Life After Death Impossible?

In an article published on the British website Express, Sean Carroll a physicist at California Institute of Technology categorically states the life after death is impossible because we are subject to the laws of physics and, of course, the laws of physics are completely understood.

Perhaps this is a misquote, but how many times in history have scientists been arrogant enough to say physics is completely understood only to find out that they really didn’t understand it at all.  If it is completely understood we should stop spending money on physics research projects.

The problem with Mr. Carroll is his devotion to a flawed philosophy–Materialism.  The belief that all that is real is measurable pervades the scientific community, but does it represent reality?  Perhaps the point of greatest contention is the understanding of our own consciousness.  Many people, including atheists, find the materialistic answer unsatisfying.

Scientists feel confident that consciousness is nothing more than the chemical reactions in our brain.  They feel this way because artificial stimulus of various parts of the brain can cause false experiences.  But this does little to show that consciousness is actually resident in the brain.  The same would be expected if the brain was merely the material interface with the conscious.

The philosophical viewpoint also diminishes Near Death Experiences (NDE) and out of body experiences as merely the fading memories of a dying brain.  This does not explain how people can experience sights and sounds while the brain is essentially shut down and the eyes are closed.  People have experienced travel outside of their bodies and accurately described surroundings without the use of their eyes.

Looking for proof one way or another about life after death using scientific methods is using the wrong tools for the job.  The hard part for science minded people is admitting that science does have its limits.  It is great for exploring the material universe but blind otherwise.  Even science posits the existence of other universes, yet can say basically nothing about them.

There are two ways to know about life after death: dying or revelation.  Dying makes it tough to change if change is needed.  God’s revelation about life after death can be trusted or not trusted. May God Himself give you insight on where to put your trust.

Thy Kingdom Come (Health)

You can have everything (money, power, beauty, fame, etc.) but if you don’t have health, you don’t have much.  Certainly, there are those with chronic health conditions who learn to overcome and make big contributions to society and enjoy their existence; but the loss of health has probably more to do with the loss of both productivity and happiness than anything else.  Wouldn’t it be great if there were no such thing as bad health–no infectious, malicious microbes, no breakdowns in our DNA, and no wearing out of our organs?

Jesus demonstrated His dominance over illnesses several times.  He cured the blind, the deaf, lepers and the paralyzed.  Every vector of illness, He proved He could fix immediately.  He used no surgery, no medicines, just the power of His words.  The biblical explanation for illness is the existence of the curse.  What exactly is the curse?  The Bible doesn’t describe exactly how the curse works.  The result of the curse is that a creation that worked flawlessly now seems unbalanced (even though it is still complex and amazing)  The healing miracles of Jesus are physical demonstrations of a promise regarding Heaven and the New Earth.

No longer will there be any curse.  Revelation 22:3

This may seem like a superstitious, impossible dream; but if the creative genius that made all living things in the first place decides to put His original system or even a new system back in place, a system that is not “out of balance”, why should this be hard for Him?  Jesus demonstrated the ease with which He could do it.

The curse must run its course.  God does not promise anywhere that people with “enough faith” can avoid the effects of the curse today.  Freedom from the curse is a future thing.  Nor does God command that we not find ways to bring healing through medical means.  Direct, miraculous intervention by God to undo the impact of the curse requires more than prayer.  It requires a God approved purpose.  Often God can use the negative results of the curse, even illness, to accomplish a good purpose.  He did so with Paul in 2 Corinthians 12.

Wholeness of health, even to the point of the elimination of physical death is a part of God’s plans for the New Earth.  It is definitely something for which to look forward–especially when you are sick.

In Revelation 22, mention is made of the “Tree of Life”.  The leaves of the tree are for the “healing of the nations”.  What sort of healing could be required in a place without the curse?  The Garden of Eden had the Tree of Life as well.  Adam and Eve where permitted initially to eat from this tree.  There was no curse until they disobeyed God.  Something about the tree promoted the eternal sustenance of their bodies even then.  While that may remain true in the New Earth, there is no concern about its absence.  The phrase “yielding its fruit every month” is something similar to “always in stock”.

Many aspects of Heaven and the New Earth are hard to even imagine.  Permanent, flawless health is something we can grasp and hold on to.

 

Thy Kingdom Come (Abundance)

In the Lord’s Prayer we pray “Thy Kingdom Come”.  This petition has several facets;  some that are about present life and some about eternal life.  In this series I will focus on aspects of eternal life (both in Heaven and the New Earth) that will be significantly different from the world as we know it today.  These differences will be also be things foreshadowed in the miracles of Jesus.

Scarcity is part of the world as we know it.  Food, water, energy, raw materials have been at the core reason for which people have gone to war.  When we feel that our existence or even our standard of living is endangered, humans get clannish and fight others for limited resources.

Harnessing fossil fuels and applying scientific methods to farming in particular as eased some of our scarcity.  This temporary abundance may be somewhat of an illusion, however.  Ground water and energy resources will dwindle and a crisis of scarcity could still become a reality for many of us who have only known abundance.  What happens then is beyond the scope of this essay but it is something to consider.

