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Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
My complete profile...
Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
- Marc Heinrich
His posts are either funny or challenging. He is very friendly and nice.
- Rose Cole
[He has] good posts, both the serious like this one, and the humorous like yesterday. [He is] the reason that I have restrained myself from making Canadian jokes in my posts.
This post contains nothing that is of any use to me. What were you thinking? Anyway, it's probably the best I've read all day.
- David Kjos
Daniel, nicely done and much more original than Frank the Turk.
- Jonathan Moorhead
There are some people who are smart, deep, or funny. There are not very many people that are all 3. Daniel is one of those people. His opinion, insight and humor have kept me coming back to his blog since I first visited earlier this year.
- Carla Rolfe
| Thoughts on Immortality and the Soul.
|Plato reasoned (and I am grossly paraphrasing here) that every instance of a concept as found in our reality was merely an imperfect reflection of an ideal form of the actual concept. These "forms" were not only the ideal that was only imperfectly expressed (or recognized) in reality, but were in fact the "cause" of the expression. Thus Plato reasoned in the Phaedo that since the soul is living, it must participate in the "Form of Life", and as such the soul cannot ever die.
I start here because in my opinion Plato, more than any other ancient source, was able to aggregate and harmonize into one expression the various pagan concepts of immortality - and this in an articulate and rationally pleasing way. He began with a proposition - the soul is immortal, and supported that proposition with the rational that the soul was caused by the "form of life" and was therefore an expression of this ideal. That kind of reasoning seems nice and tidy when you apply it to other things and so we have an expression that allowed Plato to argue in favor of metempsychosis (reincarnation), since the soul was immortal, it stood to reason that reincarnation was "possible".
Those who are inclined to imagine that Christianity is just another religion that borrowed various elements from other, preexisting religions, have argued that the Christian concept of the soul is merely a hand-me-down pagan concept. Were that not enough, there are others who recognize that while most bible believing Christians would reject any sort of pagan influence in theory, their understanding of such things as immortality and the soul are in fact a patchwork of both biblical and pagan ideas that have never been separated in their thinking by any real study on the matter. That is, they believe what everyone else believes, not because they have studied the scriptures, but because they can't be bothered to challenge "common knowledge".
I am inclined to agree that there are probably a significant number of Christians, and I would guess these would be (sadly) the majority, whose understanding of such things as the soul and immortality are more influenced by pagan ideas than they are by scripture.
One of the songs of Solomon (not "the" song, but a Psalm, #127 to be exact) states that unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. I believe that is true. Whatever I manage to offer up here today whether advice or wisdom is only going to benefit you, the reader, insofar as I stay close to the words of scripture. God help us to understand His word, and to apply it correctly to our lives.
As can be guessed from the word "mortal", the concept of mortality and immortality differ in that one describes life as it pertains to this present creation, and the other describes a life that will transcends this creation. To possess mortal life is to possess that tangible breath of life that is breathed into all living creatures in creation, but to possess immortal life is to posses a life that that will transcends this creation when the flesh dies.
Thus when the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy (see 1 Timothy 6), that Jesus Christ alone possesses immortality, we must stop and examine what that means. According to what I have just said, it means that No other person in creation possesses a life that will transcend this creation - that Christ is unique in this way.
It is pretty easy to go wildly astray at this point, given that there is plenty of room for ambiguous ways to interpret what I meant in saying that. Let me therefore, be precise in expounding the thought.
First let me explain what I don't mean when I say that, and I think I should start with what our Lord said in John 5:28-29. Here John writes the very words that fell from our Lord's mouth": "Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment." I presume this will be the same day that Christ returns - the day in which our souls and bodies are reunited (hence the resurrection). So when I say that no other person in creation possesses a life that will transcend creation - I do not mean to imply that because no one but Christ is immortal, that no one but Christ will be resurrected, since every person who has died will, according to Christ's own testimony, be resurrected. I mean only that no person other than Christ has immortality in and of himself. If we live, our life is dependant upon something other than our self. What Paul is saying is that Christ alone possesses (in and of Himself) immortality. If we live again, it is because something acts upon us from without, rather than from within. Our life is dependant, His life is independant.
That is what I think Paul is saying there, and that fits perfectly with what is said elsewhere concerning the life of Christ, and again within the context of the doxology from which the text was pulled.
That Christ alone possesses immortality is significant because if we are to partake of immortality, we must partake of Christ who alone possesses it.
