The Afterlife, Part 2
But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
I propose that our experience of the afterlife may, in many ways, be more of a continuation of our experience of our present life than we wish and certainly more than we were taught. I was taught that after I died, assuming I was sent upon the heavenly path, that all of my troubles, weaknesses, and other sources of grief would simply disappear (never mind about the other, post-life option). True, the pain and suffering of our earthly bodies will almost certainly cease. The internal sufferings from issues that we ignored or otherwise failed to face and resolve, however, I suspect will follow us there as they do here. There are spiritual underpinnings to everything in our physical lives, and the fact that our soul is no longer connected to our body does not mean that those spiritual roots die, too. For example, if we chose to live an overly busy, controlling, and anxious life, we likely will carry the spiritual foundations of those feelings with us. Typically, if we feel we must be busy all the time, we are most likely trying to cover for something within that frightens us, afraid that if we stop moving it will overtake us. When we attempt to control everything and everyone around us, we do not trust in the goodness or competence of others. Those who are anxious much of the time display a lack of faith that God, working through others, will make everything work out in time. Busyness, a need for control, and anxiety are three of the myriad of outward manifestations of internal states we all display to a greater or lesser degree. They reside in what is often called our shadow self, or that part of us we prefer to remain hidden.
The reason I believe these internal traits may follow us into the afterlife is because of the nature of the union of God we seek, often called heaven in Christianity. There can be nothing hidden from God – nothing standing between God and us – if we are to attain union or oneness, as Jesus refers to it in John 17. This is illustrated in the allegorical story of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis. With their new-found knowledge from eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden, Adam and Eve suddenly felt the need to hide from God. They recognized they were naked in the presence of God, and they were afraid. They felt they had something to hide and so they covered themselves. Never mind that they had existed just fine with God in the garden, naked and unafraid, for some time before they learned of their nakedness. I propose that we cannot exist in the presence of God – in heaven or elsewhere – until we can exist in the presence of God naked, unafraid, and uninhibited. And for most of us, there is much work to be done prior to being so prepared. What we do not accomplish on earth, in terms of resolving what we think we must hide, we will graciously be allowed to continue working on in the afterlife. Otherwise, we will never be able to fully enter the presence of the Divine.
Although some may consider having their shadow follow them into the afterlife as being a terrible and unfair punishment, it is actually grace. It is the act of facing, including, and resolving the shadows of our being that is required for our ultimate freedom. That which separates us from God and others, which is sin, is what we must become free of, and the issues being held in our shadow self maintain the barriers that support our experience of separateness. Depending on the actual nature of the afterlife, which we cannot know with any certainty in our earthly lives, some of our shadow work may be more easily worked out there, although that does not absolve us from working on what we can here.
This, in my opinion, is at the core of what we consider heaven and hell. What feels hellish to us in our earthly lives is a manifestation of our propensity to accept the illusion of separateness. We lose sight of our intimate interconnectedness with and responsibility for everything in God’s creation. Such blindness makes us selfish, narcissistic, and even cruel. Hell on earth becomes hell in the afterlife because we must first be freed from that sense of separation, which can be a painful process until it is achieved. Once achieved, however, what was experienced as hellish becomes heavenly.
This is the 61st in the series of Life Notes titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning, if you are not receiving them in another manner.