An ancient adage states there are only two things one can be sure of in this life; death and taxes. When a person is young, neither of these seem important, but as one grows older, death in particular begins to loom ever larger. Often times young people behave as though they are immortal, since death seems very remote to them. However, as people mature, they begin to understand mortality more fully, and their perception of death changes from a remote possibility into a harsh reality that must be faced.
Neil Gillman, who is Chair of the Department of Jewish Philosophy at The Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York, has written a very interesting book entitled; The Death of Death. Gillman has this to say about death:
"To insist on the finality of death is to condemn the totality of human life to meaninglessness. Human life cannot be fulfilled here on earth. We are born and grow into adulthood with hopes and visions, goals and ideals, yet most of us prepare to die with a haunting sense of potentials unfulfilled, aspirations unrealized, relationships unresolved, accounts still not balanced. Our life-experience is inevitably fragmented." (P. 249)
How we react to our own mortality, and the approach of death, is a direct reflection of our personal belief system. In both Christian and Jewish theology a great deal of confusion exists on just what constitutes death and whether or not one can expect an afterlife. For those who do believe in an afterlife, there is additional disagreement concerning just when that afterlife begins, who will be included in it, and what it will be like.
Certainly, in the secular world, it should come as no surprise that such confusion exists, for some people have had what is commonly called a "near-death" experience; where their heart and respiratory system had ceased to function, but were brought back to "life" by medical professionals. During this time, some have witnessed to having had an out of body experience; having been able to look down upon their bodies being worked upon by the doctors and nurses, hearing all that was said, and seeing all that was taking place. Others relate what they believe to have been a journey into another realm, where they claim to have seen departed relatives and/or friends who have preceded them in death. Some say they were told to go back, for their time had not yet come.
Of course, the records also include the stories of others who have "died" on the operating table and been brought back to life, having had no recollection at all of any "out of body" experience or of any "journey" into another realm.
It is not the purpose of this article to support or reject the claims of people who have had these "near-death" experiences. To the individuals involved, such experiences are real beyond doubt. Some, who hold to the doctrine of the Immortality of the Soul, see these experiences as proof positive for their theological position. Others look upon them as similar to vivid dreams which sometimes take place in response to what the body is experiencing. Still others see such experiences as having been programmed by God and placed in the human mind or spirit so that a person is able to exit this human life in the easiest possible manner, psychologically speaking.
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