Deconstructing the Afterlife
As I get older, watching family, friends and strangers pass into the unknown, I think more about death and my own passage into it. The more I contemplate this eventuality, the less satisfied I am with speculation concerning the precise details of the journey and the destination. Whatever awaits me beyond my death, if anything awaits me at all, lies where I cannot see it or make sense of it. I don’t even have a proper vocabulary for it. One has only terms and concepts of the here and now to imagine the hereafter.
I don’t really know what I mean when I speak of an afterlife. None of us does. The language we have is all figure and analogy, even if we mean to refer to a literal concrete reality. I want to unsay whatever I say, and I feel discomfort and dissatisfaction with every definition or description I hear. Religions speak of life after death, as if this otherworldly life were comparable to life as we know it. Heaven and Hell are spoken of as places, as if they could be located, or states of existence, as if these states correspond to any sort of state of being we now experience. These promises could ring true and the truth of them still be next to entirely otherwise.
I wouldn’t say that our words about life after death can be no more than mythical make-believe, but nor do I think we can assume they correspond adequately to whatever there is, even if we assume there will be something for us on the other side. As a result, I give less attention to promises of heavenly bliss or hellish fire. Consciously, at least, I don’t feel myself motivated by the thought of eternal happiness or eternal misery. I don’t know what these mean, and besides, the joys and pains of the present motivate me just fine. I yearn for the faith to love and hope to be loved in return. I long for peace. I desire the strength to face trials and death with grace.
Don’t get me wrong: I have wishes and hopes for a time after time, an eternity in which I may in some sense be reunited in Love with friends and family who are dear to me, but this hope for heaven translates most precisely as the hope of a father and a son. What would it mean to be a father and a son in eternity? God only knows.