Do Our Pets Have Eternal Life?

Meet Ricky.  Ricky is my sweet, gentle Havanese.  He turns 13 this week.  That is pretty old in dog years.  When Ricky isn’t in the house, the house seems strangely empty.  We are so accustomed to his being there.  While Ricky is still in good health, it is becoming more a part of our thoughts that he won’t be there forever.  He is getting old, and like the rest of us, his time will eventually come to an end on this Earth.

Does Ricky just disappear at that point?  If you are a materialist, your answer is “of course”.  Dogs like people are just organisms that are here for a short while and then gone.  If you believe in reincarnation you would disagree.  In fact, you and your dog might eventually switch places, so be nice to your dog.

Does the Bible say anything about animals?  I have heard many people, including pastors, say that animals do not have souls because they are not created in the image of God.  I know the Bible pretty well.  I don’t know from where that idea comes.

Without a doubt, the focus of the Bible is on the eternal existence of humans.  We are created in the image of God.  We do have an eternal existence, either with God or forsaken by Him.  It all depends on our connection to Jesus.  But read these words from Colossians 1:19f and tell me what they say about Jesus’ work in relation to the rest of creation:

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him(Jesus), and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross…This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to ever creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

I read that the death of Jesus was not just for the benefit of human beings but rather it reconciles all things.  You could translate this “all (people)” if it were not for the “things on earth and things in heaven” part.

While the death of Jesus reconciles God with the corruption of his creation, that doesn’t quite add up to all being a part of Heaven or the New Earth.  At least, that is certain for people.  Living things, other than people, are clearly a part of the New Earth (see Isaiah 65).  The unanswered question is whether or not our particular pets are a part of that new creation.  While animals are usually not as intelligent as people, we cannot say anything about the existence or non-existence of their spirit from the Bible (see my previous blog on Spirit, Soul and Consciousness).  That said, it is a distinct possibility that our pets may be a part of our eternity, especially the New Earth.

I hope so anyway.

Spirit, Soul and Consciousness

One critical question related to a discussion of life, death, and life after death is, “What exactly are we?”  For example, are we just a physical body whose chemical interactions create the illusion of thought, self-awareness and experience of an external world?  Or are we just a mind (whatever that is) that experiences an external world that is an illusion (Think the movie, “The Matrix” here).  Or does the external world really exist, our brains and their chemistry really exist and our conscious self is really something that is not formally part of this universe, but interacts with this universe via the brain.  The last theory is a dualism favored by scientists who are not wholesale devotees of materialism (the idea that the only real things are measurable things).

The Bible is dualistic.  Body and soul are mentioned many places.  While body and soul were not to be separated, they can be.  I am both my body and my soul.  Hence, the promise of the resurrection of the body and not just an eternal heavenly separation of the soul from this world.

In one passage, Hebrews 4:12, a third category is introduced.  It states, “(the Word of God is) Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even is dividing soul and spirit…”  The words soul and spirit are clearly not synonyms here.  To what do they refer?   “Soul” in Greek is psyche.  “Spirit” is pneuma.  We use these roots in many words, but do we understand what the writer meant, and do these words relate to what we have learned about the brain?

Materialists want us to believe that our whole experience of consciousness is merely brain chemistry.  They point to the fact that electrical stimulation of certain parts of the brain can give us sensory and emotional experiences.  They also refer to imaging from PET scans that show brain activity in certain parts of the brain for any conscious experience.  True materialist devotees then extend this connection to a form of fatalism, suggesting that we have no freewill of any form.  Our bodies simply do what our brain chemistry makes us do, and brain chemistry is strictly cause and effect according to the laws of physics.  It’s the perfect excuse.  “Was I speeding, officer?  I couldn’t help it my brain made me speed.”

Besides being morally absurd and not corresponding at all with our own experience of self, this theory doesn’t explain well the experience of people put in a medically induced coma and cooled down for brain surgery.  They have no PET activity nor access to either their senses or a scientist’s probe, still one Arizona woman experienced being out of her body and accurately described all the activity in the surgical suite.

