The Metaphysical Road to God

Abstract

Following a statement on Elijah’s experience of God in the silence of being, the paper examines the metaphysical nature of silence. Since the silence is the dwelling place of the Lord, it must be other than the absence of sound. If the risen dead see God’s face, they must be in that place of silence. The metaphysical structure of being places the dead in the nothing surrounding being’s unconcealment and in the intelligence of the nothing before creation. This suggests that death as such takes place as a reversal in the metaphysical ground of being’s unconcealment.  

Summary

My faith tells me that human death is a return to God. But my reason struggles to make sense of this belief. Being a professional philosopher I am trained to explore this sort of issue; to examine assumptions, make distinctions, define terms, and ensure that the argument maintains internal consistency. Many other equally well-trained philosophers think that death is the end of human existence, or that beliefs concerning the existence of God are unproven. What makes my argument more convincing than other arguments? Perhaps my faith is a source of illusion? Perhaps individuals of my sort do not want life to end at death and hastily conjure up the existence of a God as a place to maintain personal identity in the absence of a temporal life.

The problem of death, and the afterlife in God is one of the most difficult problems encountered in the classroom. I think the problem is even more challenging than the attempt to justify the existence of a loving God and the suffering of innocent victims, though the issues are connected. The first effort is to ‘distinguer pour unir’ as Jacques Maritain says, or simply to mark boundaries. The paper examines the afterlife state from the point of view of metaphysics, only. This problem is already complex enough without bringing in additional detail such as (ethically) do I deserve to be with God in the next life, or (epistemologically) what is the meaning of being with God, and (logically) can the temporal and the eternal join in the afterlife? My strategy is to accept as a given that God exists and that the dead meet God in the afterlife state. I accept that God exists in the ‘sacred silence of being’ and that the deceased live on in God in that space.   

According to Christian belief, at birth we come into temporal existence from God and at death join God in eternal life. Since continuity is presumed in logic, the eternal must be present in the temporal. The metaphysical structure of human discourse must be shown to contain an eternal dimension. Being’s unconcealment plays a focal role in this metamorphosis as it functions as the objective correlate of consciousness in temporal as well as in the eternal existence of the individual. The other side of death is a place of ‘sacred silence’. This is where we meet God. On earth, we encounter something to the likeness of that silence in the being of things, or more to the point, in the nothing that envelops the being of things. The very small recapitulates the very large. The nothing of things and the nothing-at-large of big bang theory are instances of God at work in sacred silence. On the occasion of human death, being’s unconcealment emerges to absolute disclosure sending us on an errand towards eternal God. At this point the reader may wish to scroll down to the summary and conclusion at the end of the paper, or take a deep breath and think metaphysical thoughts.  

Introduction

The belief in the existence of a loving God is central to Abraham religions. God is the uncaused efficient and final cause of all things. According to Aquinas, the governance of the world by God has the nature of law, and since Divine Law is not subject to time, it is called eternal (S.T. 1-11, q.91, a.1.) The Israelites used the first letter of the Greek alphabet (alpha) and the last letter (omega) to symbolize the eternity of God. The Eternal law is imprinted in us. The natural law or the end God intends for us is discerned through reason (S.T. 1-11, q.91, a. 2.) So what does it mean to come from God and to return to God?

The effect of God in us is known imperfectly because we are characterized by temporality. However, revelation provides insight. God’s promise to the blessed is that they will see the face of God. The 8th blessing proclaimed by Christ at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount contains the promise that the ‘single-hearted’ shall see God (Matthew 5, 8.) The ways of reason, on the other hand, examine the nature of that experience from the point of view of metaphysics. The question before us is not an inquiry into what the blessed see when they see God, for manifestly we do not know God as such on this side of death. But we can examine the metaphysical ground of the possibility of seeing God as such. That possibility exists at human death

The Silence

The First Book of Kings tells of Elijah’s search for God and what happened when he reached Horeb, the mountain of God,

…(Elijah) came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. (19:9, 11-13)

What exactly is the nature of the Lord’s “silence”? It cannot be the absence of wind, earthquake, or fire, since absence signifies the absence of something. The silence Elijah experiences is not the absence of noise. From the point of view of metaphysics and the focus Aquinas places on the primacy of esse Elijah’s silence is an experience of the Divine presence. Elijah experiences the root of the possibility of presence and absence, the uttermost possibility of presence. Since the silence marks the place of something rather than nothing; it is the metaphysical place of the possibility of presence. This is the place of the Creator God. Thus, the silence marks the place of a reversal in the possibility of there being something, or nothing at all. Since God creates the world and al things contained in it out of nothing, the nature of the nothing before the creative act takes place must stand as the ultimate metaphysical possibility of there being something rather than nothing at all. The expression ‘I see nothing there’ means that what was there or could be there is currently not there. But the nothing of creation is not a privation of something. The Divine nothing stands at the root of the possibility of presence and absence. Elijah encounters the God that exists in the ‘out of nothing.’ The single-hearted of the Beatitudes must step out of the something and nothing of temporal experience to see God the Creator in the ‘out of nothing’ state of eternal existence. While this experience is not something we (the living) can understand, we can explain the nature of the metaphysical road that takes us there. 

