Are You Ready?

We all know that we are going to die someday.  Still, that often seems distant and surreal.  Occasionally, an event may make death, including your death, a little more real.  A pandemic can fill that role.

Most people won’t catch the coronavirus, I think.  Most who do catch it won’t be that sick or even show symptoms at all.  But some will face death and plenty will experience it.  How ready are you?  It is fair question to ask yourself at any age or in any form of health.

Your answer will be very much influenced by your worldview.  If you believe in some form of reincarnation, death may scare you, but the results are not final.  If you believe that you must stand before an almighty, but somewhat unpredictable, Allah; then death is very intimidating. If you are convinced that there is nothing beyond the grave, then death is depressing but unavoidable and not a big deal.  If you believe in some generic form of Heaven for being good enough, then death is again frightening and uncertain.  How convinced are you that any of these worldviews are accurate?

I am personally quite convinced that these worldviews are all inaccurate and that one’s worldview does not shape what happens after death. What comes next comes regardless of what you have believed.   I am also convinced that in the history of mankind only one person gives authoritative insight into what happens next and also provides a good outcome.  That person is Jesus because:

  • He has many credible witnesses that testify that He did miraculous things, including raising people from the dead
  • He has many credible witnesses, including former doubters, that He rose from the dead
  • He fulfilled prophetic writings that were clearly written long before His birth.
  • His teachings fit with our experience of self and the world.
  • Archeology affirms many of the details that surround Him
  • Out of body experiences seem to confirm the existence of both Heaven and Sheol.

Jesus himself states, “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”   Jesus and the New Testament authors explain why this would be so.  God requires sinlessness, and none of us meet that standard.  Someone had to be a sinless human being in order to fulfill God’s Law and take the consequences of sin on themselves.  To be sinless, you would have to be born sinless and continue to the end.  The Bible explains that we are all sinful from conception onward.  Jesus’ unusual birth (a virgin birth) allowed him to be born without a sinful nature (genetically distorted to naturally be alienated from God).  Jesus is unique in this way.  Also, if any other process could give us eternal life with God, then Jesus would never have been asked to do what He did.  He not only died on the cross, He was forsaken by the Father as our surrogate.

Connection to Jesus to receive the benefits of His life and the promise of eternal life is both simple and impossible.  In our natural condition we would never believe Jesus’ story or His promises.  That’s what sinful nature does.  It is a good thing that God is working to supersede sinful nature or it would be impossible.  God creates faith.  Some highly unlikely people have come to have faith:  hardcore atheists, very evil people, strong adherents of other worldviews.  God wants to save people.  He wants us to be ready.  We and our children can be connected to Jesus and eternal life through baptism.  That much is simple.

Being Heaven-bound (saved) doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t have questions or doubts.  When God does get a hold of you there are signs:  growing confidence in Jesus, growing confidence in your own salvation, a love for God, a hunger to learn, etc.  Our circumstances and the remaining flaws of our sinful nature may diminish some of the signs; but we may still be ready, especially if we have been baptized.

It is a great feeling to know that you are ready.  In fact, more than ready–looking forward to it.  As this blog explains, there is much to avoid (Sheol, Hell) and much to look forward to (Heaven, Resurrection and the New Earth).  The greater your confidence is in Christ, the less a pandemic seems like a reason to panic.

We Will Be Made Multi-Dimensional?

No doubt God has some pleasant surprises for us in the eternity He has planned.  Some of these things are kept as surprises because we wouldn’t understand them if He did tell us ahead of time.  What I am writing about in this entry is possibility one such surprise.  I will admit that it is speculation based on very little data, but it still is consistent with Scripture and mentally graspable.  At least I hope you get it.

It confounds many people that the Bible talks about Heaven and a New Earth.  Why would one want a New Earth if we have Heaven?  The tendency is to conflate the two, though this is clearly wrong.  Both are distinct.

What if it where possible to move freely between Heaven, with unique and glorious qualities of its own; and a New Earth, for that matter a New Universe, made perfectly as God intended it from the beginning and now being the official dwelling place of God?  In other words, it would not be one or the other but both.

