What Happens When We Die?
In this episode, Kymberli Cook, Mikel Del Rosario, Drs. Gary Habermas and Daniel Hill discuss near-death experiences and evidence for the soul, focusing on a theology of the afterlife.
- Biblical passages on life after death
- Views on the intermediate state and heaven
- What is soul sleep?
- Why might some prefer the view of soul sleep?
- How to approach near-death experiences
- Near-death experiences from other religions
- What can we learn from near-death experiences?
- Final judgment and bodily resurrection
Kymberli Cook: Welcome to the table podcast where we discuss issues of God and culture. My name is Kymberli Cook. I’m the Senior Administrator at The Hendricks Center, and today we’re gonna be talking about what happens when we die. I’m joined, today, by some distinguished fellows, distinguished gentlemen. We have Gary Habermas, who’s the Distinguished, literally, Research Professor of Apologetics and Philosophy at Liberty University. We have Daniel Hill, who’s the Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at DTS. And we also have Mikel Del Rosario here, who’s the Project Manager for Cultural Engagement at The Hendricks Center.
So I’m thrilled to have you gentlemen with us today, and we’re excited to be talking about, I guess kind of a morbid topic, but something that I think a lot of people really wonder about, and becomes really practical when they’re facing the reality of losing someone in their life, and just … and when you’re even thinking about own mortality. They’re important things that you want to think about. So today we’re gonna be talking about what happens when we die.
So I think to get us started, we will … I’m gonna pitch a question to Gary and Mikel about what passages are there that give us an insight or that we should have in mind when we’re thinking about what we might experience after death. What is it in the Bible that gives us clues? Obviously there’s mystery, but we do know some things, or it seems like there are some things in scripture. So Gary, you want to start us off by giving us some passages we should keep in mind as we’re thinking through these things?
Gary Habermas: And, since we’re talking at the point of death, we are talking about the intermediate state. Right?
Kymberli Cook: Yeah, we could start there, yeah.
Gary Habermas: ‘Cause that’s the toughest, in terms of passages. 2 Corinthians, chapter 5 is the classic comment. And Paul goes on for about ten verses there. And there are some little snippets other places. For example, Jesus says what some people think is a parable, some people think is a real case, in Luke 16 about the rich man and Lazarus, not Jesus’ friend, but the poor man Lazarus is another one. And there are a few other real brief snippets. But there’s some things in Revelation, there’s one or two passages in Hebrews. But for the most part, I think most people get their information from 2 Corinthians, chapter 5. That’s my guess, anyway, is where they go on that.
Kymberli Cook: Okay. Mikel, did you have any other passages you wanted to add?
Mikel Del Rosario: I think the 2 Corinthians 5 passage really is the one, the go to one, where Paul says, when we’re not in the body, then we’re with the Lord, and that is part of our Christian hope. In 2 Corinthians 11 also, we have this peculiar situation where Paul says he was caught up to the third heaven. He’s not sure if he was in the body or outside the body. That, some people have linked to reports of near death experiences. When the first martyr, Stephen, was killed, he says he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father, right before he was killed. And so there are some things like that, but again, they’re not that specific. And the 2 Corinthians 5 really is the go to.
Kymberli Cook: Okay. So, Gary you did just bring in the concept of an intermediate state. So are there … and you said we’re talking about this, right. And so are there different states of life after death? Dr. Hill … or Daniel, sorry … would you like to address that first, and then we can talk about that, if there are different opinions on if there are different states of life after death. Just paint the picture. So a person dies. And from what we know in scripture and theological conversation, and what Christians have historically believed, what do we believe happens after that?
Daniel Hill: Yeah. So it’s … some of the answer to that question is gonna depend on how you articulate the composition of the human person. So if you believe that people are ensouled bodies, and embodied souls, so composite of body and soul, then you will fall into one camp. And if you think the human person is material, you’ll fall on a different side. But I think the key stages or states that I would point out first, there is what we call the intermediate state. So the post death, what’s going on? Does the human subject, in some sense, continue to exist? And then there’s this, for however long that lasts, there’s this time of resurrection, where the human subject is now reintegrated. So if you believe that human beings are body and soul, the soul is reunited with the body, if you believe that human creatures are just material, then they’re probably recreated, or their matter is gathered from all the places it’s been. There was an argument in the early church about that.
