Angels and the Afterlife

Let me say one thing before we get to more important matters. We don’t become Angels when we die. Maybe more shocking to you, there is no reference to Angels having wings (those are Cherubim/Seraphim which is something different), no reference to female Angels, nor any reference to baby angels.

These beliefs flow into the void of information about Angels, and are frequently expressed by those who have only a casual acquaintance with the Bible. They have seen a Bible. Never really read it. It is also the product of medieval and Renaissance art.

Angels are a species of their own. There is no detailed description of what they look like, but the lack of description lends to the understanding that they are human-like, maybe even enough to pass for a human. In Acts, Stephen’s face is described as being “like the face of an angel.”, but there is no explanation of what that means. Hebrews suggests that we may “entertain” Angels unaware of their identity. It is implied that they look like humans.

The name angelus means messenger. Being a messenger from God is the main function we see Angels fulfilling. The species may not be called “Angels”, that is the moniker we have placed on them for lack of other terms. People, especially pastors, can be called angelus in the Bible.

One observed ability that Angels seem to have is the ability to be in Heaven or on Earth. I think this is a bigger idea than simply being able to travel. My assumption is that Heaven is a different time-space plane. One would not necessarily have a physical presence in another time-space plane unless you were made for it. In the case of humans, we acquire a heavenly body once we are in Heaven. We might not have one now.

Since Angels are creatures that properly reside in Heaven, they will be a part of our afterlife while we are in Heaven and possibly in the New Earth as well. What will our relationship be like? Other than to say good, it is hard to say the types of interactions we will have with Angels.

Currently, the Bible suggests that they assist us now behind the scenes. The book of Daniel speaks of Angels assigned to whole nations. In the case of Israel it is Michael. Michael might be a type of super-angel, however. In Matthew 18:10, Jesus speaks of the Angels assigned to little children, and suggests that they have favored access to God. In Acts 12:15, a servant girl mistakes Peter (who was supposed to be in prison) with his Angel. Together these passages may suggest that many or all of us have a “guardian Angel”.

In the Bible, Angels demonstrate the ability to break into prisons and blind guards to what is happening, to physically fight or block someone’s way, and to gather God’s people from around the planet. Hebrews describe humans as being “a little lower than the angels”, which I would take to mean that we have similar but inferior abilities for now.

A possible reference to Angels is found in Genesis 6:2:

the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.

Genesis 6:2

Whoever the “sons of God” were, it would seems that this move was displeasing to God as it is at this point that God dials back the length of human life from potentially 900+ years to 120. It may suggest enough similarity to interbreed.

This passage and Jesus’ words in Matthew 22 bring into question the sexual nature of Angels and our own future sexuality. Jesus said,

At the resurrection people will neither marry or be given in marriage; they will be like the Angels in Heaven.

Matthew 22:30

Jesus never says what the Angels are like. We can infer that they do not marry, but this doesn’t say that they or humans after the resurrection will be asexual.

Like humans, Angels had their falling out with Satan. Revelation 12 suggest that around one third fell away, and now we equate them with demons. If fallen Angels are not demons, then we have no means to account for what a demon actually is. These Angels will share the fate of the damned.

God’s plan of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection definitely benefits humans, its also “redeems” creation so that there is a new Earth with a new nature on it. Does it impact Angels? Colossians 1 might refer to this:

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 though his blood, shed on the cross.

Colossians 1:19-20

What that means for Angels is not clear. “All things” and “in Heaven” suggest that it means something. Any guess as to what is merely speculative.

From what we are told, we can expect to interact with, worship along side of , and enjoy an eternal relationship with Angels. The possibilities of what that will be like are as intriguing as what it will be like to interact with other humans who no longer are under the influence of sinful nature.

Satan and the Afterlife

He is often shown in comedic form: a being with horns and a pitchfork and possibly a sense of humor ruling over Hell. But Satan is no joke. He can also be understood as a serious character ruling over the underworld. But there is nothing Biblical to connect Satan, or any demon for that matter, with Sheol; and Hell is described as a future placed prepared for the “Devil and his angels” not so that they can rule, but so they can experience being forsaken by God like all the damned.

