Eternity and Death

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

About shaunmiller

I have just completed a visiting position as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
This entry was posted in Immortality, Paper Topic, Personal Identity. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Eternity and Death

  1. John says:

    There is a problem, however, with the assumption that God is outside of time. I mean, it is entirely possible that time is irrelevant to God due to his nature, but he cannot be “outside” of time as ore that would imply that he also outside of space.

    Also, is it logically possible that God really know all time at once? Is there some physical problems with this…this would require that he knows certain future dimensions, which by the l,aws of physics would require that he also exist or be subject to the time of those dimensions, which unless he is omni-present, is not possible.

    • shaunmiller says:

      I’m mainly talking about Mainstream Christianity which dictates that God is eternal (which is interpreted as God outside of time). Of course, many different sects find this problematic, which of course would resolve the solution that I posed.

      I’m sure conventional theology also dictates that he is omni-present as well. If that’s the case, then He isn’t outside of space, he just permeates it all throughout. Thus, here are some things that you’re denying (which may solve my problem), but I don’t think mainstream Christianity would deny:

      1. God is outside of time.
      2. God is non-physical (thus he doesn’t occupy space).
      3. God is omni-present.

  2. thekillerj says:

    Q: WTF?
    A: Earth is actually God’s wristwatch. Problem solved.

    Seriously consider it.

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  4. Kristina says:

    Random thought….

    “_____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.”

    Is not learning, and experiencing the ultimate benchmark for living life? Even if I had everything I could ever want, my ultimate utopia, would I still not want to learn?

    I think I would. If I had the option, I would want to continue that journey. What better way to recollect past. Than to do so in new form. I love first person shooters. I could play them over and over and only get bored by the scenery. Change the scenery and you have a new Call of Duty megachain. But even though the premise is still the same. I still enjoy playing again and again. Sometimes I even reminisce when I played a game I already beat.

  5. Kristina says:

    Depends. Am I reminiscing, of myself at an earlier time? Or am I nostalgic at the fact I am here now (living in moment)? Or am I in the moment as if the first?

    My point is I feel as though I could be any of them at any point in time. But if I had to guess in absolute terms. I could not.

    • shaunmiller says:

      But doesn’t this seem strange that you could be in three places at once? Personal identity defines that there can only be one person, unless you hold on to a completely different metaphysics.

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  7. Seraphim says:

    If one views God as a being that both sees all events at once and operates within time, I think the Calvinists are indeed onto something. However, if God is the only necessary being, the unmoved mover that exists independent of time, then the equation is altered. There is no before or after for this unmoved mover He does not see whether you are in heaven or hell before you get there, but rather when you are really there. Peter Kreeft at Boston College says, “God is not a fortune teller, He is not in time predicting the future. He is the eternal contemporary of every event.” I think this quote is relevant for this post.

    • shaunmiller says:

      Hello Seraphim,

      I’m not sure I see a distinction. Whether God is in time or not, part of the notion of omniscience is that he knows everything, including all past, present, and future times. I don’t understand how he can’t see whether you are in heaven or hell, but he sees when you are really there. So God sees when you are x, but he doesn’t know whether you are x? I’m sorry, that doesn’t make sense to me. I understand Kreeft’s knowledge. However, I’m mainly relying on Pike’s article as well: “Divine Omniscience and Voluntary Action.”

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