I’ve just finished watching the 4 part drama series “Life after life” adapted from Kate Atkinson’s 2013 novel. I found the premise fascinating but Sarah reckons the book isn’t all it’s made out to be, so this seemed like the easier way of getting a better feel for the story.
The story focuses on the lives of Ursula Todd, born in 1910 to prosperous parents. I say ‘lives’ plural because Ursula dies the first time round, strangled by her umbilical cord. This sets off a chain of re-births, each time her life takes a slightly different course, although often miserable, in one life she is drowned at sea as a child, in another she goes to London to see a psychologist only to be killed in a car crash aged 10. In one particularly horrific time-line she is raped on her 16th birthday, has an illegal abortion that nearly kills her and then marries an abusive husband who kills her in a rage when he suspects her (wrongly) of an affair.
Through her many lives, Ursula develops a strong sense of de-ja-vu, the sense that she has been here before and that she has encountered many of the scenes in her life. This enables her to avoid some of the past horrors. However, a fixed point in the story is that her favourite younger brother Teddy is killed in the Second World War. Ursula is determined to prevent this particular tragedy and in one life-cycle she appears successful, making it to Munich where she manages to shoot Hitler, only to be killed herself by his heavies. So life begins again and next time round, in the TV adaption, Hitler lives, the war still happens and Teddy is shot down again.
It makes for bleak, hopeless viewing. What is the point of her repeating life only for the same or similar horrors to happen again? What is the point of stopping Hitler in one life if in the next he will survive and in this one there will be other tragedies, just different? Ursula can no more change the world in her cyclical version than you and I can in our linear one.
There are references to re-incarnation and Eastern philosophy with the aforementioned psychologist waxing lyrical about “ouroborus”, the image of a snake with its own tail in its mouth (ironic isn’t it that we consider the concept of a dog chasing its own tail far more negatively). Of course, this version isn’t pure reincarnation/karma but there is something of that philosophy there – life is on repeat.
This is the point. There are three thoughts on life after death and eternity. The first is that there is no personal ever-after. We have one life to live and that’s it. The second is the idea of re-incarnation, that we live some form of life again. It’s worth noting that strictly speaking, such philosophies don’t believe the cycle to be perpetual, the end goal is to escape the cycle into Nirvana but that is also to lose person-hood and conscience as you are absorbed into oneness. So in fact, both of the first two options don’t lead to a personal ever-after. Both end in just life in the here and now.
The third option is the Judaeo-Christian one, that there is life after life. This is resurrection life. It’s the hope that one day after we have died or when this world ends, that God will raise the dead and bring them into a new creation. We are not condemned to keep on living our lives again and again. Rather, this new life is for ever in a world made new and right without pain, suffering and death.
Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection made this hope certain for all who trust in him. Whilst Ursula’s lives and deaths made not one iota of difference to the world either for herself or for others, Christ’s life, death and resurrection made all the difference.