Part of understanding this idea is having a concept of where Heaven is in the first place.  Is Heaven just far out in the time and space dimensions we know?  I doubt it.  The Bible just describes Heaven as being “up”.  It doesn’t really say where it is.  With a little more sophistication about how reality is structured, other possibilities for the location of Heaven come to light.

With the study of the bizarre behavior of particles at the atomic (quantum) level, the theory that there may be other dimensions has come to light.  Our experience only accounts for three physical dimensions and one time dimension.  With these we can locate any point that has ever existed, or so it seems.  Quantum mechanics suggests that there may be other dimensions that we are currently unable to access with our senses or our instruments. (Do not confuse this with the baseless theory of the “multiverse”)

Could Heaven, Hell, Sheol, the Abyss and who knows what else exist in other dimensions, and the only current way of accessing them is through our death?  I think it is more than possible, but rather likely.  Consider the Biblical account of the movement of angels.  They properly exist in Heaven.  That is their habitat.  But for God’s purposes they also seem to be able to access Earth.  Consider also the account of Satan’s expulsion from Heaven in Revelation 12.  Previously, he had access to Heaven and Earth.  After his expulsion, he only could access Earth (or this universe).  Perhaps the travel between Heaven and Earth is a matter of movement along the dimensions we already experience, but it seems more likely to me that Heaven is from outside of these dimensions.

That is a long explanation to get to my point.  It seems that we can have, through Jesus, a place in Heaven with a heavenly body.  At the point of Christ’s visible return, there is the resurrection of an earthly body and the creation of new dwelling place for us–a new Earth.  Do we just lose Heaven and the heavenly body or do we gain a resurrected body and a New Earth?  2 Corinthians 5:1 says:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with human hands, eternal in the heavens.

This is referring to our heavenly body.  Or to say it another way, the body that we will have in the dimensional space where Heaven exists.  We will have it eternally.

So what will we be?  We will be beings who can enjoy a perfected earth-like planet with a resurrected body that has new capabilities, and we will have the capacity to move to the Heavenly plane and enjoy the significantly different realm of a new Heaven.

That doesn’t sound boring to me.

We Will All Be Changed (Part 2- Physical Frailty)

When I ask kids what they would like to have changed when they enter Heaven, many choose to have more formidable physical skills.  ” I want to be better at basketball”, for instance. We are all often earth-bound in our imaginations of what a Heavenly or Resurrected body may be.  That said, Scripture does say of the Resurrected body, “It will be sown in weakness, it will be raised in power.”  What kind of power might this include?

Greater speed, strength, impermeable to damage or illness; I expect “yes” to all of them.  Greater beauty, shorter recovery time, more intelligent?  Sure, why not?  According to Genesis people were living for hundreds of years prior to Noah’s flood.  Is this merely mythic?  I see no reason to say so.  There is a branch of science that studies the genome looking for ways to extend human life expectancy.  It is believed that there is a built-in clock within our DNA, and I agree.  In Genesis 6, God seems to adjust that clock so that human life expectancy will slide back to 120 years.  It eventually does so, and remains so to this day.  Can God give us a different genetic code or even use a different means of encoding the construction of our bodies?  I’m sure it is not even hard for Him.  God is able to make us physically immortal. “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable.” (1 Corinthians 15:42).

I expect our brains will be a vast improvement over current models.  Many people ask if we will recognize each other.  I expect that you will not only recognize those you knew, but you will also know those you never met.  On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James and John knew Moses and Elijah.  They had the gift.  It was not introductions or name tags. I expect we will be capable of vast learning without the frailties and maladaptions of our current brain.

Will there be pain, hunger, thirst, nausea, itching or other unpleasantries.  “No” says Revelation 7 for the Heavenly body and Revelation 21 for the Resurrected body.  Could there be any injury, or will we be like the Terminator?  This is hard to say.  There will be no mortal injury, but there might be a need for healing and the source will be quickly provided.  The Tree of Life exists at least in the New Earth, and I expect also in Heaven.  It is for the “healing of the nations”.

