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A General Resurrection ? Judge Yourself
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This illustration is an attempt to present a more realistic vision of the Last Judgement. It also presents a naïve simplification of whether we go for one kind of gold or the other but this choice, however subtle, is probably important. You judge : only you'll have to use your heart or you'll find it's not the real you.
If “all souls are incorruptible,” it is a small step to accept all souls are reincarnated. After all, there is no need to create a hell in the bowels of the earth when we manage to create one very well all around us. There is the widest agreement many lives are just hell.
In Acts St Paul insists on the identity of his views with the Pharisees, clearly echoing their line, only taking a more forgiving, more realistic view : “I worship the God of my ancestors … and I hold the same hope in God that they do, that there will be a resurrection of the upright and the wicked alike.” (Acts 24. 15 ) This adds up to a clear confirmation the earliest Christian belief in resurrection was identical to the Jewish belief in reincarnation, or the transmigration of souls. It would be a bit incredible were it not so. In the first century it would be no great leap from the early Christians beginning by proclaiming the Pharisees' resurrection in ‘a’ body, to getting a bit carried away and going on to preaching a resurrection in ‘the’ body. But in the twenty-first century it may make the difference between sense and nonsense, between faith and disbelief.
We might even wonder whether the present global population explosion doesn’t fulfil the great Christian prophecy of the final bodily Resurrection of the Dead : that every soul who has ever lived on earth is back now, irresistibly reincarnated in a new body, a new life, for this mad jamboree of materialism.
Population projections for historical times are well below our present level of 6 billion souls but we should allow that long holidays are often involved, heaven is somewhere to go. And, while there is little sense in human souls regressing to the animal realm when there is ample scope for inhuman rebirths with words, spiritual progress would suggest the decimation of our wild life could advance a good few candidates for promotion. From Roman times the very name ‘animal’ has defined a creature with a ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’, the ‘anima’.
Isaiah (about 750 -700 BC ), a skilled star-gazer according to rabbinic tradition and probably a pioneer Kabbalist, already proclaims that God ‘has destroyed the veil which used to veil all peoples, he has destroyed death forever ;’ (Ch.25 v.8 ) and looks forward to a time when ‘Your dead will come back to life, your corpses will rise again.’ (26. 19 ) What can this be but dramatising reincarnation ? It is generally supposed to be the influence of Greek thought, when Israel came under Hellenic rule after Alexander the Great’s conquests, that is believed to have brought reincarnation into mainstream Judaism. Plato, who died in 348 BC , just before Alexander’s reign, taught reincarnation and the immortality of the soul and Platonism was, and has remained, hugely influential, though we have lost connection with its spiritual aspects, down the ages. Plato had travelled greatly and probably met Buddhists and Brahmins from India where reincarnation was an established platform of religious thinking. A century before Plato, the great Pythagoras also taught reincarnation in ancient Greece. Pythagoras is supposed to have learnt esoteric wisdom in Egypt.
Paul and the Nazarenes would not just be ignorant of current Judaic and Greek wisdom if they rejected reincarnation. Reincarnation or the ‘transmigration of the soul’ was taught by virtually all faiths in the ancient world, including even the Celtic Druids. Apparently lost on the bloodlusty Romans, this belief has now been lost in the western world along with the spiritual knowledge (of a spirit) that went with it.
Even now we have plenty of convincing reincarnation testimonies, from the Dalai Lama and other high lamas of Tibet to numerous verified accounts from every continent, every culture. Reincarnation was an accepted tenet of belief for the first quarter of the Christian age : until in 554 AD the Holy Roman Emperor in Constantinople forced the Pope to renounce this and other doctrines in ‘the Three Chapters’, having locked him up and finally exiled him to a remote island.
