The fear of death is often coupled with the fear of losing forever the important people in one's life. Could it be that families and friends are united after their stint in this world is over? Our clergy tackle this hot topic.
Rabbi Ronald N. Brown, Temple Beth Am, Merrick:
Within the body of Rabbinic literature, there are several references to the afterlife, or as it is known in Hebrew, ha olam ha-ba, The World to Come.
For instance in the Talmud, tractate Baba Batra 10b, there is a reference to a phenomenon which we occasionally read about . . . a person dies and then is brought back to life. In this case Rabbi Joshua's son, Joseph, describes for his father the experience of death. He says: "Olam hafuch ra'iti . . . I saw an upside down world." Those we often esteem in this world are below, whereas those we perceive as below were above. His father responds: "You saw a clear world." In other words, the values of heaven do not necessarily correspond to what we esteem here in this world.
I cite the story because we can extrapolate from it that people are recognizable in the afterlife. However, other sources portray a more spiritual depiction of heaven.
Whatever the description, I think that many faiths share in common the belief that the afterlife will offer our loved ones comfort, that they will be cared for and that it will be a safe place. The physical aspects of what the afterlife will be like or the process we go through to get there may be different, but we all see it as a place where that departed loved one will be comforted, cared for and will not suffer.
Assuming you all make it to heaven, yes, you will be able to recognize others. This is prefaced by the understanding that the only way you can get into heaven is by repenting of your sins and placing your faith in Christ as your Lord and Savior. You also have to realize that as a Christian, your family isn't just those people who are under your roof. That family is all our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.
If we look to Scripture for an answer, Paul comforted believers on the matter of seeing our brothers and sisters in Christ in heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:17). We do well to remember that heaven is God's dwelling place, and God should be the chief subject of our affections (Luke 14:26). Our chief love and desire should be to see God, and in fact those who are saved by God's grace in Christ will see him just as he is (1 John 3:2).
The Scriptures reveal several glimpses of this great reunion of believers in the true God. Elijah and Moses (who were in heaven) appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration to Peter, James and John (Matthew 17:3). Jesus himself appeared after his resurrection in a body that was recognizable to his disciples (John 20:20).
We don't have what you'd call a doctrinal answer based on Scripture, but we believe that the family is central to the plan of happiness that God has for his children. We believe that we will recognize each other in the afterlife. We believe that the family unit continues after death, which means the family we have here is the family we'll have in the afterlife. It is known as a celestial family. We believe that even those who don't believe will be given an opportunity after death to be taught the Gospel and given a chance to change their lives and be welcomed into heaven (1 Peter 4:6, 1 Peter 3:17-18).
We see all human beings as sons and daughters of God. Each must approach the savior and receive that understanding and clarity that will allow them into the full joy of heaven. When you approach the savior, Jesus Christ, he will help each of us understand the things that pertain to heaven that we cannot see with our naked eyes. When you do that, the Lord will give you the spirit to help you feel and understand things that pertain to God that cannot be found in any way other than by approaching his throne.
Michael Houze, Circle director, Long Island Open Circle, a neo-pagan organization, Huntington:
The vast majority of pagans believe in an afterlife, where they will see loved ones. Some believe in reincarnation, where they will come back again and see loved ones. They believe in past lives, and feel like they've been here before, but don't recognize people. They do feel a familiarity, but not recognition.
Pagans don't have one set belief like you see in Christianity. If you believe in reincarnation, you won't see the others as loved ones, but rather feel a familiarity with someone that makes you understand that they were important to you in a previous life. For some pagans, the afterlife is a continuation, not an end. And other pagans believe they will be on the other side with deities they have worshipped and those who have worshipped that deity will recognize each other.
Most Wiccans believe in reincarnation. They believe they will spend a period of time in an afterlife before they return to this life. They likely will not be fully aware of each other in this afterlife, but will sense a significance in the person. For those who believe in past-life regression, the afterlife is not a permanent state but a transitional period.
In the Long Island Open Circle, we are open to allowing people to work within their traditions and rituals in exploring their own individual religious paths.