Synoptic Part A - Life Death and Life after Death



"It is illogical to tell men that they must do the will of God...if you also tell them that the obligation has no eternal significance and nothing ultimately depends on it." [JS Whale] This British theologian supports the concept of a life after death which is a central idea to many religious faiths and has been an issue of conflicting ideas between many religious denominations throughout our history. The belief of a life after death brings comfort to religious believers because it gives humanity purpose and union with God. It also opens discussion for many religious scholars to interpret the Bible and religious teachings. In this essay, I will examine the Christian Beliefs regarding aspects like eschatology, the soul, resurrection, heaven, hell, purgatory and judgement along with comparisons from beliefs of Sikhism on aspects like Mukti, reincarnation, karma, nam simran and Jivan Mukht.

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P.1 Eschatology

Christian Eschatology is a Greek term translated as the ‘end days’. Eschatology interprets death as giving significance to the life of every individual, this belief dissolves tensions associated with death and reveals the meaning of creation by what happens to us at the end of our lives and at the end of all time during our final judgement. "And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead." (Acts 10:42) This Bible teaching explains that Jesus is responsible for judging us in the end days as appointed by God. The basis of Christian teaching are various types of Christian Eschatology.

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P.2 Individual Eschatology

Individual eschatology deals with the future events that happens to individuals after death. Ultimately, the believers who cleanse through a process called sanctification and do not sin spend an eternity with Christ in Heaven and the people who do not share a belief in Christ and sin throughout their life spend an eternity of suffering in Hell. Christians also believe in a process called glorification which happens during Parousia where believers are raised from the dead by Jesus and the body is reunited with the soul once again. Parousia is the Greek term meaning ‘presence’ or more specifically ‘presence after absence’. This is associated with the second coming of Christ. Christians also identify this second coming of Christ with unprecedented signs. In the Bible it says “For just as lightning comes from the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.” (Mark 24:27)

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P.4 Universal Eschatology

The second type of eschatology is Universal eschatology. Universal eschatology deals with the future events that happen on a universal scale. In Revelations 20:6 it say, "Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with them for a thousand years." This is interpreted by some Christian denominations through Millennialism. Millennialism is the belief that Christ will establish a thousand year reign of Paradise on Earth with the Saints on Earth. Christians also believe in Tribulation and Rapture as part of our Universal eschatology. Tribulation is a 7 year interval in which human beings are prosecuted by the world and by the Antichrist. The Rapture is the event in which believers will either be taken to Christ in Heaven or taken to hell.

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P.5 Mukti

Contrasting to this Christian belief of the end of days and Parousia is the Sikh belief of Mukti. Sikhs believe in a concept called Mukti which means 'freedom' or 'release' from the cycle of rebirth. This is different to Christian eschatology because this is what happens to Sikh's at the end of their days after being released from reincarnation, it is the truest realisation of oneself. However, it is not much different to the Christian belief because it is the unification with God which both Sikhs and Christians aim for. A Sikhs life is a series of journeys which at the end the soul is finally ready to join with God. Their ultimate aim is to be absorbed into God and be in perfect peace and bliss. Mukti can be achieved by meditating on 'waheguru' (God) for example contemplating shabad, following divine orders like fulfilling sewa and becoming a part of the Khalsa. All of this is selfless service and service to God. "They alone are considered to be liberated who remember the true name in contemplation." (SGGS, 43) This principle of Mukti in the Guru Granth Sahib explains how those who want to be liberated have to participate in meditation. Mukti is the freedom from a bonded state caused by vices such as kaam (lust), krodth (anger), lobh (greed), moh (attachment) and maya (ignorance). The Sikh scripture highlight consequences of living life according to these 5 vices. "When the body is filled with ego and selfishness, the cycle of birth and death does not end." (SGGS, 126) This suggest that Sikhs have to live a virtuous lifestyle in order to achieve mukti and by living by this principle they become closer to purifying their souls to unite with God.

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P.6 Jivan Mukht

Another concept fundamental to mukti that is relative to Sikh eschatology is Jivan Mukht. Jivan Mukht is the belief that followers are able to gain liberation while still in human form. This explains the Sikh teaching that God is sargun or immanent. In Sikhism it is believed that all 10 of the Gurus themselves were living in the divine presence when they were commanded to resume a human form to preach Gods message to humanity. Achieving this physical liberation is the purpose of life for Sikh believers and only some special people will achieve Jivan Mukht. The conception of Jivan Mukht in Sikhism is realisation of the soul to become more Gurmukh (God centred) rather than Manmukh (Self-centred). "He surrenders himself completely to the Will of God; joy and sorrow are the same to him; he experiences bliss always and viyog (separation) never" (SGGS, 275) This Sikh teaching from the Guru Granth Sahib suggests that in order to achieve Jivan Mukht we must live only for Gods will and give up all of our self-centred desires.