Reincarnation is strongly supported in the Gospels themselves, with speculation whether Jesus is Moses or Joshua returned, while Jesus quite unequivocally endorses reincarnation when he declares of John the Baptist, “he, if you will believe me, is the Elijah who was to return. Anyone who has ears should listen.” (Mt.11. 14-15). So there ! For good measure it is repeated: “I tell you, Elijah has come already and they did not recognise him but treated him as they pleased… Then the disciples understood that he was speaking of John the Baptist.” (Mt. 17. 11-13)
Another noted Gospel passage, “Who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9. 2-3 ) links reincarnation to something very much like the Indian philosophy of karma, divine justice. This idea recently proved so unfashionable, so heretical, it cost the England football manager his job.
“How are dead people raised and what sort of body do they have when they come ? How foolish ! What you sow must die before it is given new life; what you sow is not the body that is to be, but only a bare grain, say of wheat … it is God that gives it the sort of body that he has chosen for it … With the resurrection of the dead, what is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable ….. what is sown is the natural body, what is raised is the spiritual body …… this mortal nature of ours must put on immortality.” (1Cor 35-38, 42,44,53 NJB)
This evocative image of burying the physical body at death to reap the priceless harvest of an immortal spirit and eternal life doubtless inspired the piercing Easter hymn : ‘Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.’
Paul’s practical, common sense explanation fits very well with statements in the Egyptian Pyramid texts and the Book of the Dead : ‘ Soul to heaven, body to earth;’ (Vth dynasty) ‘Thy essence is in heaven, thy body to earth;’ (VIth dynasty) ‘Heaven hath thy soul, earth hath thy body;’ (Ptolemaic period) (E A Budge)
Christian commentators can be quite equivocal about Christ’s Resurrection, as this less-than-clear comment in the standard Oxford Companion to the Bible illustrates :
‘The resurrection, while a real event according to the unanimous testimony of the New Testament, is not historical in the sense that ordinary events are. It occurs at the point where history ends and God’s end-time kingdom begins. And it is not in itself an observable occurrence. …. Nor can it be verified.’ (pg. 648.)
Karma : the Ultimate Judgement
This may take immediate effect, ‘instant karma,’ or it may be postponed to future lifetimes. Karma is inextricably bound to the belief in rebirth, that future lives will be determined by ones past actions.
Essentially good deeds will be rewarded by good results, directly or eventually, and by an increased capacity for further good actions while evil deeds will produce the opposite. We can readily see this natural justice in life and there are many wise aphorisms advising us we will ‘reap what we sow.’ Equally we often recognise that good or evil rewards may be postponed but ‘they will get what’s coming to them one day.’ Karma takes this truth to its logical conclusion, recognising the power of the spirit to record every thought and ensure every seed sown bears its true fruit. Justice never fails and we always learn the lesson we need to make progress, to find our true selves, to find God.
Of course this sense of justice is very much what we ourselves instinctively feel and try to enforce in our criminal justice system. But when we take on God’s job we often commit greater crimes than any criminal, with the apparent impunity of righteous justice. Forgiveness forgotten, mercy turned to malice. And so we reap as we sow. As it could easily be predicted. As it is written, no doubt, against our names in the Book of Life.
Paul insisted the Christian understanding of the resurrection / reincarnation of the dead extended to “ the upright and the wicked alike.” (Acts 24. 15 ) and so we can all enjoy the assurance of immortality, eternal life. Equally we can recognise the fact of predestination applies to us all.
This is not a matter of some being damned for all eternity, others born to the assurance of eternal salvation. Realistically we can recognise we all share in both these fates to some degree. It is just a question of shading. We all have our faults which will attach to us until we learn to overcome them and we all have our virtues, our saving graces. All in different measures, perhaps, but who can judge ? God alone. Or the Spirit within. And if one pupil is chosen for special attention, special detention, who can say it is not because he or she has some special hidden potential ?
What we might recognise is we have all been chosen for the human adventure, to benefit full measure from the benign vigilance of the universal Spirit, our own immortal, omniscient spirit. We’re all on the same trail, heading for the same gold and we will all make it sooner or later. Perhaps those who expect to arrive sooner may be delayed, some who expect less may find themselves surprised. The usual spiritual paradoxes.
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