I expect that most people dismiss Satan as pure fiction–a personification of evil. The Bible doesn’t waste too much space speaking of Satan, but he is definitely in there from the oldest book (Job) to the latest (Revelation). People tend to not believe in what they don’t want to be true. Anyway, Satan is a factor in any discussion of the afterlife, because without him there would be no such thing. There would only be life. The evil found in Satan becomes the source of all evil and the reason for death and segregation of those who belong to God from those who don’t.

So what is he? He is not the evil equivalent of God. Take a look at Ezekiel 28. It starts as a rebuke of the ruler of Tyre who thinks he is a god. Such megalomania was not unusual amongst ancient rulers, but around verse 12 it gets weird. Ezekiel is to “take up a lament” concerning the King of Tyre, and this lament no longer makes sense for a human:

You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you…on the day you were created they were prepared. You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you.


Ezekiel 28:12-15

This reads like a backstory for Satan. It may be associated with the ruler of Tyre because of either the influence or because of a direct possession of the ruler Tyre. If this is Satan it tells us several things. He was created, beautiful, blameless at one time. He is a “living one” or cherubim, which are described earlier in Ezekiel, Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4. Their descriptions may not be about what they look like, as all of these accounts are visions and not observations. Their descriptions may be of their capabilities. In this case the ability to shift in form and to see into multiple situations at once. We can also infer a truly free will, uncontrolled by God. This free will becomes the source of pride, rebellion and wickedness.

Satan’s rebellion becomes the cause for his expulsion from the “mount of God” but not immediately. Ezekiel speaks prophetically and not historically at this point. Satan is seen in the presence of the God and vigorously accusing humans if not angels all the way to the time of Christ.

Revelation 12 takes up the next part of Satan’s story.

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in Heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in Heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

Revelation 12:7-12

Do we have any proof of this, outside of it being in the Bible? This could easily be just an ancient, irrelevant myth. I would offer a couple things. First, Satan appears to have had access to Earth before Christ and negative influence. So I wouldn’t expect human life to be necessarily worse at this point. But I do notice that as Christianity moved across the planet, initially it seemed to improve conditions; but within a generation or so there would be a negative snap back and corruption within the church itself. You can explain this from a sociological point of view, but I wonder if this has deeper roots. Also, while there was always anti-Semitism, it did not stand out as any worse than the fate of any other people group. Since then the Jews seem to lead to the way in the most hated department. The rest of Revelation 12 says this:

13 And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. 15 The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. 16 But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. 17 Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.

Revelation 12:13-17

The woman mentioned here is clearly the Jewish nation. Verses 15-16 sound eerily like WWII.

There is more to be said about Satan and the afterlife. I will take that up in my next blog entry.

Why Must We Die?

Considering that death comes for everyone, it may seem like a ridiculous question to ask why we have to die. The question, however, comes up when we are facing the death of either ourselves or someone we love. As it turns out, it isn’t a ridiculous question at all.

Scientifically, we could site the fact that our bodies seem to be programmed to age and die. Our cells can only divide a limited number of times. This sets the outer limit on how long we can physically live. Usually before we hit our full potential lifespan (120 years), death caused by damage or illness takes us. The oldest among us do top out at 120.

The Bible has an interesting explanation that fits nicely with observed facts. When Moses wrote down the first five books of the Bible, He relayed God’s feelings about the lifespan of humans:

Then the Lord said, ” My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”

Genesis 6:3

Prior to this the Bible records some amazing lifespans, with Methuselah holding the record at 969 years. I’m sure most people consider these lifespans to be fictitious, but why? If our DNA were different, so that it could replicate more often, why couldn’t we live for 969 years? It seems that God dialed us back because we were getting on His nerves.

It is interesting to note that after this passage, people didn’t just hit the wall at 120. It takes several generations to arrive at this limit.

For that matter, why should we die at all? Indeed, God can make an indestructible body. Adam and Eve were not engineered to die. Their rebellion seems to have genetically modified them. Death was just one of the negative outcomes. People scoff at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil story in Genesis 3. It smells of myth to them. Is it? What if the Tree was real and “knowing Good and Evil” was a euphemism for being modified from God’s original design. Evil isn’t just a human social construct, it is the sum of deviations from God’s plans and His ways. Those deviations included genetic modification and failure, inherent tendency to God forbidden behaviors, and physical death.

We die because we are sinners. We are sinners because it is encoded in our DNA. It is encoded in our DNA because our truly, free-will capable ancestors decided that God wasn’t good or trustworthy. Now there is no way around death, only through it.