I personally believe that our brains are the interface between our consciousness and body and not the source of our consciousness.  Our pneuma is something non-physical.  It can experience Heaven or Sheol.  It can even experience the Earth without our bodies in certain conditions.  Our spirit also interfaces with our brains to create chemical and electrical activity (our psyche) driving our body to interact with the world.

Physical death disconnects our pneuma and psyche.  Hebrews 4:12 says God’s Word is powerful enough to kill.  More importantly, it is powerful enough to make alive. We are more than interesting chemistry.  We are a created being with self-awareness for a reason.  We are meant to know ourselves and to know our Creator.  Despite the sin that results in a division of soul and spirit, we have a Savior that values body, soul and spirit and redeems them all.

The Victory that Makes Eternal Life a Reality

We are closing in on another Easter.  For many the meaning will obscured by pretty dresses, candy and the Easter bunny.  These are fun, but we are not merely celebrating Spring.

Easter is a pivotal event for humankind.  Without Easter we have eternal existence but nothing that should be called eternal Life.  Jesus risen from the dead is more than evidence of life after death.  He is the cause.

It may not appear this way to the casual observer, but humans are created to be eternal.  Because of a major screwup on our progenitor’s part, we are all destined to experience the death of our physical body’s.  In fact, we are experiencing it every day as we age.  Our physical death will create a universal but unnatural condition of the separation of our soul (consciousness) and our body.  They were originally designed to be a unit.  This is the least of our problems.  God will exile our conscious self because of our sinfulness.  People have experienced this in Near Death Experiences (NDE) and returned to tell of it.  The Bible describes it in terms of “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.  That exile goes from bad to worse with the advent of Judgment Day when God forsakes us permanently.  It’s bad and we want no part of it.

That’s what makes Jesus’ resurrection such great news and a reason for a truly joyful celebration.  Jesus’ sole mission was to become a sinless human and then fulfill God’s Law’s requirement for the punishment detailed above by himself.  Jesus died without sin and was forsaken by God so that we never have to be.  Because of Jesus there is a way to Heaven and a place for us there.  That’s God’s promise to all who are baptized into Jesus’ death.

You may be skeptical because you typically don’t get a tour before it’s too late.  But prophecy, eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, the experience of God calling you to faith, and, if you like, many NDEs confirm the story.  The Bible describes life after death with God as “truly life”.  It is as though what we have experienced so far hardly deserves the title of “life”.  In fact, our existence so far may be described in the Bible as the “great tribulation”.

If you would like a further explanation of what the Bible says is coming after death for those who belong to Jesus, please look up some of my previous blog entries on Heaven or the New Earth.  There is much to joyfully anticipate.

Happy Easter.

Do the Dead Watch Over Us?

When we lose somebody in death, we often are desperate for any sign that we are still connected.  Some of theses signs are quite baseless.  For instance, I have noticed recently a mime on facebook claiming that a cardinal at the bird-feeder is a loved one checking up on us.  Even if it helps, this is bad idea to perpetuate.  Where would an idea like this come from in the first place?  It comes from the New Age movement and intentionally manipulates our wishful thinking.

Another idea is that our dead loved ones are watching us and that we can speak with them in a fashion similar to prayer.  The likely source of this idea is Hebrews 12:1:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

The picture is that the living are on the field and the dead are in the stands watching.  This, however, is a misinterpretation of this passage.  The “witnesses” are not people witnessing us but rather witnessing to us.  This refers to all the stories of people of great faith listed in Hebrews chapter 11, not deceased loved ones.

When somebody dies, it is unbiblical to say that:

  • They have become an angel (Angels are not humans)
  • They are assigned as our guardian
  • Or that they are hanging out with other dead relatives

These ideas are merely comforting projections of things for which we still long.

The connection that does still remain is this:  we are still part of the Body of Christ together.  Both the Christians who occupy Heaven and those who still occupy Earth are all a part of the Kingdom of God and all are united to Christ.  As such, we all are concerned for the ongoing work of God and we all are eager for Christ’s return.

Might information about our actions and well-being be shared with those who went ahead of us?  Sure.  I would expect that to be likely.  Might God give our loved ones some opportunity to encourage us or help us grieve?  That does seem like the type of being God is.  He is compassionate and understanding.  So then, maybe the cardinal could a loved one?  No,  I’m pretty sure it is just a bird.