And then there is the Christian story doesn’t end with just resurrection and glorification, where our bodies are transfigured. But we then enter into the Lord’s rest, and we are forever and always with the Lord.
Kymberli Cook: Okay, which sounds awesome. So let’s first talk … I think it would be helpful for all of us to first talk about the intermediate state, just to go through those different states. So Gary, what different approaches are there to the intermediate … For some reason, I’ve been practicing it all afternoon, and my tongue just won’t do intermediary, and I don’t know why, which is a problem. So what different approaches are there, or interpretations? How do Christians understand that state?
Gary Habermas: The majority view among researchers, theologians, New Testament scholars and others, is that the intermediate state is disembodied. There is a minor view that the intermediate state is embodied, but not with the final embodiment. In other words, you have something that could be called a body lite, L-I-T-E, a lite body. But by far the majority view is that their intermediate state is disembodied. And Mikel made that reference to Paul having his experience in 2 Corinthians, whether out of the body or in the body I know not which. He says that more than once. That’s an interesting reference, because it seemed like …
Well, first of all, thing were happening so fast and so glorious, he probably wasn’t paying attention to what my body’s like. But, later he wasn’t able to answer that question. So, it’s a toughie. But I do think by far the majority view is that the intermediate state is disembodied. But what … somebody’ll bring this up sooner or later … what Tom Wright calls life after life after death. And it’s the second one there. Life after is the final state. Life after life after death is the second one. And it’s often said that the intermediate state is heaven, and the final state is a revivified earth. But that’s another discussion.
Kymberli Cook: Okay. So what do we … and Daniel, I think we’ll direct this toward you … what do we … how do we understand heaven? So, like Gary’s saying, the vast majority of people believe that that is a disembodied state, one, that probably needs to be addressed, just because God created us with bodies and spirits or souls, and so is that a good thing? Is that ultimately what it’s supposed to be? So we can talk about that. But also, what do we mean by heaven? What is going on there?
Daniel Hill: Yeah. That’s a good question. Heaven is, if I were to give a pithy response, it would be the place where God is, even though we normally don’t … I would argue God isn’t extended in space-time, but heaven would be the place where the angels are engaging in the worship of God. You get language in the book of Hebrews of this heavenly tabernacle. And so some theologians will say that there’s a heavenly liturgy. That’s what … Eastern Orthodox theologians will make that argument, and that the life if the church is supposed to mirror that.
But yeah, I would say it’s a place, but not a place in terms of how we typically understand places, because typically we think of places as that which material reality occupies.
Kymberli Cook: Where our bodies can be.
Daniel Hill: Right. Our bodies can be extended, and it wouldn’t be that. But we’re limited linguistically to say, no, it’s a space, but not that kind of space. It’s the heavenly kind of space.
Gary Habermas: Kymberli, if I can make a real quick comment, I may have been confusing in what I said. It’s Tom Wright who says life after life after death, and the second one is the intermediate state. And he says he calls the intermediate state heaven, because he and a growing number of other people, Ben Witherington and many others think that eternity is on a recreated earth, and that that’s the most physical of the two states. For those who think that eternal life is up, for lack of a better phrase, up with God and the angels, that might be what they call heaven. So depending on which one you call heaven depends on whether you think the final state is a revivified earth, or whether you think it’s heavenly.
Kymberli Cook: So, pursuing that, what is it that you’re saying Tom Wright and Ben Witherington and they’re making the case for a recreated earth, where are they getting that scripturally, interpretationally? How are they coming to that conclusion?
Gary Habermas: Well, 2 Peter 3, end of Revelation, what is the city that is coming down? ‘Course the city is suspended in air, so it’s a little bit different. And I’m just saying, people who think that the disembodied state is called heaven, they have to say that that is the intermediate state. A lot of people believe that the heaven is the reembodied state.
Kymberli Cook: Is the ultimate, yes.
Gary Habermas: Depends on what you do with the earth vs. heaven final state question.
Kymberli Cook: Yeah. That’s a fair clarification, thank you, because that’s true. Yeah. I had been thinking of heaven as the intermediary state, you’re right to be making the clarification that some people would understand that to be the final kingdom, and all of that. Yeah. You’re right. Thank you for that.