More frightening than having to die is the fact that humans were made to be eternal beings and remain so even with built-in physical death. Spiritual death is different than physical death. In physical death our bodies break down and eventually cannot sustain functioning. Decay soon follows. Our consciousness is not a part of body after physical death. The Bible warns of post-mortem judgment, first in Sheol, the after a resurrection in Gehenna (or what we call Hell). These two places share common conditions: fire, despair, suffering. Hell holds a unique condition: forsakenness. Only here does God completely abandon you.

All but physical death is avoidable. Jesus Christ died and was forsaken in our place. A connection to Jesus, makes Jesus’ sinlessness ours and Jesus’ forsakenness ours as well. It is a promise of God’s delivered through baptism.

Physical death remains a requirement since physical death is a part of our physical bodies. We need to shed this. Death is both a terrible thing because it is the product of sin and produces an “unnatural” separation of body and soul, and it is a sought after relief if we are connected to Jesus.

Fear it, fight it, live in denial that it exists. Death still comes for all.

The Parable of the Talents and Judgment Day

In Matthew 25, Jesus gets His disciples ready for Judgment Day. In a series of stories He tells them what they should be doing now in preparation for that unavoidable day. One of the stories is the Parable of the Talents. It links for us the importance of good stewardship to Judgment Day results.

Stewardship is the idea that God has put us (humans) in charge of certain aspects of His creation, and we are to be good caretakers and managers of these things while we are alive. The parable of the talents uses money as a metaphor for all of these things. What things are we talking about?

Money is one of them. God has created a planet that sustains an economic system and places us with certain abilities to earn money, which God expects to be managed in a certain way. We are to be wise and efficient, generous, but not trusting or dependent on money rather than God.

There are other stewardships as well. We are stewards of our time, our abilities (both learned and supernaturally given), our bodies, the planet itself, and the knowledge of God that we receive. In general, we are to acknowledge that these things are from God, we want to help others with them, we want to respect the asset itself, but we never want to confuse the asset for God himself.

So here is the Parable of the Talents:

“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Matthew 25:16-30

Notice that the three stewards are given unequal amounts of money (a talent is about 20 years wages for an average worker). We have different portfolios made up of money, time, talent, relationships, health and natural resources. We are only responsible for what we have. The more we have, the more the responsibility and expectations.

Two of the three make the most of the opportunity. They use their lives well and bring a proportional return that would represent good done with the right attitude and motivation, bringing people to the forgiveness and eternal life that God offers, strengthening the faith of others and enhancing their discipleship, raising genuine praise for God, respecting His creation and resisting evil.

Their life work doesn’t save them. Like everyone, we are saved by Jesus’ life work. We are saved by a gift that covers the multiple failures and many sins. The Judgment Day evaluation of our stewardship is for the sake of reward. Since we are saved as a gift, do we deserve a reward? Absolutely not, but God does it anyway. What reward? The Bible is vague about this, but notice that the Master offers to put the faithful stewards in charge of even more– an impact that they will experience in the New Earth.

The third guy is the interesting and scary one. Who does he represent? He receives something, but in the end there is no return. Can somebody really produce nothing with their lives? This man represents those who hear God’s plan to save them but don’t believe it. They may even be culturally Christian, but they don’t expect a Judgment Day or eternal life, they only live for this life.

The Master seems angry and harsh, but consider the lengths that God has gone through to save us. Jesus’ death on the cross is no small thing. To reject it is a great offense on top of all of our sins. The unfaithful steward is bound and thrown into “outer darkness”, a place where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I don’t think I need to explain where that is.

It is interesting to compare this unfaithful servant with a representative person described in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, which is also a Judgment Day picture. That will be the topic of the next blog entry.

Living With Hope Amid Hopelessness

Most people can avoid facing their mortality for quite awhile.  Sadly, this robs them of really feeling the need for Jesus; and consequently robs them of the joys of living with a God-given purpose among other things.  Still, avoidance is the coping mechanism of choice.  You learn it from your parents and it sort of works.