Ezekiel described God as owning every soul, and in the same breath, describes every soul that sins as dying. This Ezekiel records in Ezekiel 18:4, "Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die." Looking into the context, we find that Ezekiel is talking about God's dealings with individuals in the here and now. That is important because if we fail to see that, we may infer from the passage something that isn't there in the text. Consider the flow of the passage: The argument Ezekiel is responding to is that God was punishing the (then) present citizens of Israel for the sins of their fathers and their father's fathers. That is, the (then) present generation was saying that they personally didn't deserve the punishment which God had hung over them, and that God was (in essence) "unjustly" punishing them for the sins of their ancestors> Ezekiel argues that they are guilty for their own sin, and that God is responding, not to the sins of their parents, but to the sins of that present generation. Thus the life or "soul" that Ezekiel speaks of here as being owned by God is, in the context, referring to the daily lives of those individuals in the (then) present generation.
To be sure, the "soul" here is simply the life that an individual possesses. Job describes this well in Job 34:14-15, "14"If He should determine to do so, If He should gather to Himself His spirit and His breath, All flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust." - that is, we are all, those of us who are alive at any rate, in present possession of a life that is currently being sustained entirely by God. When we die, this "life" returns to God, and our flesh returns to dust. At the resurrection, life returns to our flesh, and inbetween death and resurrection our life, depending on whether it was in Christ or not, goes immediately into Christ's presence, or withers in Hades, but both remain there awaiting the resurrection and judgment (though those who are in Christ will not be condemned at this judgment, even though will have to give an account of themselves. Those who are not in Christ will likewise give an account of their lives, the former will be welcomed into the marriage supper of the lamb, and those who are not in Christ will be cast into the lake of fire).
In Genesis 2:16-17 16 the Lord God commanded Adam saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die." Question: Did Adam die on that day or not?
Clearly Adam's physical life continued; yet the Apostle Paul writes in the fifth chapter of his letter to the Romans, that death entered the world through Adam's sin. Thus God's warning, or so Paul tells us, was not an empty threat: Adam did die that very day (if we understand what it means to die); but more than this the corruption of life that Adam's sin produced, remains in the world to this day.
When we speak of light, we speak of a thing that can be measured. It is visible, it is even tangible, on some levels - it has properties that can be measured. Darkness however is nothing, it has no substance, it has properties to measure, in fact it is just a consequence of "lightlessness". We use the word darkness to describe the absence of light.
In the same way, death is likewise nothing of itself, except that it describes what happens in the wake of life ever since Adam's sin corrupted life itself. The consequence of Adam's sin was that it corrupted the life that was already in creation, it separated man from the source of life (God). It isn't that Adam's sin brought something "tangible" into existence, because like darkness, death is nothing in and of itself, rather it that Adam's sin produced a separation between creation and the life that sustained it - a separation that we call "death". Adam's sin corrupted creation by introducing a disconnect between creator and creation; just as outer space is an airless vacuum, so also Adam's sin introduced a life vacuum so that all things that have life, perish.
We are right to ask therfore what it was that "died" on that day. Was it physical? Was it spiritual? Mythical? What?
Well, I think the answer is found in the gospel that Christ preached to Nicodemus in the third chapter of John's gospel. There our Lord instructed Nicodemus that he needed to be born from above. That is, Nicodemus had been born into a physical life, but that physical life could not carry him beyond the grave - if Nicodemus wanted to survive the grave he needed to be born once more, but not in the same manner as the first birth.
Stop and think for a second. Before you were born, did you possess a life? No. You didn't. You began to possess life at the moment you were conceived; prior to the moment of conception you did not exist in this creation.
When Jesus speaks about being born in a completely new way, He is not speaking about having this present life (that will perish) simply be fortified so that it continues beyond the grave. Jesus was talking about coming our into a new life that exists apart from the one we are presently living. For the scripture describes sinners as "dead" in their tresspasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1) - our physical life is manifest, yet we are described as already "dead" by the Apostle.
If sinners, though physically alive are described as dead in their tresspasses and sins, what the Apostle Paul says about believers is all the more astounding for he teaches that believers have become partakers of Christ's life while they are still living in this present world in their current mortal bodies (2 Corinthians 4:10-11). This treasure (the life of Christ) is held by the believer in an earthen vessel i.e. in their own sinful flesh (see 2 Corinthians 4:7). We come into possession of the life of Christ as our own life through a spiritual immersion into Christ that is described in Romans 6:3 - a spiritual union that unites our mortal lives to Christ's immortal life; we become, as the Apostle Peter writes, partakers of the divine nature having escaped the corruption that is in the world (2 Peter 1:4).
