the mind as identity; life after death
When we remember this, the Bible becomes much clearer. Here are two examples:
Ancient man often saw death. Everybody had seen a dead body. They knew that life was not the body: life was something else. They called it "spirit", we call it "mind".
Ancient people saw the same families over many generations. They saw that a spirit that left a body was present in the children. They observed that a spirit is not tied to a particular body or even one body at a time.
Modern man has less experience of death. Most of us have never seen a dead body up close, or only briefly. So we have a gut feeling that life is in the body. This causes us confusion and fear when life leaves the body. But ancient people knew that spirits simply move on.
In part one of this book we saw how all complex systems have
consciousness, or spirit. In this part we will compare God (a spirit) to
man (a spirit) and see what that tells us about life after death.
'Image': Hebrew 'tselem' meaning image in the sense of reflection, from a word meaning "shadow." So we could write this:
This is Plato's language. God is logic, and is like a bright light.
What we see in this world is just a shadow created by that light.
God is logic, in the sense of logos, the spoken word. People are lesser shadows of logic: our life, our spirit, is a portion of that word, that logic.
"Spirit" simply means "breath": it's the same word in both Hebrew ("ruwach") and Greek ("pneuma") and is used in the same contexts. The ancients saw breath as the source of life (see comemntary on verse 12). The word translated as "holy" seems to mean "from God". So "holy spirit" means "breath from God".
It's like the Latin term "inspire" which meant God's breath was in you (compare "respire" and "expire"), meaning you had good ideas. It is also similar to "enthusiasm", from the Greek "en-theos" meaning "god inside you". So wherever we see "holy ghost" we can read it as "ideas and enthusiasm".
In ancient thought, the breath (pneuma, here translated "spirit") caused all living processes. The Greeks made this theory explicit, but the idea is common in other cultures. For example, in Genesis 2:7, God made Adam live (that is, made him think and move) by breathing into him.
"Pneuma" was a scientific idea, not a supernatural one. That is, it was a conclusion drawn from evidence and reason. The reasoning is as follows: All living things breathe. When breath stops, life stops. But if breath can be restarted then life restarts. So breath is the cause of life. Also, in dead bodies, the arteries are empty. So it was reasoned that the arteries take pneuma around the body: pneuma was a medical idea based on observation. Further, breath is the same stuff as the invisible wind that causes movement, so it was natural to see this as the invisible hand behind all kinds of natural phenomena.
It might sound wrong, but it's basically correct. Except, we now know that the key element is not air in general, but oxygen in particular. The blood carries oxygen to the body, and oxygen allows chemical reactions that give cells energy. Oxygen is also a major part of the outside world: much of the Earth's crust is compounds involving oxygen, and oxygen is the easiest way to get energy from matter (it allows fire). So the ancients were on the right track, and over the centuries we simply refined the idea.
My point is that "spirit" is science, not the supernatural. There is no need to think of this as supernatural, so Occams razor says the supernatural explanation is not needed. This is all part of my argument that the later, supernatural explanation of Jesus (as taught by Paul, Luke, etc.) should be rejected.
The breath comes from God (Genesis 2:7),the logos, the intelligent word. So it is perhaps best to think of breath in the sense of words.
Animated air is the closest we can come to visualising this breath of
God, this intelligent word, this logic that fills and animates the
universe. So when God appeared to Moses he appeared as fire (the burning
bush, the fire at the front of the children of Israel as they walked) or smoke
(the pillar of smoke from that fire, smoke on Sinai). Clouds of heaven
are also frequently seen as the home of God. Fire, smoke and clouds are
the visible evidence of the air.
Fire and mighty clouds are the easiest way to visualise the forces of nature, just as breath is the easiest way to visualise life in a human. We are both represented by moving air. God is the same kind of spirit as us, but on a vastly larger scale.
To a lesser extent "pneuma" referred to anything living that flowed with purpose: hence Aristotle spoke of the pneuma inside a seed, the foamy sap that seemed ready to flow as the seed grew. We can then see how the universe itself has pneuma: sap in trees, rivers that give life to the land, the clouds that bring rain, the milky flow of the stars: everything has pneuma, and it follows that everything is pushed by some guiding psyche: the universe is just as living and physical as we are. It also speaks to us, through scientific investigation and experience.
So we see that clouds and rivers and stars have spirits (moving gas or liquid that makes them function). But for a couple of thousand years the Bible was ignored and people thought only people had spirits.
