My Uncle's Question

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mattrose
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My Uncle's Question

Post by mattrose » Thu Jul 19, 2018 3:16 pm

One of my uncles sent me this question via email and I thought I'd share it and my reply
.................................
Dear Matthew,
A couple of recent funerals have got me to thinking about things of a religious nature, and I am asking for your thoughts here. I understand that when our souls go to heaven, there is no more suffering; no more pain. I also understand (and this is probably NOT stated in the Bible) that Grandma (or whomever) is looking down at us from Heaven.
I don't understand how both could be true. If I die and enter Heaven and can "look down" at my children or friends or whomever, I will worry about them just as I do now, with the nuclear threat from multiple sources, and impulsive, evil people "leading" various countries worldwide. That worry (which also springs from many other issues) IS SUFFERING and it IS PAIN, no?
I welcome your thoughts.
Thanks,
Uncle ________

---------------------------------
Uncle ______,

Your question... or, perhaps, more accurately, your observation of the tension between two popular beliefs... is a good one

Here are the 2 beliefs you mentioned
1) When our souls go to heaven, there is no more suffering or pain
2) Those in heaven are looking down on us

I think you have rightly pointed out that there is a tension between these beliefs. How could souls in heaven NOT be worried about their loved ones still living in such a dangerous world? And, to take it a step further, how could they NOT suffer or be pained when bad things did, in fact, happen to their loved ones (as they sometimes do)? As you suggested, it seems these 2 popular beliefs are not compatible.

I would tend to agree with you, which means that either #1 is wrong OR #2 is wrong OR perhaps both are wrong. I think the most common way to resolve this tension would be to deny belief #2 (that those in heaven are looking down on us) as simply a sentimental belief with no basis in reality. I, on the other hand, would resolve the tension differently based on my understanding of Scripture.

From my perspective, it is actually belief #1 (the idea that when our souls go to heaven there is no more pain) that is flawed. This belief seems to be based on the end of the book of Revelation which states "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Revelation 21:4).

The problem is, that verse is actually talking about post Judgment Day and life in the New Heavens and the New Earth. Many people confuse the Intermediate State (the time between Death and Judgment Day) and the Eternal State (The New Heavens & The New Earth). Orthodox Christianity teaches that when someone dies, their 'soul' goes into God's presence (Heaven) to await the resurrection of the body (on Judgment Day). Once we've received a resurrection body, we'll live forever on the New Earth. It is this eternal state (the New Earth) that Revelation 21:4 is describing (this is clear from 21:1).

This makes much more sense of the wording of this passage. The reason there will be no more crying or pain on the New Earth is specifically because there will be no more death anywhere. The old order (ruled by death) will have been dealt with once and for all.

But during the Intermediate State, we have no real grounds (in Scripture) for believing that 'souls' will be free from worrying about their loved ones. If anything, I'd say we have evidence in the opposite direction. After all, in one of the few peaks we get into the Intermediate State (Revelation 6:10), we find 'souls' in Heaven who are asking "how long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" It seems then (though I hesitate to draw too much concrete doctrine from such a symbolic book as Revelation) that souls in the Intermediate State are, indeed, worried about the evil that is still happening on earth.

Based on these Scriptures, I believe that God's people who have passed from this Earth are now in heaven and are aware of the many problems (in fact, they are probably far more aware of the problems than we are!). But they are also much more aware of the ultimate solution (since they are in God's direct presence). As a whole, I would consider it a better vantage point to watch history unfold than that of the living. They, like us, are still awaiting ultimate justice (Judgment Day & the New Heavens and New Earth), but they have an even greater assurance that that time will come (even if they keep asking how much longer it will take).

Those are my thoughts. I hope they help you think through the tension you felt.

I'm sorry to hear you had to attend multiple funerals. I pray God comforts you in your grief.

God bless,
Matthew

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Paidion
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Re: My Uncle's Question

Post by Paidion » Thu Jul 19, 2018 3:43 pm

I used to be with a group who believed that the cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews 12:1 are the departed ones witnessing or viewing out behaviour.
Now I see they are that great group of faithful ones described in chapter 11; they are witnesses to what can be accomplished through faith.

Indeed, I no longer believe in the existence of "souls" at all—at least not as Plato and other Greek philosophers understood them. If we have immortal souls that go to heaven at death, as so many believe, then what is the purpose of the resurrection (though some go so far as to state that the departure of our souls to heaven IS our resurrection).