Okay. So, there’s this term that floats around sometimes, that’s like soul sleep. Gary, can you address that? What is that? Is it the intermediary state? What are the ways that people can land in believing in the idea of soul sleep instead of heaven?
Gary Habermas: Yeah, that’s crazy. Just today, before this broadcast, I just had a discussion with … concerning one of our own PhDs, who’s gotten his degree, and he’s at … and he’s teaching. But he holds that what’s called re-constitutionalism, which is a type of soul sleep. And I just think that’s out … Also, I had an interview a couple months ago with a Seventh Day Adventist professor. And they have that view. They asked us not to bring it up on the air, but that was interesting.
A lot of people believe that soul sleep can take either the view that we are in suspended animation until God raises our bodies. And then we go into the final state ’cause there is no intermediate state. Or, for the unbeliever, that’s the place that you similarly don’t remember anything at death, but you remember nothing any other time, for the naturalist. For the Christian, the unbeliever also is in an intermediate state, but he’s suffering during that time, not with the Lord, not with the Christians. But then later he’s judged reembodied, not glorified, but reembodied, and goes to what is typically called hell. But that’s switching a lot of theological definitions.
And you mentioned near death experiences earlier. I think near death experiences are one of the biggest refutations to any kind of soul sleep view.
Daniel Hill: There are quite a few folks, like Martin Luther held to soul sleep, Athanagoras of Athens, Tishien, John Milton. That doesn’t make it right or wrong, but there has been a … John Calvin writes a screed against it, that Martin Luther didn’t want him to publish, and some of his other friends, because like the Anabaptists were holding to a form of soul sleep during this time.
Kymberli Cook: So what is it about soul sleep that … So those people who do hold it, hold to it? And is it what you were talking about, Daniel, is it the … when the … at the final resurrection that everything is reconstituted? Is that what you were referencing earlier, like all of the matter of the body is reconstituted?
Daniel Hill: No, I was thinking of a physicalist or a hylomorphic dualist. So if for physicalist, you just are your body. And there are Christian physicalists. So when you die, your body becomes a corpse. There’s nothing … there’s no you anymore. And, let’s say, the alligator eats your body, well, you’ve gotta get those pieces back.
I think … if I were to give … So that’s not my view. Soul sleep isn’t my view. But if I were to give a charitable reading, I would say you could read the Book of Job, and Job is really troubled by the fact that he isn’t gonna have any activity after his death. You hear, in the Psalms, and in some of the prophets that they say this idea that there’s no … I can’t worship you in death. If I die, that’s the end of me. And so I think that you could read that, if you wanted to paint the most charitable view of this. And then you get to 1 Thessalonians 4, and Paul says those who die are asleep. Well, when I’m sleeping I don’t … aside from kicking and sometimes talking, I don’t engage in a lot of activity. And so maybe that’s a gloss of what Paul means, he’s importing some wisdom literature.
That would be how I would try and present it charitably.
Kymberli Cook: Okay. And Gary, why might, based on those passages that Daniel just gave us, why might those who believe in soul sleep want that to be true, rather than … Is it just because of how they’re reading the passages? Or is there something that they’re really defending? Why might they want that to be true vs. some kind of heaven, disembodied state with the Lord?
Gary Habermas: Well, they could be defending an ecclesiastical or theological statement of faith that they want to be faithful to so that they don’t get burned at the stake, or kicked out of the school they’re teaching at, or whatever. It could be that. But I don’t know anybody … I don’t know why anybody would prefer any kind of sleep view … and there are several … versus a conscious presence with the Lord. In 2 Corinthians, chapter 5, Paul says absent from the body, present with the Lord. And in Philippians, chapter 1, an excellent passage in Philippians chapter 1:21, and then to 23, he says he prefers to die and be with Christ. You wouldn’t prefer to die, to sleep, and not know anything. But Paul says he prefers to die because it’s far better.
And then he says … by the way, in the Greek there, in Philippians 1, Paul says to die and be with the Lord is … you could even read … sometimes translations translate the Greek as, it is better, comma, far better. It’s an emphatic statement of a positive fact. So even the intermediate … where Paul would go when he dies, or when Paul’s addressing the general subject in 2 Corinthians 5, it’s always with the Lord, in the presence of the Lord. I can’t figure anything would be better except for the reembodied final state, which is also with the Lord. But you get your body back.