Will we age?  Aging as it currently plays out is part of dying.  It is the wages of sin.  We will not get old and frail or lose our beauty, but there might be a life cycle.  Isaiah 65:17 and following is a strange passage that says it is about the New Earth.  In verse 20 it speaks about infants and old men.  This passage needs to be understood in light of other passages that say that we are eternal.  So how can you be an infant or old man; or is this just a figure of speech?  The “Immortal Jellyfish” might give us a model.  This species goes through stages like a frog or a butterfly, but it can revert from its “mature” stage back to its initial larval stage without dying.  The Isaiah passage would be referring to the Resurrected body.  Perhaps we go from infant to adulthood and back to infancy.  Who knows?  Eventually, we will.

We Will All Be Changed (Part 1)

As we approach New Year’s Day, it is traditional to make resolutions about how we would like to change our bodies, habits and other behaviors.  Rarely do they work.  Establishing a new behavior typically takes about sixty days of reinforcement.  This is the minimum time it takes to re-wire our neurons in the brain.

I am in no way discouraging attempts of self-improvement in this life.  It can be done.  My discussion over the next few blog entries will not be about improvements in this life. Rather it will be about how we will be changed when we leave this life.  As we imagine the version of ourselves that will be discovered when we die, it may inspire you to get a head start and to begin changes while still here.

The first change to ponder is the end of our sinful nature.  Getting rid of this flaw is a primary reason why we need to physically die, since sinful nature is a part of our flesh.

Think about what sinful nature does.  One thing is the drive to self-satisfaction that leads us to cross the line of God’s Law.  Whether an endorphin lift caused by sex, risk taking (like gambling), drugs, or other things; this drive feels good and gives a temporary boost in energy or relaxation, it also distorts the God-given purpose for sex, creates bad stewardship decisions, takes advantage of others and pushes God to the side.  Pleasure is not automatically sinful.  In fact, I expect Heaven and the New Earth to be filled with pleasure.  The change will be the ability to find pleasure in good and godly things.  Our current bodies are wired more for the former than the later.

A new body, at first just a Heavenly body and then a resurrected Earthly body, will operate differently.  I’m sure it will have even a greater capacity for pleasure, but it will not struggle with impulse control or selfish gratification.  Rather, love will likely be the driver of pleasure.

Lack of impulse control is also a big problem with our words.  Anger is ignited and, for many, goes directly to harsh words and sometimes quickly to violent actions.  Heaven will be different.  First, there won’t be things to trip anger, but even if there would, a body that is peaceful, happy and controlled will be without harsh words.  How great will relationships be without the products of sinful nature.

Another thing that I believe is created by sinful nature is a need to compete with others.  It may serve a survival purpose in this world, but it leads to unnecessary damaged relationships and self-loathing.  What would it feel like to be truly and completely happy for others?  Our best efforts at this are at least tainted with jealousy.

A body created by a genome tainted with the corruptions of sinful nature also has a hard time maintaining joy.  Quickly our biology slides back to the feelings and weaknesses of boredom: lack of energy, focus and the like.  Some don’t care to even consider Heaven because their minimal knowledge of it makes it sound boring.  They are bored in a worship service, because they don’t understand what they are doing.  The thought of anything that is “eternal” evokes the thought of eternal boredom.  Ironically, the cause of boredom will not be a part of Heaven or the New Earth.  Existence will be engaging and without the swings we experience here.

No doubt there are many other affects of sinful nature that will not be a part of our eternity.  We don’t recognize them now, so it is hard to imagine what our new lives will be like.  It is fun to try, however.

Some changes are modestly achievable now.  Why not just wait?  Living in ways that are contrary to sinful nature are pleasing to God and good discipleship in many ways.   They may even give some pleasure now, if not insight into how things will be.

 

How Many Will Be Saved?

