Saturday, January 24, 2009

Life After Death: Part 3/C

Part 3/C:

I would propose that nothing else has changed from Part 1 and Part B. We die and, in the grave, we wait for the End.

(I realize that some of the following sounds rather dualistic, and as I have stated before, I don’t really believe that we have a separate body and soul. I think that idea is firmly rooted in Plato and not the Bible. I think we are holistic beings. So while I don’t understand how it all works when speaking of the afterlife, please note that I am not a dualist and I certainly don’t have all of this figured out. You can label most of my theological ideas as being “under construction.”)

Psychopannychism, better know as the idea of soul sleep, would probably most accurately describe our post mortem state. As said before, we are still in the presence of Christ even when dead. However, unlike traditional soul sleep ideas, I think the New Testament is clear (re: Luke 16 parable) that WE ARE still conscious in our intermediate state; we aren’t just unaware and numb to it all. Paul specifically uses the term “to fall asleep” as a common euphemism for the act of dying. MJ Harris says that of the nine times Paul uses the verb, it is punctiliar (i.e., to fall asleep) rather than linear (i.e., to be asleep). So when people fall asleep in death, they are no longer aware of time and space as a human on earth would be—but they are fully aware of their past and their current environment.

So we die, we are in the presence of God (whatever that’s like and where that is), and we wait for the End.

What’s the End?

Paul’s words in 1st Thessalonians 4 have more meaning than what they say on the surface. In verses 14-17 Paul discusses how the dead in Christ will rise first, those alive on earth will rise second, and we’ll all meet Jesus in the air. He ends with the words “and so we will be with the Lord forever.” It sounds nice, right? The story ends on such a pretty note: we all get to be with Jesus. But the translation makes it sound misleading. You see, the imagery and language Paul uses here is of an important figure coming to a town. All of the people go outside the city gates to greet this important dignitary, welcomes them by starting the party, and then they all parade together back into the city. So based on what Paul is saying: all of the followers of Jesus would rise (somehow) to meet Jesus in the air/clouds/sky/atmosphere/etc then we’d return to the earth with him.

We do not, at any point in Scripture, go off to some magical place and leave the rest of the planet behind to its own demise. This is called Christian Escapism or Dispensationalism and has been very popular in America since the late 1800’s, particularly since the Great Awakenings and the World Wars. People saw the world going up in flames all around them and thought that the End must be near; ergo, they decided to put all of their hope in a future state rather than caring about their lives and the present state of this world. Somehow, this theology has rapidly developed and shifted much of Christian thought. People quickly forgot the importance of taking care of the earth and saving people from the torment they are caught in now—all significance was placed on “saving souls” (i.e., getting people to “heaven”). But, once again, this seems to wander off the central theme of Christian Scriptures. Nowhere in the Bible is the idea of a Rapture or a “leaving behind” of this planet ever taught.

If there is a heaven now, it’s the dwelling place of God—if such a place even exists. (I’m not saying God doesn’t exist or dwell somewhere, I’m simply questioning whether or not you can refer to it as having a physical location.) The pictures we get in Revelation of “heaven” have either taken place already or are taking place now. The only picture we get in Revelation of a heaven that humans will see is in chapter 21—the New Jerusalem. Wiping away tears, streets of gold, pearly gates… all that is in the New Jerusalem. The crazy thing is: the New Jerusalem is a future place that God will create here on earth. To condense the story of God: there was the Creation, then Fall, then Redemption, and there will be Restoration. In 2 Peter 3:10, it talks about the earth being cleansed by fire. (Possibly it could mean that God is wiping the slate clean before he rebuilds.) I don’t understand how it all works, I don’t understand the process or the order thereof, but I do know that Heaven/New Jerusalem will be here, on earth… eventually.

