The issue of life after death

In the prologue of John the evangelist states the logos “was in the beginning with God”. Kreitzer says John’s proclamation about the pre-existent logos has become identified with the person of Jesus leading inevitably to the connection between pre-existence and deity; suggesting Jesus pre-existed our world. Lindars comments that the crucial point in the prologue is v 14 “And the word became flesh”. This is the first clear statement of the incarnation and it emphasizes John’s concept of Jesus’ pre-existence, carrying no implication that he is anything less than fully human.

Jesus’ death is real and would be inexplicable without his real humanity. Nevertheless, as Barclay points out the concept of incarnation could become a threat to monotheism. Tyler and Reid comment the Christian doctrine of death is thought of as the cessation of our physical bodies and the start of a spiritual life. Plato would agree with this as he belonged to a dualist school of thought. A dualist approach to mind and body argues that the body is contingent and therefore destined for decay, but the mind is associated with higher realities such as truth and goodness, therefore it is immortal.

Jordan, Lockyer and Tate mentioned that this belief that the soul continues after death is known as the immortality of the soul. This view was derived from Plato’s theory of ideas which he called forms. In 1 Corinthians 15:40 the evangelist states “There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is of one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another”. In Drane’s commentary of the New Testament he explains this dualist approach by stating there is a difference as well as continuity between the earthly and heavenly body.

He uses the analogy of Paul, like Galen, who thought that there were different kinds of flesh of men or beasts, of birds or fish; so there are earthly and heavenly bodies, the former sown in corruption but raised in incorruption, the latter radiating light and glory, according to the nature of each. Therefore both the New Testament and Drane would support the idea of a spiritual resurrection; evidence of this can be found in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus (Chapter 3).

He explains that the new physical body is spiritual because it comes from a gift from God; likewise Adam first came from the physical world and then the spiritual. It is the later spiritual body that counts. In 1 Corinthians 15:50 the evangelist states “flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God”. Tyler and Reid would disagree with Plato and Drain and suggest that the earthly body is intertwined with a spiritual element.

They comment that in this chapter Paul appears to be envisaging an entity that is identifiably bodily but, because of its spiritual nature, is crucially different from the physical body, which has died. However, Masumian would disagree with this tradition non-corporeal Christian view and suggest that John’s Gospel reveals a physical heaven and must therefore be a believer of the corporeal resurrection. He backs up his belief with the materialistic descriptions based in the New Testament – John 14:2 “In my fathers house there are many rooms”. Masumian could also use the parable of Lazarus and the rich man.

Lindars would agree with Masumian as he argues that heaven is a physical place consisting of material things. Some sections of the New Testament would appear to support this claim, such as the statement Jesus will “prepare many rooms in my fathers house”, and similarly in John 14:2 the kingdom of God is shown as a house with many rooms. These references would appear inconsistent with H. H. Price’s Dream World theory, which suggests at death the physical existence end and the spirit exists in a ‘dream world’ both mind-dependent with their own space.

Price states that every individual world could be fashioned by their wishes and deepest desires. Tyler and Reid identifies the strength of this argument which is there would be no spatial difficulties for the risen bodies as the ‘netherworld’ is not necessarily a spatial realm. A major weakness identified by Copeland is that, as Masumian pointed out, Price’s theory is in direct contrast to the doctrine of physical resurrection “but your dead will live; their bodies will rise… ” (Isaiah 26).

Nevertheless I would tend not to agree with Copeland because there are numerous references in the Old and New Testament which support a spiritual existence in the afterworld such as in John 15:44 “it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body”. These references can be seen as self-contradicting and so cancel each other out. Peak would tend to disagree with Masumian and support Price as “actual bodies of the earthly are not raised up but that a spiritual body or expression of the man’s whole self, continues with his earthly body, but is different from it, will be provided on a different plane”

Astley picks fault with Price’s theory by illustrating peoples’ ‘dream worlds’ are not necessarily concurrent. Hick agrees with Astley and uses an analogy to emphasize this point: if Fred wants to play golf one afternoon but also wishes to be with Freda whereas Freda’s only wish is to go shopping then which dream world do they inhabit? Price would of course counter this by suggesting it would be possible for Fred to envisage an image of Freda because that is his ‘dream’ and then he could play golf.