 

Is Life After Death Real?

I have spent the last couple of years writing about what the Bible says about life after death.  Today I am asking, “why believe any of it?

We are certainly motivated to think that this life isn’t all that there is for us.  The idea of simply disappearing drains any real purpose from our existence.  It also makes our aging an ever worsening scenario for which there is no escape nor hope.

There are plenty of reasons to think that life after death is more than false hope.  Real faith is the gift of God, but a little extra-biblical evidence certainly doesn’t hurt; especially if you are skeptical of the Bible at this point.

I often joke about the value of a field-trip to Heaven.  Of course, this is not something God is offering, but do some people actually have them?  Near Death Experiences are a curious phenomena that are actually quite common. One in seven people come close to death without permanently dying.  Thirty-five percent of those report a NDE (that’s 5% of the population) Skeptics want to dismiss NDE’s as simply a spike in brain activity right at death.  This explanation doesn’t quite fit the evidence.  Many don’t have enough of a brain left for the spike, and still have an NDE.  Most have been in a coma for a prolonged time, lowering their brain activity. A better theory for the brain activity spike is that when our spirit and body divide there is a surge of electrical activity.

NDEs happen to people of all sorts all over the world.  They do not seem to follow only people who expect life after death.  Many aspects are common among those who have experienced NDE’s.  For instance, going down a tunnel toward a light, being greeted by people they know, a sense of peace, and often the experience of being above your body and able to make detailed, accurate observations of things in the room or even down the hall.

Most people who have an NDE don’t want to come back to life.  Most, but not all.  Some people have experienced Hell.  They were eager to back to life.  That experience is life changing, too.  Would the prevalence of positive experiences suggest that most will be saved or that those with positive experiences are going to be saved?  I wouldn’t draw that conclusion at all.  Here I would count on the words of Jesus, who states that “few find life” and “no one comes to the Father accept through Me.”

I expect that NDE’s and their counterpart Out of Body Experiences (OBE) are similar to the experiences of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1f) and John in Revelation.  They are not exactly tours of Heaven, but rather visions intended for them.  Isaiah certainly experienced Heaven like a field trip, but Jesus states later that no one has gone into Heaven except the One who came from Heaven (John 3:13).  That doesn’t mean that no one can go there now and come back, but it does suggest an out-of-body middle state (Not yet in Heaven and not on Earth).  I would approach the information gained through NDE and OBE’s with caution, because it could be a vision created to deceive.

In the book “Death of a Guru”, Rabi Maharaj talks about the powers of Transcendental Meditation (TM) to take a person out of body and to places perceived as heavenly or at least other-worldly.  His later conversion would convince him that he was in great danger in these states of being deceived by Satan.  Some who have experienced NDE’s, later attempt to repeat the trip through methods similar to TM.  One famous example is neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander who was skeptical of NDEs until he contracted a serious case or meningitis and had one himself.  In a lecture of his that I attended, he announced that he was part of a group investigating the use of certain sound frequencies to liberate spirit from the body.  I think this is a bad idea.

Some NDEs may be legitimate God-given gifts.  They may even be direct experiences of Heaven, but Scripture remains the one safe standard of truth in this matter.  Other methods of experiencing life after death give some credence to dismiss a materialistic philosophy, but do not have God’s approval.  In my next blog entry I will discuss communication with the dead.

Grief

Death isn’t meant to be celebrated.  It only exists as the wages of sin.  The body wasn’t initially created to be mortal.  When humanity essentially rejected God, the results of their actions introduced a biology that could die.  We’ve been dying ever since.  To die and have your body undergoing decay, even if your conscious soul is somewhere much better, is a consequence that is tragic.

It is right to grieve.  Many people want their funeral to be a celebration of their life.  Even more, for a Christian, we want it to be a celebration of the fact that we are liberated from our sinful nature and from a body under God’s curse.  But if we were valuable at all to the people we left behind, there will be grief.