In order for our Lord Jesus and the Apostles to write about the new life (Christ's own life) that believers become partakers of, we must conclude that what Adam was cut off from, and what believers are reconciled to is one and the same source of life.
Don't miss that.
On account of Adam's sin a separation took place between the believer and the source of life itself. This separation was a spiritual and experiential separation - we died immediately in our spirit, and immediately began to experience the consequences of being separated from God in that we began to deteriorate and die.
We conclude that our life consists of at least two components - the physical and the spiritual. The physical dies during our sojourning here in creation, and the spiritual died in Adam already so that though we live, we are already dead in our tresspasses and sin.
Thus even a sinless babe is born separated from the life of Christ - not condemned on account of his or her own sin, as there is no sin in the babe yet, and God cannot condemn the child for Adam's sin, for that contradicts His own words whereby a man shall die for his own sins and not for his father's sins. The babe being sinless is not condemned for Adam's sin, nor condemned for his or her own sin (yet), but is separated from God so that if the babe should die he or she needs no Savior on account of his or her sin - but nevertheless requires a Redeemer to reconcile himself or herself to that life that they born separated from.
I believe that God, in His mercy, reconciles all children who die in their infancy to Himself - reconciling them to Himself even as Christ suggested in Luke 18:16 ("Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these"). They do not need to confess their sin, for they have none, nor are they condemned for Adam's sin for that violates the word of God, but they do need to be reconciled to God through Christ's life, for they are born spiritually dead just as the rest of us are.
We see this same kind of mercy unilaterally poured out on children in the wilderness where the children of the Israelites were not put to death for their parents sins on account of their being children. God had mercy unilaterally upon all the children up to a certain age. This is a demonstration of God's unchanging character, and I think it is consistent therefore to conclude that all children who perish in their infancy will go to be with God, and this reconciliation will take place through Christ as an act of mercy consistent with God's actions in the past.
In Job 14:1-2 we read, "Man, who is born of woman, is short-lived and full of turmoil. Like a flower he comes forth and withers, he also flees like a shadow and does not remain." The thrust there is on the fleeting nature of man's life. It happens, then it is gone. This the psalmist agrees with when he says, "Thus He [God] remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and does not return." Our life, our physical life, is fleeting. I don't think we need to study the scriptures to learn this - but we do need to study the scriptures to make sure we understand that much of what is said in scripture concerning our "soul" or "life" is actually directed at our physical life, and not directed at that which died when Adam sinned.
Our Lord Jesus, in speaking to the multitude spoke of the mortality of our souls in this sort of round about way, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves." (John 6:53). The wise Jew would understand this to be a statement running parallel to the temple sacrificial offerings. A sinful Jew took a sin offering to the temple, and stopped in the gate to symbolically transfer his own sins unto the head of the animal by laying his hands on the beast and confessing his sins. The animal was then slain, and both the sinner and the priest ate of the sacrifice. Once the sacrifice was dead, the punishment was symbolically over, and by eating the flesh you were taking the propitiation itself into your body - God's wrath was spent in the killing of the animal who was "holding" your sins - and when you eat that flesh you took into yourself its propitiated flesh, and in doing so you were "united with" the that which had already satisfied God's wrath. Christ in describing the eating of His fleah, and drinking of His blood is aluding to the means of propitiation in language that while symbolic should have been understood by those who understood the symbolic meaning of the sacrifices.
What we note though in this verse is that Christ says they do not have that life in themselves - they (people who are not united to Christ by faith) lack the life of Christ, which alone is immortal.
In John 5:21, and again in John 10:27-28 Jesus spells it out for us, that He is the one who gives eternal life. Given this we presume that we do not presently possess an immortal life and will not possess one until He gives it. That life we know from other verses is in fact Christ's own life which we become partakers of through faith.
I may be overstating the point, but what I want to articulate is the fact that mortal man is not in possession of a self-sustaining, immortal life. The bible doesn't say that God gave Adam a living soul (c.f. Genesis 2:7), it says that God breathed life into Adam and Adam became a living soul (some translations "became a living being").
Thus when a person dies, the breath of life that they borrowed from God returns again to God (Ecclesiastes 12:7) and the body turns to dust. So long as the breath of life is in a man, he is a living soul, and when that breath leaves a man he is no longer a living soul. In Psalm 146:4 we read, of the death of a man in this way, "His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; in that very day his thoughts perish." - here what departs from the dying person is called his spirit. Note that here the scriptures say that the man's thoughts perish. Consider the girl in Luke 8 who died, and whom Christ subsequently revivified. We understand that when Christ said that she was not dead He was not suggesting that they had misdiagnosed her condition, rather His remark demonstrated His understanding of the reality that all people live to God (c.f. Luke 20:38).
