I’m not actually looking to get all conclusive here. More of just a fresh thought for discussion, and because I haven’t posted in over a month.
While I was on vacation, a brother gave me a pamphlet warning me about protestant teachings. It was kind of unusual in itself since the pamphlet was by some organization called “catholic quest”, which made sense, but the brother was in a messianic synagogue and talked like a seventh day Adventist. I, of course, reject all those labels as divisive, but its interesting how many different strange roads Yah meets us on.
The larger discussion was about eternal punishment vs. eternal destruction. I lean more toward the latter. I can see a way the former could be consistent with scripture and God’s character, in fact a way that I see the two become one which always sounds like truth to me.
But in the author’s view, that question hinged upon two things the immortality of the soul and the conscious or unconscious state of the soul after death. And here’s where I’ve always had problems.
Immortality: existent source, does not in anyway negate the possibility of immortality for his creation, merely saying its not of themselves. In fact, God’s eternality suggests man’s eternality. For example, before I write a scene in a story, before it’s on paper, I already see the characters in my head. They exist before they exist. And if I happen to kill off a character (whether they are good or evil), does that character cease to exist in my head? No. They last as long as I remember them, whether or not they are alive in the story.
You can argue that the character is not as “eternal” as me because there is a time before I thought of them, but is there a ”time” before God thinks of anything? Since he’s outside of time, aren’t all his thoughts present thoughts? Can something new “occur” to God? Isn’t that why he can say “before I formed you in the womb, I knew you”? How can he predestine someone before the foundation of the world, and yet we say that person did not exist? If God has a purpose for them, and his will is unstoppable, then whether that person takes a breath or not, they are as good as existing.
You could also argue that my characters can go away because I might one day forget them. But can God forget? He might not bring something up anymore, but if God could truly “forget” something, then there exists the very real possibility that God might forget one of us.
Sleeping or waking: The second thing thrown up is that there are numerous scriptures which talk about those who are dead as being asleep. There are places in Job and Psalms and Ecclesiastes, which tell us that there is no remembrance or praise in the grave. It certainly seems to be an inactive state. Yet these are also seemingly in conflict with Yeshua telling the thief “today” you will be in paradise. And Paul saying to be absent is to be “present” with YHVH. Or the visions of Revelation where there are saints walking and talking and doing, and asking “how long wilt thou not avenge . . . ?” All of which suggest mental faculties. Or what about the mount of transfiguration? If the souls are unconscious, why did Moses and Elijah get woken up to talk with Yeshua about what was about to come to pass in Jerusalem? It makes little sense for people who have been asleep the whole time to be woken up to talk (how inefficient a way to catch up on a couple hundred years of history?) about what was happening in the present, of which they are not a part, only then to go back to sleep for another 2,000+ years? And then what of Enoch who clearly never died at all. Is he the only awake person in heaven?
Yet there are all those verses in the Tanach. They can’t simply be ignored. And this is where I had a new thought (new to me):
Firstly, we make assumptions about terms that are not pre-figured in the natural world. For example, we take death to be cessation or annihilation. A ceasing of being. Yet in the natural world this isn’t true. When a body dies, it does not slip out of our dimension. It’s still there, but inactive, and then it decomposes, but even in decomposition, nothing is destroyed; only the organization is changed. This chemical breaks into this one, but every atom is preserved. The remains of every dead person is currently in circulation as part of the ecosystem that sustains our lives.
So there is nothing about death which suggests oblideration, just disorganization. That is why I can be open to a position of “eternal torment” in unity with “eternal destruction”, because when something is ruined it does not cease to exist, it simply ceases to exist as it was. Thus the thing that we love in someone who “might be in hell” would not be in hell. Ie, we love good things, but God takes back his goodness from those who reject him, so what’s in hell is simply the shed skin of sin. Everything that has no part of God is what is burning in hell. It’s like mourning a beautiful painting in a fire, but the beautiful parts have been taken away. All that burns is the ugly and wasted.
So all death really means is a different state of being.
Now consider the concept of sleep. Those brothers and sisters who argue for unconscious waiting, argue this because sleep means inactivity and not knowing. But is that true in the natural? Isn’t the brain in fact still operating in sleep? It can still receive outside stimulus or you could not be woken by a prowler or a baby’s cry. Perhaps this is akin to how the “dead” are “woken” with the trump of God? Because they can still hear.
Not only can they still receive stimulus, even in sleep, the body moves. It can gesture, talk, laugh, elbow its wife or shove its husband out of bed, or even walk.
And even the mental faculties are not arrested. We dream don’t we? We make decisions in those dreams. We have emotions. We recall memories. We can even get the sense that we are out of place. That we are not in the real world. We can even be asleep and yet awake! Frequently, I’ll wake (knowing I have to use the bathroom), knowing that I am in my house, in my room, next to my bed, and yet be unable to get my bearings to make my body move in the right direction.
All this is to say, that I’m not convinced that being dead or being asleep means unconsciousness of the soul. Clearly, the body is unconscious in death. From the outside, the sleeping body and dead body can look the same. How often have you checked on a sleeping baby with a tingle of terror because you’re not sure you can hear them breathing?
So perhaps, the “sleep” is not about what they are doing, but about what it looks like to the living? And yet, it could also be about them, because the dead could be dead in the body, and yet be alive in a “dream” in Heaven (or in Hell). Knowing they aren’t where they are supposed to be (alive and on Earth). They can not know or praise or remember things as a body, but they can in spirit just as a sleeping man can sense right and wrong in a dream. I’ve repented for many things done in dreams, and woken so very glad to find out that I did not actually do in the body those things. And I think I’ve even experienced God’s presence a little in dreams . . . all while I was “asleep.”
So what do you think? I’m not sure that it even matters other than a theological exercise in reconciling scriptures. The only place it could make sense to me is in understanding God’s mercy and justice at the moment. There’s a good follow-up discussion: how does it matter?