In short, spirit is not supernatural. Spirit is the breath, meaning words or ideas. Everything else is merely dust.
The word translated soul in the New Testament is the Greek psuche or psyche (as in psychology ). It means "breath, the breath of life, the vital force which animates the body and shows itself in breathing." (Strong's Hebrew Concordance)
Psyche (breath) and pneuma (breath, often translated spirit ) are so similar that it is worth seeing why the Greeks give them such different names.
Psyche is the force that moves breath. Pneuma is air that has been forced: either moving or compressed. Greek "aer" is just air. Hence psyche came to mean the mind, pneuma came to mean life or spirit, but that lead to confusion: people got them mixed up and assumed they were supernatural. Originally the words meant force and forced air.
In summary, while spirit and soul are often used interchangeably, strictly speaking the soul is the mind (consciousness) and the spirit is the resulting breath and speech.
The previous conclusion is profound. It changes how we see ourselves. Our spirit, our soul, is our ideas. We are our ideas. We do not have our ideas, we are our ideas. As our ideas spread, so we spread. Our bodies do not matter.
Physics teaches us that ultimately everything is information. There is simply no other way to explain it. At the quantum scale reality is information. At the cosmic scale information is the only way to comprehend it. And of course our minds are information: whether our brain is made of carbon or silicon makes little difference - until recent centuries science barely knew the difference! The material matters little, it's the information that counts.
This ambivalence between matter and information, between the physical and spiritual, is a very old religious idea. The gods could take on physical form, and people could take on spiritual form (for example as shamans or in the dream time). There is no great difference between them. What we call physical is merely a transient shell and not of great concern in the big scheme of things.
Some people teach that the spirit has its own ethereal body. We see this in cartoons like "Caspar the Friendly Ghost" and "Scooby Doo". This idea of a body that is not a body is a logical contradiction. It is also supernatural, meaning there is no natural evidence for it. In other words, it is false.
The concept of spirit as "a body that is not a body" may be useful as a metaphor, because abstract concepts are hard to visualise. Itis like imagining atoms as solid balls: the quantum reality is harder to grasp, and on a superficial level "atoms as balls" works. But if we demand testable evidence from our beliefs (i.e. we reject the supernatural) then we must accept that atoms as balls, and bodies that are not bodies, are just simple metaphors and are misleading if taken too far.
In short: many people reject spirits for the same reason they reject God: the words have been hijacked and given impossible supernatural meanings. if we reject the supernatural then the words make sense again.
Human identity is in the ideas, the spirit, not the body. Most people intuitively understand this on some level:
Disabled people understand spirits
Disabled people lack some physical ability or part, yet are still
human. They understand that losing your legs or your sight does not make
you less human. No matter what you lose, it does not make you less
human: being human is defined by your ideas and relationships, not your
Transplant surgeons understand spirits
Any part of the human body could be replaced by a machine in theory,
and soon in practice. We can already replace many mechanical parts like
bones or feet or kidneys. Sometimes these parts look very different: for
example, if somebody lose their legs they may get running blades
instead. As technology improves we will be able to replace every part,
even neurons in the brain. Already technology like writing, and now
computers, have let us out-source memory and computing abilities that
our ancestors once held inside their skulls. As technology improves
eventually every individual neuron in the brain could be replaced. As
long as the information is maintained (i.e. the spirit is preserved)
then the person is still a person, no matter what their body is made of
or looks like.
Computer scientists understand spirits
We saw in part one that computer scientists are very happy with
treating machines as alive. They understand that hardware is merely a
carrier: the information system is what makes a person a person.
Children understand spirits
We live in an information age. Children are comfortable with talking
to people who are not physically present. They can even talk with
robots. In theory it matters that the person has a body somewhere, but
in practice it is less and less important. True, they may sometimes be
obsessed with body image, but there will come a time when pills and
surgery will let the body conform to the mind. And even the mind can be
altered using drugs. The real person is the ideas and relationships,
everything else is optional.
Celebrities understand spirits
Sometimes the real person is not the person you see at all. Consider Elvis Presley toward the end of his life. The real Elvis is not the tired overweight man who looks rough. The real
Elvis is only see on stage. The Presley estate understand this, and
prefers to license images of the young Elvis, not the old one.
