Is there a World to Come?
Korach and his followers who rebelled against Moses are punished by being swallowed up by the earth and descend alive into “Sheol” (Numbers 16:31–33). The word “Sheol” appears in the Torah previously, in Genesis37:35; 42:38; 44:29, 31. Virtually all Bible commenters, rabbis and scholars, agree that “Sheol” means a grave, nothing more.
There is no mention in the Bible of a world to come and that life exists after death. Nevertheless, many people insist that logic dictates that, since how God rewards and punishes people on earth is unclear, and life on earth seems unjust, there must be a place of judgment – of reward and punishment – in an afterlife. These people see an indication of the existence of a soul and an after-life in Scripture even though it doesn’t explicitly mention them. The Torah states that God “blew into (Adam’s) nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being” (Genesis2:7). Many post-biblical thinkers suppose that this “breath” refers to the soul, a spark of the divine implanted in man, which is eternal, and is liberated from the body upon death to return to the Lord in an afterlife. Although these concepts are not in the Bible, immortality of the soul and a world to come is regarded as a fundamental principle today in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
There is also a stream in religious thought, including Judaism and Christianity, although not mainstream, that believes in reincarnation, another notion not in the Torah. When a person dies in an imperfect state, the soul of that person, these people say, may enter another body in the hope that it will achieve perfection – for only a perfect soul can achieve immortality. The soul may be reincarnated over and over again until it is perfect, and only then will it be admitted into the world to come.
In contrast, there are those who say that they cannot believe in anything that cannot be sensed by the five senses, is contrary to logic, and denied by science. These people deny the existence of the soul and life after death. They disagree with the first group who claim that there are truths beyond the senses, logic, and science. Although people cannot see or touch love or compassion, for example, they are convinced that these are real because they feel these emotions.
Is a feeling that something exists proof that it exists? Or, even if the feelings do not prove the existence, can the feelings show that there is a possibility of the existence of what is felt exists? Do we need empirical evidence to establish that there is a God, a soul, a world to come, if we feel that they exist? Or are we just fooling ourselves if we believe in a world to come, simply because it feels good to believe that death is not the end of life, but a transformation from one kind of life to another? Doesn’t the answer to the question depend on faith? How valid is faith? Should we reject faith and only rely on our senses, logic, and science? Is “religion the opiate of the masses,” as Karl Marx claimed, an opiate that restrains people from acting in a coherent and constructive manner?
Whether one believes in the world to come or not, every thinking person would agree that humans need to act in this world with reason and consideration.
There is a story about the world to come. There are two banquet halls, one marked “Heaven” and the other marked “Hell.” There are huge banquet tables in both laden with delicious foods and wines. However, in both, people are seated around tables with long utensilsstrapped totheir armsthat make it impossible for them to eat the food on their plates. The people in the banquet hall marked “Hell” struggle forever with this dilemma. But the people in the hall marked “Heaven” solve the problem. Since they are good, kind, and altruistic people, who have learned how to cooperate with others, they use the long utensils to feed each other.
But is this is sensible? Why didn’t the people in the banquet hall marked “Hell” use the same tactic? The answer is that since they were not caring people, it never occurred to them to help each other and work together. They had developed habits of behavior that disregarded other people, and these habits restricted them and didn’t allow them to change.