How can we survive grief?  The victory over grief starts with an understanding of your own God-given purpose.  Life isn’t the prize.  Life is the time of accomplishing God’s plan for you.  As we navigate through this world, we are blessed to have people we love and who support us on our way.  They are valuable, but they will all die either before us or after us.  They may be dependable, but we can’t depend on them absolutely, because they are mortal.  We must depend on God.  Perhaps through a part of your journey, God will be the only one you have on which to depend.

The second necessary ingredient to surviving grief is hope.  This should be the understanding that you will have eternal life with God through Jesus.  All of life’s losses are temporary.  At least their impact is temporary.  When we leave this life ourselves we will leave behind every loss.  A clear certainty that we have eternal life and that we have a God-given purpose takes most of the sting of grief away.  The rest heals as we walk with God.  Jesus died so that you can have that hope, that reality.  What He has for you will overwhelm all sense of loss.

This is true even if we have reason to doubt that the person we are grieving has been saved.  While we live, we want to do whatever is possible to bring the Gospel of Jesus to those we know and love.  That doesn’t mean that they will believe it.  It is wrong to absolutely judge a person as damned.  You can’t always see what God has managed to do in the soul of a person.  Still, you might have a pretty good idea that there was no connection with Jesus from the words and actions of the person.  I have that situation personally.  I could be wrong.  I hope I am wrong.  What I have found is that God has given me peace.

Unexpected, tragic death can put an extra dimension on grief.  We recently had the tragic death of a beautiful young woman in our congregation.  Her loss is a grievous loss for her parents and the community.  There are many layers to pain that people are feeling, too.  There is grief, guilt, anger, confusion.  In addition to the self-understanding and hope mentioned above, a person needs to talk through their pain and experience the love of those around them.  They need to forgive and be forgiven.  And they need to reimagine life without her.  In this case, that life includes an eventual reunion, thanks to Jesus.

If we get stuck in grief, if we tell ourselves we will never get over this, then we might not.   Grief hurts.  But not progressing through grief does not honor the person you lost, nor does it serve God, nor does it help you.  Be determined to get beyond grief.  It is possible.

Preparing to Die

For sake of full disclosure, I have never died before, but I have observed the process many times.  We may get close and cheat death a couple of times, but even that experience wouldn’t necessarily give you insight helpful to all.

So for what it is worth, this is how I would recommend approaching your impending death, based on the Bible and observation.  The first thing I encourage is for you to talk about dying, if you can.  People try to avoid the subject at all costs.  This is foolish, we all have to die and most likely will all mourn.  What should you talk about?

Mend Fences if Possible  If there are hard feelings or misunderstandings between you and anyone, take the initiative to talk, forgive and repent.  Don’t let pride or stubbornness ruin this for you.  If you must agree to disagree, then do so peaceably.

Express Your Love  Some of us are not good at stating our love for others.  People need to hear this in words.  Say it.  It will mean much to those who will mourn your passing.

Don’t Extract Promises  Guilt trips should not be your legacy.  You may express desires, but don’t twist arms, issue threats or have others make vows that they may not be able to keep.

Share Your Fears  Are you afraid of death or the process of dying?  Tell somebody.  There is no shame in this and it will help.  You don’t have to tell everybody, but share with someone you trust.

Express Your Confidence  Has God given you a strong faith in Jesus’ saving power?  Then make sure that everybody knows.  Be gentle, they may not be at the same place spiritually, but this is your last chance at making a strong witness to people who really matter to you.  Consider even writing a witness to be read at your funeral or doing a video to be shown there.

Support Those Who Are Taking It Hard  Hopefully, people will miss you.  Express your confidence in their ability to carry on.  Remind them of the promise of eternal life and emphasize that you can be together again in Heaven.

Beyond talking to others, make prayer a vital part of your dying process.  Jesus died for your sins so that you can be with Him.  That relationship is about to take a big step, so anticipate that step by praising God, thanking God for things in your life, confessing your sins and asking for His intercession in situations you will leave behind.

If you do struggle physically in the last days or hours, don’t be surprised or interpret the situation as  God’s punishment.  Death is the result of sin.  It isn’t meant to be easy, but because of grace, it is only temporary.  God can bring you safely home.