Sunday, July 6, 2008

Asking those who have gone before.

In mulling over the nature of heaven and hell, I recently found it interesting that the "full-death" occurrences in the Bible aren't used. We have at least two people in the Gospels who have died, and Jesus brought back to life: Lazarus, and the daughter of the President of the synagogue (Matthew 9:18-26). Although Luke 8:40-56 has the person named Jairus, and the daughter's age is around 12.

In the case of Lazarus, he was dead for about three to four days. Where was his soul during that time? Heaven or hell? An argument could be made that perhaps heaven, given that Martha said that she believed that Jesus was "the Messiah, the Son of God who was come into the world." Yet that interaction sounds like she believed it at that moment, so who knows what Lazarus believed?

We aren't told what his reaction was upon returning to life, but surely it would've given huge credence to the heaven/hell theology? If he were in hell, I assume he would've been enormously grateful that he had a second opportunity to not go there, and would've gone about the whole nation telling people what a horrible fate awaited them after death.

On the other hand, if he were in heaven, I wonder if he would've been as grateful. He might have gone about telling people how much better heaven was compared to Earth, and especially compared to hell. And possibly been a bit resentful that Jesus made him return to Earth.

Same with Jairus' daughter. I know some Christian traditions hold to the age of accountability, in that any child who dies below a certain age automatically goes to heaven. I'm not sure if that age extends to 12, but even if it does, surely the child would've talked about heaven, for the brief period of time in which she was there? Or hell -- wouldn't the first words out of her mouth be thanks that she was no longer there? Shouldn't her father have mentioned her eternal location?

Even Acts has the "full death experiences." Acts 9:36-43 has a disciple named Tabitha die, and Peter brings her back to life. She would've been pulled from heaven, and yet no mention of the glorious place that she once was at? Or regret that she had to leave it for a brief period of time?

Paul also brings someone back to life. In Acts 20: 7-12, he restores a youth named Eutychus. Although, the translation I'm using makes that a bit iffy, where Paul says for people to stop panicking, as there's still life in Eutychus. However, even if this youth was not dead, it sounds like he was one of the saved who was gathered to hear Paul talk. So if Eutychus was dead, then wouldn't he be in heaven?

Given the current focus on a person's location after death, these four examples don't seem to match up to that fervor. There's no concern as to the location of the person's soul for the daughter, and no rejoicing in the other three, if they are in heaven. There's no reaction from any of the people who were resurrected, as to what location they left. Leaving either should have produced some sort of strong emotion. Those witnessing the deaths shoud have mentioned something about the person being in heaven, or God calling the person home, or something.

15 comments:

Pastor Bob said...

One of the realities of reading any kind of literature is that the author has a message s/he wants to communicate. The author might find the questions of the reader interesting but doesn't answer them.

This is particularly true of literature from other cultures. The writer from another culture has a different way of looking at things.

That said, let's look at the stories of raising people from the dead in the Bible. What is most interesting is that there is only one person who is raised from the dead that says anything and that is Jesus. All the rest don't say anything. Of course we would expect that they weren't all suddenly struck dumb, that they did speak after they were raised from the dead. The problem is the gospel writers, the writer of acts and the writer of 1st Kings isn't interested in telling us what the raised have to say. They are interested in two things: the miracle of raising someone from the dead and the miracle worker. That's it.

So while we may be very interested in the experiences while dead of those raised, we aren't told about those experiences because the writers don't want to tell us about the experiences.

One of the things I say very frequently to those in the Bible classes I teach is "The text doesn't say."

Lorena said...

It has always puzzled me that Lazarus was never mentioned again after HIS RESURRECTION!

I find that truly bizarre. As you know, I don't believe it actually happened, but that's another story.

Pastor Bob said...

As a matter of fact he is mentioned again

Check Jn. 12:1-17

Roopster said...

Well Lazarus could not go to heaven because Jesus had not yet paid for the sin of mankind so in essence, man was still guilty of original sin and could not be in the presence of God (Elijah and possibly Enoch are the obvious exceptions). So Lazarus would have gone to paradise which was kind of a holding place for the righteous dead until Jesus died... then paradise was emptied and now a Christian goes directly to heaven when they die.

In addition, hell or hadies where non-Christians go when they die is also just a holding place until then judgment when they'll be cast into the lake of fire (hell).

Apparently hadies and paradise are separated by a gulf (if you believe Jesus story about the rich man and Lazarus was a true story vs. a parable).

All very simple, eh?

HeIsSailing said...

I recently read the novel 'Last Temptation of Christ'. In the book, Lazarus is given a lot of screen time after his resurrection, but he is never the same. He is practically a zombie - in a seeming state of shock. At one point, his arm collapses in when somebody grabs it, in what I pictured was like a cigarette ash. The novel never explicetly says why Lazarus falls into this state after his resurrection, but the implication is that he had tasted death, and had experienced what should not be experienced by a mortal. A really interesting idea and perspective!!

HeIsSailing said...

Lorena:
It has always puzzled me that Lazarus was never mentioned again after HIS RESURRECTION!

In Richard Baukham's book, "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses", the claim is made the Lazarus is present in the gospels after the resurrection but placed incognito as a sort of ancient witness protection program. But he is there in hiding. For instance, he could have been the eyewitness that reported what Jesus prayed during the Garden of Gathsemene scene.

Not that I buy that, but it is another perspective.

Kullervo said...

Yeah, "might have been" is not really all that compelling, and certainly doesn't equal "was likely."

OneSmallStep said...

Pastor Bob,

**What is most interesting is that there is only one person who is raised from the dead that says anything and that is Jesus. **

Not only that, but I find the message behind the REsurrection is that because Jesus is Resurrected, others will also be -- it's the proof of God working in history. The message is not "because Jesus was resurrected, the saved escape hell."

