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Wednesday: A Paradise with Disembodied Souls — 16 Comments

  1. When I was a kid and started thinking about the world around us, I soon became aware of a thing called the horizon. It was extremely frustrating because I could not really see beyond it. For a while, I had this theory that we lived inside a sphere and that the stars were really town lights on the other side of the sphere from us. Living in New Zealand and knowing that we were diametrically opposite England, I thought I was looking at the lights of London at night. It took just a little while and a bit of education to get my childish perspective sorted out. I realised what a horizon really was. And I learned too that in order to find out what was really over the horizon you had to travel there.

    In life, we too have a horizon called death and some of us in our own childish imaginations speculate what might be over that horizon. The significant thing is that none of us actually know anyone who has been over that horizon and come back to tell us what is there. So, there is a lot of speculation. Oblivion, reincarnation, spirits, gods; just to quote a few points in the spectrum of over-the-life-horizon beliefs and ideas.

    Even those of us who believe the Bible often cherry-pick a few verses here and there to support our preconceptions of what happens over that horizon. Now I am not saying that we can believe anything we like. I happen to be very comfortable with the Seventh-day Adventist idea of being "asleep until Jesus comes". And that idea gives me a great deal of leverage when it comes to dealing with those who use life-after-death beliefs for exploitation and control of the living.

    But it also puts my belief in perspective when I talk to others about what happens. I like to describe our over-the-life-horizon as a "best fit" Bible-based description rather than doctrinal dogma. The message is important, but so is the method of delivery.

    • Speaking of “over the horizon”…

      Since Rev 6:9-11 is accepted as a metaphor… v.11 states that the “souls under the altar” were each given a white robe and told to continue to rest. “…continue to rest” seems self-explanatory. What might the white robe given to the souls under the altar mean?

      • That's interesting, Gary. They are given white robes while still resting in their graves. If that's not the pre-advent judgment, I don't know what else it could be.

        “As I looked, this horn made war with the holy ones and was prevailing over them, until the Ancient of Days came; then judgement was given for the holy ones of the Most High, and the time arrived when the holy ones gained possession of the kingdom." Daniel 7:21-22 NRSVA (footnote)

        Aren't the white robes the righteousness of Christ, now unconditionally imputed to them?

  2. If the soul is a combination of body and breath, and in death the breath returns to God and the body rots, then the soul ceases to exist? So what remains sleeping and unconscious in the ground?

    This is honestly a bit confusing for me. I’ve heard the analogy of a lightbulb (body) and electricity (breath). Without the combination, light is impossible. When you turn off the light, the light doesn’t go anywhere. It just ceases to exist. But while that analogy is helpful, it doesn’t explain the “sleeping” part for me. And if I cease to exist completely, then what is being raised up, isn’t it something completely new, like the new light formed each time you flick the switch on?

    • You ask some excellent questions, Esther! I know I don't have all of the answers, but maybe sharing a few thoughts could possibly help.

      1) While I can see absolutely no room, within Bible teaching, for doubt in regard to the unconscious state of the dead, I've been thinking something ever since I started seriously reading the Bible nearly 50 years ago. The way we Seventh-day Adventists sometimes teach the nature of man may not always be accurate and true to Scripture. The track of truth and the track of error tend to lie close together.

      2) The Bible may not always fully explain what it teaches. For instance, in Matthew 10:28, Jesus says that our persecutors can "kill the body, but cannot kill the soul." Yet He doesn't explain just how the soul can continue to exist without the body. Is this a metaphysical reality of some kind, or is it just a way of expressing the certainty of our resurrection? I think it's likely the latter, but Jesus didn't really say.

      Here is the best of what I understand, so far. Genesis 2:7 is a narrative of what God did in creating the first man, Adam, as a "living soul." It isn't necessarily a complete description of everything that went into the composition of that soul. Again, the "breath of life" seems to be linguistically equivalent to a person's spirit, and Seventh-day Adventist pioneer Ellen White actually suggests that our character resides in our spirit. Based on that, the lightbulb/electicity metaphor would seem to be completely off target.

      The soul of man, by definition, is the essence of the individual. Therefore, if we sleep in death, we are the soul that is sleeping. Is it nevertheless a physical reality that the soul no longer exists, at the first death? Maybe, but the selfsame individual is coming back, and that's what really counts, in my book.

      Eccesiastes 12:7 describes what happens when a person dies.

      "Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, And the spirit [or breath] will return to God who gave it."

      From the rest of Scripture, the soul sleeps in Sheol (the grave). Again, I do not find the answers to all of our physical or metaphysical questions, in the Bible, but I believe that the knowledge we need is there.