Assumptions

If this paper was to examine the actual existence of an afterlife state, or the nature of the conditions that surround the state of being dead, it might never get off the ground. Yet, the success of the religious belief depends on the existence of such a state. So I take the religious claim (Revelation) at face value. I assume that the state of death as such continues the state of temporal existence, since continuity is presumed in logic. From the point of view of reason, however, the issue of an afterlife state raises a number of complex issues, not the least of which is the problem of personal identity. My temporal identity depends on a dynamic unit of body and soul. If, as Aquinas says, death is the soul’s departure from the body, how can that be me in the afterlife without a body? And does God sustain the human soul in the afterlife, or does it endure because of its immaterial character? Is the afterlife state eternal, or does it exist for a limited time? What do the dead do? How do they act without a body? What does it mean to see the face of God? And how is not seeing God’s face hell? How can I, who am not yet dead, discuss the nature of death as it is to the dead? This paper does not pretend to examine these epistemological and ethical assumptions. But the metaphysical foundation of death can be examined without raising these epistemological and ethical concerns. We assume that death is something to the dead and that the metaphysical ground of death can be raised without contradiction. In other words, if it is the case that the afterlife state exists (as promised by Eternal law), then, we can examine the metaphysical structure of death as such.  

Most papers and books on this subject view death as being the absence of consciousness. In my opinion, this way of thinking about death provides limited use. It leads to absurdities and creates difficulties when taken out of context. The absurdity arises when this view is applied to the nature of death as such, as it leads to an investigation into what remains when nothing is left. If death is the absence of consciousness,  are we wondering about what consciousness remains when consciousness ceases? The difficulty with the conception of death as absence is obvious. It confounds death and dying by transposing stages of dying into the state of death as such. However, the view of death as absence makes sense if death is the end of personal existence. But if the claim to the existence of an afterlife state is taken seriously, death cannot be viewed as being an end. In ordinary language, we view death as an end because our focus is not metaphysical. In medicine, for instance, somatic death is seen to be the absence of heart beat and respiration, while cellular death leads to the absence of cortical and brain stem activity. We think of death as being an absence because at some point the effort to prolong the life of a dying brain is futile. We need to know when that point is upon us. While this is a complex problem, it houses important debates on quality of life, transplants, and letting die. But the focus of the present paper cannot be met by using the methodology of medicine. Rather the paper picks up where medicine leaves off (fails), with a dead body. And we suggest that if death is ‘the departure of the soul’ as Aquinas claims, then, the departure must take place within a metaphysical arena where it functions as a reversal in the ground of the possibility of life rather than as the absence of life. (I shall return to Aquinas’s definition later.) Since death as such is not an absence, we will have to move out of consciousness to examine the root of the possibility of consciousness. This gets us out of the conception of death as absence and into the representation of death as the continuation of personal existence. This is where we meet being’s unconcealment. Let me explain.   

Once Upon A Time

The first order of business is to examine how an inquiry into the nature of death as such is not fairy tale. As Epicurus already knows, the exclamation “death is nothing to the living” means that for as long as I am, death is not, and when death comes, I am no longer. So I do not wish to compound an already too long list of obscurities that fail to distinguish between death and dying. We avoid confounding dying–an experience of the living–and death–which is not any kind of experience to anyone–by examining the sense in which death is not an experience or something we live through. But if death as such is not an experience, how is the investigation into “what death is like to the dead” not an absurdity?

The possibility of conducting a legitimate inquiry into this area rests on a fundamental distinction between the (metaphysical) explanation of death as such and the epistemological claim to know something about the nature of death. However, both the ontological and the epistemic roads to death suggest death is a state, that is, a condition in which the dead are more or less active or passive. What exactly do the dead do?

Paul Edwards warns against the absurdity of the claim.[1] Once death is defined as the absence of consciousness, it is absurd to wonder what the dead think now that they no longer think, or what they feel and do given they no longer feel or do anything. However, the veil of madness lifts once we redirect the issue toward metaphysics. Once the absurdity of the epistemological question is averted, we look to being for an explanation of death. The metaphysics contains the root of the possibility of the epistemological issue. The failure of the epistemic activity suggests something about our metaphysical life. In short, if we grant that death could be something to the dead, then, it is possible to conduct the inquiry from a different perspective, namely, by moving the question out of the realm of reason into the realm of being or foundation of epistemic activity. In that way, we learn from our failures. From this perspective, death is the removal of the ground of consciousness rather than the absence of consciousness.

