What of us survives death? The same 'self' that survives through all the transformations of our mortal life; and that same self which came originally from before that embodied life when we were first formed on earth.
As I look back on my life the memory seems like a dreamy vision which was inhabited by the same self. In my earliest childhood memories, through the development of growing -up and adolescence, and the now-strange events of my early adult life... Everything seems fuzzy, indistinct, dreamy (maybe nightmarish) - but the self continues.
I can imagine my-self as a four year old, as nine, as thirteen, when I was twenty-one and so on - it is the same self but the situations are as different as can be, and mostly have the quality of a day-dream: fluid, imprecise, fuzzy...
Was that really me in those situations, in those behaviours? Yet the self that observes these strange occurrences was the same.
That inner self seem independent of the body - that body which changed so much. Independent of circumstance - which changed so much.
I think "Was that really me?" about what I did, where I went - but I do not think that about the self that remembers. That was really me.
It is that self, which was maintained through so many 'bodies' and situation which will be maintained through the transformation of biological death - and will remain.
But what then? What happens to the self when the body has not just changed, but died? It continues in some way, but how?
The tendency is for the self to lose its consecutiveness; its memory and its continuity; to break up into mere awareness of the moment. We have an inkling of this from some dreams, from recollection of descending into delirium... of losing grip on the situation, or our sense-of-being falling-apart; that perplexity, slippery-confusion-angst as we cannot recall how things became as they are, or what we are supposed to do.
(We may see exactly this in demented people - as reality, purpose, their situation is always slipping away from them.)
This situation seems to be the 'natural', spontaneous fate of the self - called by the ancients names including Sheol and Hades. The self survives biological death to become a witless, demented ghost who does not remember who he is; merely reactive; incapable of purpose and choice.
(The process of dying is the dwindling of the self towards this state.)
Death is the state of mere-being, without memory, aware only of the instant now.
This state of Sheol/ Hades is what Jesus called death; it is what he came to save-us-from. Jesus is our saviour from the death that is mere-being of the self.
We are saved from death by following Jesus. How can this 'following' be imagined?
All will encounter Jesus after death, and before the dissolution of the self into a witless ghost.
What is preventing immediate dissolution of the self? God does that - God the creator - by divine creative power. If we love God; then we allow God to stop the dwindling to nothing, allow God to sustain our-self in a state in which we retain our memory, purpose etc.
So we remain able to choose.
We could imagine this choosing as meeting Jesus in a dream; and, as in a dream, we will know that it is Jesus. We realise that Jesus is present with us. And then we decide.
So, instead of dwindling to mere-being; we will recognise Jesus, and will remember and know what he is offering us: resurrected life eternal in Heaven. And we decide whether to follow him to this everlasting life; or not.
If we choose to follow Jesus - what then? It is the continual presence of Jesus that will guide us through the transformation of resurrection. It is the continual presence of Jesus that enables resurrection - and for this to happen we must actively wish for this transformation - which transformation is permanent and entails rebuilding from the remnant self wholly in the basis of love.
If we cannot love, if we reject love, or if we want something else - then we will choose Not to follow Jesus. Indeed we cannot follow Jesus unless we are prepared to make a permanent and irreversible commitment to live only by love; to become forever incapable of not loving.
As I implied earlier; if someone loves God, but does not want to follow Jesus (e.g. perhaps a theist but not a Christian) - he will Not be transformed. Instead he will remain in the state of consecutiveness of consciousness; being maintained thus by ongoing divine creation. He will be sustained in awareness wholly by God - thus aware only of himself and of God.
This is the state sometimes called Nirvana; a blissful state of current awareness of God's love and of being in the state of loving God - an eternal now; without memory and without purpose. A passive state.
Not mere being; but a state of being 'in' love.
What of Hell? The demons themselves do not die, since they are never incarnated spirits. But what of the ex-Men in Hell: those selves who were once Men but have been through biological death?
I suppose Hell to be the choice to prevent the dissolution of the self by continual infusion of life energy. So, instead of becoming a witless, demented ghost in the state of Sheol/ Hades; the self is maintained in this world, 'animated', energized by demonic actions.
Divine creation is primary - it is (as we see it) something from nothing. It is originative and primary - adds to reality. Creation is the opposite of entropy. But creation entails love (in a crude sense, creation requires love).
So, those who cannot love, or reject love, cannot creation.
Since demons cannot create, they are bound by entropy.
That life-energy that sustains continuity, memory and purpose is continually being used-up, needs continual replacement - like fuel in a car.
Replacement life-energy to sustain a dead-self functionally-above the level of Sheol must therefore be taken from living beings, for example from living Men.
The process is not creative but parasitic, vampiric. The sustaining life-energy is extracted from one being and redirected into another; just as we consume the energy of coal to warm ourselves when otherwise we would freeze.
Crudely, one lives because another dies; one dies that another may live - but (because of entropy) only temporarily.
The Hellish economy is therefore based upon destruction of energy. While Heaven grows as love grows; Hell is always shrinking.
Hell's intent is to retain functional life without love of God. Hell maintains control of its denizens by the threat of death - if life-energy is not infused (by demonic action), the damned soul will to revert to the insensibility of Sheol.
Thus the economy of Hell is one of mutual exploitation, of 'dog-eat-dog' - one ex-Man survives only at the price of another Man being consumed (either consumed partially, or - eventually - consumed wholly).
...Until only one remains - and he will then inevitably die.
In the end, all will die; so life in Hell is a deferral of ultimate death - the ever more frantic desire to live a little longer, to be the last to die.
In conclusion. When we die biologically, our self will survive; but the state of that self is a matter of choice. And the choices seem to be fourfold: Heaven eternally, Nirvana, Hell - en route to Sheol, or Sheol and the extinction of self awareness.
In a deep sense, after death we get what we want. And what is that?
From what most people are saying nowadays, it seems that Heaven is currently the least popular of these destinations - Sheol-direct (i.e. perceived death, annihilation, cessation of all awareness of the self) perhaps the most sought-after.
And the other two possibilities of Nirvana and Hell, maybe ranking somewhere in between?
Just a guess...