It’s hard to say how many people have lived since the beginning.  Population growth suggests that a large chunk of those who have ever lived are still alive now.  Add to it those who died in the womb and you have a very large number.  But how many will be saved in the end and how many will be damned?  Speculation varies from a rather small number saved to everyone.  Let’s look at the few Scriptural clues we have.

Let’s start with my least favorite verse in the Bible, Matthew 7:13-14:

Enter by the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

“Few” and “many” are relative terms.  At minimum, this passage suggests that a minority find life.  Is this passage about eternal life or just living properly?  I think its wording suggests, at minimum, that destruction refers to entering Sheol.  It probably is speaking about entering Hell, but let’s leave that open for now.

Many argue that a loving God could not possibly damn anyone.  While that seems logical, two passages you must consider on the topic are Matthew 25:41 and as an explanation John 3:19-20:

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and the people loved darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.

My main point is that a verdict of damnation is spoken to a significant population of human beings.  This happens despite the giving of Jesus (the light) and the promise of forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  Many just prefer evil and they get the consequence of unforgiven evil.

Without Jesus there is no forgiveness.  Without forgiveness there is no Heaven or New Earth.  If the “destruction” referred to in Matthew 7 is Hell, then those “on the left” are a majority of mankind, and there is no way to tell how large of a majority.  If it refers only to “Sheol” then there is a small hope that it could be less, depending on the meaning of 1 Peter 4:6:

For this is why the Gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.

This is an enigmatic passage without other Scripture to help to clarify it.  It comes in the context of Peter speaking about the descent of Jesus to speak to “spirits in prison”.  Does it tell of the Gospel being preached successfully in Sheol?  Let’s hope so, but let’s also preach the Gospel like this is our only chance.

In the end, whether a minority or not, a large and diverse population of humanity makes it to Heaven.  Revelation 7:9 describes it this way:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Jesus’ self-sacrifice, the “narrow door”, results in the salvation of a great multitude.  Let’s work so as to make it greater.

The Souls of the Martyrs

There are relatively few biblical passages that give us a look into Heaven.  There are even fewer that include human beings.  Revelation 6:9-11 is a short passage that does just that.  What insights does it give?

The first thing to note is that this is part of the unsealing of a scroll within the throne room of God.  The contents of the scroll are unspecified, but a good guess is that this scroll actually unveils God’s good plan for His people.  Unfortunately,  a fair degree of judgment has to fall on mankind before we get to the good stuff.  Seven seals are ultimately broken.  Most bring tragedy to the inhabitants of the Earth.  The strange exception is the fifth seal.  The fifth seal produces a vision for the author of Revelation, John.

John sees the souls of those who have been killed for being Christians.  We are all aware that we will die somehow.  When you are violently put to an untimely death because of your faith those left behind have to wonder “is this worth it”, at least a little.  The vision given is a message for the living.  The martyrs are not gone, they are living.  They are close to God, and God is caring for them.

John says that he sees their souls.  The soul is the immaterial part of our being.  “Immaterial” just means that it is not properly a part of our current universe.  Are souls “material” in Heaven?  In the last verse they are given “white robes”.  This is not apparel.  Pulling on Paul’s language in 2 Corinthians 5, I would conclude that the white robes are actually a Heavenly body.  Or in other words, a physical body in Heaven to pair with the soul.

Their location is also interesting.  They are “under the altar”.  This sounds small, as if they were mice; but the dimensions of the throne room of God are likely very large.  If this throne room is what is seen descending to the New Earth in Revelation 21, then the space under the altar could be the size of Kansas.

The martyrs seem a bit disgruntled but perhaps they are just being curious.  “How long until you judge the inhabitants of Earth and avenge our blood?”  This is not a complaint about being stuck under the altar, but rather a call for justice.  God’s justice will come but not without time for repentance, time for all nations to hear the Gospel, and time for the total number of martyrs to be completed.