      To summarize, I see no reason to believe that "the soul is a combination of body and breath," only that its conscious existence requires the combination of body and spirit to continue. In the resurrection, our spirit gets a new, immortal body, and our soul awakens to eternal life!

      I hope this helps.

      • Thank you for your explanation, Gordon. Punctuating your statement a little differently makes it even clearer:

        I see no reason to believe that "the soul is a combination of body and breath." I see only that its conscious existence requires the combination of body and spirit to continue.

        I also believe that the "spirit" God breathed into Adam was more than physical breath. With that "ruach/spirit," He breathed life into Adam, that included a likeness to the Creator, with the ability for thought, creativity, action, morality, a sense of justice, etc. After all, God created Adam in His image, which included much more than a body. Thus God endowed Adam with individuality. And I believe that this individuality goes back to God at death to be kept safely by Him till the resurrection.

        Most of our readers can probably understand "backing up to the cloud" - the process of backing up our computer contents "to the cloud," that is, to hard drives situated elsewhere. I think this is analogous to what God does with our individuality at death. It is "backed up to the cloud" and is stored on God's heavenly "hard drive." (Of course, we understand that He doesn't need a literal hard drive.)

        This individuality will be "downloaded" into the re-created incorruptible bodies which are endowed with immortality. (1 Cor. 15:53)

      • Thank you so much for your in-depth answer, R.G.! The character residing in our spirit is interesting, I'll check out that EGW quote and study your response some more.

        I appreciate your humility and honesty in sharing that the tracks of error and truth lie close together and it's healthy to prayerfully recalibrate our understandings.

    • Hey Esther,

      It is quite confusing indeed.

      To dismantle the pun of *אדם* *('âdâm),* - human being - from *אדמה* *('ădâmâh)* - the ground/soil/dust - which actually is all you framed as "sleeping and unconscious" body-minus-breath is quite an assignment.

      I appreciate the lightbulb analogy. Though it can be adduced that if the bulb, though robbed power for light, is not broken to dust, it'll light up again once power is back.

      However, the "human" body, which turns into "humus" (another pun), completely becomes dust/soil/ground so much that it is possible that in resurrection, the body has to be created anew.

      But FAITH has come to silence our concerns. FAITH's duty, as always, is to defy logics.

      • I really like the bold faith "But FAITH has come to silence our concerns. FAITH's duty, as always, is to defy logic."

        And I believe that the God who created me from almost impossible as my logic can also re-create me still from almost impossible as my thoughts, and I totally accept this by my faith, not by my concerns!

  3. Thank God that death is a resting state, a sleep, an end of all suffering and fight for life. Nevertheless, more important than knowing the state of the dead is to have consciousness of the state of the living. Because we are going to be judged (and justly judged by the One Who is LOVE) by what we did in life, since as dead, we can do nothing more. How is it then that I am living? Am I living a life of connection with the divine? Am I living a thanksgiving life because of all the blessings I receive? Do I believe in Jesus as my personal Saviour and the only One I can rely on for forgiveness? Because if Jesus is a stranger to me here, He will certainly be a stranger when resurrection comes. The walk to Heaven starts here where I am. Every day is a new opportunity for a step higher. May we strengthen ourselves in the love of Christ, se we can win the battles we face within today, and become no stranger to the One who died for me and you.

  4. According to Genesis 2:7 man was formed from "the dust of the ground." Also, Genesis 2:19 shows that animals were also formed from the same substance. When both men and animals expire/die they return to dust as we read in Ecclesiastes 3:19, they return to the source from which they originated. The spirit/ the breath of life of all humans and animals returns to God who gave it. The writer, James of the New Testament emphatically states that the the body without the spirit/breath of life is dead and Job too replies with the same emphasis that the spirit of God/the breath of God was in his nostrils. Therefore, the spirit of God that returns to Him after we die is simply the breath of life because He alone can give life! Nowhere in scripture do we see the "spirit"/breath of life living on its own after a person dies. Now, a soul is a living being, the merging/melding/amalgamation of two things-the body and the breath of life from God. A soul cannot exist without these two. Souls can die because they are mortal. Thank God that through Jesus we can obtain immortality through Him and that He knows us through His Son and can give us life again. Just imagine, even the unrighteous at the second resurrection will need the spirit/breath of life from the same God whom they rejected.