Kings understand spirits
Sometimes the real person is not an individual but a group. Hence
Shakespeare can write "enter France" meaning the king of France enters:
he represents or embodies all of France. France is an abstract set of
ideas that happens to be embodied in a person or place. We all
understand the concept of "a French man" even if the idea is shared over
Businesses understand spirits
For an economy to work efficiently it helps for businesses to have
personalities, and to be treated like people: they can even be
"incorporated" meaning they are treated in law as if they are people.
They are collections of ideas and relationships, just lie people, and
that makes them people. (Critics say they are people without
consciences, but this is simply a result of bad law: good laws force
people to act with consciences, or else they lose their assets.)
The elderly understand spirits
Consider a very elderly person who's body is starting to fail. They know that the real person is the person inside: the ideas and relationships, not the shell.
The misunderstood understand spirits
Think of a time when you have been misunderstood. Perhaps you even
have enemies who think you are heartless, but you know better. In these
cases your body has failed to produce the desired words and acts. The
real you is not the same as the person people see: the real you is the
ideas and ideals, and with effort you can make your body conform to
Our distant ancestors understood spirits
Our ancient ancestors understood that ideas and spirits are the same. They attributed spirits to every location and even every rock. It is called animism: the understanding that everything is "animated" - everything has a spirit.
It is common to dismiss animists as primitive. But if we tried to
survive in our ancestors world we would find ourselves unable to: we
would lack the understanding; we would be the primitive ones. This is
not to say that our ancient ancestors could survive in the modern world
either: we are all adapted to our environments. The real difference is
that our ancestors had more direct experience of the natural world. So
it is likely that they understood nature on an intuitive level better
than we do.
Our classical ancestors understood spirits
The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, etc. taught that every important idea
had its own god (its controlling spirit). The deepest thinkers were
aware that these gods were abstract, but it was easiest to understand
them as people.See for example the cynics who believed the gods were
merely useful, or Socrates' dialog with Agathon in Plato's Symposium,
where they debate whether Eros is a person or a relationship. Even if
the gods were embodied, they simply embodied much bigger ideas, just as a
human body embodies all the relationships and ideas of that human.
Friends understand spirits
Think of your best friend. You know that their body is made up of
cells, which are made of atoms. But you also know that the dust and guts
are not what you think of when you think of your friend: you think of
the higher emergent property of their ideas and relationships. You know
that the real person is those things, not the body.
Ironically the only people who do not understand spirits are those who shout loudest about being religious: the modern day scribes and Pharisees. They teach that spirits are supernatural, yet nothing could be farther from the truth.
Many self proclaimed religious people fear that a naturalistic view of the universe will make people un-spiritual. Yet spirits are the most natural thing in the universe. Indeed, if we study theoretical physics and see that all matter is information, then spirit (i.e. information and relationships) is the only thing in the universe.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to understanding spirits is the death of the body: we can see that something has left (the ability to act on ideas) but we cannot see where it has gone. On reflection we may realise that the person was spreading their ideas throughout their lives, so their ideas are everywhere, but where is the driving force, the person who turned those ideas into actions? Jewish mothers know.
The stereotype of the Jewish mother is of someone who is very loving, but also very controlling. She wants her children to succeed, because she lives through her children. As they grow older, her children find themselves becoming her.
The wise mother knows that ideas are not things that people control, ideas are what control people. If you drive home an idea with sufficient love over a sufficient time, it becomes part of the person. The idea then defines and guides the person after the mother is gone. The child continues to develop, just as the mother would have developed had her body survived: and it does survive - each child is formed from a egg from inside the mother; you are literally her body regenerated.
A good Jewish mother knows that ideas are not add-ons. They are not passive. They are not merely a set of memories. they are you, they are your whole identity. A child of a good Jewish mother becomes the mother when the mother dies. The mother is not merely remembered, she lives on and spreads and grows.
Science promoter Neil deGrass Tyson rejects the supernatural. But his view of human identity is shared by most great thinkers:
This is not a metaphor, it is literally true. We are not a body with connections, we are the connections. It should be recalled that all ideas are relationships: how one thing applies to something else. We are the sum of our connections with others: our genes and our influence, our ideas. We are links. We are information.
Life after death can be a hard concept to understand. Maybe this will help.
My next year body is a different person
Every day and every year our experiences and bodies change. The future me is a different person. I only call him "me" because I cause his ideas to exist. But this is also true of our children, and anybody we influence through genes and ideas.
All my future bodies
If we add up all our influences then our future "self" is a whole collection of different people. Our future body is the largest single part, but only a small percentage of the whole.