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P.7 Realised Eschatology

A Christian concept that is similar to Jivan Mukht is realised eschatology. Realised Eschatology is a theory popularised by C.H. Dodd who claimed that the New Testament is not referring to what will happen in the future but rather events that have been happening in the present or have happened in the past. Therefore, Dodd believes that Eschatology is not the end of the world but its rebirth instituted by Jesus Christ and his disciples. Christians that hold this belief generally dismiss the end of times theories and hold what Jesus said and did with more relevance than any messianic expectations. This view is held by mostly Liberal Christians because it reverses any apocalyptic events that do not keep within Jesus' teachings. This is similar to Jivan Mukht because it is a type of spiritual and physical liberation that does not include the waiting unknown forces to bring about destruction to the world.

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P.8 connection

A fundamental concept of life after death for both religious faiths is the immortality of the soul. For both religions they view the soul differently and hold contrasting principles of the journey of the soul after death.

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P.9 Christian Soul

For Christians, the immortality of the soul is what helps an individual pass into the afterlife. Our soul is spiritual and survives the death of our physical body to pass on into either heaven - the place where God dwells, purgatory (for some religious believers) or hell to pay for their sins in an eternity of punishment. "The Lord formed the man from the dust of ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being." (Genesis 2:7) This Biblical teaching from the Old Testament proves that human kind were created differently to the rest of the worlds animal kingdom so we possess a soul in which is the pinnacle of God's creation, giving us an intrinsic value. Our spiritual soul will eventually be raised by God and Christ during judgment and everyone will receive salvation through the divine mercy of God. Materialists like Gilbert Ryle believe that there is no soul and that we cease to exist when we die because the mind and body are inseparable. They believe that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that a soul or even an afterlife exist. However, dualists like the Roman Catholic philosopher Thomas Aquinas, who said "the will cannot be perfectly at rest until the soul is re-joined to the body." He believes that the body cannot survive without a soul and that the body is just a shell to hold our real self-worth.

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P.10 Sikh Soul

Sikhs on the other hand, view the soul differently to Christians. For Sikhs, the Atman or soul is eternal and moves from one incarnate to another as it is reborn. Sikh's refer to the soul as a spiritual spark that is ever present and continually changes form. In the holy scriptures of Sikhism is says “The empty body is dreadful, when the soul goes out from within” (GGS, 19). All of God's creations, in the eyes of a Sikh, have souls, all plants, animals and humans have an intrinsic worth. This is what makes it so different to the Christian idea of the soul. Where Christians believe that only humans have an intrinsic worth, Sikhs believe that everything God has created needs to have a soul in order for Karma to play a role in reincarnating us into higher and lower forms so that we can eventually achieve Mukti. Sikh souls must become purified in order for it to re-join with God and retain dignity.

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P.11 Resurrection

Christians believe that when they die they will be resurrected at Parousia or the second coming of Christ. They have a devout belief in the self-sacrificial death of Jesus Christ who died in order to enable Christians to live an eternal life alongside him in heaven. St. Paul summarises the event of Jesus’ resurrection in Corinthians “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:3) Christ sacrificed himself for our sins and died, later to be buried and raised on the third day after his death. According to St. Paul’s teachings the resurrection of believers will be like that of Christ’s, it will involve the resurrection and recreation of the body.

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P.12 Resurrection

Catholicism teaches that when Jesus returns to the Earth he will physically raise all of his believers, giving them the bodies back that they lost at death. They also believe that these bodies will not die again and remain in a glorified state on Earth, freed from suffering and pain and enabled to do the amazing things that Jesus was also capable of doing with his glorified body. Christians believe that resurrection is the recreation of each individual by God. Rudolf Bultmann said that “the real meaning of the resurrection was not that an incredible event took place on Easter Sunday, but the cross is permanently available to us in the church’s preaching as the saving act of God” This doctrine of bodily resurrection suggests that resurrection and eternal life depends on an act of God’s divine love. A popular Biblical teaching regarding resurrection is when Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25-26) This is a perfect example of how Christians interpret Jesus sacrifice and teachings in order to conclude what awaits them after death.