Death, in whatever form it presents to you, eventually penetrates the denial coping mechanism.  Whether war, or pandemic, or just getting old, the fact that our physical life will and must come to end corners you.  Now what?  Even worse, sometimes the luster so comes off of living that we despair of life and just want to die, not really sure of what comes next. Covid-19 can hit you either way.  You see loved ones dying and it is all out desperation to not allow it.  Even if the person has dementia and terrible health otherwise, we can’t let them go if we are not prepared.  On the flip side, social isolation might become the new normal.  The joys we once depended on might become too dangerous.  Depression slips in.

I have tried in this blog to paint a picture of what the Bible shares about life after death.  Some of it is frightening.  You want to avoid Sheol and Hell at all costs.  Some is absolutely beautiful.  Heaven and the New Earth will be the phases of our existence where we begin to truly live.  Rather than deny the reality of death, live knowing that our current existence can be made meaningful and even joyful by what comes next.

But is it real?  Think of all the worldviews and what they say about death and life after death.  Think about their explanation of the world, humanity, our history, our consciousness and the spiritual world.  What proof can they offer for their view?  What holes exist?  Do they sink the ship?

The Christian worldview has history (especially surrounding Jesus), archaeology, prophecy, the complexity and order of life, a coherent view of consciousness,  eyewitnesses of miraculous events (with reasonable credibility), including resurrections from the dead.  It also has corroborating evidence from Near Death Experiences.  Ultimately, it has the ongoing witness of the Holy Spirit to those who do not close their minds.

Every other worldview seems fatally flawed and unlikely if not impossible to me. I can understand why the adherents of other worldviews hold to those views; but culture, willful ignorance, wanting what you want regardless of proof, and resistance to the idea of God are pretty foolish reasons not to examine everything with an open mind when there is so much at stake for you personally.

Christianity is more than wishful thinking that can help you through tough times.  It is an explanation of this life that works.  I’m not saying that there are not unanswered questions, but they are not huge.  When you understand what the Bible is communicating you have hope.  Not “I hope so”, but a certainty of things you can’t see yet; and a certainty that you have been shown the way to life that endures in happiness forever.

What Distinguishes Sheol from Hell?

If you are not familiar with the terms Sheol, Gehenna, etc. please see some of the previous blogs at this site.

The Bible has a number of terms that describe places of after death suffering:  Sheol, Hades, Gehenna and the Lake of Fire.  In many versions of the Bible and in many people’s minds, these all get lumped under the term “Hell”.  More careful study shows you that Hades and Sheol are the same thing (just a different language for each word).  Gehenna and the “lake of fire” are most likely the same as well.  The thing that distinguishes these groups is the Sheol is before Judgment Day and Gehenna is after Judgment Day.  But is that the only difference?

The descriptions used for these places can seem confusingly similar:  fire, worms, anguish.  The similarities between Sheol (Hades) and the Lake of Fire (Gehenna or Hell as we call it) are probably a key reason why they are conflated in most people’s understanding of the destiny of the damned.

The same could be said for Heaven and the New Heaven and Earth.  Both have God’s direct presence and the absence of sin, Satan and suffering, but they are not the same thing.

The fact that Sheol and Hell are different is made by Revelation 20 where Sheol (Hades) is dumped into the Lake of Fire.    A qualitative difference is found in Psalm 139.  Psalm 139 speaks of the presence of God:

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;  if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

The Old Testament people expected to go to Sheol at their deaths. Part of Sheol, sometimes referred to as “The Bosom of Abraham” or “The Limbo of the Fathers” was a place of comfort, but still outside the visible presence of God.  Psalm 139 may be referring to just this good neighborhood of Sheol or, more likely, the whole thing.  The final judgment involves God forsaking a place and its contents.  So a key difference may be that Sheol is still without the absence of God, even for the damned.  That doesn’t make it nice.  But it certainly suggests Hell is worse.  It is hard to imagine being forsaken by God.  It is not like we are conscious of His presence even now.  But when God is gone so are all good things.  Hope, friendship, happiness, every good thing gone.

Another difference is the company one would have in Hell.  There is no reference of Satan or demons in Sheol.  The classic picture of demons enjoying the tormenting of the damned is non-biblical fantasy.  Sheol seems to be for people.  The Lake of Fire, says Revelation 20, is prepared for Satan, his cohorts, and those in Sheol.  The point is made that their torment is “day and night for ever and ever”.  So no rest or reprieve for them.  They suffer together.