Our bodies have evolved to reproduce then die because this is the
best way to maximise the survival of our genes and ideas: our total
You are your mother and father
The key to understanding life after death is to understand that you
are already your mother and father. You have the same name (surname), same
genes, and probably live in the same place and have similar ideas. Any
difference is just the normal process of how ideas change over the
years. You are them.
To the extent that you disagree with your parents you are instead
your friends and other influences. Most of what you think can be traced
to some cause or other, and the rest is random. (This is easy to prove:
if something cannot be predicted from inputs then it must be
random by definition.)
Identity is always shared
It may be hard to get used to shared identity. But imagine your
identity if you were really independent of other. Take away your parents, your friends, and
everything outside that defines you. What is left? You still have a
body, right? No, because those are your parent's genes. Even the air you
breathe and the food you eat is part of a cycle of constant exchange
with the surrounding world.
But what of your thoughts? Those are the most shared of all. We are social creatures: we think of others,
we care what they think of us. Our identity depends on what people think
of us when they are not here. Therefore our identity exists partly in
their minds. Identity is always shared.
In this context we can see what Jesus meant by life after death. For example, Jesus taught that John the Baptist was Elias come again:
And this is what Jesus says about his eternal life:
Later, Jesus prayed:
So we see that Elias and Jesus both rise again through other people. Their identity is in their ideas, not in their temporary physical shell.
The best known example of life as ideas is being born again. When your mind has completely new ideas, life changing ideas, you have a new life: you are born another time, as a completely new person.
This was also taught in the Old Testament:
The deepest examination of the nature of identity is in the gospel of John. Particularly chapters 12-17, where Jesus reassures his disciples that he will always be with them. This contains some very poetic phrasing, but it is not supernatural at all. It just says that Jesus has the "glory" of God (Greek "doxa" - literally "ideas") and he is those ideas. Those ideas can live inside us.
"In my name": i.e. in the identity of Christ. If Jesus ideas are in you, and you do something, it is Jesus doing it. If it is Jesus' ideas then it is logical and therefore will happen. "Glory" is of course the Greek "doxa" meaning thought.
All the more confusing verses become plain in this light. For example:
The disciples thought that Jesus was fundamentally different: he lived with God, but nobody else did. But Jesus had shown they could all have what he had. So there are many spaces in the house of God, room for everybody.
This is not supernatural, it is about simplicity. Doubting Thomas was nervous, and Jesus said "relax, just do what I do. There is no other hidden requirements. This statement on simplicity is widely mis-read as condemning unbelievers, but it that is not so. It would not be logical to condemn people for something they had never heard or understood. Hence Jesus also said:
"The word" is "logos". Jesus are judged by the logic of Jesus' words, not by any supernatural authority. And his words were the same kind of logic taught by every great thinker: logic is available to everyone.
While Jesus was there the disciples would never think for themselves. That is why they got scared of Jesus leaving. Real comfort comes when you understand the principles and can think for ourself: then you can handle any situation.
The spirit (breath, ideas) of truth (logic) will guide you. Logic is not facts in itself, it is a way to assess facts from elsewhere. That is, it does not talk of itself, it hears and interprets.
Imagine Jesus looking up at the stars, at the universe that created him, contemplating infinity. He knows that logic is eternal. If your mind is truth you are part of the infinite. To fill your mind with eternal principles is to be at one with every honest man who ever lived or ever will live.
Jesus kept teaching about the nature of spirit in different ways, but it seems that only John understood.
Jesus understood his scriptures well. He shared the Old Testament view of life after death, that we live on through others:
In this context note Jesus' statement that God is not the God of the dead but of the living (Mark 12:27)
Later prophets did speak of individuals returning from the dead, and Jesus shows how that would happen, using himself and Elias as examples: they live on through other people.
Names change constantly. A child has a nickname, an adult may use a
different name, and online we use aliases. As every sociologist knows,
people use different identities in different contexts. So one person has
many different names. This continues to be true after death as our
ideas spread through more and more bodies.
Even the most famous name in the history of the world is not his "real" name or his "real" identity. If you were in New Testament Jerusalem and asked for "Jesus" you would get blank looks: the name was Yehoshua. And if you showed people modern pictures of Jesus (with his northern European features) they would not recognise the face as Jewish. Jesus is also known by many other names and titles (Messiah, or its Greek equivalent Christ; The Son of God; teacher / rabbi; Emmanuel, etc.). Jesus preferred the name "son of man" meaning "the common man": he was not interested in names, but in shared connections. Names and identities are more fluid than we think.
