers, apart from God in hell. Now at the end of the end of days, we’ll also be given a new, spiritual body that can never die. So in the end, we’ll eventually have new and improved bodies. But until that end of the end of days, we’ll exist as believers in heaven as spirits with perhaps some kind of temporary form of some kind; or unbelievers will exist in hell with some kind of temporary form awaiting the final judgment. Eventually, we’ll all have some kind of spiritual body like Jesus had after the resurrection. But the point is, our soul or spirit will survive the death of our earthly body, and it will live on forever afterwards. What’s exciting is that today we can talk about such things to people who don’t even believe the gospel yet, because we can point them to books such as Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander, and we can ask them to consider the evidence for a soul and life after death. They may or may not believe it, but at least they can’t write it off as wishful thinking or an over-exaggerated imagination. I think as more research is done and more evidence collected we’ll eventually find that there is a strong case to be made for the existence of a soul apart from the brain, and also that there is life after death because of it. I think there will be more evidence that shows mental activity and experiences apart from the body, apart from the brain, and this will prove beyond doubt a soul or spirit. Then, once this is established it won’t be too hard to show that the soul or spirit can have a continued existence in the life to come. Then the question becomes, where will the soul or spirit live? That is something the Bible has abundant answers about! Let’s pray.

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