I’ve recently become a firm believer in attacking my fears head on, instead of just silently and subconsciously being afraid of them. Death, is easily the top spot on the list-of-things-Kelsea-is-afraid-of. As a result, I think about it all the time.
So…what happens when you die? Seriously. We all have our ideas of white light and pearly gates and cherub babies with iridescent wings. But what really, truly happens… in that moment… when you die? It’s a question that plays in my head more times than it doesn’t. It comes front of mind when I stroll into Giant Eagle and wonder if the guy giving me side eye will turn out to be one of the psychos you hear about in the news and just whip out a pistol and end me. Or when I look down to change the song on my iPhone while I’m driving, and look up just in time to see that I almost rear ended the Ford F950 in front of me. Or when I feel a weird pain in my chest, that’s probably just a result from the slumber-yoga I do every night, but I’ve convinced myself is a pre-heart-attack. If all my anxieties were true… what would that moment be like? And further, what happens afterward?
Let me begin by saying that I firmly believe in the Bible. The Bible that was strewn together by the council of Nicea. The sacred text that tells me that Jesus was God in human form, and walked among the Earth and performed miracles and was tempted (and overcame it) and was loved like no one has ever been loved and then hated like no one has even been hated and beaten and crucified. I find solace in my fath. I do. When I let myself go down the rabbit hole of what happens when you die, the only thing that pulls me out is knowing that I have chosen to believe and serve a God who has already conquered death. Death. This ultimate, frightening, unknowable idea. He’s beaten it. That’s the rope thrown down the well of my thoughts on eternity. That’s the only thing that brings my soul any peace.
But it still doesn’t entirely answer my question: What happens when you die?
This sacred text that I subscribe to doesn’t give me a clear picture, necessarily. And although the hymns and songs I’ve been singing since before I could speak tell me of Heaven and streets of gold– the Bible, itself, says a lot about being “asleep.” But every funeral I’ve ever been to, every time I’ve prayed over a fallen soldier or family member or victim or elder… there’s always been a note of “they’re in a better place” or a “they’re with Jesus, now.” A teleportation. A staircase. An elevator straight to the top.
So which is it?
Here’s what I do know… er… believe.
- I believe that I am a soul.
CS Lewis (my favorite author, yall know this) was quoted (maybe misquoted? Drama!) as saying “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” This quote changed my life, as I’ve mentioned ten million times. Not only the way I see myself but how I see others. But, perhaps news to you, it also defined the way I see death. Is my soul, then, attached to my physical body? This quote, this doctrine, would say, “no.” The soul that I have is integral to who I am. The body, a mere vessel. So the death of my body would not necessarily equate to the death of my soul, right? Right! Except for the argument that this soul began when my physical body began. So maybe the two are mutually exclusive of one another. Who knows? I choose to believe the former. That the soul and the body are not conjoined, merely cohabitants. This belief opens the door to other ideas about death– like reincarnation.
- Jesus brought one dude with him, teleportation style.
If you recall Jesus’ crucifixion and death, you will note that he was hung on a cross among two criminals. One of them called out to him in repentance, in his final moments of Earthly existence. The other one was just like “Screw both of y’all.” But to the homeboy that was truly sorry– Jesus offered instant paradise. (Luke 23:43) Perhaps this story, coupled with our totally natural desires to comfort our grieving souls, is why we assume that when someone dies, they are shot straight up to Heaven, on a cloud, accompanied by harps and cherubs. But the rest of the conversations about death in the Bible usually refer to a “sleep” that ends with the rapture of Christ, in which we all (living and ‘asleep’) get to enjoy “Heaven.” Confusing? I know. This is where the faith stuff kicks in.
- I believe that God is love. So Hell, is not.
If there is a Heaven, there must be an antithesis. I don’t believe Hell is burning flesh and sharp-toothed demons. I believe it’s a place completely void of love, because God is not there. Which, honestly, is even scarier. Imagine existing anywhere that love does not. And I don’t mean to transport you to the mindset you were in when your boyfriend dumped you. I mean, go to that black, empty, awful place that is void of hope or happiness or security. It’s cold in a way we could never imagine, and lonely like you’ll never experience. It’s merciless. Which means no catharsis. No relief. Not even in the slightest. Not even the relief you experience from crying or lying down or closing your eyes. Or from knowing that this day, this hour, this minute… will come to an end. It is incessant, perpetual, eternal Godlessness. And perhaps, it is what I fear of death the most. That’s it’s nothing. That’s it’s just as before we were born. Void. For eternity.
So… I guess what I’m saying is that belief in God provides some semblance of hope. Hope that we are not wasting away on Earth just to sleep for the next… forever. Or, if nothing else, hope that the time we have here is worth something more. And if I’m HULE’ing like I’m supposed to, that hope has to be unswerving. Not wavering. Ever. Which also means, no fear.
What do you believe happens when you die?