If you particularly want your name to be remembered then the Bible
shows how: All the names in the Bible are now remembered forever (to
scholars at least, who can tell that Jesus is Yehoshua, and James is
Yacob). If a particular name matters so much to you, then do something
But if we love others we do not want to be remembered as names: we do not want to limit others. Instead we want our values, our true self, to spread to others. A mother does not want her children to create a shrine to her name, she wants them to continue her values. In the same way it is selfish and foolish for a young child to think her adult self must share the same nickname and interests. Life after death is like life after childhood: the wise child simply wants her values to survive, and recognises that she will take on multiple roles and so those values must adapt and grow. What those values are called in the future is less important, and is up to the people at the time.
Probably the most famous scripture about life after death is Job 19:25-26:
Many people see this as evidence of a future bodily resurrection in which Job sees an anthropomorphic God, thanks to supernatural intervention by a person called the redeemer. But there are three problems with that view:
So in effect Job is saying:
Here are the details:
The Jewish translation of this passage (at chabad.org) is as follows:
Redeemer: his family. After he dies he will live through his kin, who will ensure justice is done. See "Redeemer" below.
The last on earth / latter days: a phrase that means "eventually" or "in the end" in the sense of taking a long term view. It does not imply a specific date: that is not how Hebrew prophecy works. See the discussion of "no future tense in Hebrew" and "The Biblical View of Time" elsewhere on this page.
I see: this is "I see" and not "I shall see". Ancient Hebrew does not have a future tense. Any use of "will" or "shall" is not in the text but is inferred by the translator. See "No future tense in Hebrew" below.
And after my skin, they have cut into this:: At this point Job's skin has been afflicted by disease, nd his friends, "Job's comforters" just make him feel worse. Rashis commentary (on chabad.org) explains:
While the passage does apply to Job's future it also applies to Job's present: it is a good example of how Hebrew prophecy deals with themes, not dates.
Flesh: Hebrew "basar", meaning a person's flash but also the family: they are the same flesh. "Basar" is the word Moses uses when he introduces the concept of a redeemer:
The most famous example of a kinsman redeemer is Boaz, in the book of Ruth. Here once again the word "basar" is used for flesh, meaning family (see Ruth 2:20). So Job is saying "I shall see God (logic) either in my body or in my family."
God / judgment: The most obvious difference between the King James and Jewish translations is the final word: not "God", but "judgment". "God" means logic in its widest sense (see part one of this book) so "judgement" is a perfectly good translation.
To show the full meaning of the word "redeemer" it is worth quoting the whole description and usage from the lexicon (the Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, as used at BibleStudytools.com and numerous other books and sites):
Jesus as a redeemer
While Jesus is a redeemer (one who pays whatever price is needed), so is every other kinsman who ensures that the scales of justice balance.
Redeemers are logical
The idea of personal redemption (one who pays the price; karma) is a natural result of logic. Because the things we think of as "good" (such as justice) are good because over many generations these things lead to survival. In the long term justice and survival are the same thing.
So if Job lives so that his family survives, he may suffer as an individual but over the long term his family will have payback: for every bad result there will be far more good results. This pays for (redeems) the bad times.
Personal redemption and national redemption
Job speaks of his personal costs (to his home and health). But the nation as a whole also incurs costs and therefore needs those costs to be paid. For redemption on a national scale see the discussion of Jeremiah 31 (the new contract) in part four of this book.
As noted, Hebrew prophecy deals with themes, not dates. This is partly because the Hebrew language has no future tense. While some ideas may make more sense in the future, that can only be determined from the context:
Scholars sometimes get the tense wrong
To see how scholars must guess tenses and don't always get it right, consider Isaiah 9, which was written as if it has already happened, but was translated in the present and future tense:
The "Time in the Old Testament" article gives a popular supernatural interpretation:
However, Isaiah was almost certainly talking of an event in his past:
Unto us a child is born: past tense
"of the increase of his kingdom there shall be no end": other Jewish scholars (summarized at teshuvashaminim.net) argue that verse 6 should read
...meaning that peace without end was an intention, "for" peace, and was not guaranteed. They continue:
While most Christians interpret this as a prophecy of the future, the text uses the past tense and history shows it describes events that were, to Isaiah, in the past (the birth of Hezekiah) and contemporary (the righteousness of Hezekiah).
