"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Life After Death

"...Whoever lives and believes in me will never die." - Jesus
Nabatean tomb

After seeing Egyptian pyramids and enormous tombs that the Nabateans created in Petra, Bruce asked Avner why the Pentateuch doesn't pay more attention to the afterlife.  The Bible mentions the patriarchs being buried, but not much about how or why.  Avner replied:

"Because the Bible deals with life -- how to live a holy life, an ethical life, a spiritual life. One of the reasons the Israelites ignored Egyptian influence on death is that the purpose of life in the Pentateuch is largely to serve God, or to have a family that will serve God. There's no mention of an afterlife. Life ceases when you die.  And when you die, you stop serving God."

"But God continues."

"That's right. This is a break from other Near Eastern religions. In Egypt, in Petra, the kings become deities themselves.  The pyramids, these tombs, are representations of the power of those people after they die."


"But if you're an Israelite ---"

"There's only one God. He exists forever. So if you're going to build a temple, you build it to God. You don't build it to yourself." 

Jewish Temple

I liked this brief exchange because it stresses the deity and importance of God and not pharaohs or any other human leader.  Have you ever thought about the Torah's silence on the afterlife?  Were the people so busy trying to survive, that they didn't have time to contemplate after death, what happens to us?  Did they not care? Were they content in knowing this life is all there is to existence?  Or was it merely that the Jews' main thought was pleasing God and living set apart and holy in the here and now so there was no need to include much of anything about life after death?  Did they know if they kept the Law, they would have good things after death so why ponder the unknowable and unfathomable future - "what is eternal life like?" - when they could focus on the practical and doable part - what got them there?  Why do the New Testament writers include much more about eternal life and how to obtain it?  Even Jesus is recorded in discussions with someone in how to be 'born again' spiritually so he might have everlasting life.


Walking the Bible by Bruce Feiler; pg. 386


sanil said...

I liked the explanation of the pyramids being a representation of the Pharaohs' power. I hadn't thought of it that way. I don't know a whole lot about ancient Egyptian customs, that would be an interesting topic to study. :)

I think a possible explanation for the afterlife being absent is just that they weren't writing theology. They were writing history (a spiritual, God-driven history, but still. It focused on God's action in their ancestor's lives, not on God outside the world.), and then Law. The rule parts are basically the nation's constitution, and so it deals with the same types of issues we would expect in our own constitution - how to settle disputes, how to protect the people and the country, etc. There aren't any laws dealing with belief or doctrine, just action. Later, in the prophetic writings, the nation and its God were established, and there was more room I think to open up questions about the unknown. Therefore, the prophetic books are more theological and discuss these abstract concepts a bit more, looking towards a future after this world.

Susanne said...

Sanil, you are so smart! I loved what you added. You should be a teacher. :) Thanks much!

Lat said...

It's interesting that the Torah mostly dealt with worldly life not afterlife.I know that being good brings goodness and all that but how does it connect to us after our death if there's no connection at all.How do bad and evil people who can't see at all for whatever truths there is in this world,come to terms with the Ultimate Reality if there's no connection even after death?

I understand Sanil's answer.I could accept that if it's just based on living a correct way of life on earth between mman to man or man to environment etc. but when they make a connection to God,how could this be taken just on life on earth if God exists for eternity? How are we to connect with that eternity?

Hope I make sense :D The pics look great and I always admire the pyramids.They can speak so many words just being silent :) Like Taj Mahal!

Suroor said...

It is my dream to go to Petra.

I agree with Sanil's comment and also the questions Lat asked. I like too know theology too, not just history.

Thanks for this post!

Susanne said...

Lat, great questions! I wish I knew. I think the OT is very relational and God is not made out to be an aloof, uninvolved God at all! In fact, He is VERY involved. So I am puzzled if they thought after death, it all ended. The whole relationship-with-God thing I mean. Maybe they DID have some sort of hope for that. Genesis 5 does talk about Enoch who walked with God and then was no more because God took him away. Most Christians believe God just took Enoch right up to heaven without death and it seems the writer of Hebrews thought similarly.

"By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God." (Heb. 11:5)

I guess Avner's reply about nothing after death puzzled me. I liked what he said about building temples to God rather than humans so that's mostly why I shared this excerpt.

I appreciate your thought-provoking questions!

Susanne said...

Suroor, Petra seems very beautiful from the way Bruce described it in the book! I think it would be great to visit.

I think the Torah is theology as well as historical events in the Jewish nation. I don't know why little was written about the afterlife. Perhaps as I said in the post, they focused more on what they could do NOW (keeping the Law, following God) than speculating on what heaven would be like. They knew if they properly did the first, they'd enjoy the latter later and could see for themselves.