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P.13 connection

Sikh’s reject this belief in resurrection due to their belief in reincarnation. This is what happens for Sikhs in reincarnation even though it is found in some early Celtic traditions of Christianity. The Sikh belief in reincarnation is that there is no escape from this cycle of rebirth unless the soul is purified enough to achieve Mukti.

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P.14 Reincarnation

The word reincarnation means ‘returning to flesh’ which relates to a new birth in a body. Sikhs believe that individuals develop a cycle of life, we are born, we die and we are reborn into new bodies. This is the cycle that Sikhs aim to escape and achieve Mukti. The soul leaves the body and finds a new one completely different to the last. This is called the Transmigration of the soul from one body to the next with no memories of the previous life. Reincarnation can take many different life forms e.g any other animal species, “…you shall obtain the Mansion of Lord’s presence with intuitive ease. You shall not be consigned again to the wheel of reincarnation” (GGS, 13). If the soul is reincarnated into another human form then there is greater chance of achieving liberation to obtain Mukti. Guru Nanak tried to explain the principle of reincarnation by suggesting that human beings ‘do not have the strength to take birth and live as he desires and he does not hold power to die.’ By saying this Nanak meant that reincarnation is out of our control, God controls how we are reborn and when we die.

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P.15 connection

In order for religious believers to obtain an afterlife, we need some sort of judgment in order to determine our destination in the afterlife. Christians believe that our earthly actions are judged by the sins we commit and whether or not we have faith in Christ.

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P.16 Judgement

Judgement is an essential concept in Christianity. An individual is judged by the actions of their earthly existence, if the right conditions have been met we pass into paradise. It is believed that the judgment of mankind will be announced by the trumpet call of angels. “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, nor does corruption inherit in corruption…For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:50-52). Those who fall into sin will be cast into hell and those who do not sin will spend an eternity in heaven with Christ. God will give his final judgement of mankind at the end of all time. Our behaviour in this life influences our destination in the next. As part of Christian universal eschatology, our final judgement will take place during the second coming of Christ when he returns from heaven to Earth to create the Kingdom of God on Earth. Many different denomination have different ways of interpreting how this will happen. Some Protestant churches state that ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again’ similarly believers from the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Church state that “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” However many people believe that first there will be an Armageddon where the Antichrist will rise. Others believe in tribulation and the rapture. St. Augustine believes that all Martyrs and Saints are exceptions to the period before our final judgement and join straight with God and admitted the supreme joys of heaven.

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P.17 connection

In contrast to Christian views on Judgment Sikh’s believe that it is karma that has the final say in what happens to our soul after death. Karma is the influence of good and bad actions on a Sikhs reincarnation. However, for Christians, the basis of achieving union with God does not just revolve around their actions but also their faith in Jesus Christ and salvation.

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P.18 Karma

Each action has a consequence in Sikhism. Karma is the relationship between what a person does and what happens to their soul when they are reincarnated. Those who have good karma are living in the right way according to the faith and are rewarded by achieving Mukti and Moksha. Moksha is the spiritual liberation and freedom from the cycle of Karma. However, bad karma is disregarding the teachings and beliefs of the faith which result in an endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth in lower forms. The Guru Granth Sahib explains that “The body is the field of Karma in his age; whatever you plant you shall harvest” (GGS, 78) this states that karma is a result of human actions on Earth but in some way they believe all life is predetermined by God as part of his plan. It is a spiritual principle of cause and effect. Sikhs believe that only meditation on the Lord’s name, good deeds and noble actions can eliminate the consequences of past bad Karma. Sikhs believe highly in the use of virtues during life to encourage good karma. The 10 Gurus of Sikhism accepted Karma as a system of nature subjected to Hukam (Divine Order) and Nadar (Divine Grace) both concepts described as Guru Nanak’s contribution to Indian Religion.

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P.19 connection

The individual eschatology of Christianity suggests a place in which each individual goes after death in the phase of awaiting their final judgment. These places are normally referred to Heaven, Hell and for some people purgatory.

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P.20 Heaven and Hell (CHR)

Christians believe that God is just and fair and so treat people in the afterlife according to how they chose to live their lives on earth and therefore cannot let evil go unpunished. This biblical quotation helps to explain this “As I have observed, those who plow evil and sow trouble, reap it” (Job 4:8) there are different Christian views on what happens to the soul after death. It is interpreted by Christians that we remain close to Earth, ascend to heaven, descend to hell or participate in a general resurrection. All Christians believe that Heaven is a place of utter peace and serenity where we are enhanced to our upmost potential and united with God and Christ. It is a place of fellowship with other individuals and God. The one who has clean hands and pure a heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false God, will be united with God.” (Psalms 24:4). Liberal Christians place less of an emphasis of an actual place but there is no doubt of a heaven existing for any Christian believer. In the Book of revelations Heaven is described as a place where "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain" (Revelations 21:4) which suggests that heaven is a place of serenity with no pain or suffering. However, Hell provides Christians with an understanding of evil and suffering but Hell is what causes conflicting ideas amongst denominations. The book of Revelations also describes Hell as "the fiery lake of burning sulfur" (Revelations 21:8) this suggests hell to be a lake of fire and torture.