The young Hezekiah did indeed grow into a righteous king who preserved Israel for all his days. This was a logical prediction for Isaiah based on the boy's early promise.
So Occam's razor says the text refers to the past: there is no need to assume that Isaiah has supernatural powers of seeing the future.
So we see that the future tense is only inferred by translators, and they can be mistaken.
Job and the present tense
Job's statement "in my flesh I see justice" is a general principle: he now sees the justice of his act, and this will be obvious to everyone in the future. This is now proven true: thanks to his wisdom, Job's memory is immortalised. His spirit, his ideas, live on triumphantly in millions of bodies.
Of course, Job himself maybe be a composite character: the early chapters of a debate between God and Satan are clearly metaphorical. Perhaps the whole book is. But Job lives in the flesh, in every person who can see their suffering in its triumphant long term context.
Toward the end of the Old Testament, Daniel uses language that some take as evidence of bodily resurrection:
Isaiah and Ezekiel used similar language about waking up and rising from the dust: in each case they referred to their nation rising to a great challenge, and not to individuals who were literally dead.
The context of Daniel 12 is important. It follows on from the previous chapter where "the king of the south did this", and "the king of the north did that. " Most scholars believe this refers to the Jewish rebellion against the Greeks in the 2nd century BC. Rather than being about a distant end of the world scenario, Daniel is encouraging the people to rise up against their oppressors. They are asleep at their posts, they should wake up, see the danger, and do the right thing. Those who stand up are like the Maccabees, they become heroes to inspire people forever after, like stars in the sky.
Compare the different teachings on life after death:
But most people did not believe in it. Take for example, king Agrippa. He was an expert on the Old Testament, a believer, but he could not accept Paul's view on resurrection.
Paul tried to use his experience of Jesus as proof, and Agrippa said he was "almost persuaded" by Paul's eloquent words, but it was not enough.
Why did Paul share the Pharisees' belief?
Paul wrote much of the New Testament, and he was obsessed by the idea of a physical resurrection. For example, he interpreted Daniel and Enoch as meaning "the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised" (1 Corinthians 15:50-53). Why did he think this? It is easy to see when we consider his past.
Paul began as a pharisee, and so he believed in a physical resurrection. He then spent his life opposing the Christians, until he saw Jesus, who as far as he knew had died on the cross. So to Paul this must be a supernatural miracle! It was enough to convert him to Christianity. He then made resurrection a cornerstone of his faith.
Now let us return to the Old Testament view, and how Elijah could return after a gap of many centuries.
The idea of transferring and sharing minds may be hard to accept. In the modern west we often imagine time as flowing like a river, carrying us with it. We see our body flowing towards death and that scares us. But ancient people saw it differently. Modern physicists see it differently too.
When you live in a highly ordered society, where most days are the same, and most centuries are the same, you do not think in terms of dates. True, you have routines (the farming calendar, and occasional famines or wars), but your mental model of the universe is based on places, not a timeline. The more ancient the society the clearer this is. Take for example the Australian aboriginal people:
The Bible shows how events are considered: they are events, not a flowing river. Time is seen as events, patterns and cycles (hence prophecy was possible, see below), not a single connected river.
The following summary of the Biblical teaching on time is from the excellent ldolphn.org web site.
Perhaps the simplest example of the Biblical view of time is the mount of transfiguration: Jesus appeared with Moses (and Elias). This is not possible to the modern mind because we imagine a flow: we worry about the thousand years between Jesus and Moses. We wonder about a spirit world to fill the huge gap. But to the ancient mind there was no gap. Time periods, no matter how different, exist side by side.
Times are not separate because of an invisible river, they are separated because they are different. If your time becomes similar to an old time then it is the old time again, at least in your locality. If somebody thinks like Moses or Elias then Moses or Elias are here again. This does not mean that the rest of us will now see Pharaoh and king Ahab. We have not jumped into some different river: the river simply does not exist. Only events exist
Hebrew prophecy thinks in terms of patterns of similar events: The same event can happen multiple times. Read the book of Matthew: it's full of prophecies that Jesus fulfils, even though these prophecies have been fulfilled before. For example, Jesus came out of Egypt, fulfilling the prophecy that God's people would come out of Egypt. Yet everybody knows that statement referred to Moses escaping Pharaoh. It does not matter: Jesus fits the pattern so the prophecy applies to him as well.