By the way, the re-constitutional guys who think you get your body back, they’ve gotta deal with a tremendous scientific and philosophical question, and that is how do you know that the you that comes back is the you that dies? How do you know it’s not a similar pattern? We can do a Xerox of a letter, but the Xerox is not the same as the letter. And sometimes you can see differences in the paper. They’re different things. And so, I don’t know? I would want to live with the Lord, and number two, be sure it’s me living at the end. I just think … I think both the intermediate state followed by the final state is by far the more preferable.
Kymberli Cook: Okay. Daniel?
Daniel Hill: I would just add to what to what Gary was saying in that you still have the same question of, so if this soul is sleeping, where is it? Sleeping is still … So you still have the dualist kind of problems. And then, for the early church, when they were trying to flesh out some of the questions of what happens when you die, it’s like, well, let’s say I get eaten by that alligator, and then Mikel has fried alligator for … So now some of my matter is a part of him, and not to mention the fact that my cells are dying all the time. And so you’ve got this, where do I end and someone else begins? And a lot of times in literature in contemporary times, so God is omnipotent, so He can do it. And for me, that’s not personally the most satisfying kind of broad to say, “Well, God can do anything.” ‘Cause then I can just, “Right. That’s why my view is correct, because God can do anything.”
Kymberli Cook: Okay, okay, fascinating. Okay. So, but what I’m hearing from both of you is that by far, the majority view is that the intermediary state would be some type of disembodied existence in heaven with the Lord, and that’s what we mean by heaven, with disembodied existence with the Lord. Is that fair?
Gary Habermas: Yeah. Paul says twice, I’m still groaning in that state. It’s wonderful. And I’m still groaning because I want to be reembodied. And of course, for any Jew, for the majority, Paul was a Pharisee. And the majority Pharisee view was resurrection of the body. So Paul, of course, wants his whole self, and not a disembodied self. It’s still better, though, ’cause you’re with the Lord. So he’d still rather be … so it’s earth, then better disembodied with the Lord, best of all, reembodied with the Lord.
Kymberli Cook: But there’s still … yeah, thank you for bring it up. That’s actually where I was headed was … but there’s still a sense of … yeah, does comfort groaning, it’s still not all right. This is not how it was made to be. And so it’s not just that you’re up on a cloud with the Lord and fat little pudgy angels strumming a harp and it’s all good, and that’s what the rest of eternity is. That’s not what it is. It’s a disembodied existence. You are with the Lord, but there’s still more to happen. And we’ll talk about that in just a little bit, because I want to go back to what you were talking about, Gary, with disembodied … not disembodied … with near death experiences.
And Mikel, I just want to throw this over to you real quick. Can you just give us … Mikel actually wrote a masters level? Was it masters level, Mikel? … masters level paper on near death experiences, and has interacted with Gary on this on a couple occasions as well. And so, Mikel, can you just talk to us briefly about what do we mean when we’re talking about near death experiences? And for those people who might be a little bit more reticent to believe such accounts because of some books that have come out, or things like that, how do we think through them? Should they be understood legitimately? Just how should … what are they and how should we approach them as we try to think through what they are?
Mikel Del Rosario: Sure. Well simply, a near death experience, as most people think, I was hiking in the mountains and my foot slipped, I almost died, so I had a near death experience. But that’s not what that means in the literature. So a near death experience is a certain kind of out of body experience, where somebody will say that their soul left their body, and it’s an involuntary one. Some people will try to induce this thing, and that gets into astral projection and such. But a near death experience is where somebody’s not looking for it. They come close to death, and they report coming out of their body. So there’s what is just, it looks like somebody’s dead, the clinical death. And then you have brain death where you’re flat EEG, and then later the kind of death that nobody comes back from. That’s the third kind of death.
But somewhere they’re near that point they might report seeing a bright light coming out of their body through their head, seeing a bright light, experiencing peace and things like this. So these kinds of experiences, somebody says, “I died and I saw my grandma and grandpa, and then I got sucked back into my body and I was in a world of pain, and I just saw the light in the hospital there.