The Concept and the Idea

How can death be something to the dead? If the question is not allowed to dissolve into an epistemological absurdity, the metaphysical structure of being must be seen to contain the sufficient and necessary reason of death as such. Thomas Aquinas’s view on the primacy of esse can be seen to provide a portal to the nature of death as such. The Thomistic distinction between the concept and the idea suggests that the existence of the world is affirmed spontaneously rather than at the term of a rational process. The theory of direct perception affixes primacy to being and to the fact that being manifests itself freely to consciousness. This means that knowledge takes place in two movements. First, a movement to introduce the being of things into consciousness before consciousness arises (the concept). Second, Aquinas introduces a movement to examine the conceptual becoming of the other (the idea). The error of Descartes is to confound the idea for the concept, as his attempt to prove the existence of being makes clear. The existence of a world outside consciousness is indemonstrable. We acquiesce to the primacy of being over consciousness or forever give up the pretence of knowing things as they are in themselves. The name Aquinas reserves for the profound experience of being’s primacy is the “intuition of being”. The intuition provides a sense of the majesty and poverty of metaphysics, as Maritain’s classic (1959) The Degrees of Knowledge makes known.[2] The poverty of metaphysics is that being announces its primacy over consciousness, but the majesty of metaphysics is that consciousness can then use being to rise above the temporal and move into the eternal world of being.    

Being's Unconcealment

In my opinion, nothing surpasses Martin Heidegger’s eloquent encounter with finitude. He says the Dasein (the human being) stands in the presence of being’s unconcealment (unverborgenheit) and is sent on an errand by being to discover the meaning of being. Truth is a process of letting be as we seek to unwrap what is infolded in being. But being’s unconcealment takes place in time and so the errand is never completed.   

Aquinas uses the concept as a metaphysical celebration of God’s creative activity, and as an epistemological gateway to the objectivity of knowledge. The concept introduces the being of things to consciousness so that the activity of knowledge is about being rather than thought of being. Aquinas develops five arguments to move reason beyond the natural order to a place in the supernatural order where God is, but Heidegger remains firmly planted in finitude to condemn the search for absolutes or eternal truths. He cannot complete the project announced in Being and Time. His view of the concept immerses Dasein into a sea of finitude, marking the poverty of metaphysics as the horizon of all future possibilities. Dasein is doomed to finitude. And so the process of unconcealment–and sending Dasein on truth disclosing errands–is unending. Once Heidegger framed unconcealment in the perspective of finitude, he could not complete the inquiry toward the majesty of metaphysics. His work points the way beyond finitude, and Heidegger no doubt sees, but cannot go. Perhaps the critique of absolutes is too fresh in his mind. Heidegger is right to call attention to our fundamental characteristic of finitude, but wrong to remain silent. He does not raise the question concerning the essence of death. He thinks that the nature of death as such is unknowable because Dasein’s finitude cannot be outstripped. But the believer in God can move beyond Heidegger’s boundary. Still, John Caputo argues that Heidegger sees more than this in being’s unconcealment, though he does not move beyond temporality.[3] If the nature of death as such cannot be understood, perhaps it can be explained.   

Understanding or Explaining Belief

It is in the fact that the attempt to prove the existence of the world is an embarrassment to philosophy that the inquiry toward the nature of death as such opens. The intuition of being provides an insight that moves us beyond temporality. It provides us with an important distinction between understanding being and explaining being. The etymology of explanation suggests we can move beyond consciousness to trace the sufficient and necessary condition of death as such within the folds of being’s unconcealment. The movement away from epistemology toward metaphysics allows us to explain what we cannot understand. This shift is possible because consciousness and being form an inseparable unit.  

We sought to understand the nature of death through consciousness and saw that this approach goes nowhere. So we go to being, the objective correlate of consciousness. The explanation of death is found within the folds of being’s unconcealment and its refusal to unconceal for consciousness at death. Since being and consciousness form a unit, being’s refusal to unconceal itself must carry consciousness along (and thereby safeguard personal identity). Death is not the absence of consciousness but a reversal in the possibility of consciousness. It is not something we do or fail to do, but a removal of the ground of possibilities. Thus, death as such is not the loss of life, but the removal of the possibility of life. Death is being’s refusal to be for us. However, being’s unconcealment is not annihilated on the occasion of personal death. It rises again on the side of the eternal. Heidegger proves to be an unexpected ally in this journey.