Putting it all together, the life that we presently live is corrupted by the death that Adam brought into the world through sin, and spiritually speaking, we are born spiritually dead in tresspasses and sin so that unless we are united to Christ's immortal life through faith, we are spiritually dead already.
If scripture said nothing else on the matter, we would probably conclude that when you die you you lay dead in the grave until Christ returns, at which time everyone who ever died is resurrected, the just to their reward, and the unjust to their condemnation.
Yet our Lord Himself describes Lazarus and the rich man at whose table Lazarus begged, as both having died, and both experiencing a conscious afterlife. In Revelation 20:14, we are told that following the judgment, Hades will be cast into a lake of fire. When Christ describes the rich man as being in Hades, it seems to indicate that the example Christ is giving demands that there must be some conscious state in between death and the final judgment, since Hades has not yet been cast into the lake of fire in this example that Christ gives.
Paul is torn between competing desires in 2 Corinthians 5 - to die means to go immediately into Christ's presence, and to live means to continue on ministering here. Paul seemed convinced that when he died he would immediately enter into Christ's presence which would be "gain" (Philippians 1:21). The thief on the cross who repented and turned to Christ was told by our Lord, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise." - suggesting that both He and the thief were off to Paradise immediately following their death here on earth.
There are several passages in scripture however which on the surface seem to paint our demise as a sort of end; the dead do not praise God (psalm 6:5), in death there is no rememberance of God (Ecclesiastes 9:5), etc. How do we reconcile these perspectives?
I think the answer is right there in the way I have worded the question: perspective.
From the perspective of men who continue to live after other men die - they see these corpses and conclude that the corpses do not praise God, are silent, as it were, and have no rememberance of God etc. They are correct of course - corpses do not do these things, but if the righteous go to paradise to await judgment day, and the unrighteous go to hades to await judgment day - and if on judgment day these people are resurrected, the just and the unjust, we understand that something of our life continues beyond the grave, either going to paradise or hades, there to dwell until judgment day when every righteous "soul" will be reunited with his or her earthly body, which itself will be redeemed and forever after incorruptible. The unjust will likewise be resurrected to the judgment, and condemned. Then will be the marriage supper of the Lamb, followed by a new heavens and a new earth, and the new Jerusalem descending etc. etc.
I think the summary of scripture is that those who have been joined by faith to the life of Christ will, upon physical death, immediately enter into Christ's presence, never to be separated from Christ. On judgment day these same will return with Christ to earth, and their former corpses shall rise from the grave to meet them in the sky, transforming as they go into redeemed and incorruptible bodies. Those who are in Christ on His return shall likewise rise up to meet Christ in the air, having their corrupt bodies likewise redeemed and transformed in the twinkling of an eye. I think that the angels will come just prior Christ's return to remove all that offends in the earth - bringing it to justice. If a just man and an unjust man are standing together, the unjust man will be taken away to judgment, and the just man left to be claimed by Christ who is coming. I could be wrong about the timing here, but that is how I see it in the scriptures.
Okay, time to wrap this up.
To summarize, Christ alone possesses immortality, the rest of us are dead in our tresspasses and sins. When we exercise justifying faith in Christ, we become united to Christ (and therefore partakers of His immortal life). It is this life, and this life (the life of Christ) alone that will survive to the new heavens and the new earth. Everyone who is a partaker of this life will likewise, on account of their union to Christ) survive to the new heavens and new earth - passing through the judgement in Christ even as Noah and his family passed through the judgment in their day.
Every person's consiousness will depart their body and go immediately into the Lord's presence upon their demise - from the innocent infant to the guilty sinner - all will go and reside either in Hades or in Paradies, awaiting the judgment to come.
On Judgment Day the angels clean out the rest of the sinners from earth, and those unjust who died outside of Christ before this day will be resurrected for judgment, and those who are alive on that day will be harvested by the angels for the judgment - and they will be condemned, and cast into the lake of fire.
On Judgment Day Christ Himself will return to earth, along with the life of all those who died in Christ, whose lives will be reunited with their former bodies which will be resurrected on that day as incorruptible - and those who are still upon the earth, will rise up to meet their Lord, and their sinful bodies will likewise be redeemed, changning to incorruptible bodies in the twinkling of the eye - and these shall be off to the judgment also to give account for themselves, but not to condemnation - they shall receive their rewards, then it is off to the marriage supper, then the new heavens, earth, and new Jerusalem.