We can’t really verify that. And so it’s hard to really give credence to that kind of story. Certainly the had some kind of an experience, but what that means, I don’t know. But there are evidential cases that Gary can certainly talk about that help us see, you know what? There might be something to this, because if people can have reports about things that aren’t just in their head or just in their private mental state, we can actually check up on those. So Gary, why don’t you help us think about those.
Gary Habermas: Well, with near death experiences, the evidential ones are almost always, 90 some percent, maybe more, I mean high 90s. But near death experiences are frequently reveal characteristics about this world. An evidential near death experience is almost always this worldly. I had a debate with a fellow, just recently published in Blackwell’s, a major secular publisher. And I divided evidential near death experiences into five categories. Now I’m not gonna give a lecture on those. But there are so many of them. There are over 300 evidential near death experiences. A recent book by medical doctors, from articles taken out of medical journals, is that in North America alone, there are up to 21 million near death experiencers. But of those, a very small number, over 300 now are evidenced. And they may see something. It’s gotta be on earth for you to evidence it, for the most part.
This is not one, but I’ll just make … I’ll tell you what. I’ll make one up. What if you have a near death experience. You fall down on the ground. No one knows what’s wrong. They call 911 on campus and the people run over. And they know that happened at this time, and they know they got you straightened out 45 minutes later. But during that 45 minutes, there was a car accident on campus, and there’s no windows in the room that you … and it wouldn’t make a difference, you were out cold. But let’s say you later say, “I saw that red car hit that green car, and I could not believe the green car did not stop at the stop light like it was supposed to and it got plowed. And it’s a good thing no one died.”
Well, I know when you went down, and I know when you were revived, and I can get a campus police report about when it happened and when it was taken care of. And I could potentially be correct on seeing that, but I shouldn’t be watching it if I was out. And many of these near death experiences, the evidential ones, are done with flat, no measurable brain waves or no measurable heart waves. They have that combination. Lack brain or heart … not bottom line, but as far as the machines tell us. According to what the machines say, as far as we know from the condition you’re in, like you had a cardiac arrest with ventricular fibrillation, that kind, your heart stops. 15 seconds later on average, your brain stops. So if you’re explaining something two minutes later, it’s in a highly evidential state, ’cause theoretically your heart and brain are not working. And there are dozens in that category.
So there’s some pretty good evidence that something’s going on. Now when the guy says I went away to heaven, blah, blah, blah, I don’t think you can put much stock in that at all, because you’re not gonna get evidence. It doesn’t have evidence. By the way, just for the record, 21 percent approximately of near death experiences are hell cases, or what they call distressed cases. But I don’t think any of those are trustworthy because they’re “out there,” and I have no evidence for saying “out there.” How do you know you were in hell? No evidence. Okay. Well I got your testimony. Thanks for that. But no evidence.
The evidential ones, though, say you’re conscious. That’s what they show. And you go, “Well, yeah. But that could be for minutes.” But some of them go for hours. And there’s another kind that would take years. That would take some explaining. But it would go way past the time for soul sleepers. That’s why I say it’s … the empirical data here in medical journals is really tough on soul sleep of any form.
Kymberli Cook: Because these evidential near death experiences are demonstrating that there is a disembodied state, and that they’re conscious. Is that what you’re saying, that’s how it presents a big problem for the soul sleepers?
Gary Habermas: Yeah. And not only do they say they were conscious. They’ll say it was the most real thing that ever happened to me in my life. I am more real there than I am now, back in the hospital room. And, as Mikel said, back in pain again. They wish they could go back there and stay. And many times, when they’re brought to, they’re slapping the doctor’s arms and pushing his face, and they want to stay. And the doctors are beating on their chest and bringing them back. They don’t like that.
Mikel Del Rosario: So many of these things are fascinating. Like when it comes to blind people who report things that they can see. When they were in their body, they couldn’t see it, ’cause they’re blind. And during the operation they’re reporting the kinds of tools that are being used, and procedures, and it’s just amazing stuff.
Gary Habermas: Unfortunately the blind ones are good, but the blind ones don’t have super good evidential cases. There’s some good evidential cases. But what’s funny is, like you said, Mikel, they only saw something while they were in their near death state. They did not see before or after, and they’re still blind to this day.
