Humans from the earliest times have believed in life after death. One of the unique human properties is that we alone believe in a continued existence when our physical life has ended. Most animals simply abandon a dead member of their species. There has been some attempt to claim that elephants, whales, and apes exhibit mourning and stay with the body of a deceased member of their group. However, many researchers agree that interpreting their actions as mourning is not justified. Humans tend to view animal behavior in our image, a process known as anthropomorphism.
As science discovers more fossils of ancient humans, the pattern of preparing a deceased member of the group for another existence becomes apparent. Anthropologists are interested in a South African cave system burial site. There they have found 28 skull fragments and six teeth of what appears to be a child with human characteristics 35 feet (10.6 m) below ground. The bones do not seem to have been washed into the cave or dragged in by scavengers or predators. Researchers gave the specimen the scientific identity of Homo naledi.
Lee Berger of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg reports that this fossil shows strong evidence of a “ritualized body disposal” of the specimen, which they nicknamed “Leti.” Ancient burial sites have almost always indicated that others prepared the deceased for life after death. Sometimes the body is mummified, and sometimes jewelry or weapons are left with the body. There are even cases where an animal or mate was buried with the deceased.
There is a scant reference to life after death in the Old Testament. In 2 Samuel 12:23, David expressed faith that he would see his deceased baby in the future. Job said that after his body had been destroyed, he knew he would see God (Job 19:25-27). Daniel saw a “man clothed in linen” who told him he would “rest” and then “at the end of the days” he would rise and “receive his allotted inheritance” (Daniel 12:13).
The New Testament is full of references to life after death, especially in the teachings of Jesus Christ. The war between good and evil is rooted in the understanding that death is a product of this physical world and Christ has conquered it. (See 2 Timothy 1:10; Revelation 20:14 and 21:4.)
Human spiritual nature is unique because God created us in His image. Our soul allows us to think beyond this life and anticipate an eternal, time-independent relationship with God. That concept has been present in humans from the very beginning and is still present today. Our spiritual nature allows us to express ourselves in art, music, and worship. It also gives us the hope of eternal life in an existence beyond anything this world has to offer.
— John N. Clayton © 2021
Reference: Science News 12/4/21, page 15.