Our own reason and intelligence can give us good grounds for believing that when the body dies something in us lives on. Man is not just body, he is also spirit. He has a soul. The body is a material thing. When the life goes out of it, as we say, it falls into its separate parts. It drops to dust.
But there is something in us that is not a material thing, that cannot come apart, that cannot corrupt. How do we know?You stand by the body of a friend who has died and you may be struck most of all by the fact of death. Everything seems finished. And yet if you think it over the conviction deepens that death is not the end.
You find a letter that your friend had written to you during his life. He had used paper and ink to capture his thoughts. But his thoughts were more than just paper and ink.
During his life he had spoken to you. His thoughts had been a sound in the air. But they were more than just a sound. Nor were they just a twist of a membrane in his head. They were more than just material things. There was something in him which paper and ink, sound, flesh and blood, even a brain could only roughly capture and express.
He had spoken, for example, of Justice, of Truth. But Justice and Truth are not material things. A material thing can be weighed, has a colour, a shape, can be measured. Even the material force that we call energy, such a thing as electricity, can be measured.
But who can measure Justice or Truth? These are ideas, spiritual things. You cannot say, "How long is justice?" "How wide is truth?" These things have no parts and so they cannot come apart. They cannot corrupt.
Now if a man can have spiritual ideas then there is something in him that is not material. And that something we call his soul. When the body dies the soul lives on.
Pagan Belief in Life After Death
That conviction is not just sentiment. It is sound reasoning. It is a conviction that has been shared by the vast majority of mankind. Wherever we find traces of human beings — burial grounds, graves thousands of years old, we find, too, evidence of belief in survival after death.
The ancient pagans like the ancient Jews, God's chosen people, had the same conviction. But survival is very little. There is life beyond the horizon of death. But what kind of life? And that is where reasoning power begins to fail. So the pagan took little comfort from his belief in immortality.
"We, when we go down there among the dead, what are we? A handful of dust and a shadow," wrote the pagan poet.
Even in the Bible in the Old Testament you will find phrases which show that the ancient Jews only learnt very slowly that life after death is more than just survival. You will find phrases like this:
Better a living dog than a dead lion... The dead know nothing more. They have said goodbye to this world and all its busy doings under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 9.)But as the ages rolled on God gave more and more light. So if you take up the Book of Wisdom you can read these lovely words:
The souls of the just are in God's hands and no torment in death itself has power to reach them. Dead? Fools think so, think their end loss, their leaving us annihilation; but all is well with them. The world sees nothing but the pains they endure. They themselves have eyes only for what is immortal. So light their suffering, so great the gain they win. God all the while did but test them, and testing them found them worthy of Him . . . Trust Him if thou wilt, true thou shalt find Him; faith waits for Him calmly and lovingly. Who claims His gift, who shall attain peace, if not they His chosen servants? (Wisdom 3.)When Our Lord came on earth He made it certain for us.
I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he is dead, will live on, and whoever has life and has faith in Me, to all eternity cannot die. (John 11: 25 – 26)On another occasion He quoted from the words of the Old Testament:
Then at last, He said, the just will shine out clear as the sun in their Father's Kingdom. (Matt. 8.)Their Father's Kingdom is Heaven. That is the home we are made for. What does it mean?