Kymberli Cook: So what about those near death experiences … or really not what about them … are there near death experiences for people from other religions? Is this just a Christian thing? Mikel, would you like to speak to that, because then, what are they experiencing and how do we make that work with what we’re saying about the intermediary state?
Mikel Del Rosario: Yeah, there are man people who are not Christians who have reported near death experiences. And what it tells us is it tells us the reports … Well, first of all, we have to make a distinction between the experience that somebody’s having … they can have a genuine experience … and the interpretation of that experience. So for example, I could have a really vivid dream where I was flying over campus and I felt like I was flying. It was a real experience. But the reality is, objectively I was just lying in my bed all night. So somebody, whether they’re conditioned by their culture to see Jesus or identify the light as God or if they’re seeing Hindu figures because of their culture, we can’t really adjudicate what’s going on there, because again, it’s just private, mental states. But what we can say is, somebody had an actual experience. But what they’re telling you says a lot more about them and their interpretation than the experience they’re having, especially if there’s no evidential handles for it.
Another thing to say is, for Christians … or for, rather, for non Christians who don’t talk about judgment, they don’t talk about anything that we might imagine somebody who’s not a Christian would face in the afterlife, these people, if they’re talking to you, they’re still alive, and they haven’t actually died in the sense that they haven’t hit that irreversible thing where you don’t come back from it. And so, people have actually become Christians after having an experience like that. And their eternal state, you can’t tell what their eternal state is from what they report experiencing in a near death scenario.
Kymberli Cook: So if I’m understanding this right, the near death experiences might be helpful in demonstrating the reality of a disembodied spirit, and proving … disembodied soul … proving that perhaps that it does exist, that that is a reality. And if we’re talking about unbelievers, it would be the same for both Christians and non-Christians, because the un … because you haven’t hit the point of death, and so there’s no … I’m trying to jive what you all are saying with, Gary, what you were saying about it was the realest thing that they experienced, and they didn’t want come back. So how do we think through that as Christians who typically think, if you’re a non-believer and you die, then you’re gonna feel bad things, to put it very simply. Gary, would you like to address that for us?
Gary Habermas: Mikel did a very good job. He said let’s just remember, they don’t have to go, unbelievers don’t have to go whipping away to hell or some bad place, because they’re not … this is not a Hebrews 9:27 place. This isn’t appointed unto men once to die and after that the judgment. They’re called near death experiences for a reason. And you might say, “Well, what about those you were talking about, the flat brain, flat heart?” Well, they could … maybe were actually dead for 30 minutes. But no both sides of it, they were brought back. So even that small death state in the middle was part of a larger near death state.
And when Mikel said people trust Christ, I just got new testimony of a guy who trusted Christ. He saw heaven and hell in his experience. He became a believer in the experience. Now sometimes people go, “Oh, no. That’s a second chance. There’s no … that can’t be true biblically.” Well first of all, the guy is not irreversibly dead. We don’t object when someone has a bad car accident and see’s their life flash before them, and that shapes them up and they become a believer. A near death is a type of experience that brings a lot of people to Christ, like a car accident might straighten a person out.
So we’re not talking second chance here. But I do agree with Mikel, his comment, that evidence is almost always on this worldly stuff. It’s the car accident. It’s other things. Heavenly things, I tell students … A lot of times people don’t want to believe in these Christians, ’cause they think they’re gonna get in there that a Hindu says he’s going to heaven because an angel or something told him that. And I’m trying to tell my students, that is no different than you living next door to a Hindu fella, and him telling you he things he’s gonna go to a good place when he dies. That’s his testimony. And, well, no, but he was in heaven. No he … He has no evidence that he was anywhere. Now he probably was conscious somewhere. But I don’t know that he was in heaven, and I have no evidence to believe that an angel told him anything.
You go into hell cases. Hell cases, too. I don’t have any evidence that those people were sent there, so I cannot vouch for where they are when they’re in the heavenly one. But in the earthly one, we have ways to be able to check on reports in the real world. And like I said, we have over 300 of them.
