REINCARNATION: Have You Lived Before? Will You Live Again?
Clayton D Steep
The subject of reincarnation is attracting new attention. What is it all about? Can reincarnation explain the inequities in this life? Is it possible you have lived before? Who are you really? Now you can know!
IS IT FAIR? The vast majority of human beings spend their whole lives in poverty and want. Only a small minority live in luxury and wealth. Why? Why will millions go to bed hungry tonight, while others have food to waste? Why do some lose their health, homes or family and others do not? How is it the "good" people seem to suffer, and scoundrels often prosper? Are the vast majority of humans condemned to some kind of punishment, while the relatively few receive material reward? Is there any sensible and just explanation for the inequities of life? And what happens after this life? These are questions that many people ask — questions that traditional Christianity has failed to satisfactorily answer. Yet these questions need an answer. A growing number of people in the West in seeking answers to these questions are adopting, in one form or another, an ancient belief widely held among religions of the East: reincarnation. Reincarnation claims to answer the question of how a God of "love and mercy" could let tragedies occur. Yes, why do uncalled-for tragedies occur? What do they mean?
What is "Reincarnation"?
Reincarnation is the name given to the belief that after the death of the body, an "immortal soul" comes back to earth in another body or form. Belief in reincarnation has been around for a long time. Thousands of years in fact. Ancient Egyptians believed it was possible, at least for a privileged few, to choose what life form they wished to reside in after death. Plato taught the migration of a fixed number of souls. Pythagoras, another Greek philosopher and mathematician, claimed in past lives he had been a Trojan warrior, a prophet burned to death, a peasant, the wife of a shopkeeper and a Phoenician prostitute. In its divers forms reincarnation is an important part of many Oriental religions. Simply stated, reincarnation is the belief that after death a person's "soul" takes up residence at birth in another human body, an animal, an insect or even a plant, until death of the receptacle once again causes the "soul" to migrate. There are different ideas as to where "souls" come from and where they are headed. The most prevalent belief, is that through a process of many reincarnations humans finally attain a state of perfection. The Hindu religion has perhaps the most complex set of beliefs.
A "Better Life"
The idea of reincarnation carries with it the hope for a better life (or lives) in the future. A lecturer put it this way: "The process of reincarnation is man's drive to become perfect. Eventually every man will be divine." The sufferings of this life are assumed to become more bearable, or more understandable. Consider the following note, left by a student who committed suicide because he deeply yearned for a better life: "What do I expect to achieve by this?" the seventeen-year-old son of a psychiatrist wrote. "Ancient sages of India as well as some modern philosophers say the soul incarnates itself many times on its way to perfection. I am merely jumping one life in hopes of a better one... I'm rid of... this roasting weather, the torture of four more years of school and two more years of detestable military life, the threat of having to go into some sort of monotonous manual labor." To him, reincarnation seemed to offer escape from this life's problems. Reincarnation attracts people plagued with doubt. The inequities of this life are only temporary; they will be rectified in a future life, they hope.
There are other reasons for the increased interest in reincarnation: psychology and parapsychology. To some extent this facet of the subject has been sensationalized by stories of famous individuals, usually in the entertainment industry, who claim to have had past "lives." For example, one periodical recently told of several: a stage personality who said she was Queen Hatshepsut (explaining that since childhood she has felt an "eerie link" with Egypt and made drawings of camels and pyramids when she was three years old). A well-known musician who credits his musical talents to a previous life as Stephen Foster. An actor who believes he was a cowboy in the Old West. An actress who thinks she was a Christian who was fed to the lions in ancient Rome. One of the most prominent persons seriously examining reincarnation today is Dr. Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia School of Medicine. For the last twenty years he has been objectively exploring the subject. He has files jammed with reports on some 1,700 subjects he has investigated. These are individuals who claim to have lived previous lives. Some of the stories of those who claim to be reincarnated raise questions that cannot be adequately answered by standard explanations. There are the publicized cases such as Bridey Murphy, who had never been to Ireland and yet who spoke of a place in Cork called the Meadows. Or Dolores Jay, a Virginia housewife who claimed to have been murdered in Germany one hundred years ago, and who, under hypnosis, could speak German, though Dolores Jay had never been exposed to anyone who spoke the language. Many other accounts have been compiled where previous existences have been "recalled, "usually under hypnosis. For example, one man suffering constant migraine headaches, supposedly revealed under hypnosis that as an officer in the Air Force during World War II he had gotten drunk and walked into a whirling airplane propeller that cut off his head. A check of official military