{As an aside: I think it would be really odd if I died, was judged by God, sent to heaven, then was taken out again at the End to be re-judged and sent back to heaven. That makes no sense. I believe in one Judgment. I believe that it will happen at one point for all people. But until then, if dead, we wait.}

When discussing immortality, I think our thoughts have shifted off base as well. Three Greek terms are used in the New Testament that come from two root words: athanasia (meaning “deathlessness” [example: 1st Cor. 15:53-54]) and aphtharsia (meaning “incorruptibility” [example: Romans 2:7] or “incorruptible” [example: Romans 1:23]). (Note: Murray J Harris says that its significant these terms are never used in association with the word “psyche” [which we translate as “soul”].) In the New Testament, all ten uses of these terms are Pauline and are not intrinsic attributes of every living soul. Immortality is something we attain at the End, at the final resurrection. So, in that vein, immortality is conditional in that there is no eternal life except in Jesus Christ. I would go so far as to say, that at this point, no human has been granted eternal life; God alone has eternal life—we will share in that later on.

I’m not saying that all humans won’t survive beyond death. I think all humanity (all those in the past, all those currently living, and all those to come) will persist to the End. All humanity will be present and accounted for at the return of Jesus to the earth. Then comes separation…

Once again, I don’t know what this judgment looks like. In Matthew 25, Jesus banishes people from his presence based on whether or not they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited those in prison, gave medicine to the sick, etc. So I think some type of judgment obviously exists. I would go so far as to say that I think a lot of God’s judgment has to do with what we’ve done with our lives. (see Rev 20: 12-13) But who really knows?

So there we all are, at the End, standing before God, being judged. Seems like a lot of people get to return to earth with Jesus for that whole New Jerusalem thing. To me, this is Eden restored. This is the re-creation of what God intended for this world to be like. This is Heaven. There are no more tears, streets of gold, no more death… all that jazz. These people inherit eternal life—the life of the ages. But what about the other people? What about those who aren’t allowed into the New Jerusalem/Heaven? The New Testament says that these people, along with death and the grave itself, are thrown into the “lake of fire.” This is Hell. If Heaven and Hell haven’t been in existence up to this point, they certainly are up and running now.

So because there is no more need for death or a place of waiting (i.e., Hades/Sheol/the grave), they are thrown into the lake of fire. There is no more death, there is no more grave. They are done away with. Those who are forced to depart from the presence of God are also thrown into this lake of fire, this Hell. If death and the grave are done away with, are these people done away with as well? What I’m asking is: do people who choose not to follow in the way of Jesus cease to exist? Are they destroyed here? No more waiting, no more torment or ambiguity—are they simply finished?

I would answer that question with a resounding: yes. (This view, by the way, is called “annihilationism.”) I don’t think the New Testament is absolutely clear, so keep in mind that this is one person’s opinion, but I think this view of Christian Scripture is much more in line with the Bible and what we know of God and his character. I believe this view of Scripture weeds out a lot of Platonic thought and Greek philosophy that has infected much of the modern church. I believe this view of Scripture reconciles Jewish and Christian thought on the afterlife (or the “life after life after death” as NT Wright calls it). To say that there is a Hell, a place of torment, where people spend all of eternity seems totally incongruent with an all loving and merciful God. Sure, the New Testament is clear that a Hell will exist. Sure, the New Testament seems clear that some people will go there. But the New Testament says that once they get there it’s called the “second death.” Why is it referred to as the “second death” if they hang around in fire and agony forever? If they die again, wouldn’t some type of transition be involved?


Well, there you have it. I’ve done a lot of reading, writing, thinking and stressing over this. I’ve talked to a lot of people and had a lot of discussion and this is where I am right now. I’m not saying this is it—that this is the absolute final word on life after death. I’m just saying that this view of things seems much more in line with the Bible as a whole than anything else out there. I don’t believe in heaven or hell as they are traditionally taught. I believe the typical evangelical Christian theology on these subjects to be unorthodox views. I would venture to say that my views expressed here are much more historically orthodox and compatible with Christian Scriptures as a whole.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. I really appreciate you reading along. You deserve some sort of reward. Perhaps if you’d like to get a cup of tea and talk about it all, I’ll buy that cup of tea as a present. Anyway, let’s chat.


johnperry said...

I think this trilogy has been my favorite read from your blog. You have really tried hard on these. Your research seems impenetrable. Cheers to your stewardship.

michaelmeece said...

Good to know that I won't have to serve a sentence in hell.

Justin Guest said...

Well, as you said in an earlier post, this is a lot of information to take in. For me it will require some thought.

One thing off the bat I struggle with is imagining "being asleep" but also being with Christ. If we are wholistic beings then how is it possible we are with Christ unless it is as it is while we are alive. So then are we just asleep but awake in the grave? Is this why you mentioned we may have no sense of time during this "sleep"?