Daniel Hill: It might be helpful to differentiate cessation of biological functions, from what we might call death as death, where in the second category I would say that’s a theological category where the triune God through the person of Spirit is no longer communicating the blessings of providence to you, so that your body and soul remain integrated. Whereas like at any point someone could have their heart cease to function, and they’d still be alive. We’d get a … happened to my father a couple of years ago, and surgeons come in. They might give you a new heart, they might give you something to replace it. And so I think you can have aspects of the human body cease to function. But until the body itself then separated to the point of where reintegration is resurrection, I would want to just make a little bit of a distinction. That could just be me, but I think that might be a helpful way to …
On that account, someone’s … part of their brain could die and cease to function and them not be dead.
Mikel Del Rosario: Kym, the second part of your question I didn’t actually answer is what can we make of near death experiences? I think we shouldn’t make too much of them. I think they’re powerful, but I think you can’t adjudicate between which world view is true, which religion is true, based solely on near death experiences. But what it can help us to do is to show that if the human consciousness can survive at least the first few moments of death, that you can survive the death of your physical body, that it seems to say that naturalism can’t fully explain what we experience as human beings. And at least naturalism has not explanation for that. And so you have to be open to the idea of God and the afterlife.
Gary Habermas: That’s exactly right. One line. I tell people, the losers in all this, Hindus and Buddhists, and Muslims, and Jews, and Christians can stand side by side and say there’s consciousness after death. But the losers are the naturalists, the physicalists … I mean total physicalist, not the Christian physicalist … because they don’t have a … it’s not over for them. Now they’ve got something to fear. So naturalism loses.
Kymberli Cook: So Daniel, that actually … Gary, you just brought up, the Christian physicalist … I was gonna return, ’cause Daniel, you brought them up a little bit earlier. I was gonna ask, how near death experiences, in your opinion, might … how do Christian physicalists address near death experiences? Do they … is it a problem for them? What is the relationship between those two approaches?
Daniel Hill: I’m not terribly familiar with how a non-reductive…
Kymberli Cook: It’s real specific.
Daniel Hill: Non reductive Christian physicalist. So they’re saying the body is not just reducible … it’s not a machine. You might have something … There is something that you do have a mental life, or subjectivity, but that is all explainable through causal processes, and those causal processes being neurological, chiefly. And so I think that they might be inclined to say … if that’s not enough qualifications, I don’t know what is, I think that they might be inclined … that they might say that this is not something that’s actually happening, but it’s … So to go on the categories Mikel gave us, you are certainly having this experience, or you are certainly saying that you’re having this experience. But it’s not indicative of what is actually going on.
So to use the car accident example, I can’t think of a way where if I am purely materiality, I could see something a couple blocks away … I … That car, accident’s on the other side of a building, I wouldn’t be able to see it, let alone when my biological life has ceased to function. So I don’t think that they have a way for accounting for that.
More to the point, there’s also the question of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, where we don’t say that Jesus ceases to exist for three days, and then comes back. There is the person … and it’s not a copy of the person who died, either. It’s the same subject.
Kymberli Cook: So that would be another evidence for the intermediary state, the heaven interpretation. Yes, Gary?
Gary Habermas: When Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “Today you’ll be with me in paradise.” The fact that Jesus was conscious after death, the fact that Paul talks about being present with the Lord, both in 2 Corinthians 5 and Philippians, chapter 1, to me goes along with all this other data that argues against any kind of permanent sleep of the body, or the soul sleep part of the body. I think there’s mounting data that say those views are incorrect, and we need an inter body … we need an intermediate state followed by a final state.
Kymberli Cook: Oh, so thank you. That was right where I was going, because we had … we talked a lot, and that’s what we wanted to mainly talk about was the intermediary state, because I think that’s one of the places that people are very confused about. There’s a lot of different types of teaching about it, clearly, as we’ve been discussing it for some time. And so we want to talk about that. But I also do want us to, at least, touch on … So we talked about there’s an intermediary state upon death. And then there will be the final resurrection. And then, Daniel, you pointed out that the final resurrection isn’t even the end, that there is at rest with God and eternal life with God.
So Daniel, would you want to tell us real quick, what happens at the final resurrection, from what we understand in scripture, and probably final resurrection and the judgment? What does that look like? Is it a giant TV screen where all of your sins get shown to everybody, because that’s what my youth pastor told me? And so I would like you to address that. And just give us an idea of what that might look like.
