That is the Question
I’ve been getting a lot of questions about death lately. Things seem to come in cycles, and this apparently is that cycle. In the past week, I was asked about death from an eighteen-year-old girl and a sixty-eight year old man, so it’s on all our minds. What happens at death? What happens after death? What does the bible say about death?
But between all the questions, what is it we really want to know? The central, mother of all questions? We want to know whether we continue as ourselves beyond death…right? Will we be known and know others as we are now. Eric Clapton famously sang: would you know my name, would it be the same, if I saw you in heaven? All the rest is commentary. We want to know if we’ll recognize each other, historical figures, ourselves, or will we, as Buddhists suggest, return as a drop to the ocean—our consciousness absorbed back into the great universal, collective consciousness?
Why do we fear death? It’s a question of identity of course. Everything we think we know about ourselves, who we are, our sense of ourselves as individuals at all, is contained in our conscious minds. Our egoic minds. And it’s not just the body that ends at death, but those minds as well. Who are we if everything we know about ourselves is taken with our mind? Of course we can never know for sure in a way that will satisfy our minds’ craving for certainty. Scripture doesn’t tell us, once we’ve adjusted for cultural and idiomatic sayings, but there are fascinating clues.
Especially telling is an encounter Jesus has with a group of Sadducees, a powerful first century Jewish sect that didn’t believe in afterlife at all. Jesus’ answer to their mocking verbal test gives us possibly the best look behind the curtain we’ll get. Ultimately it is up to each of us to become convinced of what we’re convinced of. But to become convinced of a view of death that allows us to live life fully and abundantly, to enjoy the ride even under an inevitable death sentence, even as death becomes clear and present, requires more than just mental agreement with the beliefs of another.
Jesus’ Way of living honors life’s paradox not by questioning our death, but by questioning our identity. Once we have experienced that who we are is not anything that can be taken from us, that our identity runs as deep as the Father’s love, we realize we are what cannot be taken. And with that knowing, we can face any question.