records revealed the death in 1942 of just such an officer with the exact serial number given under hypnosis. There are many similar cases where individuals apparently are able to accurately recall details of circumstances and locations where they have never been in their present lives. How can this be explained? Such strange recollections are to Dr. Stevenson at least "suggestive of reincarnation." However, Dr. Stevenson confides: "I have to admit that the results in parapsychology [the study of psychic phenomena] aren't that good. There have been no great breakthroughs." Cases indicating reincarnation are set forth in the book Psychic Voyages. "But," the author adds, "there may be other explanations. The first that springs to mind is that they are all due to fraud or some sort of delusion. However, there are too many anecdotes and too many carefully investigated cases on record for this easy solution to be acceptable. The only other explanation that seems at all tenable is that the alleged memories of former lives are acquired by extrasensory perception." (Emphasis ours) Extrasensory perception. That means perceiving information from other than "normal" sensory channels. Keep that in mind because we shall come back to it. Other phenomena have also been offered to explain the concept of reincarnation, but such phenomena as childhood fears, alter-personalities, "strange memories," recurrent dreams and sexual identity problems have other possible explanation than reincarnation. So to many people the belief in reincarnation seems to offer solutions to nagging problems or puzzlements. But is there really such a thing as reincarnation? Have you lived before? Will you live again? What are we anyway? It is time to find out the truth once and for all!
How We Can Know
There is only one sure, unmistakable source from which to learn the truth about what we are, why we are on earth and what happens after death. That source is God himself — the Creator of all that is. He claims to have given this vital knowledge to us in his handbook for human beings — the Holy Bible. In it he speaks in the first person — "I... "to man. And in his Book he commands us to pay attention to his revelation to man of essential knowledge we could not otherwise discover. The Bible is very clear on the subject of reincarnation. It is "appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). We are not given ten, one hundred or one thousand opportunities to die and live again. Just one. The concept of reincarnation is dependent upon the belief that each human has an "immortal soul" that continues to exist after the body dies. The Bible, however, shows that man does not have a soul — man is a soul! God created Adam out of the dust of the ground and "man became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7). And God told Adam, "dust thou [a living soul] art, and unto dust shalt thou [a living soul] return" (Genesis 3:19). According to the Bible, souls die. The soul that sins shall die says Ezekiel 18:4 and 20. They do not live on and take up residence in another body. The idea that souls do not die originated with Satan in the garden of Eden. He told Eve she had an immortal soul. "Ye shall not surely die," he lied (Genesis 3:4). Most people ever since have believed his deception. It is not possible for a human being to recall thoughts and impressions from a "previous existence." Psalm 146:4 declares that when a person dies "his breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish." They do not continue on to be picked up or recalled by future "reincarnations." They perish. So says God. The dead "know not any thing" (Ecclesiastes 9:5). What about the cases where people claim (often under hypnosis) to remember former lives and where details inexplicably match historical records? After all possibilities of fraud, coincidence and honest mistakes are eliminated, there remain cases that defy normal physical or psychological explanation. This is where "extrasensory perception" comes into the picture. By "extrasensory perception" in this context is meant information that is perceived from sources beyond the physical world. What are those sources? Certainly not "immortal souls"!
We Are Not Alone
Man inhabits the physical planet Earth. But we humans are not alone. The Bible reveals there are spirit beings present on earth also. Among them are fallen angels — powerful spirit beings who have rebelled against God. They are "lying spirits" (I Timothy 4:1; II Chronicles 18:21) bent on fooling human beings in any way possible. These wicked spirits want human beings to continue to believe Satan's original lie that we have immortal souls. These lying spirits or demons have been around since long before man. They remember what took place in the past. When a person's mind is receptive to suggestion, such as while under hypnosis, or in similar circumstances, it is not difficult for a spirit to inject information — historically verifiable information — into the human mind. The Bible also reveals that there are even occasions where it is possible for an entire spirit personality to be "reincarnated." Not a human personality, but a fallen spirit who takes over — possesses — a physical being. The spirit's personality then dominates. One day as Jesus was walking he came upon two men possessed of demons with violent, self-destructive personalities (Matthew 8:28). Jesus cast them out of the men and gave the violent spirits permission to enter into a herd of swine. Immediately the violent, self-destructive personalities were gone from the men. This then was a case of what some would call "reincarnation of a personality"! The plain fact is that the Bible shows the "reincarnation" of human beings is not possible.