Price has successfully argued his point here and thus nullified this strand of argument purported by Hick and Astley. Maybe a stronger criticism is one put forth by George Berkley. Price’s theory said that desires and experiences in the next world consist of the events that have occurred in our physical life on earth. If this is the case then surely our desires in the next world will be physical as they occurred in our physical life. Berkley points out that these physical acts would merely be an unfulfilled wish as in spiritual form physical joys would be simply impossible.

Berkley does comment that a way out of this problem would be for God to “give us all the same dream of the same post-mortem world”. However, if this were the case then the dream would create unattractive situations for some and God would be at fault for not satisfying any of our desires. Nevertheless Price would argue that harmony would be maintained as experiences, as are memories, would be internal and so would not involve others. On balance I would tend to disagree with Price’s dream world theory. This is because he finds no plausible explanation for problems such as our lack of physical acts in the afterlife.

Life as we know it has consisted largely of physical experiences and for many people this is an important part of their idea of an afterlife. It could be argued that if this were taken away from us is what remains really a life? Berkley’s argument doesn’t appear an attractive one as he seems to be suggesting a loss of individuality in our afterlife. Our identities are made up of the individual wishes and experiences of this world; if we were all given the same “dream” we would be merely be robots acting in accordance with God’s will.

Price would of course counter this as it is the mind that survives death and “memory would provide the pigments” which make up an identity. However Williams argues that memories are not a good guide to identity as identity comes from physical characteristics as well. Williams states that personal identity depends on the way in which we recognize one another, without our body we cannot be fully identified. However, Tyler and Reid counters this argument by saying that the recognition of each other is irrelevant as it is more the manner within which we recognize ourselves that is important.

Nonetheless, the New Testament would disagree that recognition of one another is irrelevant and thus refute William’s view as in John 20:14 when Mary Magdalene saw Jesus as the gardener: “she saw Jesus standing there but did not realize that it was Jesus”. At first glance this would appear as evidence in favour of William’s view but Marsh pronounces that Mary was looking for a living person because as soon as “Jesus said to her, Mary” she recognizes him as Jesus “Rabboni” (which means teacher).

This would support Price’s view on the continuation of the mind suggesting that Jesus has lived on spiritually as Mary was able to recognize him without a physical body. On Balance I would tend to lean towards the view stated by Williams as memories and personality can be fabricated and personal identity cannot be proven through mental activity alone. Nevertheless, William’s ideas do come into scrutiny from Marsh and references from John’s Gospel, however this is open to interpretation. William’s argument appears reasonable as it is hard to understand a person consisting of just memories.

It should be noted that Williams speaks of recognition on an entirely materialistic level as it is merely the physical person they are identifying. As Davies agrees, given that one might say that we make judgments through the form of our physical selves and not our souls to recognize something non-physical by this means does not seem rational. Too further this argument Williams could put forth the question that if the mind is a non-physical object then how can it cause anything to happen in the purely materialistic realm of the world?

I would not necessarily agree with Marsh’s argument as a supporting piece of evidence for Prices’s Dreamworld theory as Marsh also noted that “there is an intention by the author to establish complete identity between the one who was crucified and the one who has returned”. The idea of establishing a ‘complete identity’ could link into John Hick’s replica theory instead. Hick argued that the dead could exist in the afterworld as themselves if an exact replica of themselves were created. Jordan, Lockyer and Tate supported this with the following quote “although death destroys us, God recreates us”.

Hick’s replica theory can be used as a possible explanation for 1 Corinthians 15 and the resurrection of Jesus. Hick claimed that as God was omnipotent He could recreate both the mental and bodily elements of a person in the afterworld. This seems to be the case for Jesus when he appeared to Thomas in the flesh after having suffered physical wounds from His death on the cross “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side” (John 20:27).

Jesus appears to be recreated carrying the same physical flesh and wounds and when he was crucified thus supporting Hick’s replica theory. Vardy immediately identifies a strength of Hick’s argument, namely that there would be no concern with the decaying body as God has the power to replicate you and so would have no need for your original body. Similarly, this is the case for cremated bodies. However, we cannot dispute that the New Testament seems to support the idea of rebirth and a need for recreation before entering the afterlife “… unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).