No better time to start convincing Pastor Riggs than right now, I thought. "Let me ask you this."
"How can the Bible speak of the immortal soul one moment and the next say we are dead after we die and there is no conscious thought again until we are resurrected?"
"Immortal soul?" Pastor Riggs questioned. "Where does the Bible speak of 'immortal soul'?"
"Well, I don't know, right off. But I believe it does."
Pastor Riggs looked out over the horse pasture next to the church for a long minute. When he turned back he said "You know, Jay, I've searched and searched my Bible for that phrase, but I cant find it."
His words shocked me. Never one to back off from a challenge, I headed home to study until I found the phrase "immortal soul" in the Bible. Every evening after work, I read and studied and searched. I found lots of references to 'soul' and one to 'immortal.' But the two words were never together.
"But it has to be there!" I told Pastor Riggs after prayer meeting the next week. "Religious leaders say 'immortal soul' all the time. Where did it come from?"
"I don't know," he said, "but certainly not from the Bible.
Nearby, a cricket chorus fiddled.
It's time for me to study in depth, I decided. Time to debunk the silly theory these Christians believe about what happens when a person dies.
Pastor Riggs had a faraway look, like he was thinking too. Finally he spoke again. "I think death is one of the most misunderstood subjects in the Bible, Jay. To many, it's a mystery. Many fear it. Many believe their loved ones who've died aren't dead at all but live on in some other condition. Most world religions teach that when people die they become spirits. It's important to know what happens when a person dies for a couple reasons: First, living is easier if you don't have to worry about dying. Second, misunderstanding death makes a person vulnerable to being deceived by Satan on other issues."
"Deceived on other issues?" I asked. "How?"
"Have you studied the pamphlet on death?" Pastor Riggs asked.
"It will be easier to answer that question satisfactorily if you understand what happens at death," he said. "How about if you study that and then we discuss any questions you have?"
As soon as I arrived home, I curled into the love seat. "God," I prayed, "I do want to know truth. Please lead me as I study and protect me from evil spirits." I opened the pamphlet, "Are the Dead Really Dead?"
"How did we get here in the first place? 'And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.'" Genesis 2:7.
Interesting. Essentially, a body of dust plus breath equals a living soul. I found the verse in my own Bible, read the context, and concluded, "A living soul is a living person."
I turned back to the pamphlet: "What happens when a person dies? 'Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it'" (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
I looked back to the text, then looked it up in my Bible and read it in context. It doesn't delineate between the righteous and the wicked. The spirit of everyone who dies returns to God? That's surely not what I learned in church. I learned there was a big difference where the spirit went -- the difference between heaven and hell.
But that's right, I thought. It fits with reincarnation. All people -- good or bad -- go on to a spiritual plane where they can evaluate their past life and then go on to another.
The booklet went on to ask what the spirit was and quoted two texts. I looked them up in my own Bible -- the Bible my parents had given me when I was twelve. James 2:26 read, "For as the body without the spirit is dead ..." The note about "spirit" in the margin said: "Or, breath." Job 27:3 said, "All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils." About "spirit," the marginal reference here said, "That is, the breath which God gave him."
Breath is what's in our nostrils. And certainly, the body without breath is dead. But isn't the spirit more than that? Aren't the spirit and the soul the same?
But just a minute. They can't be the same... if the Bible is right. That verse in Genesis said a body (or dust) plus spirit (or breath) is a living soul (or a living being).
So what happens when the breath or spirit goes back to God?
Psalm 104:29: "Thou [God] takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust."
Essentially, there are two equations:
Dust + breath = soul
Soul - breath = dust
But just a minute. Isn't it the soul that lives on from one life to another?
"The soul that sinneth, it shall die." (Ezekiel 18:20). Job 4:17 spoke of "mortal man." My dictionary defined mortal as "subject to death." First Timothy 6:16 described God as "who only hath immortality."
So ... according to the Bible, only God has unending existence? But that can't be. I'm misunderstanding something. I know better than that...through my early Christian training AND through New Age.
My head was swimming. I glanced at my watch. Oh-oh. If I don't get to bed soon, I'll be worthless tomorrow. Reluctantly, I laid study materials aside.
Thoughts of body, soul, and spirit intruded into my dreams that night.
Work the next day was busy as usual. That night when I got home from work, I eagerly resumed studying about death.
I reviewed what I'd read the night before, then went on. "Do good people go to heaven when they die?" the booklet asked.
"'All that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth' (John 5:28, 29). 'David... is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. For David is not ascended into the heavens' (Acts 2:29, 34)."
Hm-m-m. People don't go either to heaven or hell when they die? They wait in their graves for resurrection day? This was new to me. But what do the dead do? What do they know?
"'The living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.... there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whither thou goest' (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6, 10). 'The dead praise not the Lord' (Psalm 115:17)."
That doesn't leave much. The dead know nothing. They have no memory no love, no hate, no envy. No emotion. They don't work. They don't even praise God.
I pondered what I was reading. According to these Bible texts, people who die don't become angels or spirits. They cant bring us messages. I scowled. I've seen spirits. I've heard messages from them. Something's fishy.
Hm-m-m, I wondered, did Jesus say anything about death when He was here? I'd barely questioned when I remembered He raised his friend Lazarus from death.
I found the story in John 11. In verses 11-14, Jesus talked specifically about Lazarus' death: "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead."
Sleep. Interesting word to describe death. In sleep you're "dead" to the world. You know nothing, do nothing. So how long do the dead sleep?
"'So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more' (Job 14:12). 'The day of the Lord will come ... in the which the heavens shall pass away' (2. Peter 3:10)."
"What happens to the righteous dead at the second coming of Christ?" At "the day of the Lord?"
"'Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be' (Revelation 22:12). 'The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, ... and the dead in Christ shall rise ... and so shall we ever be with the Lord' (1.Thessalonians 4:16, 17). 'We shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye... and the dead shall be raised incorruptible... For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality' (1.Corinthians 15:51-53)."
These texts clearly taught that when a person dies they simply cease to live. They sleep in their grave until Jesus comes at the end of the world and resurrects them. In earlier study I had learned that people do not go to either heaven or hell until after they are resurrected. God's followers then go to heaven for eternal life and those who reject God go to hell where they are destroyed.
But this simply can't be right. I will use the Bible study principle Pastor Riggs recommended -- read every text about a topic.
Through the week I studied and restudied all the verses I could find about death. I searched for other texts. Finally, I discovered a few that conflicted with what this pamphlet taught! Was I ever relieved. By prayer meeting evening, I was ready to convert the pastor to New Age.
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