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What happens to us after we die? Did you know approximately one hundred thousand people search on Google each month for the answer to that question?
Obviously, death provides us all with a compelling mystery, and many people search for an answer. But guess what — Google doesn’t know! All of the factual information and data stored on the Web cannot answer that basic human mystery.
Seriously: not Google, or Siri, or Alexa, or Databot has any idea how to address that fundamental enigma. After all, how can anyone really know when it comes to answering questions about life after death? No living person has any first-hand knowledge, unless you believe the remarkably similar accounts of those who’ve had near-death experiences. The only people who truly have the answer aren’t telling.
Also, it doesn’t help that we don’t like to talk about it much. In Western cultures, death and dying do not make for popular topics of conversation. Instead of confronting our mortality, we tend to label such talk as morbid or unpleasant. As a result, we try to stave it off, along with death itself, for as long as we possibly can.
We often view death as a failure of medicine, rather than a natural, expected and inevitable stage of human life. We want the miracle of modern medicine to let us “dodge the bullet,” at least for a little while longer. This medicalized view of death frequently results in people dying in institutions, cut off from their loved ones and the comforts of familiar surroundings. According to research done at Stanford University, for example, 60% of Americans die in acute care hospitals, 20% in nursing homes and only 20% at home.
Actually, the huge number of Google searches on the subject indicates something important, especially when most people don’t want to think or do much about it — at least until death becomes urgent or imminent.
So here’s the question: If we don’t think about it, how can we try to understand death or prepare for it? How do you prepare for something you don’t want to think about, and don’t really comprehend even when you do think about it? If no one wants to discuss death — which, after all, represents the one inescapable fact of all human life — then how can we face it?
Sooner or later, we all face the stark reality that we are going to die. Our inevitable death — whether anticipated, accidental, comfortable or painful— will be the end of life as we have known it.
Only religion can prepare us for what to expect after we die. It doesn’t tell us exactly what the other side of the threshold will look like, but all of the world’s great Faiths tell us a threshold does exist, and that crossing it will bring us to another side to life — that our souls are immortal, and will continue to exist after the physical demise of our bodies. The Baha’i Faith promises that the soul is immortal and death is nothing to fear. Abdu’l-Baha, the authorized interpreter of the Baha’i writings and the son of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, said:
To hold that the spirit is annihilated upon the death of the body is to imagine that a bird imprisoned in a cage would perish if the cage were to be broken, though the bird has nothing to fear from the breaking of the cage. This body is even as the cage and the spirit is like the bird: We observe that this bird, unencumbered by its cage, soars freely… Therefore, should the cage be broken, the bird would not only continue to exist but its senses would be heightened, its perception would be expanded, and its joy would grow more intense.
When death occurs, the Baha’i teachings assure us, the body returns to the world of dust, but our souls remain immortal and we continue to progress. Abdu’l-Baha said:
The spirit is changeless, indestructible. The progress and development of the soul, the joy and sorrow of the soul, are independent of the physical body.
Death, then, is nothing more than an illusion. Compare it, metaphorically, to boiling water or to evaporation: water turns to steam and seems to disappear into thin air — yet the water still exists as vapor. That we cannot see it, that it has changed its form, does not mean it has died or is gone forever, into oblivion. Abdu’l-Baha said:
Through his ignorance man fears death, but the death he shrinks from is imaginary and absolutely unreal; it is only human imagination.
And Baha’u’llah wrote:
… concerning thy question regarding the soul of man and its survival after death. Know thou of a truth that the soul, after its separation from the body, will continue to progress until it attaineth the presence of God.
This spiritual message can provide much assurance and inspiration. Not only is death nothing to fear, the Baha’i teachings tell us, it truly is something to look forward to and prepare for. As Baha’u’llah wrote:
O Son of Man! Thou art My dominion and My dominion perisheth not; wherefore fearest thou thy perishing? Thou art My light and My light shall never be extinguished; why dost thou dread extinction? Thou art My glory and My glory fadeth not; thou art My robe and My robe shall never be outworn. Abide then in thy love for Me, that thou mayest find Me in the realm of glory.