    "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Genesis 2:7

    "And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof." Genesis 2:19

    "For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.
    All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
    Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?" Ecclesiastes 3:19-21

    “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” Ecclesiastes 12:7

    “The body without the spirit is dead.” James 2:26

    “The spirit of God is in my nostrils.” Job 27:3 KJV

    “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Ezekiel 18:20 KJV

    “Every living soul died in the sea.” Revelation 16:3 KJV

  5. All of that which is represented as our Christian Faith is based on the need to believe; it is promoted to be the Word of Truth of the Creator revealed by His Son. If we truly believe this, it becomes the authoritative source which establishes the platform for all of that which we learn about God's creation of man and our salvation through His Son.

    Luke 16:31 speaks to that. In addition to the physical, the Creator has also provided us with the Spirit of Truth – John 16:13-15. So, when refusing to believe the physical and the spiritual evidence, man choses to establish his own 'truth' which is outside of God’s Word; meaning that he can determine 'anything' to be true if he so chooses.

    Our justice system appeals to the jury to pass judgement based on a belief going beyond reasonable doubt, using one’s own perception of truth, and to judge man’s guilt by it, even unto the accused’s death. Are we giving God, our Maker, the same level of credence which we apply when sitting in judgement of those we ‘believe’ to be guilty or not guilty? All we are asked to do is to believe Him to speak and reveal His Truth. We cannot show proof that He misrepresents Himself, that He lies, but does man not call God a liar by his unbelief? 1 Cor. 15:16-18

    The unbeliever wants to find out what is beyond the horizon God set for man, in order to establish himself as his source for truth; for what purpose, though – to be prepared to deny that there is a God? Believers, on the other hand, are 'satisfied' when eating of the bread of Life - His Word. This is all we can do; it establishes our 'horizon', always extending forward, but never changing in Truth - the Truth that tells us that we will rise again!

  6. Death as a sleep may be the best metaphor for an unconscious state. Yes our body decays and our 'breath' returns to God who gave it. Now God has the copy of the DNA that makes us who we are physically, so He doesn't need the exact molecules that were our mortal bodies. The DNA that He will use is what we were supposed to have been without the genetic defects that may have been our lot in this life. The breath is also a metaphor of our mental state, eg. thought patterns that make up our characters. This He has a copy of as Inge said in the divine 'hard drive'. So then the separation of these two parts is represented as sleep because God has the ability to reassemble them at the resurrection, but our bodies will be made of 'glorified' molecules. We will still look as He had intended us to look, and will have same attitude and character that we had so "we shall know even as we are known".

    1 Corinthians 13:12 KJV: For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face.

    I thank God that I'll wake without my present physical issues!!!

  7. In light of the comments regarding God recreating our individuality, consider the following: God is in Heaven and the Bible actually describes a storage place that is separate from God’s own memory.

    Can you guess what that is? the Lamb’s book of life, where the “names” are written, and in the Bible, names represent character.
    EGW wrote:

    “Remember, your character is being daguerreotyped [photographed] by the great Master Artist in the record books of heaven, as minutely as the face is reproduced upon the polished plate of the artist. What do the books of heaven say in your case? . . “. {TSB 62.1}

    “Remember that this world is God's daguerreotype office. The pictures of all who live here, old or young, are being made in the books of heaven. What shall the likeness be?” —Letter 78, 1901. 3MR 352.3

  8. Such an interesting discussion. As I recall from science class, we are constantly being re-made. Skin cells are washed away and replaced by a new layer; blood cells are broken down and recycled; hair is cut, but more continues to grow; even bones are stripped of calcium and have a new layer paved onto them by the osteoclasts and osteoblasts. I'm still me, but technically, not the original group of molecules. If God can create such a complex organism with the ability to change, grow, repair, communicate, think, feel, and love, I have no doubt in his ability to recreate us, with an eternal body that doesn't decay.

  9. What are ways in which you could help people understand that the idea that the dead are asleep in the ground is really “good news,” in the sense that they truly are at rest and know no pain and suffering?

    A good idea in helping people understand the state of the dead is simply describing a person sleeping. When someone asks if I dreamt last night about anything (vise versa), my response will be nothing or something. Remembering or not remembering a dream or having no dream when sleeping happens even when we’re alive (conscious). Time ticking away didn’t matter when asleep because it didn’t need any attention. The real world when asleep is suspended for our body to recharge and our dream (brain) organizes (or reorganizes) our daily life activities. But, when a person is dead there is no dream world to gather (organize) your conscious thoughts. The dead are not conscious at all, but sleeping dreamlessly until awakened by the Voice of the Lord (John 5:25). Basically, reality (the real world) is stopped until woken up. This is really, even better, good-good news!


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