The whole point of the Bible is repeating patterns. Repeating seasons, repeating fulfilment of prophecy, repeating appearances of people who were dead. This is not because the river flows in circles, as it might in eastern religion. There is no river, There are simply patterns. The Bible tells us that if we get the right pattern then we get certain results.
The thing that Elijah into John the Baptist is not a river of time, it is their similarity.
The Biblical concept of time leads to general rules of right and wrong, and to cycles (such as seven days, seven years, seven sevens, seven thousand years, etc.) and this leads to the concept of future prophecy. A prophets may not know the detailed cause of the exact time scale, but he knows the pattern. He knows that if people do well then sooner or later the nation will triumph and a glorious future will appear. This is not because the prophets sees a time chart, he does not see any river of time, but he understands the rules of cause and effect.
Bad ideas are those that do not work: they fail, they are no longer believed. If people are ideas then we literally annihilate ourselves through bad acts. Nobody follows our ideas, or if they do then they cease to exist. Hence we have hell: ultmate despair and annihilation.
Take Adolph Hitler for example. He hoped to create a system that lasted a thousand years. Instead everything he stood for has become the standard for what not to do: his descendants even changed their names. He ended up destroying everything he set out to do. Whereas righteousness leads to existence, sin leads to annihilation. It is an existential horror. The torment of knowing that you will cease to exist: in the billion year history of the universe you will not even be a footnote. And on the rare occasions that people remember you it will be to hate and despise you: and it was all because of your own stupidity: the oldest ideas in the world are be good to each other and you thought you knew better. Welcome to Hell.
Of course, this assumes you have awareness that extends beyond your immediate present. Evil people tend not to, by definition: if they did they would see the long term futility of their a actions. They exist on a less complex level, like a painted face on an egg. The egg smiles but is about to be eaten and is not aware. Do not envy that ignorance, the smile is only the surface. In evil the surface is all there is.
Some of our suffering is of course self inflicted. For example, the second world war would not have happened if the victors had not insisted on draconian penalties at the treaty of Versailles: those penalties made it a rational choice for some Germans to fight again - they had nothing to lose. After the second world war the allies learned their lesson and helped Germany rebuild.
The greatest mass deaths of all time, the beheading of entire cities under Genghis Khan, were also partly self inflicted. At least on a society level. For centuries every society had embraced conflict as the basis of political power. Jesus taught people to trade with enemies and all become rich, but he was ignored for short term gain. It was inevitable that one day another nation would arise that was a far more efficient killing machine than the others. It was a result of the accepted practice, a risk they chose, and sooner or later society would pay the horrible price.
Over the extremely long term this averages out, by definition: because right is defined by those who survive. What we call morality - the need to cooperate with others and see the group before the individual - is simply an expression of survival. Over the very long term survival and morality are exactly the same thing.
In the short term of course the guilty will thrive and the innocent suffer. The solution is to train our minds to see the long term. This is the basis for self sacrifice: we sacrifice ourselves for our family and loved ones, knowing that our real self, our ideas, will survive and triumph through them.
Jesus is an example of this: by letting himself be crucified he became the most powerful idea in the history of the world. Buddhist monks are another example. We have all seen examples of monks who train themselves to ignore pain. In the face of great injustice an innocent monk will sometimes kill himself in the most painful way, setting himself on fire. He sits there in a state of meditation as he dies, knowing that his act will draw attention to an injustice and cause his true self, his ideas, to survive and triumph.
The scales only balance if we recognize that our consciousness is our ideas, and those ideas live on through our people, and if we consider the very long term. That is why religion matters, and why bad religion (religion that rejects logic) is so destructive. Bad religion causes people to reject all religion, to reject the only logical ideas that can make sense of suffering.
All of this may seem complicated, but the simple message is that the traditional view of heaven is more or less correct. Yes, you will be in heaven after you die, because you live through your children (or if you have no children, through those you influence) and heaven will be on earth: see part ten of this book. You will have a perfect body, because children have healthy bodies and medical science will constantly improve. You will be with loved ones because all our ideas - our identities - will spread and mix like ripples on a pond. But it all depends on believing the truth. And truth is logic.
Heaven is the long term. We need to think in the long term. If a religion does nothing more than give us a way to think long term, beyond the current incarnation of our genes, then it is worth following.
In short, heaven is real, and there's nothing supernatural about it.
Part three: Eve and the fall of the old gods