As the crowds followed Jesus to hear Him preach, a scarcity of food became a problem.  Jesus demonstrated His power by turning a few loaves of bread and fish into a meal for thousands of people–a miraculous breach of the laws of physics.  It is important to note that He made no promise to end scarcity during the course of this life.  In Revelation 7, however,  God’s promise about eternal life states:

Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.

Scarcity is a part of the old (current) order of things and is passing away.  Currently, according to World Hunger.org, 815 million, approximately 10.6% of the world’s population goes to bed hungry.  This is a major improvement since the so called “Green Revolution”, but as I said before, energy and water resources threaten the future of food production at the level we currently maintain. Still, 10% is significant especially if you are part of the 10%.

The U.S. should be significantly better, but it seems that we are not.  Disparity of wealth, especially with families who have children leaves us with similar numbers if not worse.  Currently, enough food exists.  It is more of a problem of distribution and minimizing waste.  Jesus told his disciples to pick up the scraps and let nothing be wasted.  This speaks to the type of stewardship we are expected to maintain in this world.

Scarcity exists because of sin and the curse.  Heaven and the New Earth will no longer have these problems.  Food security is a problem here. Will we even need to eat in Heaven and the New Earth?  It would appear likely.  Isaiah 25:6 says:

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine–the best of meats and the finest of wines.

This description points to a future “New Jerusalem”–a place of the very best without scarcity.

If you live in abundance today, this difference may not stand out for you.  For many it is something hard to imagine, something to eagerly anticipate.

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.

What Will We Be Like in Heaven?

In the course of this blog, I have covered the topics of Sheol, Heaven, Judgment Day, dying, Christ’s descent into Sheol, the Resurrection, the New Earth and Hell.  Use the search box to find any of these topics and more, if you didn’t see the entries as they came out.  We have been on the topic of Hell for awhile, in honor of All Saints Day, which is November 1, let’s go back to the topic of Heaven.

1 John 3:2 raises a question worth thinking about:

Dear friends, now we are the children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.  But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

What will we be like when we pass from this world, if our destination is Heaven?  As the text suggests, there is a lot we don’t know about that topic.  We will be whatever a glorified human being is like, because Jesus is still both God and human.  While we don’t know much about this, we can say some things.  The first set is more about what we will not be like.

We won’t have a sinful nature anymore.  Our sinful nature is a part of our flesh and we will leave that behind for the time being.  That changes many things.  All our tendencies toward selfishness, anger, lust, sloth, greed, addiction and whatever other sin will be gone.  We may remember what those are, but we won’t feel it.  For the first time ever, we will be able to control our tongue.  We will also have God’s love for others saturating our every moment.  Just think of the fantastic relationships we will have with the other people in Heaven!  Even if we had been conflicted with somebody, if they are saved, there will be a whole new, beautiful relationship with them in Heaven.

Assuming that there will be millions of humans, let alone angels, in Heaven, I wonder who we will know and how much we will relate.  At the Transfiguration, Peter, James and John see and know Moses and Elijah.  There doesn’t seem to be introductions.  I doubt if there were name tags.  They just seem to know who they are.  I think we will just know people.  We will know those who were a part of our lives on Earth and we will know others we had never met.

Our existence in Heaven will not be a ghostly, immaterial existence.  Paul speaks of a “heavenly body” in 1 Corinthians 15.  He is not referring to a planet nor is he referring to somebody who is sexy.  There is a body we will have that is properly a part of Heaven.  It is not our resurrected, earthly body for that is properly a part of this universe.  What will this body be like or look like?  I don’t know.  It may resemble you in some way, it may not.  It may be a set “age”, it may not.  Expect an improvement, however, for another thing we can say about Heaven is that there will be no “curse”.

The Curse is spoken of in Revelation and refers all the way back to the Garden of Eden.  It is responsible for such misery as sickness, aging, accidents, natural disasters, boredom and the frustration that goes inherently with this world.  The way I like to describe the curse is God taking a step back from the controls.  If God didn’t maintain some control, we would all just dissolve into non-existence.  The Bible says, Jesus “holds all things together”.  But with the rejection of God by Adam and Eve, it seems that God relinquished His control of creation in part.  The result is what I listed above.  In Heaven, God takes back control, and that is a good thing.

Now we can ask many more questions.  Do we eat, sleep, work, or poop?  I suspect the answer is yes, but I don’t know for sure.  Is there something like sex? What is the experience of time like?  Is there really no beer in Heaven, or is that just the words to a polka?  We will have to wait on all of that, but what we do know should make you think.  You should imagine past the end of life, because the “hope” we have is not wishful thinking.  It is a certainty based on the promise of God.

Christ’s Descent into Hell (part 4)

Another likely function of Christ’s descent has to do with the Old Testament people whom God regarded as His elect.  These people were not in Heaven at the time of Jesus’ death.  John 3:13 precludes such an understanding.  Their expectation as expressed in the Old Testament was that they would be in Sheol.  Not necessarily in a position of suffering, but definitely isolated from the visible presence of God.  That is isolated until Jesus did His work.

