I initially set out to do more research on a timeline of what happens after death. I did some research, read some sermons, looked up verses. In the end, I was disappointed with the lack of details about what exactly happens after death.
I already knew that Christians don't automatically go up to Heaven when they die (1 Thessalonians 4:16; Daniel 12:13; Revelation 20:4-6;Revelation 20:12-15), but I wanted to know what happens between the death of our body and the resurrection of the body.
"What's the point?" one Christian may say, "after all, all we need to know is that Christians will end up in Heaven and nonChristians will end up in Hell." I am sympathetic to this opinion, and partially agree with it. Stay with me, and you'll see that if there is indeed a point, I'll reach it by the end of this article.
We know that humans consist of physical body as well as a soul (Matthew 10:28; 1 Corinthians 15:44). So when the physical body dies, this isn't the same as the soul dying. So while our physical body lies buried/cremated/etc., our soul is still alive... somewhere.
The Mysterious Waiting Grounds
I referenced in my "Afterlife" article something called the "waiting grounds." There's a number of verses in the bible that seem to support the idea of the existence of a place where souls consciously wait for judgement (Luke23:43; Revelation 20:12-15; Luke 16:22-28; 1 Peter 3:18-19)- likely with the righteous waiting in a more pleasant place than the unrighteous.
Notice that I said that we would be conscious while we wait for judgement. There's a number of verses in the bible that suggest our spirit will be not only alive but awake and possibly privy to the goings on in the physical realm (Revelation 6:9-10; Luke16:22-28; Matthew 22:31-32).
A difficulty arises when we start talking about the spiritual realm. Our physical body was built to perceive the physical realm, and the words we use are also meant to describe things we can perceive and understand. So a physical body has no idea what to do with the information presented to them about the spiritual world. It has no words to describe the exact nature of the spiritual realm. This is why scholars find it impossible to make heads and tails of the weird images presented in Old Testament and New Testament prophesies.
Since our physical bodies cannot comprehend the nature of the spiritual realm, when God presents description of the spiritual realm, he does so using terms that we as a physical people can understand. When he presents himself and his truths, he does so in way that we can perceive. Yet we all have different perceptions. We have different perspectives from each other, and we have a huge difference in the way we see things than the way the people of the bible saw things.
When the "waiting grounds" are described in the bible, God lets it be explained in the way the audience of the bible could understand. The idea of Hades may not have originated in Hebrew culture, but the idea of the "underworld" was the one that the people of the Bible had in their heads - just like they understood that "heaven" where God resided was a place that existed well above the earth. We now know, or at least have a much better idea, that Hades doesn't actually exist in the center of the earth, nor does Heaven exist a physical distance above our heads. I believe God let the ancient people believe these things about the spiritual realms because it is impossible to explain the supernatural with natural words and concepts, but we are able to get an idea about the spiritual using helpful metaphors and symbolism.
When we read that Hell consists of burning fire, and that a chasm exists in the "waiting grounds" between the righteous and the unrighteous, we should see these images of the spiritual realm as helpful metaphors. Hell probably does not consist of physical fire, for it is for non-physical souls. Hell is much, much worse. The flipside of this is that Heaven is much, much better than a paradise with streets made out of gold.
After Death Experiences - My Hypothesis
After Death Experiences - My Hypothesis
In the past I have speculated that after death or near death experiences are just dreams on steroids. I back this up by saying that the more disconnected we are to the physical realm, the more influenced we are by the spiritual realm. This is why we are often most tempted when we are tired. This is why brains intoxicated by drugs sometimes hallucinate or have "spiritual" experiences.
So when a person is close to death, and their bodies have an inability to perceive the physical world, they are more open to spiritual influence. I have said in the past that their brains under spiritual influence construct visions of what happens after they die.
Perhaps I am completely wrong. Perhaps I am partially right. However, I want the reader to take this into account: the person who has this near death experience recounts their experience using physical words and images as someone who has seen or felt something. Yet, there's no way of knowing that our spirits have eyes to see like or a heart (or brain) to feel like our physical body does. This says to me that what these people have experienced may possibly be symbolic at best of the real thing.
As a Christian, I know that Christians go to Heaven and nonChristians don't, so whenever I hear of an account of someone who (and I have no right to say this with 100% certainty, I know, only God gets to decided who really is a Christian) is not necessarily a Christian and having a mostly positive after death experience perhaps pertaining to a concept of Heaven, my skepticism of these experiences as trustable indicators of what actually happens after death increases (sorry for this terrible long run on sentence as large as a paragraph and the difficulty to read it but I'm not changing it - in fact it appears as though I am adding to it with these parenthesis).
