The most dangerous deceptions are those that claim to offer comfort.
by Gillian Bethel
Which would be the preferred experience for people who die: to go straight to heaven and be with Jesus, or to be unconscious until the resurrection and go to heaven with Jesus then? Either way, their next conscious experience would be with Jesus, wouldn’t it?
But which would be the preferred experience for the bereaved: to believe their loved ones are in heaven, or to believe they are “sleeping” until the resurrection at Christ’s coming? Many would say it’s more comforting to believe they are in heaven. But why is that, if it will be all the same for the deceased? Could the answer be that it gives the bereaved the possibility of continuing relationships and communication with them?
Losing loved ones in death is very difficult. The sudden emptiness and finality can seem unbearable. Without warning people are not accessible anymore and won’t be back. It’s natural to miss them and long for continuing relationships with them. Believing they are conscious and happy somewhere is comforting, and even more comforting is the thought that they can see us and communicate with us, and we with them.
“My son has been dead for one month now. I know he’s in heaven because he asked Christ to come into his heart and asked for forgiveness of sin. My husband and I both at different times have heard his voice, very faint, calling out to me, his mom. He says, ‘Hey, Mom….’ When my husband heard it, he cried; when I heard it, I felt like I was floating. It happens when we least expect it.”¹
Surely an experience like this would be very comforting to grieving parents. It means relationship and communication is continuing in some measure. Or is it? Among Christians there are two views of what happens after death and two ways of looking at experiences like the one above. We will see that more than we realize hangs on which one we choose.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER DEATH?
The first of these two views is well known. At death the immortal soul is believed to go to heaven or hell forever according to the choices the person made in life. Some believe souls in heaven will return with Christ in the future and be reunited with resurrected and immortal bodies. Many believe souls in heaven can observe and even communicate with people on earth. The second view is less familiar. The soul is not believed to possess innate immortality, but at death “sleeps” in an unconscious state until Christ’s second coming and the resurrection of the righteous, or until after the millennium when Christ resurrects the wicked. Then the wicked receive judgment and the second death, which is total annihilation, but the righteous enjoy eternal life with Christ in the New Earth. When all the biblical evidence is reviewed carefully, it heavily favors the second view, although verses can be found which apparently lend support to the first. However, careful examination of the context of these verses shows that they are being misapplied. For example, pastor and author Jack Wellman, who favors the first view, nevertheless admits:
Many use the verse in Hebrews 12:1,“Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” as evidence that their loved ones can see them from heaven, but is that what this verse is really about? I don’t believe it is.²
He then gives a contextual study of the verse showing that this cannot be what it is referring to. He concludes as follows:
…I could find no conclusive Bible evidence that our lost loved ones can see us from heaven. We can only speculate at best. Where the Bible is silent, I believe we ought to be. Where the Bible doesn’t speak specifically on the subject, then we should not speak specifically on the subject.³
Good counsel! Yet the desire to find Bible verses that apparently support the first view is strong because many people want to believe it’s true. Unfortunately, there is a vast difference between looking for Bible verses to support a desired belief, and basing one’s beliefs on a thorough study of the Word of God with a desire for truth, whatever it may be. But what if that desired belief is backed up by personal experience, such as that of the parents who heard their son speaking to them? If God’s Word clearly says one thing, but can be construed differently to match a person’s desire and experience, it creates a dangerous situation. Why dangerous? Consider what happened in a beautiful garden long ago.
Taken from Last Generation, Vol. 26 No. 4. Last Generation is a vibrant 32-page soul-winning magazine published six times a year. To subscribe, call (540) 672-1996, Ext. 283.