That God would make punishment eternal offends many people.  The suffering seems disproportionate to the sins.  In the end, those who suffer in Hell didn’t want God.  They have rejected His love, rejected His rule and (for people) rejected that great sacrifice made to save them.  Hell is essentially getting that for which you asked.  The eternal nature of Satan, angels and people is simply a part of what we are.

Sheol may also be different in that it holds a dim ray of hope.  Jesus’ post-crucifixion descent into Sheol seems to be for the purpose of saving some who are there. 1 Peter 4:6 makes this point.  What is criteria?  Are those in Sheol capable of faith?  Did Jesus go more than once or reach out to more than “those who disobeyed in the days of Noah?(1 Peter 3:18)  We don’t know.

The differences, though small, point to the importance of Judgment Day.  Judgment Day is the “line in the sand”.  Things change for the worst for those without Christ.  Things change for the better for those who are in Christ.

 

Near Death Experiences Don’t Always Go to Heaven

If you have heard or read about Near Death Experiences (NDE), you are most likely aware of how people experience a beautiful environment of love, deceased loved ones, enchanting music and unparalleled peace.  These experiences are common, and they are commonly reported by those who experience them.

What is not so commonly reported is the experience of darkness, pain, fear and frightening beings.  The people who do report them never want to return.  They claim to experience Hell.

If you have been following this blog, I make a technical distinction between the place of the damned before Judgment Day and the place of ultimate separation from God after Judgment Day.  I prefer to call the post-Judgment Day destination Hell.  The Bible uses the words “Sheol” or “Hades” to describe what one would experience now.  These people experienced Sheol, and didn’t like it.

The very fact that some experience Sheol casts a question mark on the experience of those who come back to life and report that they experienced a place of unconditional salvation for all.  We will address this in my next blog entry.  Also to be questioned is the prevalence of a Heavenly experience in the research of NDEs.  It makes sense that people don’t want to report that they went to Sheol.  In fact, the experience is so negative that it makes sense that people may block it out of their own memory.

Jesus says in my least favorite Bible passage:

Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life and, and only a few find it.  (Matthew 7:13-14)

This passage emphasizes the necessity of Jesus to a positive eternal outcome.  He is the narrow gate (John 14:6)  It also suggests that the prevailing experience of people should be of Sheol.

How do people describe their experience of Sheol? Here are some excerpts from the book, THell and Back:

The darkness of Hell is so intense that it seems to have a pressure per square inch.  It is an extremely black, dismal, desolate, heavy, pressurized type of darkness.  It gives the individual a crushing, despondent feeling of lonliness.

The heat is a dry, dehydrating type.  Your eyeballs are so dry they feel like red hot coals in their sockets.  Your tongue and lips are parched and cracked with the intense heat.  The breath from your nostrils as well as the air you breathe feels like a blast from a furnace.  The exterior of your body feels as though it were enchased within a white hot stove..

The agony and loneliness of Hell cannot be expressed clearly enough for proper understanding to the human soul; it has to be experienced.

Actually, I’ll pass.  People do experience others being there.  They even recognize some, but there is no positive relationships.  Sheol seems to have a landscape, and according to the Bible story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, is divided into at least two sections by some sort of “chasm”.  The one side being where the Old Testament righteous lived comfortably until Christ’s victory on the cross.

It is interesting to note that those who experience Sheol describe it in physical terms, as if they had a body.  Our body is a proper part of this universe.  It doesn’t go with someone to Sheol, but that doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t have a body that is a part of Sheol.

The NDEs of Sheol that many people have is warning to us all.   Even Bible believing Christians want to dismiss the existence of eternal judgment, and some do.  The experience of those who go briefly to Sheol tells us that reading about it is as close as we want to be.  It should be taken seriously.

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.

Is Hell God’s Wrathful Presence or His Absence?

One of my favorite church announcement gaffs is:  Our weekly Bible Study is “What is Hell?” ,followed by “Come early and hear our choir practice.”  We can joke about what would make Hell tormenting, but there is really nothing funny about it.  Hell is eternal suffering.

Hell, the place of final judgment, is described this way in Revelation 20:10, 14:

“and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever…Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

The picture of fire and brimstone is a classic one.  Satan and his minions are there, but not to add to the torment.  Rather they are tormented themselves.  A lake of fire that would normally consume someone fails to do so because the resurrected body of a human is indestructible.  The fire only adds to their physical suffering.