Take it or leave it, this is my hypothesis given the data in front of me.
Now that we have established that it is very hard for us to know anything too concrete about the afterlife, the issue of ghosts is bound to come up. After all, since someone does not go to Heaven or Hell immediately after death, who is to say that ghosts do not exist?
What I mean by ghosts is a lingering human spirit after death. I fully accept the presence of nonhuman supernatural beings that are active within our physical realm.
I'm going to share a secular link with you that seems to support that a human spirit can linger at least for a moment after death. Click on the button that lets you listen to this radio episode, and give at least the story that begins at 2:35 a listen: http://www.cbc.ca/tapestry/2014/05/09/what-the-dying-know/
The average Christian (and likely the average nonChristian) is taught from a young age that there are no such things as ghosts. A healthy Christian teaching is that when a person talks with the dead, they are not talking with a human being but with an evil spirit pretending to be a human being.
Before I address this mindset, I would first like to present a bible story that seems to go against it.
1 Samuel 28:3-19 tells the story of how a King Saul of Israel went to a medium - someone who talks to the dead, or at least claims to. The prophet Samuel had been a prominent figure throughout Saul's life and had always acted as God's mouthpiece. At the time of this story, the prophet Samuel had died, and King Saul wasn't hearing anything from the Lord. Samuel had died by this point, and Saul figured that by visiting this medium he would be able to talk to Samuel.
Although what he was doing was evil, the bible tells of him succeeding in talking with Samuel. In 1 Samuel 28:15 the bible doesn't say "Now the evil spirit said to Saul," but "Now Samuel said to Saul." I'm not saying this proves that it's possible to talk to the dead, but in the very least this story seems to suggest that it's not quite true to say that it's not possible either.
However, there are a number of reasons why it would be best to hold onto the mindset that we cannot talk to the dead:
1. It's very probable that the psychic we are consulting is a fraud.
2. Even if the spiritist/medium/pyschic/etc. that we are using to talk to the dead isn't a fraud, we have no way of knowing who we are talking to is actually a dead person. It's very probable that it is indeed a masquerading evil spirit, as evil spirits can be very convincing and persuasive.
3. Witchcraft and talking with the dead is continually condemned in the bible.
4 "Hebrews 9:27 - And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment." This verse seems to state quite clearly that not much happens after someone dies. It certainly doesn't leave much room for spirits out to get vengeance, be with people to comfort them, watch over their descendants, etc. This verse admittedly doesn't single-handedly disprove the existence of ghosts, at least not to someone like me who isn't fully persuaded. Yet it does seem to point quite strongly to the fact that the role a person has during life ends at their death.
So are ghosts real or not? Both out of respect for those who have claimed to have felt/feel the presence of their love one, and because I believe it to be true, I'll say that as far as I can see, we cannot know for sure. Practically speaking, however, it is best to live as though ghosts do not exist.
Does that mean that strange floating orb following your toddler around which he perceives as his imaginary friend is actually an evil spirit? Perhaps. Does that mean that cloudy figure you saw on the security cameras is a demon? Perhaps. Does this mean the audible footsteps you heard in the completely abandoned building was made by a poltergeist? Perhaps. Does this mean the scary figure I saw as a youngster sitting on my bed was just a hallucination, a nightmare constructed by my tired/vulnerable brain even though I was awake? Perhaps. (And yes, this paragraph was based both my experience and the experiences of friends).
Perhaps ghosts are real (and if they are not, I would like someone prove it to me), but I can see no example of an instance where it would be best to believe that they are presently in play in the realm we currently live in.
The Beautiful Spirit Body
Enough of this creepiness about ghosts. Time for us to explore the positive implications of us receiving spiritual bodies after death.
Spirit bodies are not like physical bodies (Luke24:37-39). It doesn't have all the physical limitations that our current bodies do. Our bodies need food and water and rest to go on now, but think about how awesome it will be without having these limitations.
People not as familiar with Heaven or Hell often jokingly reference "beer in Hell" or "hot babes in Heaven" (did it hurt... when you fell from Heaven?). However Jesus says that in the life after this one we won't be concerned with marriage (Matthew 22:30). Marriage. For many, this is the biggest, most meaningful thing that can happen in one's life, and it's not even a thing in Heaven.
I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to Heaven. I'm looking forward to getting rid of this ever craving body. Our body has a number of pleasure receptors: whether it be pleasure from food, entertainment, sex, relationships, etc. Being as our new bodies will be in the presence of The Most Beautiful One, I'm certain that however our new bodies are calibrated to achieve pleasure, the happiness will be unending.
Unending happiness. In the end, that's what the follower of Jesus has to look forward to.