To be or not to be...
"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4. 18
Hamlet's famous speech goes on to explore the attractiveness of death, as a comfortable alternative to the vagaries of life. Yet he concludes that the uncertainty of what lies beyond the grave and the impossibility of returning if we don't like what we find, renders it as well to proceed with the life we know, however irksome.
Christians believe that those who die in faith can look forward to a life that is not only more comfortable than this but beyond our finest imagining, in which we do indeed "shuffle off this mortal coil" but in order to be re-clothed in a new, spiritual body. That being the case, how can we be sure that the new "me" is in any way consistent with the old "me"? In other words, in what consists our identity - if not in our mortal bodies?
Philosophers have wrestled with this very question, probably for as long as the noble art has, itself, been in existence. Where Descartes discovered that by stripping away everything he could not be sure of he was left only with his capacity to think ("I think therefore I am"), John Locke took a more empirical stance, arguing that our being rests in what we can remember of ourselves.
His conclusion led to all sorts of insights into the nature of politics and goals of life. Yet it offers scant comfort to those who die in infancy, before they have acquired the capacity for memory, or to those who die in senility, where dementia has robbed them of their memories and, according to Locke's view, their personhood?
And what happens when we lose our capacity to "fix our eyes on what is unseen", ie to rely on God and the inheritance he has provided for us in heaven? Happily, and unlike Locke and his acolytes, our faith in life is not grounded on our personal capacity (for memory or thinking or anything else) but on God and his benevolence. As the teacher advises in Proverbs 3.5:
"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding."