We want to scrutinize the Christian belief about death under the light of history, experience and revelation.
Let us look at this truth first under the light of living history. Let us say, living history because a history of man that is just a collection of ancient stories and facts, more or less connected is an inadequate history. The history of man is a living history, a scientific history which is a human biography. We know that the biography of an individual is a lot more than the recorded dates of his birth, marriage, death and so on, but it is a look into his inner self, and his motives, and his loves and hates. And so a history of man shows us man in action, thought and belief, as distinct from man accidental.
Today, the history of man is being reread in the light of psychology in order that the inner life of man may be known. Through this, we are able to reconstruct the life lived in ancient Egypt, Babylon, Assyria and Phoenicia, the cradle of mankind. Scientific history today reveals to us, as they existed in those far off times,every possible variety of religious belief and practice and every possible variety of social life. And these religious and social practices ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime and from the most degrading to some of the most refined. But one thing shows through, strangely enough, all of these religions and all of these people and through the whole hierarchy of the human family, and that is, and was, is a definite belief in the survival of man beyond the tomb.
Three things attest to this belief. First, the monuments that men have built, even the Pyramids of Egypt, were built to furnish a place for the body to rest. The Egyptians believed that the soul returned from time-to-time to the body, and there were many articles placed in the room with the body, for the soul to use, and amuse itself with. And in other parts of the world, where architecture was not so well advanced, monuments and house tombs have been found, and these were built because the people thought that the dead still lived and revisited these tombs.
The second thing that attests to this universal belief is the rites and incantations that men used in their ceremonies. The rites and ceremonies men have used at funerals during all the ages were specifically designed to talk to and appease the spirits of those who had departed. These ceremonies were also designed to speed the individual on his way with all the necessary gear he would need. Sometimes, this gear was his horse or his wife or slaves or food or weapons.