Nnaemeka Ali, O.M.I
What if You Were Wrong about the Afterlife?
Updated: Apr 7
Have you read Dante’s Divine Comedy? It is one of the greatest books ever published. In this photographic narrative, Dante takes us along with him through hell, purgatory and paradise.
In each of those moments, the Angel conjures an occupant of each heavenly realm to give him the account of his or her sojourn.
Dante is, of course, not the first to depict the situation in the afterlife. The Bible has many instances, Matt. 10:28, Mark 9:43, Luke 11:43, John 14:2, 1Cor. 2:9, Heb. 10:27, 2 Peter 2:4, Rev. 8:10. The Gospel authors paint the situation of the damned, just like many apocalyptic texts and books.
But even before the Old Testament, the Epic of Gilgamesh has already given us an idea of what the ancient people thought of the afterlife. The Epic tells us how Gilgamesh had the privilege of recalling someone from the death to narrate to him what the afterlife looks like.
And after Gilgamesh, we also had Homer is his epics retell the situation of those who trespassed the threshold of the living. There, we were told that those who died without proper burial are subjected to eternal wandering. Or still, how those buried without enough materials could be stranded being unable to buy their way through.
It could be tested by the burial ceremonies of the Egyptians of the Pharaonic era. These were discovered through the mummies. Some mummies were even found with their servants who were expected to serve them in the underworld. Plato was also one of the greatest authors in the vulgarization of the afterlife experience. In Phaedo, for example he gave us different myths on fate of the just and the unjust.
In the New Testament period, the apocryphal authors are famous for propagating the afterlife experience. Some of them described it not just in terms of who goes to where, but who receives which punishment. The Apocalypse of Peter and the Dead Sea Scroll gave detailed situation of the afterlife.
Unfortunately, the majority of these authors were speaking to people in other contexts using different literary technic and different languages. With these pieces of information, I am tempted to ask:
1. What will you do if you learn today that there is no geographical place called heaven?
The truth is that heaven exists. It exists but its existence is not like we would have the planet Mars, Earth, Jupiter, etc. I’m of the opinion that it’s a state of the soul and not a place for the soul. So, if you’re planning to inherit seven virgins in the afterlife, I’m sorry, you’ve been duped to understand it literally. And if you’re rehearsing the songs you will sing in heaven, maybe you should start singing it here and now.
2. Nor a geographical location known as hellfire.
The same thing is applicable to hell. It has no physical location. And whatever you think about fire, brimstone, pitiless abyss and so on, you should rethink them now.
3. And there is no fire in hell?
And the idea of fire in hellfire was communicated to you by those who took metaphorical statements literally. It came mainly from those who translated Gehenna to hell. Gehenna was a real place in Jewish society where things were thrown away and burnt. It’s a form of desolate land where dumps and ruined and rejected objects were deposited.
It was then used by Jesus and many other biblical writers to symbolize a state of abandonment and rejection.