It seems no more difficult to imagine the existence of a mirror image of revealedness than to acquiesce to the existence of being in a theory of direct perception. The latter is indemonstrable yet the belief in the existence of a world outside of consciousness is a staple of common sense. Heidegger’s vision of the nothing surrounding being can be paired with the nothing of big bang science to provide the argument that being’s unconcealment returns for the dead.  

The Nothing That Surrounds Being's Unconcealment

The first and simplest explanation of what Heidegger is about to say is that continuity is always presumed in logic. The great laws of physics–the conservation of mass, energy, and inertia–are based on that fundamental belief. Emile Meyerson (1859-1933) devoted the whole of his prodigious work to an elucidation of how the ways of reason depend on the discovery of identities. So, we expect the discovery of identities in Heidegger’s exploration of being’s unconcealment. Heidegger’s inaugural lecture at the University of Freiburg in 1929 addresses the meaning of being. He opens the lecture by situating the question “What is Metaphysics.” The sciences, he says, wish to know the causes, effects, and relationships of being, and otherwise nothing. But what can be said about the nothing. The nothing is neither this nor that, but it is encountered. It is in the fact that the nothing is there that the experience of the something arises. Think of the nothing as the pauses between musical notes.      

Heidegger’s “nothing” is not the absence of “something,” but the possibility of the something coming to an end. The nothing functions as the ultimate root of the possibility of what a thing is. For instance, the desk at which I sit comes to an end. It does not take up the whole of the room, or continue indefinitely into space, since it would not be a desk if it did not come to an end. Thus, the nothing that surrounds the desk contains intelligence. It allows us to distinguish a desk from other extended things such as filing cabinets and chairs. We can extend Heidegger’s vision to the nothing of big bang theory. Since the nothing that surrounds the very small–like the desk–is necessary to the desk’s identity, perhaps the whole of the cosmos (the desk-at-large) is enveloped by the intelligence of a nothing? The question points to the intelligence of the nothing in the sense that this nothing is necessary to the origin of cosmos. While the nothing that surrounds a desk points to the intelligence of a carpenter, the nothing of cosmos points to the intelligence of a creator. The nothing that surrounds objects of experience is an echo of the nothing of big bang cosmology. Is God as Creator the intelligence of the nothing? Is this the place of ‘silence’ where Elijah sees God? In that event, the creator of cosmos, the Being that enters into personal relationships with us (since we are an output of cosmos) is but another name for God. God is not only the alpha of existence, God is the omega of rational life since cosmos (and all things contained in it) tends toward an ultimate end.

The question asked by G.W.F. Leibniz “why is there something rather than nothing?” is answered. Things exist because God the Creator provides the necessary condition of existence. But we are created as finite entities, primed to return to God. Death is a return to our beginning. The nothing surrounding being’s unconcealment provides a gateway to the metaphysical nature of death as such. The explanation suggests that human death is recalcitrance in the nothing surrounding being’s unconcealment. The parallel between matter and anti-matter finds expression in the parallel between unconcealment and anti-unconcealment. The latter is a mirror image of unconcealment. To be mortal is to be in process between these two levels of Divine Intelligence.     

Personal Identity

The importance of personal identity cannot be overstated since that must be me on the other side of being’s unconcealment, if the inquiry into the nature of death as such is to make sense. The defense of personal identity must explain how the whole of my relationships or associations might accompany me in the afterlife state. This is a hard sell. How can that be me in the afterlife without my body? Aquinas is not unaware of the problem. He seeks to resolve it through the resurrection of the body. But the problem remains how can that be me as disembodied soul, waiting for my body? Has he been waiting seven hundred years for his body? I stress the point because of his own insistence that we appear to be less of a person without a body. It seems to me, we are not only less of a person in the disembodied state, but not a person in any sense of the term. The solution to the problem of personal identity arises out of the ashes of the metaphysical self. When David Hume deconstructs the existence of a metaphysical self, he nonetheless must explain the illusion of being a self (or a person). He does so by invoking the string of relationships or associations that accompany all our impressions or sensations. For instance, the “I” that is writing this paper is nothing other than the confluence of associations taking place between certain processes in my brain, the sights and sounds on my keyboard, and other noises in my environment, including the memory of past experiences. Should all of these cease, and no other associations arise to fill the gap, (and Hume’s critique of Locke’s memory theory prevail) I would lose all senses of “self.” Does the absence of sensations translate into the loss of self? Hume makes a connection between associations and the self, though the associations can be widened to include other relationships. We are the output of relationships taking place at the level of an interior life (consciousness), other human beings (the social self), and the environment (being’s unconcealment). No self exists without these associations. So a tentative solution to the problem of personal identity arises through a reformulation of becoming persons. We are born human but become persons as the output of our relationships. I have discussed this problem at length in (1999) Persons and Immortality. Only some of these associations are freely chosen. The most basic associations take place at the level of being’s unconcealment where the cosmic seed is planted, not only for the emergence of life and consciousness, but the appearance of persons. It provides a foundation for the ongoing character of the person-making process. Since the preservation of personal identity is a critical issue, the reversal in being’s unconcealment must carry the whole of my associations into the afterlife–if that is to be me in the next world.