Paul emphasized the resurrection as of crucial importance. He indicated that if there is no resurrection we may as well eat, drink, and be merry, for then this life would be all there is for us:

[i]1Co 15:32 What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."[/i]
Paidion

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Re: My Uncle's Question

Post by mattrose » Thu Jul 19, 2018 4:30 pm

Yes, I considered mention that some Christians believe in 'soul sleep' or some variation... but I don't personally hold that view and didn't want to muddy the waters more than I already had :)

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Re: My Uncle's Question

Post by Paidion » Thu Jul 19, 2018 5:38 pm

It seems that every time I mention that the resurrection is necessary, someone concludes that I believe in "soul sleep." How can I believe in soul sleep if I don't believe in souls? ψθχη is translated as "soul" in some versions. But how could the rich man have been talking to his soul? Were there two individuals within him?
Luke 12:19 (NKJV) ‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’
In my opinion, the rich man was talking to himself.
Paidion

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Re: My Uncle's Question

Post by steve » Thu Jul 19, 2018 7:40 pm

If we have immortal souls that go to heaven at death, as so many believe, then what is the purpose of the resurrection
If the whole point of eternal life is merely "bliss," then, I suppose, the bliss of heaven is as good as the bliss of the new earth, and the latter might as well have been foregone. I believe that the purpose of the resurrection and of the new earth is unrelated to the question of soul survival in heaven. If we do, indeed, have eternal life (John 5:24), and will never die (John 11:26), as Jesus said, then there must be an immortal part of us that can be either present in, or absent from, the body (2 Cor.5:6, 8).

Paul certainly seemed to believe this—even believing in the possibility of out-of-body visits to heaven during this life (2 Cor.12:2-3).

If there is an immortal part of the believer (I make no such claim for the unbeliever) then the question of living in heaven during the intermediate state is entirely separate from the need for a resurrection. An immortal something has to be somewhere.

However, being eternally in heaven is not the desired end result. When asked about a different subject (divorce), Jesus appealed to the way God made it "in the beginning" as the ideal to be desired (Matt.19:4, 8). God's purpose in eternity is apparently unchanged from His original purpose in creation, namely, that perfectly obedient people, in perfect and immortal bodies, will live forever in a perfect world. If this was not what He wanted, there is no reason for Him to have created this situation, in Genesis 1 and 2.

This is what, I believe, will exist in the final consummation, as per 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21. Until then, the immortal ones must hang out somewhere when they put aside this vail of tears.

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Re: My Uncle's Question

Post by mattrose » Thu Jul 19, 2018 8:08 pm

Paidion wrote:It seems that every time I mention that the resurrection is necessary, someone concludes that I believe in "soul sleep." How can I believe in soul sleep if I don't believe in souls? ψθχη is translated as "soul" in some versions. But how could the rich man have been talking to his soul? Were there two individuals within him?
Luke 12:19 (NKJV) ‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’
In my opinion, the rich man was talking to himself.
I'm sorry Paidion. I was actually just using 'soul sleep' as a shorthand label for all views including yours that deny consciousness during the intermediate state. Sorry for my sloppyness/laziness. I was aware you take a nuanced position.

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Re: My Uncle's Question

Post by Paidion » Fri Jul 20, 2018 4:42 pm

No problem, Matt. No harm done.
Paidion

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Re: My Uncle's Question

Post by Paidion » Fri Jul 20, 2018 5:34 pm

Steve wrote:If we do, indeed, have eternal life (John 5:24), and will never die (John 11:26), as Jesus said, then there must be an immortal part of us that can be either present in, or absent from, the body (2 Cor.5:6, 8).
I'd like to share my understanding of the last two verses mentioned above:

Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."
Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day."
Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:24,25 ESV)


If by "will never die" means the person's soul will never die, then Jesus was using "die" in two different senses in the same sentence. For He said, "Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live..." Surely, He meant that the one who believes, or entrusts himself to Him, though he dies a normal death as we understand the death of an individual, will nevertheless live again. As I see it, Jesus is addressing the resurrection to which Martha referred. The person who dies will yet live when he is raised from death.

But what about the person who is alive and entrusts himself to Jesus? If Jesus had been using "die" in the same sense, it would mean that such a person will never die physically. So either He was using "die" in two different senses, or else we are not understanding the second clause correctly. I suggest the latter.
The Greek actually says, "shall no way die into the age." Both the Diaglot and Young's Literal Translation so render it.

...and all the living and believing into me, not not may die into the age. (Diaglot)
...and every one who is living and believing in me shall not die — to the age. (YLT)


As I understand it, Jesus was saying that living people who believe in Him or entrust themselves to Him, though they may die, like those in the past who entrusted themselves to Him, will not remain dead right into the next age. For Jesus will return on the last day of the present age and raise them to life again. John records Jesus saying, "I will raise him on the last day" four times in John 6—verses 39,40,44, and 54.
Steve also wrote: as Jesus said, then there must be an immortal part of us that can be either present in, or absent from, the body (2 Cor.5:6, 8)
Let's look at the passage from 2 Cor 5:
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened —  not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Yes, it seems that Paul did consider being away from this present body; he also compared our present life to dwelling in a tent. But I think in the final sentence, he was saying that we would rather be away (or "absent") from this present mortal body, and be at home with the Lord in the immortal resurrected body that we shall have.
Paidion

Man judges a person by his past deeds, and administers penalties for his wrongdoing. God judges a person by his present character, and disciplines him that he may become righteous.

Avatar shows me at 75 years old. I am now 81.

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