I’m teaching World Religions this summer semester and I’ve been thinking about the notion of eternity and death, particularly dealing with one’s soul after death.
Let’s start with the typical Western conception of an afterlife: as soon as you die, you will live for eternity in some sort of afterlife. There were two things that really bothered me about this idea.
- If God is omniscient, then he knows exactly what you’re going to do, even the choices we make. Sure, we may not know them, but nevertheless, God knows everything and so He knows where you’re going to end up in life. From this, the Calvinists are correct: God knew if you were going to Heaven or Hell before you were born. This strikes me as a huge burden on how to live a life, but if one is going to accept the premise that God is omniscient, then it seems to suggest some sort of predestination.
- God is eternal. However, the question is this: is God in- or outside of time? Traditional Christianity suggests that He’s outside of time. This also suggests that God is omnipresent: He’s everywhere.
Now this is where it gets interesting. If God is outside of time, then He looks at the past, present and future all at the same time. Thus, because God knows everything, God can see into your past, present, and future: He knows what you did, what you’re doing right now, and what you will do (even the choices that you will eventually make). Thus, if you will be in some car accident a week from now, God will know that because he knows the future. But now, let’s go further: God knows that you will be in Heaven or Hell. After all, He knows the future, He knows what choices you’ll make, and He determines where you’re going in the afterlife. Thus, God can already see your soul in eternal bliss or in tormented agony. But wait a minute. God is everywhere all the time. Thus, God isn’t just in the present; He’s also in the future. With time, we think of notions like “before,” “now,” and “later.” But with God, because He’s everywhere and eternal, there’s no such thing as “before” and “later” for Him. Everything is always “now.” Thus, right “now” (from God’s perspective, not ours), God is talking to your very soul in Heaven (assuming you made it there). Or that you’re being tormented in Hell (assuming you go there). Thus, your soul is ALREADY in the afterlife. Again, it’s because God’s frame of time is always on a series of “nows” and He is infallible.
Imagine, your very own soul is looking at yourself. Your soul in this afterlife (which is our future) is looking down at his/her past life (which is our present, our “now” moment). There’s a lot of philosophical considerations with this: how many souls do we have? Obviously, we have one, but if God can see many “nows,” it seems that have more than one (after all, your soul is looking at what you’re doing on earth). Potentially, we could have an infinite amount of souls. Could this really be the case? Is it true that your soul is already in the afterlife and we are just playing out that role to reach to the point of what we will eventually become?
Oooo! How about this?
_____t1 (now)_______t2 (death)___________t3 (your soul is in bliss)_________t4 (your thinking about your bliss in t3)
So far, I’ve been talking about how your soul at t3 is thinking about you at t1. Again, your soul is already in some sort of afterlife. But what about t4? T4 is sometime later and so when you’re in t3, could it be that your soul at t4 is already existing (after all, eternity seems to imply many “nows”)? How many souls do you have?
Or, let’s say that you have only one soul? But which is the true “now”? Is it at t1, t3, t4? This is mind-boggling to say the least. Hopefully, this still makes sense after all this.