The view of self that arises out of freely chosen associations announces a plausible alternative to the problematic existence of a disembodied soul. Aquinas’s view of death is more angelic than human. In my opinion, the reversal in being’s unconcealment carries in its wake, not the soul, but the whole of the relations or associations that characterize a person. The evidence that this is the case exists at the level of the psyche where our psychological addiction to the afterlife is disclosed. No healthy human being wants life to end. It also exists at the level of the social self where the death of a loved one does not end a relationship but raises it to a new level in eternal life. And it exists at the level of the environment where the patterns and laws of human existence cannot be annihilated without violating the laws of physics. While the study of each perspective provides insight into the nature of death as such, the focus of this small paper is served through a study of the environmental connection.

Problem: The Supernatural Order

So if it is the case that an afterlife state exists, then, the path through being’s unconcealment provides a reasonable passage to this state and to the preservation of personal identity. Afterlife activities are thought to take place in the supernatural order, or in an environment other than the natural one. The problem is that the principle of sufficient reason may not apply to any state beyond the natural world. We cannot use reason to move beyond reason. The limitation of this line of questioning concerns the nothing surrounding being’s unconcealment. Does it move us beyond the natural order to provide a glimpse of God at work? We cannot see God at work in the supernatural order before the natural order comes into existence. However, the nothing that surrounds cosmos provides evidence of the effect of a Creator at work, and of the Creator’s desire to enter into relationship with us. If this view is acceptable as an operational definition of God, then, God exists in the natural order. Further, if the Creator is surrounded by a nothing or intelligence, then, that intelligence might provide from the supernatural order God. I think this is what Aquinas sees when he uses the principle of sufficient reason, and the experiences of this world, to argue to the existence of an uncaused cause of the world. His argument serves notice that infinite regress (such as Hawking’s negative time) is not admissible as an explanation of existence since it violates the principle of sufficient reason. What evidence do we have to suggest that God is the creator entering into personal relationships with us, or that God exists in the timeless world of the supernatural order as well as in the temporal order of the natural world? The Scriptural evidence that God is at work in the nothing (Elijah’s experience of sacred silence) makes the point, though reason seeks to establish a connection between both orders through the discovery of God at work in the natural order.

The Big Bang Origin of the Cosmos

It seems a fair statement to suggest that most scientists today agree with the big bang origin of cosmos. In 1929, Edwin Hubble’s observation that the light from distant galaxies is growing redder led to the view that the universe is continuing to expand in all directions. But if the universe is growing bigger, it must have been very dense at one point. Hubble’s discovery suggests that the universe was at one point infinitely dense.  As we approach the point of infinite density from which the universe began to expand we recognize that this point must be nothing at all. If it had any size it would not be infinitely dense. The origin of the universe must have taken place outside space, time, and matter or energy in what can only be called a nothing. When all the distances separating us are played back in time we not only point to a place beyond the natural order (the cosmos and all things contained in it), we recognize that we come out of that nothing. This is the elusive connection between the two orders of existence, namely, the natural and the supernatural. As the book of Genesis makes known, to create is to produce something out of nothing: “Now the earth was a formless void” (1:2). The nothing of pre big bang cosmology contains evidence of supernatural intelligence at work. The quantum physicist sees us as the output of that Intelligence. Science and religion are now viewed as being two perspectives of the same divinity. One second after the Big Bang, if the forces of expansion and contraction had not been so finely tuned (Aquinas’s design argument,) the planets would not have formed. Stephen Hawking provides an indication of the precision required:[4]

(Heat) had to be exactly as it was because a decrease of heat by as little as one part in a million million would have caused the universe to collapse ... . (Furthermore) Electro-Magnetism and gravity had to be correct to one part in 1040, the rate of expansion to 1055, density to 1060, and the smoothness of expansion to 10123 (127)

