Dying and Life after Death
By Frances Clare
We are going to our final
resting place, and then there will be mourning
in the streets. The silver chain will snap, and
the golden lamp will fall and break; the rope
at the well will break, and the water jar will
be shattered. Our bodies will return to the dust
of the earth, and the breath of life will go back
to God, who gave it to us. (Ecclesiastes
So speaks the Philosopher
in the Old Testament of The Holy Bible. He does
not shrink from naming the inevitability of death
for us all, nor the unpleasant truth of the suffering
involved in the demise of the body.
No-one knows when they will
die. However, the terminally ill have a more accurate
idea. Infact, they have a real opportunity to
gain some spiritual understanding to help them
prepare for death with dignity and peace and to
live out their final days in a meaningful and
From a Christian perspective,
what comfort does the life and teachings of Christ
give to those who are involved with terminal illness?
began for me with the death of my grandmother.
Her funeral was held in the local church and I
was asked to read from St. Johns Gospel;
Let not your heart be troubled,
Jesus told his disciples. Believe in God
and believe also in me. In my Fathers house
are many mansions: if it were not so, I would
have told you. I go to prepare a place for you
will come again, and receive you unto myself;
that where I am, there you may be also.
Common fears around death
are, Will I exist after death and what will
happen to me? In this passage, Jesus re-assures
us that even after death, we do continue to exist.
Not only this, but he will prepare a place for
us in Gods house and receive us unto himself.
He says we will not be alone, but with him. It
is a very comforting message from a merciful and
loving Lord. The mystery of any after-life remains
and Jesus does not reveal the nature of Gods
mansions nor exactly how we go there.
Indeed, his disciple Thomas asks, Lord,
we do not know where you are going; so how can
we know the way to get there? Jesus replies,
I am the way, the truth and the life, no-one
goes to the Father except through me. His
words imply that we dont need to know the
way. The mystery is to be accepted. Only implicit
faith in him is required.
as we understand it, is challenged throughout
the New Testament.
The resurrection of Jesus is central to
Christian belief. Following his crucifixion, he
appears to his disciples on several occasions.
During his lifetime Jesus also raised Lazarus,
Jairus daughter and the Widows son
of Nain. Jairus was an official of the local synagogue
and when his 12 year old daughter died, Jesus
was laughed to scorn when he said, Dont
cry; the child is not dead she is only
sleeping. Lazarus had been dead for
4 days when Jesus brought him back to life. He
said to Martha, Lazarus sister, I
am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes
in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever
lives and believes in me will never die.
His apostles continued to
resurrect people. Peter raised Tabitha and Paul
raised Etychus from death. Jesus Transfiguration
also tells us of his essential divinity, while
he was praying, his face changed its appearance,
and his clothes became dazzling white. (Luke
So Jesus conquered death
and is divine, but what does this mean for us?
Before Jesus crucifixion, he left his disciples
with this message. When
I go, you will not be left all alone; I will come
back to you. In a little while the world will
see me no more, but you will see me; and because
I live, you also will live. When that day comes,
you will know that I am in my Father and that
you are in me, just as I am in you. (John
Here, Jesus explicitly tells
us that we are not separate from him; we are not
separate from the divinity which he is. Many people
describe near death experiences and heightened
spiritual states as a joyous coming home.
So when Jesus says, I
will take you to myself and you will be where
I am, we can contemplate that when
we die, we also go back to our natural state of
unity with the Divine. We do not cease to exist.
The body is lost and that is all.
can I turn to God now?
Another fear around death is, I have not
thought of God, or followed Gods commandments
in my life. How can I turn to God now, even though
I am in distress? Will he accept me now?
