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The first life, which pertaineth to the elemental body, will come to an end, as hath been revealed by God: “Every soul shall taste of death.” But the second life, which ariseth from the knowledge of God, knoweth no death… – Baha’u’llah, Gems of Divine Mysteries, p. 49.
You may think death is final; that it all ends at the grave—but what if this is just your first life?
You know how everyone encourages you, when you’re young, to think about retirement planning? Sometimes it’s hard to imagine life so far into the future, but if we listen to that forward-thinking advice, we tend to pay a lot of attention to our 401K, our pension plan or our mutual funds.
We plan ahead because someday, hopefully, we can stop working and live comfortably on our savings and investments. With many people living much longer lives, with healthier diets and lifestyles, and with the constant advances in medicine, we now know that retirement itself can conceivably last just as long as the “working years” of this life do—thirty or even forty years, in many cases.
We live much longer now than people ever have. Life expectancy has steadily increased on every continent for the past two centuries. Actuaries tell us that people on Earth today will live longer than at any other time in human history. The number of centenarians in the world—people who live past 100—is the highest it’s ever been, and continues to grow exponentially.
So it makes sense to consider all those factors, think ahead and plan for the latter half of life, right?
Well, by the same token, what if your real retirement—life after death—lasts for eternity? Have you made any plans for that possibility?
Luckily, we don’t have to save any material resources for an eternal life. (If we did, can you imagine that retirement savings plan?) Our bodies stay here, and our souls—assuming a “second life” awaits—move on to an everlasting spiritual existence.
Be not grieved at the death of thy respected husband. He hath, verily, attained the meeting of his Lord at the seat of Truth in the presence of the potent King. Do not suppose that thou hast lost him. The veil shall be lifted and thou shalt behold his face illumined in the Supreme Concourse. Just as God, the Exalted, hath said, ‘Him will we surely quicken to a happy life.’ Supreme importance should be attached, therefore, not to this first creation but rather to the future life. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 197.
So, let’s say—just for the sake of this discussion, and whether you believe it or not—that our souls live forever.
After all, the question of life after death only has two possible answers. Either we die a physical death and that’s it; or our souls go on to a second life. Baha’is, and the followers of just about every other major world Faith, believe that the soul continues in an eternal afterlife.
Unbounded by the constraints of time or temporality, each one of us continues to live without end. Our bodies exist here in this material world for a hundred years or so; but then our real essence—the inner reality that makes us who we truly are—goes on. When we die physically, we continue to live spiritually. Every indigenous culture and every great Faith teaches that the human soul is immortal, so we have a very long history and tradition behind this basic concept. Even our oldest ancestors, in the paintings they created on the walls of their caves, left us evidence of their strong belief that physical death did not mark the end of their lives.
Got it? Okay—the next question, then, inevitably becomes: how do I prepare myself for that eternal life?
To prepare ourselves for the last half of this material life here on Earth, we take great pains to save, to set up retirement funds and to invest them properly. We calculate, prepare, project and plan ahead. We look forward and try to contemplate our future.
So here’s my point: shouldn’t we do the same for a second life? Shouldn’t we give our potential afterlife at least a similar amount of forethought and planning? Wouldn’t it stand to reason that we might want to make an investment in our eternal future? Doesn’t it make sense to try and figure out a retirement plan for our souls? Whether you believe that the soul goes on or not, wouldn’t it be wise to prepare for that possibility, just in case all the religions do turn out to be right?
In this short series of essays, we’ll look at that concept, and try to figure out, using the Baha’i teachings as our guide, how to make preparations for an eternal life—how to do a little retirement planning for the soul.
Next: What if We Live Forever?