Paul Davies notes that the odds against all of these variables coming together to explain the origin of the universe are at least one followed by a thousand billion, billion zeros.[5] This is evidence that the creator wrote us into the universe. We are not the product of random events.  Science places the big bang some 15 to 20 billion years ago, while the origin of our species is a recent event occurring approximately three to five million years ago. Following the big bang, the universe unfolded in accordance with the laws and patterns encoded in the nothing of the beginning. The Intelligence behind that origin prescribed, not only the emergence of planets, but of life, including the emergence of a human species, though Hawking fixes his explanation of the origin of the universe in negative time rather than a creator. In doing so, he appears to mistake the idea of existence for the concept world. The simplest explanation is that the world has a beginning in God, a beginning rooted in direct perception, or the intuition of being. The attempt to substitute an imaginary world of negative numbers for the being of things, not only flies in the face of Ockham’s Razor, but it substitutes a being of reason for the being of things. The point is that things exist! Therefore, if not this big bang as the primal origin of cosmos, then, some big bang at some point in an eternity of time had to introduce the existence of being rather than no being at all. Aquinas’s design argument suggests that although the world can be eternal, the critical issue is the order of esse, not the order of time, that is, God provides an explanation of why something exists rather than nothing at all. The big bang theory points the way towards the nothing surrounding the origin of matter. The creator is at work in the nothing (silence) providing a vertical intelligence for a subsequent horizontal connection. One event is inscribed in the natural order, but the other is in the eternal nothing that surrounds the possibility of a natural order. The nothing of Divine intelligence expresses the sufficient reason why something exists rather than nothing.

The nothing that surrounds being’s unconcealment provides a ladder to the nothing of cosmos-at–large. If we can imagine life as a roll of film, then, the nature of death as such comes into view as we rewind the film, first to move through the nothing surrounding the finite beings of our experience, then to move into and out of the nothing surrounding the big bang origin of cosmos. God reclaims us at death.[6]  Jacques Maritain’s argument for the existence of God suggests we had an eternal existence in God before receiving our temporal beginning[7]. His view strengthens the case for the continued existence in God after personal death. 

The Creator at Work

The nothing that surrounds being’s unconcealment and the nothing that surrounds the first appearance of matter in big bang theory express Divine intelligence at work. The laws and patterns of the expanding universe express the design of cosmos while the teleological character of creation express the ways of Eternal law. The alpha and the omega of existence meet in the place of ‘silence’ where Elijah finds the Lord. The explanation of death as such is traced to the intelligence that surrounds matter and a reclaim of those laws and patterns of existence. On the occasion of human death, the nothing that envelops being’s unconcealment reclaims unconcealment from the individual. The individual’s dialogue in being is shifted to a higher level as being’s unconcealment moves into the direct light of Divine intelligence.

This is done in accordance with Divine Wisdom. Creation is reversed but not undone. We cannot imagine that the Creator creates randomly or without purpose, or that God having created could then proceed to undo creation. Creation is characteristic of God. Can God rid himself of Creator through the annihilation of matter? Could death be the end of our existence? It seems not. God does not accomplish contradictions. So God cannot undo God. Human death announces a fresh relationship with God, one that moves out of the shadows of temporality into the bright light of eternal life (being’s absolute unconcealment). 

Objection

On the occasion of death, nothing of the human body is seen to move into the nothing of being’s unconcealment. This raises the problem of personal identity anew for how can personal existence continue in the absence of a body? The reply to the objection is that the essential thing about being a person is not the actual body of the deceased, but the laws and patterns of human existence. The essential person-making elements of consciousness and the social self are expressed in the material conditions of embodiment. The laws that govern our physical dimension are reclaimed on the occasion of the reversal in being’s unconcealment. Still, the issue of personal identity requires that we continue to exist as finite beings in the presence of God. One of the problems associated with the final end in Thomistic eschatology, as mentioned above, is the state of the disembodied soul. The problem with this view is that it fails to safeguard personal identity. The suggestion that the reversal in being’s unconcealment carries the whole of my relationships into the afterlife is less troublesome. But with personal identity comes the person-making choices between good and evil. Human death, then, must be an occasion for continued finite and personal (embodied) existence in the God of love–possibly the beginning of an infinite journey in God.

Death as an Occasion for Data Input

Since human death marks the end/beginning of an old/new journey, it seems reasonable to expect it to be an occasion for data input and final decision. For as long as we live, being’s unconcealment is veiled in the garb of space and time. The decision to side with the Lord or the Fallen angels cannot be irrevocable until all the data required to make it so is made available. This suggests that being’s unconcealment must emerge to complete unconcealment on the occasion of human death. This happens, not in time or outside of time, but in the eternal presence of the now (the place of Divine silence). The (short) list of philosophers who view death as being the moment of final decision includes R.P. Glorieux,[8] Joseph Pieper,[9] and Ladislaus Boros.[10] In a discussion on demons and why they do not repent, Aquinas argues that: “We must seek for the cause of this obstinacy not in the gravity of the sin, but in the condition of their nature or state.”[11] What does the state of the dead manifest? Not the gravity of their sin, but a hardening towards evil. The hardening occurs because at death all the data required to justify obstinacy is available from being’s unconcealment. Since all the data required for obstinacy is not available in this life, death must be an occasion for data input and a final hardening. Imagine, for instance, that an individual experiences a great deal of pain in this life as the result of a bad decision. And suppose the individual stubbornly proclaims in stoic voice “I deserve this suffering.” Yet, it seems reasonable to suspect that after many long years of personal suffering, the individual might regret the original pain causing decision or seek to reverse it. But such a view comes to a head in Aquinas’s vision of the afterlife. The dead do not repent because they (now) lack no data. So, death must be an occasion for data input.

