I received the following email this past week:
Since the passing of my father recently the question of what happens
when we die is ever on my mothers mind. I might add mine too. I have
read a lot on it on the internet and the Bible and I must admit it can be overwhelming for a simple minded person like myself. I wanted to ask you if on your blog did you address the question and if
so when. I tried looking in the archives but was unable to find one...After reading a lot of thoughts from other people and their reasoning I
always came to the thought of what is Pastor Haug's thoughts.
Heady topic with lots of stuff out there.
Interestingly enough, this week's Living Lutheran: Ask a Pastor section was on this very topic. Answers there vary. Answers with a lot of pastors and professors vary.
Here's my short answer: we don't know exactly. That's the truth.
There's only been one person that I know of who experienced the fullness of death for three days and then returned, and He didn't do too much talking about what was going on when His body lay in the tomb.
Sure, there have been others who have had near death experiences. Some have tried to explain these experiences as the brain going into shut down mode and having a hyper-burst of activity. However, there are some experiences where the brain is completely shut down for days, and yet these experiences still occur. Some have recorded these experiences and sold them on the market. At the recommendation of church members, I have read both:
Heaven is for Real
Proof of Heaven
Both of these books are quite interesting and intriguing. Both have sold thousands of copies, but they are vastly different in what they convey about life after death. Vastly different.
So, what is true?
I don't know, but this is what I trust:
When I die, I believe I will go to be with God.
Yes, I know this doesn't exactly gel with St. Paul's understanding of death: that we fall asleep until the resurrection. But it does gel with other portions of scripture.
For instance, this Sunday's Gospel passage from the book of Luke. Jesus is asked a question about the resurrection by the Sadducees. Of course the Sadducees don't believe in the resurrection of the dead. They believe once a person is dead: that's it.
Yet, Jesus doesn't buy that train of thought. He answers them rather profoundly (bold emphasis mine):
27 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28and asked him a question, ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30then the second 31and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32Finally the woman also died. 33In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.’ 34 Jesus said to them, ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36Indeed they cannot die any more, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’ 39Then some of the scribes answered, ‘Teacher, you have spoken well.’ 40For they no longer dared to ask him another question.
"Now, He is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to Him all of them are alive."
This is quite the interesting statement, is it not? How can Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still be living? Their bones have surely decayed and returned to the dust long sense? How could they be considered living?
Jesus offers more insight when He gives the parable of the rich man and Lazarus:
19 ‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.
20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.
22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.
23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.
24He called out, “Father
Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger
in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.”
25But Abraham said,
“Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good
things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted
here, and you are in agony.
26Besides all this,
between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might
want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from
there to us.”
27He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—
28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.”
29Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.”
30He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”
31He said to him, “If
they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be
convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’
While this indeed is a parable; it does tell us something of how Jesus viewed what happened after death.
#1. There is life after it.
#2. Some are taken to be with Abraham wherever he may be (With God?).
#3. Some head to torment.
#4. There is a separation between these two places that cannot be crossed.
Some might like to stop here, but Jesus certainly doesn't. Jesus, as Paul talks about the resurrection.
Some folks like to do an either/or. Either heaven and hell or resurrection to a new heaven and a new earth.
I like to combine them with the both/and. Some part of us goes on living--goes to be with God (or torment) as we await the last judgment. Then, on that day, we are reembodied at the resurrection.
Again, I don't know for sure. Haven't been on the other side to check. One thing is for sure: we'll all find out.