Maybe this has happened to you. I took the earbuds out of my ears and carefully wound the cord around my fingers. Seven or eight loops and it was done. I stuck the whole thing in a little plastic bag to keep it from getting tangled up with other cords and connectors I had laying around. Neat, right? A tight little zip-locked package.
When I wanted the earbuds again I opened the little bag and pulled out the cord, only to find it tangled with itself. It’s like my winding had wound up a little spring in the cord. My loops had looped in and out of each other. I had to grab the end – or was it the beginning – and unravel the thing before I could use it.
I told you all that so I could say this: Try to put together a neatly packaged set of beliefs about the nature of life, God, purpose, death, eternity, etc., and you may eventually produce a tangle of impossible logic and conflicting conclusions.
Suppose you are a typical Christian with traditional beliefs. You are convinced that you have an immortal soul that can exist independent of your body. You see death as a transition from this present physical, bodily form of life to a spirit life.
You might not be a fan of prolific songwriter Dottie Rambo or her southern gospel music genre, but you might agree with her lyrics: “This house of flesh is but a prison. Bars of bone hold my soul.” Her view of dying? “The doors of clay are gonna burst wide open when the angel sets my spirit free.”
Millions have been comforted by these and similar sentiments. Dying and going to heaven. What could be better?
To hold such a view is easy, as long as you don’t try to fit it into the bigger picture. By “bigger picture” I mean the whole system of afterlife issues that includes the judgment, resurrection, and the eternal destiny of both “the saved” and “the lost.”
To make my point, I’ll use “the judgment.” It is widely held that “the judgment” is a singular event that will take place at a future time. Human beings – or perhaps the souls of human beings – will face the divine tribunal and then be sent to their final – and eternal – reward or punishment.
If you believe you have an immortal soul that goes to heaven (or to hell, for that matter) when you die, can you also believe in that future judgment? On what basis can your soul be rewarded or punished at the time of your death?
Roman Catholic theology “solves” this with the PARTICULAR JUDGMENT. But that solution raises still other questions about the need for multiple judgments, etc.
This tangle of confusing ideas can be resolved by adopting the holistic, biblical view of our nature. In God’s creative act, “man BECAME a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). Human life ends at death. The Bible’s favorite word for death is “sleep.” In that unconscious state we rest until the power of death is defeated by the resurrection.
“But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).