March 28, 2013 5 Comments
One really common belief across religions is that existing comes with an inalienable right to continue to exist in perpetuity (forever). That is called the immortality of the soul. That view didn’t come from Judaism or Christianity but from the Greeks. Socrates and Plato both influenced this idea and it has had a heavy influence in Christian circles even still today. It is popular but is it scriptural that all souls are guaranteed eternal existence? Matthew 10:28 says it is entirely possible for God to destroy the soul. Revelation 20:14-15 call hell the “second death”. If these people have already died and are being judged and condemned to hell to die a second time and death is the cessation of life, it is entirely possible that they are consumed and gone forever (some call that the annihilation view of hell). But it only makes sense that your right to an eternal soul does not trump God’s sovereignty or ability to destroy your soul if He so wills it. Instead, many have opted for Plato even where it contradicts scripture.
The Greeks believed there was a body/soul dichotomy. The body was temporary and evil. The soul was eternal and good. So when you die, in some sense, you got an upgrade because your body was no more…decayed and never to be useful again. There was no interest in this body after death because when you die, the Greeks thought, the very best part of you lived on. Many Christians have adopted that idea and it has resulted in the belief that heaven is a place of disembodied souls like in the old hymn “Home of the Soul”,
“If for the prize we have striven,
After our labors are o’er,
Rest to our souls will be given,
On the eternal shore.”
And then, speaking of heaven in the Chorus,
“Home of the soul, beautiful home,
There we shall rest, never to roam;
Free from all care, happy and bright,
Jesus is there, He is the light!
Oft in the storm, lonely are we,
Sighing for home, longing for thee,
Beautiful home of the ransomed,
beside the crystal sea.”
In this view, heaven is a place of disembodied souls that live eternally with God. But is that biblical or is that just pagan Greek philosophy intermingled with Christian doctrine? This view fails to capture what the New Testament teaches us about the resurrection. What happens to the soul after we die? The Greeks believed the soul lived on in the afterlife as a shade/shadow of your former self. Jews and Christians believe in a general resurrection at the end of time and in the meantime your soul was at rest (there is disagreement on what the intermediate state consists of).
So here is the question – Jews and Christians believe in a general resurrection…the question is, “What is raised?” If you believe heaven is a place where disembodied souls live with God forever then you must insist that souls are being raised and that when 1 Thessalonians 5 says “The dead in Christ will rise” that souls are rising to meet Christ. Rising from what? Rising from the ground? The souls must have left their resting place, returned to the ground (where they were buried??? and then rise up from there)? That certainly seems strange. What is more, if you think souls are eternal AND heaven is about disembodied souls then why does scripture talk about resurrection giving us new life? You are already as alive as you would be, under that theory, as a disembodied soul. And, what does it mean for Christ to conquer death if there is no sign in our lives of that ever being the case? If our bodies suffer eternal decay, that certainly doesn’t seem like much of a victory over death (1 Cor 15) to me.
But if our bodies are raised the whole thing makes sense…death is not the victor, decay doesn’t have the final say and the effects of sin are reversed! The scriptures speak with continuity and clarity on this. Jesus was our forerunner. Jesus was raised in the body. He ascended to heaven bodily. Do you think he ascended bodily but checked his body at the door of heaven or do you think he will be the only guy in the room with a body in heaven? Or is it possible (and scriptural) that our bodies will be raised just like His? That is what the ancient Jews believed, what the New Testament teaches and what the early Christians believed as well. But somewhere along the line we let ancient Greek philosophy cloud our view of all of this, even when it contradicts scripture.