The Bahá’í Faith On Life After Death

The soul is not considered to be subject to natural law — rather it is subject to spiritual law as a covenant between man and God and it takes identity at the conception of the embryo, but not “in” the body, rather, associated with it like light to a mirror. Heaven is a soul being close to God, not a place but a condition, as it undergoes an eternal spiritual evolution. Anyone who learns and applies virtues and guidance of God “goes to” heaven. Hell is similarly being far from God, not a place, but of failing to understand and apply virtues and guidance from God. Progress from even the worst condition is possible even in the next world but not until the individual fundamentally overcomes rejecting Godly virtues. Labels we call ourselves by and theologies we claim to adhere to are not as important as the reality of spiritual virtues like courage, justice, love, understanding, etc., actually expressed by choice in our lives. Development of the spiritual life reaches a milestone whether in this life or the next in developing the “spirit of faith” a gift of the Holy Spirit, which then continues to grow in the individual’s soul. But if our ability to express Godly virtues is conditional so is our condition in the afterlife — there is a spectrum of achievement so a purgatory-like environment is possible for those who have not well embraced Godly virtues and those that have not largely rejected them. Indeed, the next world’s life is sometimes delineated in stages. Bahá’ís believe a significant purpose of revelation is to guide the spiritual development of the individual and that accepting the prophet of God is important as a significant chance at advancing the conditional achievement of discovering the virtues themselves and expressing them. If one succeeds in achieving these to a superlative degree then that person will be of benefit to all mankind from the afterlife while those who are far from God have no power to affect the living any more. Indeed, evil is not viewed as a power in the next world – people who are evil are described as “atrophied” and “enfeebled” and that accounts of “possession” are about people who have yielded to their own darker passions and baser nature.

Even though heaven is a condition more than a place it is still described as a realm where those who are close to God also are close to each other. Thus in the afterlife one encounters the prophets of old and other historical people. While the individual experiences dramatic changes from birth and the stages of life in this world then death and life beyond, Bahá’ís hold it is the same soul, the same sense of identity, through the dramatic changes of circumstances. However the worlds of the womb, life in this world and the life beyond are actually interwoven. It’s not like moving to a distant place — the afterlife is also “here”, unseen by those living on earth. Life in this world affects that one and life in that one affects this. Death is about the letting go of the physical frame and its requirements and has no real identity itself.

Judgement Day is perceived to be about the time after a new Revelator when the followers of the former dispensation are judged/tested. If they are affirmed they are “raised” or “return” (not as individuals but as types of people, like John the Baptist was the return of Elijah but not Elijah himself.) The circumstances of mass “resurrection” in the last days refers to when the process will be world embracing rather than in one country or people or another. This is also one of many reasons why Bahá’ís do not believe in the literal return to earth of the same individual soul as is believed by those who hold to reincarnation. Thus this Judgement Day is not the same as the judgement that happens after death but there too there is a judgement and the reality behind the words one lived by are measured. Rewards for correctly applying virtues and punishments for incorrectly doing so are settled but ongoing learning still takes place starting in the last moments of earthly life. Bahá’ís believe we will know and converse with those we have known as well as those who have already died.

Expressing information about the afterlife is inherently limited in this life. It is explained that the next life is fundamentally different in many ways from this life. The parallel is made comparing life in the womb with this life and the changes after birth to the changes after death. Realities of the latter are not available even as concepts in the former – they are ineffable. The idea of a body in the next world is still present but it is a heavenly body. There is a realm of lights and reunion with deceased associates. God will be witnessed as if it were a sun in the sky but there is no night. The sanctity of human nature is affirmed when it reflects the light of God and the truths of existence become known and a basic fear of death is overcome and a universal acceptance of the religions as coming from one source.