Daniel Hill: There seems to be a couple passages in the epistles of Paul where he talks about this. Everyone will give an account for their deeds, both done in the body. And so I think that might be where the youth pastor … there’s some video, a really popular Christian video, movie that came out that had had that … I think it actually was a TV screen. And so there seems to be some …reckoning is too heavy of a word, too loaded of a word, but some accounting? So here are where we give an account to God for what we have and have not done.
I think the important thing that I would want to … the way I would challenge that view, that TV screen of viewing all your sins is it misrepresents, in my opinion, the character of the Father. So, in a lot of Christian circles, Jesus loves us, and the Father is the judge, the stoic judge. And Jesus has to convince the Father … this is not taught … this is just a popular view. Jesus has to convince the Father to love us, and he’s pleading on our behalf to the Father. And it’s almost as if he’s trying to convince the Father to do something He doesn’t want to do. And yet, 1 John says, “Oh, what love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be sons of God.” And so we are.
And so any accounting must be done within the context of, this is the God who has loved you first. And I think, in light of that, we will see the greatness of God’s love for us. Christians will see that God’s love and God’s grace is actually surpassing what we could have imagined. And so if I were to flip that TV screen I would say, instead of it … and I’m not saying this is actually what happens, it’s a metaphorical bow on it … if your sins are being showed, you will be delighting in God that He has loved you in the presence of continual failings, that He’s been … and you will just be floored. He was better than I imagined. He was more gracious than I could imagine. But this idea that we’ll be shamed and then entered into rest, I don’t think that matches well with the fact that we are forgiven and loved in Jesus Christ.
Kymberli Cook: And, as it relates to our bodies, Gary, what might the final resurrection, what does that look like when our bodies are, or our new resurrected bodies are enmeshed, reunited with the disembodied souls from the intermediary state?
Gary Habermas: First of all, I would say it’s the greatest existence in the world, the greatest existence possible. To quote Anselm out of context, it’s the best of … sorry, not Anselm … to quote Leibniz out of context, it’s the best of all possible worlds, Leibniz thought of this world, that’s the world where it would be the greatest of all possible worlds, because we would be fully embodied, fully conscious, I think remembering our past, and we’d be entering our, as Matthew 25 says, entering your Father’s glory. I think we would be … I think the world is open. The Bible doesn’t say a lot about what we’re gonna do. But I think the Bible does say we will know each other. The Bible says we’ll be with the Lord. Bible says we’ll be in the presence of the Father.
Scripture says … I believe scripture teaches very clearly that we will continue to grow. We don’t get zapped with omniscience or something like that. We will continue to grow, ’cause we’re human beings. We can only grow progressively and point by point. So I think there’s learning, there’s exploring God’s creation.
By the way, just one quick note. I’ll end with this one. In the Septuagint of the Old Testament, the Eden, Garden of Eden, is called paradise. In Revelation, chapter 2, describing what Christians have to look forward to, it’s called paradidzo. Paradise. And so a lot of commentators have said, the final view of heaven will not be very much different than what Jewish believers describe as what the Garden of Eden should have been. And that just makes us go, ah. That sounds fantastic. And that’s just the beginning of it all. So.
Kymberli Cook: All right. Well thank you guys so much. Obviously we have more questions, and we could talk about this a lot more, but we are out of time, and I just want to thank you, Mikel, and Daniel, and Gary so much for the time you have spent with us, and just the intellectual weight that you have brought to this conversation, and I just really enjoyed chatting with you all, and hopefully helping our listeners think through what it is that happens when we die, and what Scripture has to say about that, and the way Christians who have come before and thought deeply about these things have come to conclusions about as well.
So again, we thank you so much for your time, and we thank you, for those of you who are listening, and we hope that you will join us next week as we discuss issues of God and culture.
About the Contributors
Prior to arriving at DTS, Dr. Daniel Hill helped launch an urban, Christian classical school in Chicago, IL and served at a church in Houston, TX. His research interests include ecclesiology, theological anthropology, and political theology. After completing his ThM at Dallas Theological Seminary, Dr. Hill had the privilege of attending Wheaton College for his doctoral studies where he researched the intersection of ecclesiology and anthropology. He desires to encourage students to delight in the vastness of God’s goodness, the richness of our inheritance in Christ, and the beauty of the community into which we have been saved.