It is essential to remember
that the very nature of Jesus is peace, love and
compassion. He asks us in St. Johns Gospel
for belief in him alone. He urges us not to be
worried or afraid. He is the Prince of Peace
and he knows of our struggle in human life. He
Come to me, all you that
labour and are heavy laden and I will give you
rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall
find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28)
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give
unto you: not as the world gives, give I unto
you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let
it be afraid. (John 14:27)
In the parable of the Pharisee
and the Tax Collector, Jesus says that it is the
humble soul who will be acceptable to him in the
last day. The Pharisee and the Tax Collector go
to the temple and stand before God. The Pharisee
boasts to God that he has been a good person -fasted,
prayed and given 10% of his income to charity
etc. The Tax Collector stands before God and will
not even raise his head. He says,
God, have pity on me, a sinner. Jesus
says, for everyone that exalts himself shall
be humbled; and he that humbles himself shall
be exalted. (Luke 18:9- 14).
life of ignorance.
Jesus compassion does not mean that we should
choose a life of ignorance. Ignorance is an over-identification
with the body-mind and the consequent pursuit
of lasting happiness where it cannot possibly
be found. For many of us this could be in money,
pleasure, power, food, relationships or intellectual
knowledge alone. We are to rise above our lower
nature of endless desires and painful behaviour
which only results in unfulfilment. As St. Paul
said, To be carnally
minded is death; but to be spiritually minded
is life and peace. (Romans 8:6)
According to St. Johns
Gospel, it was Mary Magdalene, the former prostitute,
to whom Jesus first appeared after his crucifixion.
Jesus appeared to her first because she loved
him. Secondly she is a symbol of transformation.
Jesus asked a potential disciple
to follow him. He replied,
Sir, first let me go back and bury my father.
Follow me, Jesus answered, and
let the dead bury their own dead. (Luke
It is clear that although
many people are healthy, they are spiritually
dead or asleep in this life. They
are unmindful of the Spirit within them and of
Gods commandments. They are uninterested
in the true purpose of life. The Philosopher of
the Old Testament concludes that one should, Have
reverence for God, and obey his commands, because
that is all that man was created for.
Jesus said that his first
two commandments are this: Love
the Lord your God with all your heart, with all
your soul, with all your mind, and with all your
strength. The second commandment is this: Love
your neighbour as yourself. There are no greater
commandments than these. (Mark 12:30)
The second commandment may
seem easier to follow. For all of us, love is
our true nature. For the dying, love may mean
to forgive oneself and others, to receive love,
and to make peace with the events in life that
have caused oneself or others pain. However, plenty
of love can still be given in the final days of
this temporal life. Simple things such as smiles,
kindness, and a loving look can be given to fellow
patients, doctors, care-givers and family members.
The first commandment may
cause more anxiety. How does one love God with
all ones mind, heart, strength etc, especially
if one doesnt have a religion or spiritual
practice? Or one may be too ill or disabled to
go to church, or even to say a prayer.
There is a very simple way
to love God ceaselessly. St. Paul said,
Dont you know that your body is the
temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and
was given to you by God? (1 Corinthians
6:19) In Genesis, it is written, And
the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground,
and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;
and man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7).
Another meaning for Spirit is breath. Breath has
been described as the link between each individual
soul and God. If we can simply watch and love
each breath, and know that it is God who is pulling
that breath, then we can love God with all our
soul, mind and strength until the very last breath.
We are then at all times consciously united with
God. As the Philosopher said, at the time of death,
the breath of life will go back to God,
who gave it to us. Indeed, if we
can practice this, then we will stay in the present
moment and have more control over an unruly and
fearful mind which oscillates between past and
Whether you are involved
with terminal illness, or whether you want to
be more peaceful and spiritually alive, I leave
you with the words of St. Paul.
"Who then can separate us
from the love of Christ? Can trouble do it, or
hardship or poverty or danger or death?
in all these things we have complete victory through
him who loved us! For I am certain that nothing
can separate us from his love
God, the source of hope, fill you with all joy
and peace by means of your faith in him, so that
your hope will continue to grow by the power of
the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)
article is in loving memory of Paramahamsa Hariharananda