What Happens When We Die?
Story by Gina Wong
Photos by George Apikyan
Some people believe the afterlife is a spirit realm we enter after our soul leaves the human body on Earth and ultimately gets sent up into the heavens.
They also believe the physical body may no longer be alive, but the mind and soul still lives in the afterlife.
Christians believe in an heaven and hell. Sikhs believe in doing good deeds so they can merge back with God. Jews believe that another life is awaiting us after we have moved from the physical world.
World Religions Professor Jill Carroll said some scholars suggest that the belief in an afterlife was one of the primary reasons for religions to develop in the first place.
“Religions are human cultural products, and humans beings create religions,”Carroll said. “Whatever the religions have in them in terms of beliefs are things that human beings deeply care about.§
Carroll said people have always cared about death and the questions that surround it, such as what happens when we die and is there life after death?
“Religions include various theories of the afterlife as a way to address the human anxiety, needs and desires,” Carroll said.
According to Roberta Grimes, author of The Fun of Dying, some departing people may begin to see or hear their loved ones who have already died.
“The person who is passing will stop communicating with the living because they will start to communicate with the people who are coming for them in their mind,” Grimes said.
According to her, when it’s time to die, the outer body is the one that stays, but the spiritual body gathers at our center and generally leaves through the chest, sometimes through the top of the head.
In each religion, the interpretation of the afterlife is different and based on a person’s belief system.
Gene Hall, the former pastor of New Life Christian Church in Glendale, said in the Christian faith, after we die, the soul is given a heavenly body.
“Some people believe that we are going to be recognized and we are going to recognize others,” Hall said.
Hall described heaven as God’s dwelling.
“It’s all loving, forgiveness, mercy, grace, kindness, goodness and all things that are beautiful and lovely,” Hall said. “God is the author of all those things.”
On the other hand, Hall believes that hell is the opposite of all that is good, and justice will be served.
“It’s a separation of love, mercy, kindness, light and hope. Basically, it’s all the things we count in life as being good, but in this place, it’s all missing,” Hall said.
At some point, Hall explained, God will create a new heaven and a new Earth.
“And during that time humanity will be with God forever,” he said. “There will be no more sickness, no more pain and no more sorrow.”
Despite the idea that people will either get to go to heaven or hell, Hall believes that no one can be sure if they will get to enter heaven.
“It is the gift of God and a gift of grace and it can’t be earned, so that no one can boast about it,” Hall said.
Carroll said from a philosophical standpoint the afterlife often functions as a way to bring moral balance back into life.
“The belief in a heaven or hell is a way for some people to restore moral balance in a world that doesn’t always seem fair,” Carroll said. “If someone does bad things in the world and seems to get away with it. then the belief in an afterlife is a way to believe that they are going to get what they deserve in hell.”
Rabbi Isser Kluwgant said the concept of the afterlife is the World to Come, which is kind of like the good place.
In Jewish faith, there are two stages of the afterlife that is mentioned in the Torah.
Stage one is when the soul is in waiting. Stage two is known as the Era of Redemption.
“There is the stage where the soul ascends on high, the soul comes down into the body and then it goes back into heaven and then it’s just kind of waiting,” Kluwgant said. “All the souls come back into this current world and there is no more evil in the world.”
Jews believe that not only is there an afterlife, but there is a before life, and a person has existed in both.
“The soul descended down to achieve a purpose,” Kluwgant said. “When the purpose is no longer viable because the purpose was either fulfilled or not, the soul is able to return back to heaven.”
As an intellectual, Kluwgant believes that the idea of an afterlife as a place of rewards or punishments is not important.
“The ways I use the teachings of an afterlife is that I simply know what’s right and what’s wrong,” Kluwgant said. “I just want to be in the present moment.”
Sewak Khurana, the principal of Sunday School at the Valley Sikh Temple, said the main philosophy is to merge back with God.
“The ocean has bubbles, which represent the human being, and once someone dies they go back into the ocean and return to God,” Khurana said.
He added that good deeds must be done. Otherwise, a person’s journey can go in life cycles for committing bad deeds.
“Our goal is to remember God and do good deeds so we can get salvation, and the soul can return back to where we came from,” Khurana said.
Carroll said religion can be a central motivator for how a person behaves during their time on Earth, because in Christianity there is an encouragement to do the right thing even if there is no benefit for doing these actions.
“Our actions should come from an honest character, not from some kind of selfish motivation to go to heaven,” Carroll said.
Hall added, “At the end of the day, everything will all be worth it, even if at times it may not feel that way.”
Check out what the Pierce College Community thinks about the afterlife by KPCRadio.com’s Alejando Juanillo here