You Don’t Get To Decide What Happens When I Die

Someday my physical body is going to stop working. Probably because of something dumb I did, but hopefully a long time from now and quite peacefully. But however and whenever it happens, it is going to happen. And when it happens, when I die, my soul, my spirit, my essence, my eternal energy is going to do something. And you have no idea what that is.

I have friends and family who, I am quite sure, will tell you that I am going to heaven. I also have friends and family who, despite loving me (I assume) will tell you that I am going to hell. Hand basket sold separately. And I have still other friends who will adamantly declare that I am not going anywhere, that my energy will dissipate and that death will be the end of me. One of them may be right. All of them may be wrong. But none of them know for sure.

I was at my aunt’s funeral recently, and the pastor said something that stuck with me. He said “I’ve done a lot of funerals where I couldn’t really say where the person was going, but I know where she (my aunt) is! I know!” Now look, I understand that the pastor was attempting to be comforting to my family, to reassure them that my aunt was in heaven. But as I sat there, I couldn’t help but think, I wonder if any of those other families are in this church right now. I wonder if they are wondering if he was talking about their loved ones. Wouldn’t it be terrible to hear that the pastor only pretended that your grandmother was in heaven at her funeral? What a horrible thing for those people…

And here’s the thing: the pastor does not know. The pastor has a set of beliefs that he uses to judge people. As do we all. In his interpretation, x, y, and z are required to get into heaven, but in mine I might have absolute faith that w, x, and z are required. We can read the same book and come up with two different ways of thinking about it. And I have to tell you what I hope you already know: neither of us actually knows if we are right or not. Because it isn’t up to us. We don’t get to decide who goes where and what happens after the moment of death. Isn’t it odd then, that so many people act as though they do?

Imagine, if you will, a giant court of law in the sky (editor’s note: heaven no longer located in sky), and God is sitting there (editor’s note: God does not need to sit) ready to hear our cases. You stand up, pull out the holy book of your choice, and passionately make an argument for your interpretation of it. Then I stand up and do the same, but in a different direction. We are interpreting the Constitution of Life, and each sentence contained within could mean three different things, really. And then God stands up (editor’s note: oh never mind, you get it) and turns the decision over to a jury of our peers.

JUST KIDDING! Our peers don’t get to decide! Isn’t that crazy? We can argue logic, reason, textual proof, and circumstantial evidence until the cows come home (where cows go when they die is a matter for another day), but the rules are already in place, and the decision was made before we even began the proceedings. Maybe we evaporate. Maybe we move into God’s mansion and become holy roommates. Maybe we meet everyone we have ever known. Maybe we become everyone we have ever known. There are as many ways to imagine the afterlife as there are humans on this planet. And even those of us who “agree” don’t always agree.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive for truth, knowledge, and understanding. We absolutely should. What I am saying, is that when someone has a different idea, it doesn’t mean that they are wrong. And it doesn’t mean that they are right. It means it is time to invite them into the conversation. No one knows the answer, but we all hold the possibilities. And if you think what I am doing is going to damn my soul, you can be damned sure I feel the same way about what you are doing. Who’s right? Hopefully neither of us.

See you on the other side.

Or not.

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Posted in Death, Religion.

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