Catholic Q&A

What happens to human beings when they die? Does the concept of reincarnation that we have in Buddhism exist in Christianity as well?

This is a very vital question concerning the ultimate salvation of human beings. Explaining what happens after death, is difficult. In order to explain something that we cannot experience in our world but can only know through faith, the most we can do is to use analogies gained from experience and somehow sense the direction. On reading the Bible we see that Paul was asked the same question, and he did his utmost to explain the issue using various analogies.

In Christianity one undergoes human life only once, and it is not to be repeated. Hence there is no reincarnation after death. Salvation as taught by Christianity is participation in the life of God, what is referred to as “eternal life.” This however does not mean a life that lasts forever after death. Since we live within the flow of time, we easily imagine that after death as well things will be in terms of time. Death however is the termination of life’s activities within the bounds of time, but eternity is something that transcends time. It is a new manner of existence in an entirely different dimension.

Paul uses the example of plants and says that what is planted is perishable, but what is raised is imperishable. (1 Cor. 15: 35~49). In other words, our life on earth is like a seed that has been sown in the ground. It is sown within the bounds of time, but it grows and ripens into eternity. Its appearance as a seed will be destroyed and an entirely new look will appear. What will appear is not a different entity, but the grown and ripened form of the seed. Eternity means activities of life done within the bounds of time have borne fruit, and they have been granted a decisive form before God.

Even this type of an explanation may not succeed in convincing certain people, because we can only get a vague notion of eternal life. It is like walking on a hilly road when the sun is about to rise, because even if the brightness on the other side of the hill is visible, the light itself cannot be seen. Yet, this is the hope for Christians. Hope for a life that transcends death will serve as the power that enables people to devote themselves to love, the type of love that surpasses all the gains and losses of the world.

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