For as long as death is not-yet, being’s unconcealment is veiled in the garb of space and time or contingency. We view the world through our personal, finite, and limited way of framing being. Although we grow in wisdom as we age, we never become perfectly wise, or attain spiritual perfection. If that is the case, the obstinacy of the dead makes no sense until being emerges to absolute unconcealment. This happens at human death. The dead do not repent because no data is left unseen. Habit tempers obstinacy. For as long as we live, temporal habits prepare the way toward the final decision. The dead act out of a lifetime of habits, clinging obstinately to a chosen path, now made fully transparent in the first moment of death. The (moral) habits we develop on this side of being continue on the other side of being. 

What, Then, Is Death Like to the Dead?

Once primacy is assigned to being’s unconcealment, the investigation of the nothing that surrounds being sends us on an errand to discover the sufficient and necessary reason of existence in the origin of cosmos. The nothing of being reclaims us at human death. Since dualism is a non-starter, the person’s personal identity is safeguarded through the identification (or ultimate reducibility) of the nothing surrounding being’s unconcealment to the primordial nothing out of which the whole of reality arises. The part fuses with the whole. This view is consistent with the teachings of the Tao, and Confucianism (systemic thinking,) as with all major world religions, including recent developments in quantum physics. While the body of the deceased appears to stay in the ground, the patterns and laws of embodiment follow into the afterlife, thereby safeguarding personal identity. To the objection that the nothing based view of the person does not include the body of the deceased, quantum physics reminds us that the same matter can appear as wave or particle depending on the environment. Whatever else can be said of the supernatural environment or the mirror image of natural order, it is not at all like the natural world. What appears one way in the natural order can appear another way in the supernatural world. Thus, the same matter can be seen as an N or a P depending on the perceptual environment without violating the principle of non-contradiction. However, since all living things are finite, the state of the dead must continue to be finite, that is, engage in something to the likeness of a person-making process. The dead can now view the part from the perspective of the whole.[12] The dead do not view the whole as observer, but see their role in the process towards the Divine telos. The dead are finite, though their finitude is comprehensive. 

Conclusion

Eternal law plants the seeds of the Divine Plan in us. We seek enlightenment as we access this data in two ways. The first way is through Revelation. The first book of Kings tells us that Elijah meets the Lord ‘in the silence’. The second way is through the light of natural reason as we probe the contents of this sacred silence in search of insight. The question before us ‘what is death like to the dead?’ is an attempt to provide a metaphysical explanation of the path followed by the dead as they move towards the silence of God.

The plausibility of the argument for death as a return to the cosmic void (the nothing surrounding the big bang origin of cosmos) through the portals of the nothing surrounding being’s unconcealment follows logically from the primacy of Being. Since the nothing that surrounds being expresses evidence of Divine intelligence, it provides an answer to the question “why is there something rather than nothing.” Death is a return to God through a reclaim in being’s unconcealment. The view of the person moving out of the not-yet of being into the beings of temporal existence to return to the no-longer of being at death raises the dead into eternal duration above time. Although the dead remain finite (to safeguard personal identity) the return to the nothing of our big bang origin allows us to see the Divine Plan from the point of view of the whole. The psyche’s anticipation of this possibility provides an incentive to work through the struggles of life. The movement towards God manifests itself as the ultimate possibility of possibilities. Death is a beginning rather than an end, a possibility rather than impossibility. It seems possible to suggest that human death continues the unending journey into the infinite God of possibilities. Since the dead are raised into eternal life, the person-making process becomes more truly God-like. Or perhaps we become more aware that the God-like process existed in person-making all along. This is the sense of Genesis 1:26 and the discovery of eternal truths in history: Then God said “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” The anticipated experience of death outstrips the limits of the language possibility. But the artist, poet, musician, and mystic in us knows where to look. The Angelic Doctor says that the first lesson is simple. See flowers; see how the flower unselfishly gives itself to us. She does not partake of her own gift. Welcome to the gift of Being! But know that a reclaim of the gift is inevitable so that it can be seen in the full light of the Divine.  