The case for Christ’s descent for the purpose of releasing the Old Testament righteous who are captives in Sheol is more clear in scripture than any other interpretation. One verse that supports it is Ephesians 4:7-10:

But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high, he lead a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” In saying, “He ascended”, what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions of the earth? He who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.

Once again, Sheol is referred to as the lowest or lower region.  This passage connects Christ’s descent to eventually leading a “host of captives” on an ascent.  One cannot help but wonder if Jesus is hinting at His descent to Sheol in Matthew 12:29:

Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.

The context of this passage is a discussion of how Jesus can liberate people from demon possession. Jesus plunders Satan’s kingdom by binding the demons and setting the person free. Is Satan bound as Jesus fulfills the Law on the cross? Is Jesus’ descent into Sheol a big-time plundering of Satan’s house?

As mentioned in our discussion about Sheol in the Old Testament, the liberation of the Old Testament redeemed is prophesied in a couple of passages. First Zechariah 9:11-12:

As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.

The context of this passage is established in verse 9:

Behold your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Clearly this whole section is about Jesus and prisoners released during his time. These released captives are the righteous people of the Old Testament. David put himself in that group in Psalm 16:10:

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.

The ascension of Christ with the captives of Sheol is the most likely explanation for a strange, temporary resurrection of the righteous recorded in Matthew 27:52-53:

The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

Without the connection to the release from Sheol, this passage is obscure and meaningless.

Christ’s Descent into “Hell” (Part 3)

What does the Bible say about Jesus’ so called descent? More than most people realize. The descent never is the main topic of any book of the Bible or even clearly the subject of so much as a paragraph. Oddly, in the clearest reference to it, the descent of Jesus isn’t even the topic of the sentence. It is only a clause. Surely, it can’t be very important then, you may think. Well, it was very important to the Old Testament redeemed. That is for sure. It is part of Jesus’ work of salvation. Plus, it pulls together and clarifies what seem to be several disjointed and obscure passages of scripture, and even gives an additional ray of hope to some peoples’ situations.

Let’s take a look at the passages that can be connected to Jesus’ descent, and see how they fit with the remaining theories of our list. The main one is 1 Peter 3:18-19:

For Christ also suffered for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is eight persons, were brought safely through water.

Peter makes this wild run-on sentence as a bridge between the topic of Christ’s death and baptism.   In doing so, he drops a rather distracting piece of information in our laps. He tells us that Christ went in spirit to preach to people from Noah’s day. Then he leaves the topic, temporarily. These people are in prison not comfort, and Jesus speaks to them in the spirit (which only suggests that His physical body was still in the tomb). They are there because they disobeyed rather than believed. The prison must be the bad neighborhood of Sheol. To be formally in Hell would mean being forsaken. That wouldn’t include a visit from Jesus for any reason. What did Jesus say to them? Theories abound on this. Information does not.

The standard answer, at least among Lutherans, is that Christ is proclaiming His victory. In other words, this theory makes it something like a touchdown dance for Jesus, but there is no proof of such an interpretation. The Bible does say that Jesus made “a public spectacle” of the spiritual forces of evil, but that seems to be accomplished by his resurrection.

Sometimes exegetes make this a proclamation to Satan. Something like the taunt, “nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah-nyah.” First, that doesn’t sound much like Jesus. Second, there is nothing connecting fallen angels with Sheol–nothing biblical anyway. There are plenty of cartoons. Fallen angels are described as going to the Abyss. The confusion again is caused by using the word, “Hell”. In the final lake of fire (Hell), the contents of Hades are deposited along with the devil and his angels. That is a judgment day event (Rev. 20:10,14).

Another common interpretation is that Jesus didn’t descend anywhere, and that this passage refers to Jesus preaching through Noah during Noah’s lifetime. This answer is popular in the reformed tradition. It is also surprisingly the interpretation of Augustine, who accepts the reality of Christ’s descent, but doesn’t believe this passage refers to it. Either way, this is hardly a satisfying answer. Peter is doing a little word association, but to have him bounce to an event from a completely different time for no particular reason seems a little strange. In this interpretation, what is the prison? It also ignores all the other passages that will follow.

Why speak to people from Noah’s time? They are the specific recipients mentioned. God’s ways are not our ways, so it is not beyond possibility that Jesus specifically wanted to speak to this group. It seems more likely to me, that Peter chooses this group as representative of all the disobedient in Sheol, because of how they perished by water. Peter is making a point about baptism and speaks of their water experience as a parallel. Paul does a similar thing in speaking of Israel passing through the sea in 1 Corinthians 10.

Perhaps the content of the speech is only to tell them what they had missed.  That would seem strange.  The Eastern church has always thought that this visit was for more than that.  As we will see, there is a passage to possibly support this theory.  There is also another function of Christ’s descent that had support in both the East and the West but has little support in Protestantism.  More about this is future posts.