The next life is lived by our descendants. As well, the complex energy of the soul is something with durability that we cannot explain in a simple empirical way. The whole bundle of memories and influences and identity surrounding a person can be seen as producing a persistent existence past the physical, even if the simple myths of personal immortality are not accurate.
My view is that all the stories of the Gospels are parables, not to be taken literally. The most vivid afterlife stories are the parables of Dives and Lazarus, and the Last Judgement.
Dives is a rich man who goes to hell for being selfish, while Lazarus (modified Osiris) is a poor man who goes to heaven. The meaning is that heaven is all about relationship, and that material possessions do not substitute for care about others.
The Last Judgement has a very simple story, that if you care for other people who are in most need and at the margins of social inclusion you are saved, while if you ignore these most needy people you are damned.
All the stories about going to heaven or hell are just imaginative parables about the type of future society we can create by our choice whether to care or not care about other people and the world.
The meaning of eternal life (αἰώνιον - aionion) can be seen from this verse out of the Last Judgement, seen in the interlinear version that directly compares the original Greek with a literal English translation word by word. “[The careless] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matt 25:46)
My view of the meaning of eternity derives from Platonic philosophy. In the original Academy, the three subjects of study were logic, physics and ethics. In logic, eternity is timeless in quality (outside time) in the sense that mathematical relationships do not change as a result of any events. In physics, the idea of eternity as endless in extent does appear, in the sense that laws of physics such as gravity and the structure of the periodic table of the elements are permanent features of our universe. Ethics picks up on the Christian vision of the timeless eternal values of the good, the true and the beautiful. As we move now into Advent, the eternal moral ideas of love, joy, hope and peace celebrate the timeless message of Christ as the symbol of human connection to God and faith in the enduring presence of divinity in our world. True religion is the ‘rebinding’ to eternal unchanging moral values.
My own view on the Biblical idea of eternity reflects the authors' connection seen between the word ‘aionion’ and the visual astronomy of zodiac ages (aions), which form the stable eternal structure of terrestrial cosmology. I am now writing a paper on the astronomy of this topic, which seems to be immensely difficult psychologically for scientists and theologians to engage with due to their irrational hatred of cyclical patterns that remind them of astrology. The paradigm shift here requires analysis of Jesus Christ as the avatar of the zodiac ages of Pisces and Aquarius.
The word ‘telos’ (purpose) is highly controversial due to the simplistic and stupid restriction of it to the debate about intentional design in creation. The untrue idea from conventional young earth creationists is that God somehow magically designed all creatures with a teleological purpose that operates in some supernatural way, separate to the observed processes of natural biological evolution. That old false metaphysics is a simplistic 'flat earth' model, meaning it extrapolates from naïve experience without taking into account any scientific knowledge. Traditional simple teleology of creation is just a distraction from any genuine philosophical and theological effort to find a sense of purpose in life.
The purpose or telos of life can be seen in the moral value of complexity. Complexity is a scientific idea in the theory of evolution that observes how stable evolving systems gradually adapt with ever greater depth to their ecological niche. All the genetic factors of cumulative adaptation constantly push on the doors of available mutation. The doors which open, reflecting natural causal possibility, allow organisms to sustain a more complex genetic code.
The moral implication is that evolutionary complexity is good. This means we should work to enhance complexity, treating biodiversity as an eternal sacred value. In this framework, the meaning of life is the good of the future, and enhancing the flourishing of life on earth is our highest moral purpose.
Looking at the universe as a whole, the earth is the most complex known place, and the human brain and its products are the most complex known things, just in terms of detail of networking.
Most of the universe is near-empty space, and many galaxies have nothing but hydrogen. Our solar system has amazing complexity, serving to provide our fragile and sensitive planet with a stable and durable and fecund home. The flip side of complexity is its fragile susceptibility to destruction, indicating the moral urgency of climate change, and the evil of denial of scientific truth and promotion of false fantasies.
Care, concern, connection, relationship, these have all been corrupted as the ground of identity and morality by the prevailing attitudes of American Individualism. This pervasive way of thought has infected the whole globe, through its seductive imperial roots in the highly traumatised and ignorant philosophy of British Empiricism.
Serving others is an important moral principle, but has to be placed in the context of the good of the whole, which creates highly complex moral dilemmas regarding the consequences and principles of rival actions. For example, the tension between caring for your own children versus other valuable moral actions.
“Nourishment of souls” is certainly a high moral goal. How personal prosperity can be a means to this end is again a challenging vision, putting economics at the focus of morality. Market capitalism can provide the talents and resources needed to create wealth and skills for distribution to those who lack the advantages of others, but only if both government and civil society focus on the enabling environment for this goal, through a combination of moral or spiritual guidance and formal regulation.
Having a stake in the future through the continuity of our personal genetic code with the river of time touches deep instinctive psychological impulses that have a rational foundation in our moral care for the good of the future.