Also if there is no heaven which physically exists elsewhere, then what did Jesus mean when he said "I go to prepare a place for you..." Was he refering to something else? I'm not disagreeing with you, just shaping my own views.

Thanks for the insight!

JD said...

I think Psalm 139:7-8 makes it very clear that God is present everywhere--from the "heavens" to the "grave." (With the exception of the Lake of Fire/Hell that is described toward the end of Revelation.) So regardless of alive on earth or dead and waiting in the grave, I'm in God's presence. And, like I said in the post, "asleep" is simply a euphemism. We may not be aware of time, but we are still very much able to think and reason--obviously, we're still conscious. As stated in the other post, I think our interaction with God's presence improves significantly in life after death and the life after life after death.

Time is just a human concept. God invented time for us--Genesis specifically says that the stars, moon and sun were created to markers of time and seasons for humanity. Time (our hours, minutes, days, etc) has no relevance outside of the planet Earth. So, when dead, time makes no difference. The passing of time is a term relative only to life here on this planet.

To answer your second question: Jesus said he was going to prepare a place. Its not like Jesus is off somewhere with a hammer, some nails and bunch of carpentry angels constructing an after life abode. Like I said, if a heaven exists, its simply God's place of dwelling. When we speak of Heaven, we speak of the New Jerusalem, and the New Testament explicitly says that it will be here, on earth, at some point in the future. That's the only Heaven humans will ever see. (Note: as always, I use heaven and Heaven as two different terms.)

Hope that helps.

Justin Guest said...

Alright, I was just hung up on the whole time thing, it makes sense that time could just not exist in that stage.

So then what exactly is it Jesus is saying he is preparing? Our hearts?

All this makes me want to reconsider being cremated :) Not that God would have any trouble finding all my pieces one day.

JD said...

Lol... I'm all worried about my body when I die, too. I don't wanna be embalmed. I don't want an open casket funeral... its all too weird.

That exact reason is why the Romans burned the Jews--how can you have a bodily resurrection when a body has been destroyed? But most Jews would chalk it up to God: if he made it, he can put it back together.

You keep asking about what Jesus is preparing like he's somewhere literally making something. I don't think that's what's going on. I think he is preparing the New Jerusalem, but like I said earlier, its not like he's literally building it with concrete and wood, you know? This is a whole different deal. This is the recreation of Eden. This is the reforming of earth.

(Think about the creation story in Genesis. There was nothing, God spoke and then there was something. He made it all by speaking.)

I just think that God is logical and orderly--there is a process to the way that he does things. So when Jesus says he is "preparing a place for us," he may mean something different than what we're used to thinking of. Who knows?

(Keep in mind, he's using those words for the imagery they convey as much as anything. He's using Jewish wedding language in John 14 that his disciples (Jews) would have understood. Maybe its more about the idea/story as a whole as much as it is about the details thereof.)

Haha! I thought people would cry "Heretic!" over lots of other things (ie, inclusivistic ideas, people not spending forever being tortured in hell, etc) before I got questions on this. I'm not complaining, don't get me wrong--I appreciate the conversation, Justin. I'm glad the flaming arrows haven't been fired by others lately, as well.

Justin Guest said...

Others haven't been commenting or blogging lately.

Ha, I heard about your comment to Michael about Liberty. :) I DEFINETLY disagree with almost all their theology, I just refuse to switch to another school as I have transcripts at 4 different universities now. It's fun "debating" with the professors though, as I'm currently doing with my English professor right now. :) If I had known they gave an honorary degree to Hanity before I applied though..... Ugh.....

Anyway, I was thinking about the eternal hell thing, just didn't have enough to say about it yet. It certainly goes against what I had previously believed, not that I'm on board yet, only that I don't know. It certainly is appealing and does line up with the characteristics of God. I want it to be true. A quick Google search found these verses:

"And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matt. 25:46).

"And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power," (2 Thess. 1:9).

Without other concrete verses I can see these as being interpreted either way. Either as saying an ongoing eternal punishment, or a punishment that is eternal (death). Eternal destruction, in 2 Thess, certainly sounds like final death to me. I don't know.

