What happens when we die?

What happens when we die?
Questions of Faith

There’s an old saying, usually attributed to Benjamin Franklin, which points out that there are only two things certain in life: death and taxes. While Franklin’s economic predictions may not hold water in some distant society of the future, his first point about our mortality certainly rings true. We all die.

Religions and philosophies throughout history have explored the question of death, coming to varying conclusions about what happens when we die.

The Church teaches not that we are reincarnated or experience emptiness after death, but that an eternal afterlife awaits us.

The bare bones of this theological view can be found in the Nicene Creed which states that God will “come again in glory to judge the living and the dead” and that we “look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”.

It’s very easy to reel this off with little thought, but the Creed gives us a powerful insight into what happens when die.

After we die, Catholics believe that at the moment of death the immortal soul separates from the body.

Every person also receives a particular judgement where they are directed to Heaven, Purgatory or Hell.

Those in Heaven have full relationship with God, those in Purgatory are purified of sin and then enter Heaven, and those in Hell are eternally separated from God. The Church teaches that God predestines no one to go to Hell, but we cannot be united with him unless we freely choose to love him.

This isn’t the end of the story. Catholics also believe that everyone will be reunited with their bodies and there will be a Last Judgement when Christ “returns in glory”.

Earthly life

No one knows when this will happen, and during this time, the truth of each person’s relationship with God will be laid bare. This profound moment in the culmination of history will also reveal the good each person has done or failed to do in their earthly life. As Pope emeritus Benedict XVI said: “In the end, souls stand naked before the Judge” (Spe salvi 44). Upon judgement, the righteous will enter a new Heaven and the damned will face eternal punishment. During this time everyone will also learn the ultimate reason why we were created and “the marvellous ways by which [God’s] providence led everything towards its final end”.

Exploring the concept of death is deeply sobering, and given its inevitably, can be a scary prospect to think about.

But by facing it head on, we can learn about ourselves, where we are going wrong and value of things which truly matter.

It’s also important to remember that our Faith shouldn’t be motivated by fear of death or Hell, but by having a genuine and loving relationship with God.

This is a God who gave us life, and an opportunity to experience eternal bliss!