Eric Butterworth Speaks: Essays on Abundant Living #17
Delivered by Eric Butterworth on May 16, 1975
Through the ages there have been many philosophies of the heretofore and the hereafter. Man has forever been searching his soul and the world about him for answers to such questions as: “Why am I here? Where am I going? Why am I like I am?”
Religion has answered these questions in many ways—all seeing life as but part of the whole. They have believed in a soul and its survival of death. Usually the afterlife concept of heaven is a carry over of the early heathen belief of the happy hunting ground. The vague feelings of continuity of life beyond death have forever haunted man’s soul. This has been confused by the idea that there are two divergent paths: one up and the other down. The happy place is supposedly reserved only for the good and the rest suffer eternal torment.
This approach however leaves many unanswered questions: If this life is but the preparation for something else to come, why are we not anxious to get into the next life? How do we account for the inbred desire to live? How do we account for the seemingly unfinished pattern of the individual lives and the constantly progressive patterns of the civilization that man builds?
I don’t pretend to have the answers to all these questions, but it is productive and challenging to keep asking them. Ultimately the final answer comes from within. We have been taught to think that life is ever on the ebb, that time is running out, and that though men may work ever so hard to stave it off, emptiness, sickness, lack, deterioration and death are ultimates—foreordained from the start. But Robert Browning suggests another approach: “On earth the broken arc,/ In heaven the perfect round.”
Can you comprehend the complete circle if one tiny segment of a circle is presented to you? If this segment is so small as to be little more than a dot on the paper, there is no way of determining whether it is part of a tiny circle or part of a circle the size of the earth. And yet if it is a segment of a circle, it is always a segment that can be understood only in terms of the whole circle of whatever size. In the same sense, you can only understand the life of man in terms of his completion as a spiritual being—that of him that is not limited to or by the physical body.
Undoubtedly all of us have at some time been exposed to a theology that presented the blood and thunder of God and the hereafter. God was a stern and unrelenting judge, who sat on a throne somewhere and recorded in His big book all the deeds of our lives, and of a final judgment when the books are balanced. If the balance is in our favor we go up, and if it is against, we go down.
Sensible people have always rejected this ridiculous picture. It seems inconceivable that intelligent people could admit to such a capricious and sadistic diety that would allow or direct such things. In the words of Arlington Robinson, “The world of religious thought and life has ever been a kind of kindergarten in which millions of bewildered infants are trying to spell God with the wrong blocks.”
Jesus placed great emphasis on the mystical something that He called “heaven”. He talked about it often and usually in parables. Had the Kingdom of Heaven been a city with golden streets off in the skies. He could easily have located it in that way. Yet He said, “It is like unto a grain of mustard seed...It is like unto leaven...” A strange lot of comparisons if He had in mind a place where the good go after death. Finally, He said, “The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation. Neither shall they say, Lo here! or there! for lo the Kingdom of God is within you.”
Jesus clearly refers to an unseen yet very real phase of life rather than a place associated only with death. The word heaven comes from the Greek word “ouranos” which means “expanding”. Certainly Jesus’ parables about heaven seem to point to the miracle of growth in growing things. Heaven, then, is that wonderful germ of possibility that lies within all of God’s creation. It is the perfect circle within the broken arc. It is the potential for perfect man within the sickness and heartache and failure.
Man is amphibious, living in two worlds, not in succession but concurrently; two worlds which are yet one. Man is a spiritual being, living in a spiritual world and governed by spiritual law. But he is also clothed in human form, moving through human experience in time and space. Though he lives in complete preoccupation with the physical and material, yet as Ecclesiastes tells us, “He hath set eternity in their hearts.” At any time we can lift up our eyes to heaven and perceive the depth and breadth and the infinite resources of life in the dimension of eternity.
You may now be thinking, “all this notwithstanding, the fact is that man does die and life does seem to end. What of the fact of death?” There has always been an instinctive belief in the heart of man in the immortality of the soul, in a life that goes on in some way after death. Death has always been the unanswered question for man, for the startling Truth is, no one has ever seen death! We see only what it has no further use for, what it leaves behind.
The physical body is a marvelously created and sustained expression of life, truly “the temple of the living God.” However it is not the center of your life, but simply the means of its outward expression. If the body is rendered unfit for further service, if it succumbs to the race beliefs of sickness, age, and deterioration, and is thereby laid aside, this in no way means that life for you has ended. It simply means that you, as a living soul, will move from one room into another in the Father’s house which Jesus assures us has many rooms.
The question of death raises many problems. How do we account for Jesus’ statement, “Be ye perfect”, on the one hand, and the fact that life seems so unequal to those who are born with the seeming inability to find happiness or success on the other hand? Obviously Jesus would not have given the command if there were no means by which it could and should be fulfilled. I suggest an answer: reincarnation. It seems consistent that death is not in the plan of God, but in the consciousness of man. Man was born to live and not to die.
In a sense, the concept of reincarnation might be called the “gospel of the second chance.” Even though a man may die, through the forgiveness of God he is given another chance to press on toward the ultimate goal of perfection through re-embodiment. This is no fixed doctrine, it is simply a “glorious possibility” which suggests an answer to many puzzling questions. If the idea does not appeal to you, or if it frightens you, forget it. Put it out of your mind. All important is what you think and how you live today. “Now is the day of salvation. Now is the acceptable time.”
As we read the story of the “man born blind” in the 9th Chapter of John, we see Jesus’ approach that the affliction was simply a means of working out something that, according to the consciousness of the individual, could not be worked out any other way. And this is a good answer to the often asked question, “Why did this happen to me?” Despite the law of cause and effect, challenging experiences are not always the negative results of negative causes. When we see a student challenged to the utmost with the tests that are daily presented to him in his course, do we wonder, “what could have caused this terrible thing?” No. We realize that he entered into this course for the purpose of his own growth and development. More important than why things come to us is the question of what we are going to do about them. As the Bible says, “In the furnace of affliction have I gained strength.”
The notion of reincarnation may offer some satisfying answers, but don’t make it an object of study. Going too deeply into this investigation can only serve to confuse you and to keep you from the main goal of spiritual seeking—which is an understanding of life, not death. Study the here and now. Live each day of your life as if there were no tomorrow. If you are a child of God today, you will be so tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. “Sufficient unto today is the good thereof.” “This is the day which the Lord hath made. Rejoice and be glad in it.”
© 1975, by Eric Butterworth