The question I am asking today is about the presence of God in Hell.  Some characterize Hell as God continually and intentionally venting an unending wrath against these beings.  While God can be a God of judgment and the biblical warnings about Hell should be taken seriously, is this the type of being that He is?  Does God have a wrath that is never satisfied?

I believe the answer about God’s presence in judgment comes from the story of Jesus on the cross.  Being whipped and nailed to a cross was indeed painful, but the worst of it seems to be something unseen.  Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Jesus knew the plan.  He knew that He would experience the full judgment on sin which included being forsaken by God.  When that finally happens the experience overwhelms him.  Even Jesus can’t stand being forsaken.

Hell fire sounds bad and I’m sure it is, but the judgment on sin isn’t God battering you for an eternity.  It is God forsaking you.  God being “all-knowing” and “present everywhere” doesn’t mean that God must know everything and be everywhere.  He can intentionally forget and intentionally leave.  The worst part about being damned is that He does.  For this reason, the ultimate judgment for sin can be experience is a space, which we call “Hell” or on a cross.

We don’t realize how “present” God is with us all the time, even for those who deny His existence.  But you would certainly know it when He is no longer present.  It is agony.  That is why it is so good that God wants to be with us.  Jesus’ forsakenness was the main event on the cross.  It is questionable whether the scourging and the torturous form of execution is even God’s idea.  I think it is Satan’s idea to get Jesus to bail out on us.  Forsakeness is the scary part, and since Jesus experienced it for us, we never have to experience it ourselves.  Hell can be spoke of from afar.

Holy Week and Life After Death

For many, Holy Week is a forgotten celebration.  The only remnant of it left in their lives is Easter, and Easter is nothing more than a celebration of Spring and a chance for kids to get candy for some reason.  Talk about missing the boat.

The events of Holy Week are not only historical, they are critical to any of us having life after death versus suffering after death.  Jesus had to do what He did or God’s Law would scoop everyone of us up and drop us in the same bucket with the most evil people who ever lived and Satan himself.  We are all sinners.  Something had to be done about that.  Holy Week is the celebration of the fact that somebody did.

In his life, Jesus did many miraculous and beautiful things.  He fed thousands of people, healed many sick, freed many from demons, gave us clearer insight on God and life after death, laid out a morality based on love and more.  None of these were his main purpose, however.  He was born the way he was (from a virgin mother) so that he could fulfill God’s Law on behalf of the whole species and so that he could bear the required punishment for the sin of all mankind.  To do this he had to be sinless.

The Bible says that we are all born sinful–altered from how God created humans and resulting our in being selfish and hostile to God.  Jesus’ unusual birth allowed him to be without our genetic deformities.  His life stayed within the bounds of God’s Law.  Making Jesus the only sinless human since the beginning.  This is why there is no alternative path to eternal life.  There is only Jesus.  Jesus said of the way to Heaven, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”

For God, sin demands death.  This is more complicated than it seems on the surface.  Our life includes our physical body which easily becomes non-functioning and decays away; but it also includes our (mind, consciousness, soul).  This is not caused by our physical body.  It interacts with our physical body.  This aspect of ourselves God has made to be eternal.  Death for our soul constitutes being forsaken/exiled from God, and it is miserable.  Such a thing could happen anywhere, but the plan of how this judgment is to be executed is to resurrect/recreate an indestructible body for all and to cast both that body and our soul into Hell.

That sounds harsh, but it seems appropriate when you understand that it takes the rejection of an enormously costly rescue attempt by Jesus.  Jesus was forsaken and physically died for us that first Holy Week.  His voluntary sacrifice makes a whole different narrative possible.

It seems strange to us that one person’s actions could potentially result in the satisfaction of a condemning law for all people.  That isn’t our idea of fairness.  But if you understand that one person’s decision (pick Adam or Eve) resulted in a modification of our DNA to make us sinful, and that this was inherited by everyone; the idea seems less out there.  Jesus was doing what needed to be done to save the people he loved.

If you still celebrate Holy Week, celebrate it again with a fresh appreciation of how much those events have changed your life and eternity.  If you are skeptical or unsure of such things, I exhort you to read one the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ death and ask God to keep your sinful nature in check if possible.  Perhaps you will see this story through a different set of “eyes” and understand that God is real, He loves you, and the road to eternal life in joy has been cleared for you by Jesus.