Is there Life After Death?
Going in a style that defies description, a Baha’i perspective
Commentary by Pete Haug
Recently I’ve been preparing for the inevitable. Last month, I reached an age at which I can say, “Four score and seven years ago, my mother brought forth on this continent a new baby …” That was me. I’ve never been 87 before, never dreamed I’d make it this far. I’d wondered whether I’d see the turn of this century! But I did, so what’s next?
Life after Death
Aging encourages daydreaming about possibilities. Does anything come next? If so, what? Much depends on our beliefs or non-beliefs. “Is there an afterlife?” provides some mainstream perspectives:
- Atheism — Views range from no belief in life after death to belief in spirits, afterlife or reincarnation.
- Buddhism — The cycle of death and rebirth leads to reincarnation, considered a “suffering experience,” with an ultimate goal of reaching Nirvana, an end of suffering, to some a heavenly paradise.
- Christianity — Most Christians believe in Heaven and Hell, sometimes Purgatory, as features of an afterlife, depending on denomination.
- Hinduism — Hindus also believe in reincarnation, with souls receiving a new body and life, depending on Karma, good and bad actions in a previous life. As in Buddhism, the goal is to be liberated from the cycle and to attain reunion with Brahman.
- Judaism — Although most Jews believe in an afterlife, the nature of their beliefs differ widely, ranging from reincarnation to a Heaven-like paradise.
- Islam — Muslim beliefs are similar to those of many Christians. After physical death, the soul lives on to await Judgement Day and whether it will go to Paradise or Hell.
Baha’is rely on Baha’u’llah’s written words to explain “the soul of man and its survival after death.” That soul, he writes, “…will continue to progress until it attaineth the presence of God, in a state and condition which neither the revolution of ages and centuries, nor the changes and chances of this world, can alter. It will endure as long as the Kingdom of God, His sovereignty, His dominion and power will endure. It will manifest the signs of God and His attributes, and will reveal His loving-kindness and bounty.”
Even Baha’u’llah’s pen cannot “befittingly describe the loftiness and glory of so exalted a station …The honor with which the Hand of Mercy will invest the soul is such as no tongue can adequately reveal, nor any other earthly agency describe. Blessed is the soul,” he continues, “which, at the hour of its separation from the body, is sanctified from the vain imaginings of the peoples of the world. Such a soul liveth and moveth in accordance with the Will of its Creator, and entereth the all-highest Paradise.”
Such is that afterlife, Baha’u’llah writes, that “If any man be told that which hath been ordained for such a soul in the worlds of God, … his whole being will instantly blaze out in his great longing to attain that most exalted, that sanctified and resplendent station …The nature of the soul after death can never be described, nor is it meet and permissible to reveal its whole character to the eyes of men.”
Earlier prophets and messengers of God, Baha’u’llah writes, “have been sent down for the sole purpose of guiding mankind to the straight Path of Truth. The purpose underlying Their revelation hath been to educate all men, that they may, at the hour of death, ascend, in the utmost purity and sanctity and with absolute detachment, to the throne of the Most High …”
The single paragraph containing those quotations offers further explanation and insight, but space here is limited. Contemplating those insights led me to thoughts I’d like to share.
What Comes Next? I Don’t Pretend to Understand.
Baha’u’llah says the afterlife is indescribable. The physical life we live within the time/space continuum of the universe limits our thinking to three dimensions in time. Even near-death experiences are often described in terms of light. How can we possibly describe what we don’t know?
Discussions of afterlife are restricted to the physical: winged humanoid angels with harps on streets of gold, the devil’s minions on a lake of hellfire. All are described only in terms we can relate to. Even Baha’u’llah’s descriptions of afterlife use material images.
Yet humans experience other, non-physical, “dimensions.” We think, conceptualize, emote. We share feelings, like love, hate, joy, sorrow, and myriad others, with fellow humans. Those shared emotions and understandings are infinite.
None of us is perfect. On dying, we learn immediately how we did during our lives. The immortal soul finds itself on a continuum, longing for reunion with its Creator. “Heaven” is nearness to God; “Hell” is distance from God.
“The nature of the soul after death,” Baha’ullah writes, “can never be described, nor is it meet and permissible to reveal its whole character to the eyes of men.”
Guess I’ll just have to wait.
Pete plunged into journalism fresh out of college, putting his English literature degree to use for five years. He started in industrial and academic public relations, edited a rural weekly and reported for a metropolitan daily, abandoning all for graduate school. He finished with an M.S. in wildlife biology and a Ph.D. in systems ecology. After teaching college briefly, he analyzed environmental impacts for federal, state, Native American and private agencies over a couple of decades. His last hurrah was an 11-year gig teaching English in China. After retiring in 2007, he began learning about climate change and fake news, giving talks about both. He started writing columns for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News and continues to do so. He first published for SpokaneFaVS.com in 2020. Pete’s columns alternate weekly between FāVS and the Daily News. His live-in editor, Jolie, infinitely patient wife for 62 years, scrutinizes all columns with her watchful draconian eye. Both have been Baha’is since the 1960s. Pete’s columns on the Baha’i Faith represent his own understanding and not any official position.