The souls who were condemned will be in torment in hell - some argue that they live forever thus, some argue that at this point they death is eternal but they do not experience it eternally, etc. I will hold off on my opinion on that for now.
A soul therefore, depending on the context, is either the life we are living now, or that which retains our consciousness when we die and go to either Paradise or Hades.
I don't think that any person's life is immortal in and of itself, given that the scripture describes Christ alone as possessing immortality. Their physical life is fleeting, and the persistence of their consciousness depends entirely upon God from whom they borrow life itself.
I think that if we want to call that which transcends this life and progresses to either Hades or Paradise as "the soul" that's fine, but we need to be careful to distinguish that concept when the language in a particular passage is intended to describe not that which transcends this life, but that which describes this life.
Finally, immortality then describes a life that survives not only the physical life, but the final judgment.
I write all this not to wax on about immortality and souls, but to establish a few points which I can point to when I am counseling people who suffer from obessive compulsion disorders as they pertain to the notion of selling your soul to the devil.
Can you sell your soul to the devil?
No you can't because you don't own your soul - God does. That means that if the devil wants to purchase your soul, he can't purchase it from you, but would have to purchase it from God.
Of course that supposes that the devil (who doesn't even own his own soul) has some sort of currency by which to purchase your soul, and again, that God is actually selling souls - both of which are preposterously ridiculous notions, steeped entirely in superstition and error.
You can't sell what you don't own, and the devil can't buy it because he doesn't have any currency, and God is the one who would sell it, and God is not selling the life that He breathes into you.
Bottom line - you can't sell your soul, you can't lose your soul, you can't touch or see your soul - and even if you manage to convince yourself contrary to all that the scriptures teach, that there is some way to sell you soul - it wouldn't make one bit of difference - when you die, if you are in Christ you will pass through the judgment, and if you are not you will be condemned - regardless of whether you have been duped into believing you can sell your soul or not.
Labels: immortality, souls
posted by Daniel @
Thankfully this post is long enough that most people will not bother to read it all, preferring to skim over the matter and perhaps read a bit here and there. In this way they will probably miss some of the eschatological references that might have otherwise stirred a tangential controversy in the comment section.
Daniel, very interesting post. I am curious, where do you feel the location of paradise is?
Jesus told Mary not to touch Him because He had not yet ascended to the Father. Where did His soul reside while awaiting resurrection?
Jim, I am not sure I would appeal to a spatial understanding of paradise as a default approach to considering your question. What if our consciousness doesn't actually take up "space" in the way our body does? What if paradise is a spiritual reality that has no spatial equivalent? What if the place that Christ has prepared for us, is not a physical place, since we will have no physical bodies, but rather a place in the sense of having a place in His family (I am using this as an example and not suggesting that this is the way to interpret the verse)?
I am tossing out such thoughts in order that we examine the validity of any presumption concerning the nature of paradise. Why do we imagine it in terms of a physical location, when we know we won't have a physical body?
I can't imagine a timelessness, nor can I imagine a non-spatial existence. Every sense I have is tied to time and space so it is no stretch for me to imagine that whatever I might paint paradise to be, I will probably be way, way off.
When our Lord spoke of Parasise and Hades He spoke of them as physical locations, but he also spoke of the rich man as though he possessed a body in Hades. Since the rich man's body was rotting in a grave somewhere, I expect that this imagery was just that - imagery. There was a reality behind that imagery - Lazarus was with Abraham, the rich man was not - but I am inclined (at present) to think of this as Christ describing spiritual realities in imagery that would make the most sense to a spatially aware being.
So I don't think of paradise in terms of a "place" in the time/space sense - rather I think that whatever it is, it is something my consciousness would be aware of, but not something that would require my consciousness to inhabit a temporary, but intermediate body.
Now, to your question about what Jesus meant when he told Mary not to touch him yet as he had not yet ascended to the Father.
My best guess depends on the simplest understanding of what is going on.
When Christ told her not to "touch" Him, the word translated as "touch" is perhaps better translated as "cling" since it carries that notion - the image then is of Mary casting herself at Christ's feet (which was actually a rather common thing to do for the day), and locking onto Him, as though she had come upon Him just as He was about to ascend, and Her gripping Him was a heart sick effort to prolong His stay on earth.
Christ's words suggest that He is simply saying that she need not cling to Him like that, since He isn't ascending right this moment.
As to where the soul of Christ went, He Himself tells us that He would be with the theif in paradise.
Let me know if that makes sense.
Daniel, that is a fair assessment. There is a lot consider in this post.