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P.21 Heaven and Hell (CHR)

Rob Bell condemns the nature of annihilationism which is the concept in which unsaved individuals who have sinned spend a period in hell to atone and then cease to exist once the penalty is paid because it rejects Jesus’ teachings on agape and forgiveness. He discusses Christian Universalism where eventually everyone in the world will receive salvation through God’s mercy and unite with God in heaven. The concept of hell is the wrong doing of mankind not of God. Many Orthodox Christians believe in a principle called Traditionalism, this is where the souls of unsaved individuals just spend an eternity in hell to suffer punishments for their sins. In the bible it says “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” (Matthew 10:28). However, some denominations like Baptists believe that eternal punishment in hell are not the actions of an all loving God. Therefore it is made temporary in purgatory where sins are repented and paid for.

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P.22 Purgatory

Catholics are the only Christian denomination that definitely believe in Purgatory. In Catholic theology, Purgatory is an intermediate state after physical death in which some of those ultimately destined for heaven must first "undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven". Purgatory is mentioned in the bible as a place where we are sent to be put through purification and repent to qualify for heaven. It is the alternative to hell for these denominations who believe that hell is incompatible with an all loving God. It differs from hell in that although there is suffering and torment there is an eventual release from this and a gradual progression into Heaven. In the Bible it says “The deliverance by the grace of God from an eternal punishment for sin which is granted by those who accept by faith Gods conditions of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus.” (John 14:6). This means that God will deliver those from Purgatory to Heaven if they repent for their sins with the faith in God and faith in Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church describes purgatory as ‘a place for those who die under God’s grace but are still imperfectly purified’.

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P.23 connection

Sikhism goes against the fundamental principles of heaven and hell in Christianity and rejects the use of a ‘place’ to achieve union with God. Guru Nanak declared that “The man who longs for God’s abode is unconcerned with heaven or hell.”

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P.24 Heaven and Hell (SKH)

Sikhs do not stay in a heaven nor a hell so this idea is disregarded but there are different views in Sikhism regarding this concept. The man-assumed heaven and hell are not particular places beyond our earth. The place where we love God and live according to Gods will and being virtuous during their earthly life is considered to be 'heaven'. In the Guru Granth Sahib it says “Heaven is wherever Gods praise is sung” (GGS, 749). According to Sikh’s, living by God’s will and singing his virtues is classed as Heaven on Earth but ignoring a faith in God or performing vices such as ego, greed, lust etc is living in hell. Sikhs have a continuous cycle of rebirth so, there is no period of awaiting judgment like there is in Christianity and therefore no need for a permanent place like heaven or a hell, some Sikhs believe that heaven and hell is just a temporary place for reward or punishment until the soul is reincarnated into another body. However, Narak is the realm of torment similar to the concept of hell where Sikhs go for being sinful and straying away from the path set for them by the 10 Sikh Gurus. Sikhs believe that for as long as the mind is filled with the desire for a heaven then one cannot meet with God. But, some believe that God created an eternal heaven for the comfort of faithful people. However, the Gurus denied that beyond this earth, somewhere else in the universe, there existed any particular places known as either heaven or hell to which our souls were headed.

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P.25 Conclusion

After examining the beliefs of both Christian and Sikh faiths in terms of Life, Death and Life after Death, I can conclude that there are both strong similarities and differences between the both religions. In comparison to each other, both religions centralise their belief systems and actions upon achieving union with God and this is a consistent aspect of the issue. The real distinctions are based in whatever way they go about achieving it. There are conflicting ideas between the both in their fundamental principles of the afterlife. Sikhs take a cyclic approach to the afterlife like other eastern religions because of the cycle of rebirth and reincarnation that they are trapped in until achieving mukti. Whereas Christians take a linear approach like other western religions. This means that they do not believe in rebirth and the body only dies once awaiting a final judgement. The concepts that both faiths have on the afterlife allow them to understand the purpose of human life on Earth and reject feelings of fear towards death.

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