Life After Death Discussion Part 1

It’s been a while since I posted anything.  I’ve been working (whenever I have a few minutes) on the next midrash on Hosea, which would be chapter 5.  It’s turned out to be one of the more difficult texts to interpret and I can see why people have a hard time with the prophets.  But I had a breakthrough in my readings, so that should help.  Other than that, I’ve been extremely busy.

But today I wanted to quickly post a question to see people think on this subject (see: post title).  My friend Ted Howard has loaned me a good book by N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, and it has really got me thinking about many of my preconceived notions about what heaven life after death will be like.  I crossed through “heaven” just now because this book has seriously called into doubt everything I’ve thought my whole life on life after death.  While Wright’s ideas are radically different than the mainstream Christian thought on the subject, it’s strangely not against the bible.  One of the points he makes early on (and due to being very busy, I’m only in Chapter 3) is that people have alot of ideas about what happens after you die and that most are either not entirely biblically-based or just flat-out wrong.

So, my question to all of you is this: what happens when you die?  From the point of death, what happens next?  Do you go up to heaven immediately (ala Rich Man and Lazarus parable by Jesus), do you sit in the ground and wait for judgment day, or do you do something else like become a ghost or spirit messing with people?  Is there going to be a “rapture”?  When does judgment day occur and what happens?  Does God just have a big timer set up in heaven and when it goes off he calls up Jesus and says “Jesus: you are clear for launch”? (the last question could be probably less sarcastically said “Is the time of the second coming just an arbitrary point in time, such that it could be ‘any old time’ like today or tomorrow?”)  Or do you think there a bit more purpose behind the second coming as to when it will occur?  What happens to earth and the current material physical universe after the second coming?  Where do the bad people go and is there really such a place as “Hell” or is it a metaphor?  Where do the good people go?  Once you’re in eternal paradise, how do all those “treasures stored up in heaven” come into play?  Are those treasures literally a “mansion on a hilltop”?  Or is it something else entirely?  And once “the door is shut” and eternity in paradise starts…what do you do for eternity?

Hmm…looks like that’s waaaaay too much for one reply.  So let’s take them one at a time instead.  The above questions are what we’ll talk about together in a series, but let’s start with just the first specific one:

From the point of death, what happens next? Be specific. Do you go up to heaven immediately (ala Rich Man and Lazarus parable by Jesus), do you sit in the ground and wait for judgement day, or do you do something else like become a ghost or spirit messing with people?

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4 thoughts on “Life After Death Discussion Part 1

  1. Let me preface this by saying that I am _not_ a Bible Scholar. So maybe I have a simple perspective, but either way I do have an opinion. Mind you this is an opinion and not necessarily based on Biblical fact.

    I believe that after our body dies, our soul immediately leaves our body and goes to heaven. Then I’ve always kind of pictured something like an interview process. You sit with Jesus (the HR manager) and he goes over everything you did wrong and makes you answer for what you did. Then, at the end of the interview he tells you he has good news for you! Because you knew him on Linked In, and you have a good relationship with him, he wants to have you at his company! And he says that all the wrong stuff you did before has been wiped clean and you have a pure clean soul.

    Then, he takes you to introduce you to the boss (the president of the company) for final acceptance. So you go in the room behind Jesus and Jesus tells God, “Father, I have another soul for you today. He/She has been wiped clean from sin. Because of me, I think you should let him/her in.” Then God thinks it over and says, “Okay, great, can you start right away?”

    Of course, you would never turn down such an offer, so you immediately accept. Then, you can have some Q&A with God. This is when you get to discuss why that guy in 5th grade didn’t ask you to the dance… and why do people hurt other people… etc. etc. etc. (There is a caveat here. I suppose that probably you wouldn’t care about this stuff anymore once you’re in heaven, however, I like to think as a human that we’ll find great understanding to all of our questions once we enter the Kingdom of God. It keeps me peaceful… most of the time.)

    After that, you join with the other people and angels and you just start praising God. Maybe there’s a picnic where you get to reconnect with your old history teacher (boy was he surprised!) and your great grandmother. And you’d get the chance to ask George Washington about the question you’d always been telling people on earth you’d ask him if you ever had the chance to meet him. (i.e. So, if you could meet anyone in the world and ask them one question who/what would it be?) And you’d eat everything you loved twice, because our bodies are perfect in heaven and we won’t have to worry about gaining weight. And then there really would be such a thing as “Heavenly chocolate.”

    Ah… that was a wonderful thought vacation. But the truth is that I think that the one thing we’ll gain in Heaven is true and pure selflessness. Thus all our efforts will be truly focused on God and praising Him. But I don’t think we’ll have to wait around for Jesus to come get us. And I do think that there will be a second coming and at that point Jesus will bring all of the believers home. And I don’t think that the universe will continue to exist after that point. But I have no basis for those thoughts except for opinion. Though I’m pretty sure that there’s nothing in the Bible that is that descriptive, so it’s probably a guessing game for everyone.

    Okay, I’m done now…

    • Andrea, I like your funny take on the afterlife. It reminds me abit of “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” where they die and have to play Death at a board game and beat him to come back to life. haha. Anyway, I think one thing you hit on precisely is that we’ll be in paradise (and that probably includes “heavenly chocolate”). I don’t necessarily agree with you that when we die we go instantly to heaven, but that’s the subject of another post, I think. My ideas about the afterlife have shifted drastically in just the last few years and now while reading this book my ideas have shifted even more. It appears (to me) that what we (Christians in general) been taught about the afterlife is more of a product of cultural pseudo-Christian thought than actual Biblical truth. Alot of the research I’ve done into the Jewishness of Jesus left me with many questions about the afterlife. One big question I had was: why doesn’t the Old Testament talk about Heaven as the final destination of God’s people? How come the Old Testament only refers to “sheol” as the destination for the dead? If we are to believe that faithful people in the O.T. will be “saved”, then why didn’t it talk about where they would go when they died? If “Heaven” is so central and crucial to the picture, why wasn’t it in the O.T. for all those faithful Jewish believers back then? They are some difficult questions to answer, but this book is satisfying all of my questions thus far.

  2. Not sure you need to be a biblical scholar to discover some answers to your questions. On the other hand, you may have to have the ability to throw out much of what you have been told about heaven or-and this is more likely-what you have sung about heaven. You’ve probably heard me comment that one of the few songs about heaven is “I Can Only Imagine.” The beauty of that song is that it leaves it to the Lord to reveal what heaven is.

    In short, it seems that about all we need to know of your subject is found in Jesus’ discussion with Martha in John 11: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Beyond that, I’m content to wait.

    • Tom, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate your thought about what we sing about heaven, and it’s something you’re far more of an expert on than I am, but it’s something that’s bothered me alot lately. When we sing about heaven now, my mind starts to ask “is this in the bible?” and “is this even close to the biblical promise of hope we have been given?”

      As to your comment about John 11, you are right on the money. Jesus’ main theme about life after death was bodily resurrection of the dead, not (and surprisingly to most people) “when you die your spirit goes to heaven forever.”

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