The dead report on their ongoing tendency towards God, although we do not expect to hear from ‘fallen angels’.[13] Death as moment of final decision is an invitation to side with the good prescribed by Divine Wisdom. But we can decline the invitation and side with evil.

Death is not the end of a relationship, if it is based on love, and the invitation to side with love is accepted. Love celebrates unity rather than division. The deceased lives on in the survivor and in God. Additional developments in psychology and quantum science will bear this out. [14]            

Summary and Conclusion

  1. God appears to Elijah in a place of ‘silence’.
  2. This sacred place is not the negation of sound.
  3. Sacred Silence exists as the root of the possibility of sound and no sound.
  4. Sacred Silence exists in the eternal realm of being.
  5. This realm is the root of the possibility of the temporal world.
  6. Persons come from God or the Silence and return to God.
  7. Temporal being manifests spontaneously to consciousness in a theory of direct perception.
  8. Meaning emerges through being’s unconcealment.
  9. Being’s unconcealment is the gateway to an insight into the nature of death as such.
  10. Death is not something we do or fail to do.
  11. Death is being’s refusal ‘to be’ for consciousness.
  12. Death as such takes place in sacred silence rather than in the absence of being’s unconcealment.
  13. Death is a reversal in being’s unconcealment.
  14. Being’s refusal to unconceal for the living is followed by a mirror image of being’s unconcealment for the dead.
  15. We assume continuity between the temporal and the eternal vistas of Divine silence.
  16. In the Divine silence, being’s unconcealment is absolute. 
  17. This is the Divine place of the micro-nothing surrounding being.
  18. This is the sacred space of the macro-nothing surrounding the big bang origin of cosmos. 
  19. Full disclosure of being’s unconcealment is required to explain the eternal condition of the dead.
  20. Since being’s unconcealment moves us from the temporal to the eternal dimensions of human existence, it seems possible to conclude that the temporal and the eternal coexist in being.  
  21. This is said to explain the imprint of Eternal law in us, or how human death is part of the Divine Plan to call us into the eternal Silence of the Word.           

Endnotes

[1] See Edwards, Paul (1969) “Existentialism and Death: A Survey of some Confusions and Absurdities” Morgenbesser, S., P. Suppes, and M. White (eds.) Philosophy, Science, and Method. New York: St. Martin’s Press. Pp. 473-505. 

[2] See chapter 1, 1-18.

[3] Caputo, John (1978) Mystical Elements in Heidegger’s Thought Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.

[4] Hawking, Stephen (1988) A Brief History of Time London: Bantam

[5] Davies Paul (1992) The Mind of God: Science and the Search for Ultimate Meaning London: Simon & Schuster (203).

[6] The fundamental problem of Theodicy is the existence of evil. If God reclaims us at death, then, God must care about us. But how do we explain the existence of undeserved suffering? The evidence can be read as an argument against the existence of God, but suffering can be viewed as fundamental to the person-making process.

[7] See Jacques Maritain (1954) Approaches to God New York: Harper (72-83).

[8] Glorieux, R.P. (1932) “Endurcissement final et grâce dernieres.” In Nouvelle revue théologique.

[9] Pieper, Joseph (1969) Death and Immortality New York: Herder and Herder.

[10] Boros, Ladislaus (1965) The Moment of Truth London: Burns and Oates.

[11] S.T. 1, q.64, a.2.

[12] This view is not unlike ‘systems theory’. See, for instance, Capra Fritjof (1983) The Tao of Physics. London: Penguin Books. The merger of religion and physics is clearest in Capra, Fritjof, T. Matus, and D. Steindl-Rast (1992) Belonging to the Universe London: Penguin Books.

[13] This is not to suggest that evil vanishes at death. Where does it go? Perhaps the final decision to choose good forces evil to emerge to full awareness, thereby losing the hold it has on consciousness. This view is consistent with current developments in spiritual psychology. See, for instance, C. G. Jung’s Answer to Job. On the other hand, a final choice for evil is a refusal of the divine telos. In that event, the evil dead exist without God. 

[14]Since the activity of science is a human construct, developments in science mirror the structure of the human psyche. When we see the reality of the psyche, then, we shall see the future of science. See, for instance, David Bohm (1988) “Beyond Relativity and Quantum Theory.” In Psychological Perspectives Los Angeles CA: The C.G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles, vol. 19, number 1 (24-43)

Kenneth A. Bryson is professor of philosophy at Cape Breton University. He has published several books including Persons and Immortality (1999) Amsterdam-New York: Editions Rodopi B.V. Value Inquiry Book Series. Professor Bryson is Editor of the special book series in Philosophy and Religion, Value Inquiry Book Series (VIBS.) He is editor Prizes and Awards. VIBS.

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