Where do we go when we die? What is a soul anyway and how is it connected (or not) to our bodies? Mankind has been asking these questions since the beginning of time, and although scientists are fervently seeking the answer, there is no indication we will have a definitive answer anytime soon.
The theories concerning what happens to our souls when we die are diverse to say the least. Science Channel’s Through the Wormhole hosted by Morgan Freeman recently aired an episode discussing the mystery of the soul. Opinions among scientists varied.
California Institute of Technology’s Christof Koch is among the more skeptical scientists.
“[When you die] you lose everything. The world does not exist anymore for you. Your friends don’t exist anymore. You don’t exist. Everything is lost,” Koch said.
On the other side of the scientific spectrum are people such as renowned neurosurgeon Eben Alexander who claims to have had a near-death experience.
“I have great belief and knowledge that there is a wonderful existence for our souls outside of this earthly realm and that is our true reality, and we all find that out when we leave this earth,” Alexander said.
Division regarding the soul is by no means exclusive to the scientific community. Philosophers, theologians and experts of various religions all hold their own ideas about the soul. From each of these disciplines come numerous schools of thought concerning the matter. Even within the Christian church, multiple theories abound.
Christians might tend to argue their points of view based on notions they have gathered from possible inaccurate teachings at church, rather than turning to the Bible for answers. While popular teachings about the soul and the afterlife are perhaps comforting, many biblical scholars believe them to conflict with what the Bible actually says about our souls. One such person is APU’s own assistant professor in the School of Practical Theology Michael Bruner.
“The biblical witness indicates that when you die, you die. You’re dead. You’re done. It’s over. It’s finished,” Bruner said. “Christians don’t believe in immortality, they believe in resurrection, and there is a huge distinction between those two things.”
He argues that while our bodies have a definite death, the Bible indicates that this is not the end.
“Their bodies may be decaying, may be rotting, but they will be resurrected and will join their souls to meet Christ at the judgment day. In the meantime, their souls are resting in peace,” Bruner said.
Bruner made it clear that there is no possible way of knowing exactly what happens to our souls after death, and he claimed that searching for any definitive answers outside of speculation is “a fool’s errand.”
“And so anyone who is interviewed should have the right to rephrase their answer because none have been there and come back,” Bruner said. “Well, almost no one.”
While matters regarding the soul are a source of controversy among members of all traditions and beliefs, Bruner believes he reflects the largely accepted belief among biblical scholars.
The soul is a mystery that has baffled mankind for ages. Some claim it is the most significant part of our being, while others deny its existence completely. The enigmatic nature of the soul and the Bible’s surprisingly vague descriptions of the afterlife make it impossible to nail down a particular theology, which all Christians should follow.
One of the reasons death is so uncomfortable to discuss is the mystery that shrouds it from man’s mortal eyes. Because of this, people typically choose to believe whichever theory most eases the pain and anxiety that death stirs in their hearts.
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, at the end of the day we have to accept that if our beliefs are grounded in the Bible, death might actually be slightly more definitive than many of us were traditionally taught to believe. Though this is a somewhat dark realization, the most beautiful part is that the Bible also clearly states that life does not end in death.
Resurrection provides mankind’s opportunity for ultimate redemption. Perhaps Bruner said it best: “You can’t be resurrected unless you’re dead.”
For more information regarding varying beliefs about the soul (as well as a few other literary and historical treats), check out the book Everybody Wants to go to Heaven, but Nobody Wants to Die by David Crowder and Mike Hogan.