Then what about the important questions we referred to — the ones the churches of the world fail to answer? Since the Bible shows it is impossible for mortal human beings to be "reincarnated" in a different form or body, is there then no satisfying explanation for the inequities of this life? What happens to people — the majority of people! — who die ill-prepared for eternity — the millions "unsaved" as some would express it? Are they forever "lost"? Let us understand! The truth is more glorious and comforting than the idea of "reincarnation" or of an "immortal soul." God is indeed working out a purpose with humanity. It is a process of perfecting through which human beings may attain the divine level. "Be [become] ye therefore perfect," said Jesus, "even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew. 5:48). That is the purpose in human life. To become like God. "Ye are gods," Jesus quoted from one of the Psalms (John 10:34). He said that the scripture cannot be broken (verse 35). Those who heard him were so shocked by what he said that they tried to seize him (verse 39). The idea that humans may become members of the God Family still shocks many people. But it is the central theme of the whole Bible, believe it or not! And it will take place, not through a reincarnation, but through a resurrection! The Bible says the dead "sleep in the dust of the earth" until they are resurrected (Daniel 12:2; John 5:28-29). The resurrection is our only hope of eternal life. The apostle Paul pointed this out. "But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised... If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished" (I Corinthians 15:13, 17-18, Revised Standard Version). Paul continues: "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead... so also in Christ [not by reincarnation!] shall all be made alive" (verses 20, 22). How? By a resurrection (verses 51-55)!
Justice for All
Who are you? You are a unique individual — a mortal being having the potential of becoming an immortal individual member of the God Family! You were not somebody else in a previous life. You will not be somebody else in a future life. You are you! Though you can be improved and perfected, you will never lose your uniqueness. Every person who has ever been born will ultimately be given the opportunity to develop his full potential. Most humans have had no chance in this life to learn about salvation. They have not understood the benefits of obeying God's laws — his "good statutes and commandments" (Nehemiah 9:13). Mankind has been blinded to the truth — cut off from God (I Corinthians 4:4). Human history has been little more than a chronicle of suffering, warfare, disease, injustice, oppression and all attendant evils. Jesus declared, "Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many [yes, the vast majority who have ever lived!] there be which go in thereat" (Matthew 7:13). Then he added that "narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (verse 14). Only a few! Did you ever wonder why Jesus said that? It certainly is not fair for God to allow the majority of human beings to blindly follow the path to destruction when they don't know any better — unless.... Unless there is a time in the future — after this life — when they will all be given their chance for salvation — a chance they never had because they were cut off from the truth of God in this life. They could not turn to God now even if they wanted to! We have Jesus' own words that "no man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him" (John 6:44). And the Father has been drawing only a few. They are the "few" who Jesus said are finding life. All others must wait until a later time. When will that be? As we have seen, the Bible states that "it is appointed unto man [mankind in general] once to die, but after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). (Actually the definite article the is not in the original Greek and should not appear in English) All human beings die once, then a "judgment" takes place. What is this "judgment" that comes after this life? When the Bible uses the word judgment it does not exclusively mean the passing of a sentence or the giving of a reward. It can also mean a process or period during which judging takes place. Those who do not experience their "judgment" in this life — and they make up the majority of all people who have ever lived — will be resurrected. Their physical bodies will be miraculously brought forth out of the dust of the earth and they will be given a period of time again in mortal flesh in which to learn God's ways. This period is a time of judging, of learning, of growing in perfection preparing for eternity in God's Kingdom. It is described in the Bible as the judgment of God's "great white throne" (Revelation 20:11-13). It is then that God will set his hand to save the majority of mankind. (For additional details, write for our free articles "Is This the Only Day of Salvation?" and "The Three Resurrections.") So there is fairness with God. This present life is not all there is. The inequities, the deprivations, the tragedies suffered by people through the ages have been allowed by God to teach human beings the consequences of sin. A few people come to understand this lesson in this life. Most — the majority who ever lived — will have to die and be resurrected before they will understand. But then they will be given the chance — their first and final opportunity — to learn about salvation in a beautiful world of peace on earth under God's Government. Those who choose God's way will be made perfect and immortal. Those who reject it will perish. Either way, a person's fate or destiny will be sealed once and forever. There will be no need for "reincarnations." How simple and wonderful is God's Plan!