Not Reincarnation, But…

wheel of samsara

One of the world’s great myths holds that our souls travel through many lifetimes in different bodies. People call this idea…Reincarnation.

To give the benefit of the doubt to all the people who have believed in this, and the millions who still do: I, for one, can see why the myth might arise. In fact, I can see two solid reasons why people might come to believe in reincarnation.

1. We human beings have a natural tendency to revere the perfect justice of Almighty God. But we live in a world which we clearly see is not perfectly just. Therefore, God must have a means by which He restores justice in the end. If I do not know about the sacrifice of Christ, which has reconciled the human race to God in one perfectly just act—if I don’t know about this, then I will inevitably try to imagine other ways in which justice might be restored. I will imagine some other means by which a human being might reach purity, uprightness, godliness. I see that this does not generally happen in the course of one given human lifetime. But I might imagine that over an enormous array of well-lived lifetimes, a soul might actually reach union with God.

But: Reincarnation is impossible, as many skilled philosophers have shown. St. Thomas Aquinas argues the point with characteristic clarity and simplicity.

There is only one thing which allows a human soul to be the single and unique thing that it is, namely a human body. The myth of reincarnation can only work by obliterating the true nature of the human person. A human person is not a soul that wears a body like a coat—a coat that can be changed for another human body, or even an animal’s body—like a cow’s. No: a human person is a soul and a body together.

st-thomas-aqWho am I? I am not a soul; I am not a body. I am a soul and body, human being, person. Tall guy. Nerdy tall guy.

If I came back in the next life as a cow, I wouldn’t be me anymore. If I lived a previous life as Conan the Barbarian or something, that wasn’t me then. So it’s impossible, reincarnation. The idea contradicts the most basic facts of human nature, the most basic essence of the human person.

But we sympathize with the myth. We long for justice, for peace with the pure Absolute. And here’s the second reason we can sympathize: because we cannot quite bring ourselves to believe that death is the end.

Death seems like a rupture with who we are, not like a natural conclusion. Death could be a natural conclusion to a bovine life of eating and sleeping. But death does not seem like a fitting conclusion to a life of spiritual striving and intellectual aspiration, to a life seeking great and enduring things, like a perfect NCAA-tournament bracket. Death seems like a rupture, like a caesura, rather than like a culmination to our human personality. There must be more.

So it turns out we human beings needed Jesus Christ to deal with this whole issue for us. Imagine that!

Christ Who established justice and harmony between God and the human race, with one perfectly lived life. And Christ Who shows us what the future really holds. Not a thousand thousand lifetimes seeking purity by inhabiting many different bodies. No. The future holds our complete and total re-integration as our true selves, body and soul—unique, you and me—not re-incarnated but re-…. surrected!

Bethany postcard

They were like, “Look, Master, he’s been in the tomb for four days…”

And He’s like, “[Sigh] Am I not God? Did I not knit together his sinews in his mother’s womb? Did I not map out every bone, every muscle, every cell, every little tooth and fingernail?

“Are you trying to tell Me my business about breathing the breath of life into the humble flesh of man? Really? I already gave this man the life of love and truthfulness that made you love him so much in the first place.

“You gonna make me cry here, people–you make so little sense. Can I not raise up what I made out of nothing in the first place? Please.

“Lazarus, come out.”

Our pilgrim life will end. We will lay our bodies down in death.

But the trumpet will sound, and we will wake up like Marines in a barracks at daybreak, or like kids in their cabins at summer camp.

Our bodies will rise in the cemeteries, like so many summer camps, with the sun rising, with reveille playing, and everything will be completely fulfilled, and there will be no more sunsets and no more dying.

Not sure if I will finally get my date with Sandra Bullock then. Not sure about that. But we can be sure that we will rise as ourselves, the persons we are, body and soul. And if, on that great day, we rise in Christ—and may God have the mercy to see to it that we do rise in Christ, and not away from Christ, not against Christ—if we rise in Christ, we will rise to everlasting glory.

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