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DEATH AND THE AFTERLIFE (TOPIC 6)
Christian beliefs about the soul
Christians believe that a person is not just made from his or her mind and body. According to Christianity, each person
also has an immortal soul, which cannot be seen, and which make people different from every other kind of animal. In
the book of Genesis, when God created humanity, he set people apart from other creatures. People were made in
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them
People have different interpretations of what it might mean to be made 'in the image of God', but many Christians
think that it means that God put something of his own divine and everlasting nature into each person, and this is called
When other animals were made, according to Genesis, they were just formed 'out of the ground' (Genesis 2:19);
but when Adam was made, God did not only use the dust of the ground but gave him an extra kind of life which the
animals were not given:
The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and
the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)
As Christian doctrine developed and became interwoven with the ideas of Greek philosophers such as Plato, the idea
was formed that people have souls, which are separate from the body and do not die when the body dies. The soul
cannot be seen, but is something that makes each individual special and sacred. Christians believe that human life is
very valuable to God, because humans have souls. Animals, according to Christianity, do not have souls and this is why
most Christians are happy to eat meat.
St Paul, who was one of the earliest Christians and a leading figure in the development of the church after Jesus'
death, taught that the body and the soul are often in conflict. The soul wants to be with God, and to do what is right,
but sometimes the body prevents this from happening. The body is only interested in pleasure, such as food and
luxuries, and so the soul (sometimes called the spirit) does not achieve its aims.
Paul also taught that when people die, although the body dies, the 'spiritual body' or soul lives forever, just as Christ
lives forever after he was raised from the dead. For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus was proof of life after death.
Christians can expect that they, too, will be raised back to life by the power of God, because of what happened to
Jesus. In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul wrote:
The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is
sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural
body, there is also a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)
Paul was making the point that our physical bodies are imperfect and will die, but that our spiritual bodies, or souls,
will be raised from the dead.
Understanding of heaven, hell and purgatory
In the past, belief in heaven and hell occupied a central place in Christian teaching, but today Christians tend to
concentrate on belief in life after death in heaven. They usually think of hell as a poetic way of describing an eternity
without God, rather than as a real place. Christians in the Middle Ages were very preoccupied with hell, and thought
of it as a place of everlasting torture for people who had turned their backs on Christianity and who had committed
wicked deeds. They encouraged others to join the church by threatening them with the fires of hell if they refused.
Today, although there are still Christians who believe that hell is a reality for non-Christians, many focus instead on
the message of a loving and forgiving God They say that the descriptions of hell found in the Bible are symbolic, and
not meant to be taken literally.
Christians believe that when they die, the body is not needed any more, but the soul goes on to eternal life with God.
This is known as 'heaven'. In Christian art and literature, heaven is often imagined as a place with angels playing on
harps, but this is a way of describing something that is very difficult to put into words. The Apostles' Creed, which is a
Christian statement of belief, is said by many Christians during worship, and part of it states the Christian hope of life
I believe in... the forgiveness of sin
The resurrection of the body
And the life everlasting.
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Christians believe that at the end of life, the soul is raised from the dead and lives on in a new kind of existence.
Some Christians believe that, one day, the world will come to its Last Days, and the people's bodies will also be
brought back to life. Because of this belief, they prefer to be buried rather than cremated.…read more
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After the service, the dead person might be buried in a coffin in the ground, or might be cremated. The minister will
say more prayers, asking God to be merciful to the dead person's soul, and reminding people that all life is given by
God and that God decides when to take it away.
When the funeral is over, those who have attended the service often go back to the house of the closest relatives,
for refreshments and for a chance to express their sympathy.…read more