Kickert said...

Ironically, I am also a monist and believe in the general resurection, but I want to be cremated. Odd huh?

josh said...

JD - just skimmed this most recent post and loved the first part of it. Really, really helpful stuff and faithful to Scripture. I'm walking away still chewing!

I don't have time to get caught up in a blog-comment debate (which are really helpful, right?... sarcasm intended) so this is purely curiosity. I'd like to see a post in defense of annihilationism that deals with the problem texts in a serious way instead of just "well, those are figurative"... which is what I usually see from annihilationists.

Aside from the texts, wouldn't annihilationism be good news to a Hitler, Khomeini, or Pol Pot? I see them getting there, hearing what was going to happen to them, and saying... "Sweet! Really, that's all!? Alright, let's do this!"

Miss you, man and great to hear from you on facebook!

JD said...

Yeah, there's no easy way to answer it. Just like with anything, there are the typical "problem verses." But in reading the whole of Scripture, I just don't see God making it clear that he will torment those that choose another way forever in the "fires of hell." I think that's a very pagan idea that has more to Dante's "Inferno" than it does with the New Testament.

Obviously, texts like Justin brought up seem to say otherwise. Take Matthew 25:46 for instance; most translations say "eternal" punishment/correction and "eternal" righteousness. The problem is that the word, in Greek, doesn't mean "eternal" or "forever." Its the same word we get "eon" from. It CAN mean forever, but not in its adjective form in the Greek--it means a indeterminate period of time. On top of that, its singular. So instead of saying that people will spend "eons" in punishment, it says "eon"--or an age, whatever that means. (The major question is, if the "unrighteous" spend an eon in punishment and the "righteous" get an "eon" of life, what does that mean? Its problematic either way you go.)

My point of view would be that those who choose the way of Jesus do inherit the life of the ages/eternal life. They don't have it beforehand, but are granted it at the End. Those who don't get the life of the ages/eternal life really are separated from the presence of God forever. They may cease to exist (as they are not granted immortality), but in the grand scheme of things, they are still forever separated--that's the point. Does that make sense?

So, in essence, its not good news. It really isn't. I don't think it lets anyone off the hook--even if they aren't being forever tormented in fire and eaten by worms. Sure, its a better outcome than in most modern evangelical theology, but its still not a pleasant outcome.

I wish it wasn't the case. I wish I could find clear evidence that there would be universal salvation granted to everyone at the End. I would much rather have it this way. Its a better ending to the story.

Anonymous said...

This does help. Thanks for the quick response, John-David. I enjoyed this post a lot and share a love for most of NT Wright's stuff.

-josh howerton

JD said...

I need to actually read a book of NT Wright's. I haven't even read his stuff--just excerpts and interviews. I'm ashamed to admit it--especially with as much great stuff as he has out there.

Jeremiah said...

So I don't mean to put a damper on the aeon thing. But I looked it up, and I'm pretty sure it is actually in its adjectival form. Its aionion from aionios, which is the adjective. Aion is the noun, but its the iota after the nu that gives it away (I think aion's accusative is actually aiona). It's weird because the adjective doesn't match up with the feminine nouns its modifying.
Regardless, the exact same word is used both to modify "punishment" as well as "life". So in this text it looks like "punishment" is going to last just as long as "life."

JD said...

Its not a damper...

I said the same thing: that its in its adjectival form. So thanks for agreeing.

And yes, its clear in the Greek that the same word is used for both "punishment" and "life." (But I already said that as well.)

Its slightly problematic. It just depends on how you want to interpret what the text is saying, I suppose. Its not concrete evidence one way or the other--I was just responding to Justin's question.

I will say, however, that in the Greek it doesn't say "eons." It says "eon." So for an "age" or an undefined period of time. It could be a moment or it could be really long time. My point is that it doesn't necessarily mean forever. But yes, what does that mean for those who are kept in God's presence? Its just one of many texts to discuss in this conversation.

Jeremiah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeremiah said...

Woops, that's what I get for not paying attention. But still the regardless clause works. But an adjective being plural or not makes no difference on its interpretation, because its plurality or singularity are completely dependent upon the noun it modifies.

Jeremiah said...

If there were a word like eonical do you think that would be better than 'eon' or 'eons.'