The final item seems like a weird criteria.  Martyrdom seems like a bad thing.  Even the martyrs don’t seem particularly fond of it.  But God has set apart special honor for those who are willing to die for Jesus.  He knows who they will be throughout time.  None who are chosen would want to miss the opportunity of this honor.  It is well worth it.  Martyrs for Christ are being made to this day.  Who knows when this will be complete, but each person brings us closer to Judgment Day.  To be a “martyr” means that somebody kills you.  You don’t kill yourself.  The Muslim idea of martyrdom is more suicide and blasphemy than honorable.  A real martyr gives a witness.  That is what the word “martyr” means.  It is a witness that shows I believe and trust God even unto death.  Jesus gave such a witness about His love for us.

The vision is brief but instructive.  In the period between death and Judgment Day, people who belong to God are consciously alive and in Heaven.  Heaven is not their ultimate destination.  Judgment Day will usher in the New Earth. Both Heaven and the New Earth are the gift of Jesus and something to look to with anticipation.

 

 

What Should We Think of Near Death Experiences?

Near Death Experiences (NDE) and Out of Body Experiences (OBE) are two similar events where a person is conscious of being separated from their bodies.  Experiences like this have always happened, but because of medical advances they now happen by the thousands.

In the Bible there are visions where the person experiences beyond their physical location, but it is not a true OBE/NDE.  When Daniel sees God on His throne or when Isaiah or John experience Heaven, these would seem to be visions.  The distinction is that God is viewed directly (which should not be possible for a sinful human) and/or much of what is viewed is symbolic.  It is more of a Powerpoint than a field trip.  A biblical exception is reported by Paul in 2 Corinthians 14.  In this passage, Paul speaks of himself going to Heaven and hearing “inexpressible things than man is not permitted to tell.”  Some theorize that this happened after an unsuccessful stoning of Paul.  If true, this was a Near Death Experience.  Paul refers to what he hears as “inexpressible” which could mean that he has no words to convey it, but he also says that he was not permitted to convey it.

Death normally separates body and spirit.  Other, not recommended, procedures seem to do the same thing temporarily.  We will get to that later.   Since we know so little about the interface of body and spirit, it is hard to medically or theologically explain the moment of separation and why it is possible to do this “before our time”.

Skeptics dismiss NDE’s and OBE’s as illusions created by the brain in distress, usually blaming it on hypoxia, a lack of oxygen to the brain.  There are several facts that make the hypoxia argument not credible.  First, hypoxia makes a person confused not hyper-aware.   Many people having a NDE find themselves floating above their bodies and they can recall details of the room or even details outside of the room accurately.  This takes us to the second reason it is not hypoxia.  People can see and hear without having their eyes open and with no discernable brain activity.  It is the soul operating without the body.

Careful recording of the nature of the experience is important before drawing too many conclusions.  People tend to under-report NDE’s.  The reason is that they fear skepticism or judgment.  This is especially true if the experience is bad.  Most reported NDE’s are about a beautiful experience of Heaven.  Some even come back with a message of universal love and salvation.  These collide with experience of many, and perhaps even more than is reported, who experience what is reported as Hell.  Obviously, universal salvation is incorrect if some are experiencing “Hell” (I would reserve the word “Hell” for a post-judgment day place. What they experience is technically Sheol–see my other blogs about this).

I believe the ultimate truth about the afterlife and many other things is the Bible.  Experiences like NDE’s are interesting and exciting but they need to be tested against the facts presented in the Bible.  The Bible itself warns to “not treat prophecies with contempt.  Test everything.  Hold on to the good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:20)  NDE’s could be seen as a type of prophecy.  It is information about the afterlife that gets to us by a different means.  But that doesn’t make the information correct.  It needs to be tested, because intentional deception is possible.

Who would the deceiver be?  I am not laying this on the people who have a NDE.  I suspect Satan has ways to intercept this experience and spin it in a way that disseminates false information.  On the flip side,  I see no reason to conclude that all NDE’s are the “work of the Devil”.

So with a degree of caution, we will examine in later blogs some of the NDEs and OBEs reported in books on the topic to see if there is anything to learn about life after death.