Today is Halloween. What does that mean to you? Halloween began as Samhain, first observed by Celtic Pagans. It marked their New Year, the end of summer, and the end of the harvest season. It also signaled the beginning of winter, which they associated with death. The Celts believed the veil between the living and the dead was especially thin on Samhain, which allowed spirits of the dead to visit the living.
Today in America Halloween has become a Big Deal. For me it has always been a controversial holiday, especially the way it has changed and grown during my lifetime. I can appreciate wearing a costume and going to parties, but in the end it just seems like a celebration of greed. I admire the Mexican festival Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), in which families remember and celebrate the lives of loved ones who have died. That made me wonder, what do other religions in America believe about what happens to us after we die?
Today’s Jews may hold many opinions about the afterlife. Some Jews believe in a life after death: the immortality of the soul and physical resurrection of the body sometime in the future. The righteous of any people and any faith are welcomed. The Jewish faith concerns itself with living a daily life consecrated to God, so actions, not specific beliefs, determine a person’s fate. Unlike Christianity, which has rigid beliefs about the afterlife, Jews are tolerant of any opinions. Some don’t believe in any life after this one. “It’s either true or it’s not true, and if it’s not true we can’t believe it. Because some guy in the desert wrote a book and told me so? I don’t go in for that stuff.” Or, “Sometimes I believe it, sometimes I don’t. But I do know I feel their presence, and I feel their spirit within myself. I’m going to be 60 next year, so it is the time of life when you think about these things. And I’m still torn.” I cannot imagine Christianity ever becoming that broad minded.
Islam teaches that there is life after death. In Islam, Allah decides when a person dies, and most Muslims believe that when they die, they will stay in their graves until the Day of Judgment. On that day, they will be raised from their graves, brought before Allah, and judged on how they lived their earthly lives. Those who have performed more good deeds than bad will enter Jannah, or Paradise, described as a “garden of everlasting bliss” and a “home of peace.” In Jannah there will be no sickness, pain, or sadness. Those who have performed more bad deeds than good will enter Jahannam, or Hell. This is a place of physical and spiritual suffering. Belief in life after death is central to the meaning and purpose of most Muslims’ lives. Many believe that they are on this earth for a relatively short time and during this time they are preparing themselves for eternal life. They view this life as a test and try to accomplish as many good deeds as they can. In order to get to Jannah they must fulfil their Islamic obligations. Islam is vague about what exactly will happen to those who belong to other faiths; the eternal destiny of Jews and Christians is not clearly stated. Some believe the Quran teaches that anyone whose good deeds outweigh their bad deeds will be allowed into heaven. This means that Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and so on will be heaven bound if their good works outweigh their bad.
As you can see, those who believe in the afterlife agree that we will be blessed for leading good lives while on earth. The Eastern religions believe in reincarnation, although what exactly that means varies. But in those religions as well, a good life is rewarded in their next incarnation.
What do you believe? Must we follow the teachings we have been taught? Or are we allowed to broaden our beliefs, deviate from the path?
A man brought his son to Jesus, asking him to heal his son. Jesus said to him, “If you are able! All things can be done for the one who believes” (Mark 9:23). The man’s response is desperate: Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (vs. 24). We all believe. That’s why we are here. Yet we all have our times of doubt. What is most important in this life? How do we choose what is best? Fortunately, even if we’ve made a mess of today, we can ask forgiveness, trust in that forgiveness, and try again tomorrow. Thanks be to God!
Let us pray...
I fear in the dark and the doubt of my journey;
but courage will come with the sound of your steps by my side.
And with all of the family you saved by your love,
we’ll sing to your dawn at the end of our journey.
(Lord Jesus, You Shall Be My Song)