I just finished watching the memorial service for Senator John McCain. He was truly a unifying force in a time of divisiveness. As I watched men from across the political spectrum pay homage to the Senator, I couldn't help but think about the afterlife.
A few weeks ago my pastor gave a sermon on our conception of Heaven and Hell. Apparently the Judeo Christian tradition didn't have a concept of Heaven and Hell until it adopted the idea from Zoroastrianism. I won't regurgitate his entire lesson regarding the kingdom of God being here, on Earth, rather than some heavenly realm.
I grew up Mormon, and the LDS Church has the afterlife pretty much mapped out. They have things divided into kingdoms with different tiers for each kingdom. It felt great knowing that if I remained a faithful Mormon that I could earn my way to the Celestial Kingdom (the highest level of Heaven). It was a secure feeling to KNOW what was waiting for me on the other side.
Of course when I left the church I left that map behind. Yet, there was still the feeling that no matter how much I suffered in this life, I had Heaven to look forward to. I didn't want to let go of that perceived promise. The idea of being able to earn a place in Heaven, and avoid a trip to Hell, by asking Jesus into my heart and living a good life was as much a part of my psyche as my identity as a man and my political affiliation.
Being a computer nerd, I looked it up online. Sure enough, captive Jews most likely picked up the concept from their Persian captors in Babylonia. When they were liberated in 539 BCE they took the idea back to Jerusalem where it was integrated into Judaism.
If this is so, and Jesus was teaching people how to live as a complete person while on Earth, I was forced to wonder how this information would change my outlook. I still believe in an afterlife. I believe that a spirit, such as McCain's, simply doesn't cease to exist. Heck, I believe I'll always exist in some form. Perhaps, the only thing I need to let go of is the idea that we can understand the structure of the afterlife.
I DO believe that we will take our memories and feelings with us. If that's the case, then maybe "Heaven" is simply eternity with a clear conscience. On the flip side, perhaps "Hell" is having to spend eternity under the weight of our own guilt. I have no idea if I'm right, but for now I think it's a healthy way to think of life after death.