The fact that the writers don't really deal with the resurrected after the fact -- even if it wasn't a key point for them -- still makes me question the whole heaven/hell philosophy. The idea behind raising the dead was confirmation that Jesus was anointed with God's power. The idea was not to provide a description of the afterlife, and yet that is very much the crux of modern day conservative Christianity. Where will you go when you die?

If that point is key, surely it would have been brought up by the people who actually were in a position to go somewhere ...

Roopster,

I think that's modern day thinking in a nutshell. :) Still, even the non-heaven paradise had to be more pleasant than the life he returned to, and yet ... nothing. He didn't even mention that he couldn't go straight to heaven because his sins hadn't been paid for.

And on another interesting note, Jesus doesn't even say to God, during that scene, that he's taking Lazarus from God (or, in the pre-paid sins idea, taking Lazarus from some sort of paradise). If anything, the conclusion I'd get is that dead is simply dead.

HIS,

I think it was conservative Christian scholar Ben Witherington III who proposed the idea that Lazarus was actually the beloved disiciple who wrote the Gospel of John.

Pastor Bob said...

onesmallstep

Hate to say it but I still think you are asking questions that the writers didn't intend to answer. It is clear that the gospel writers believed that there was a Kingdom of God,(heaven isn't really mentioned in the Gospels), and a place of separation from God.

They don't speculate on where those who died and were resurrected spent their time when dead. If they thought about it they didn't write about it. Remember they were writing for particular communities and dealing with the issues of those communities.

Now, if you want an answer to the question of where the dead are you curiously get different answers in the New Testament. Paul in I Thessalonians seems to imply that the dead are dead by saying that they will rise first. He also speaks of those who are asleep. This may mean that they are not conscious. On the other hand Revelation says that at least the martyrs are in heaven under the altar and are conscious and speak.

Oh there is one person who speaks after he's dead in the OT. That's Samuel when Saul has the witch of Endor, I don't know what to call it, call his spirit up? Anyway, Samuel get's angry and tells Saul he's going to die the next day. Maybe hearing what the dead have to say is not the best thing that can happen to you!

D said...

I suspect the reason for the dissonance you feel isn't necessarily that you are asking questions the author never intended to answer. I think it is because perhaps the questions you are asking wouldn't have even occurred to the original authors.

I think the concept of Hell certainly developed from Sheol, the place where the dead were kept, to the place of eternal torment, Hell. It would be interesting to get some Jewish perspectives on the idea of Hell and have that inform our view as well.

Personally, I don't think there is a Hell, aside from the hell of this world's genocide, war, isolation and poverty. I can't grasp the justice of eternal punishment for a life that the Bible says is but a blink of an eye in God's time.

Luke said...

"As a matter of fact he is mentioned again Check Jn. 12:1-17" -Pastor Bob

that's not the same gospel... he's all but gone from the narrative.

"think the concept of Hell certainly developed from Sheol" -D

sheol means "pit" or "grave" in hebrew. the concept held by many jews (then and now) is that there is no after life, you just lay there until the resurrection. not all jews believe this, just read Matthew 22:23-33. the sadducees ask Jesus about the resurrection and Jesus recognizes this as a trick question, as the sadducees don't believe in resurrection! so that would mean Jesus was more along the lines of Pharisee theology.

personally, i hope for an afterlife.. but the gospels have few things to say about it. Jesus is never clear if the kingdom is to be earth bond or heaven bond. in the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, Jesus chides the diciples when they ask about heaven. i would like to think that we're all reunited and reconsiled to God, ourselves, and each other. i guess we'll all see one day.

SellingMyself said...

I Wonder,
Another thought is, remember the parable about the man who died and asked god for some water to put on his tongue because he was scorching and then he wanted to be delivered from 'hell' so that he could warn his brothers and the answer was basically, 'no, they have their chance to believe or not without the evidence?' Bizarre. Interesting how our own human expectation of justice and evidence isn't the same as a 'loving' gods. Good thoughts!

OneSmallStep said...

Pastor Bob,

**Hate to say it but I still think you are asking questions that the writers didn't intend to answer. **

Quite possibly -- however, the questions are ones posed by modern-day Christianity, in the form of one's location after death. The location is either heaven or hell, and the death of Jesus is meant to rescue one from condemnation to hell. If the Gospels were written today, I would fully expect to see any resurrected person speak either of heaven or hell, and most likely hell. It would very much help serve as a warning as to where not to go, and to believe in Jesus before it's too late. The possibility that the writers didn't consider those questions worth answering (if they were even questions back then) is one more example to me of how Christianity has changed in the last 2,000 years.

**It is clear that the gospel writers believed that there was a Kingdom of God,(heaven isn't really mentioned in the Gospels), and a place of separation from God. **

To me, it depends on how one defines "seperation." I don't see seperation as much in John, because of how Jesus comes to offer eternal life. The contrast to living forever is not living forever, or death. Ceasing to exist. Now, that can count as seperation, because it's not a seperation that one is aware of.

Sellingmyself,

**because he was scorching and then he wanted to be delivered from 'hell' so that he could warn his brothers and the answer was basically, 'no, they have their chance to believe or not without the evidence?' Bizarre.**

I do remember that parable, and I always thought using it as proof text for hell missed the point. I saw the focus more on how the rich man lived, and why his behavior was bad. I also thought it was compassionate of him to ask that his brothers be warned.

OneSmallStep said...

d,

**I suspect the reason for the dissonance you feel isn't necessarily that you are asking questions the author never intended to answer.**

It's a dissonance I'd expect to find under any system that has survived for 2,000 years. Things change. That's inevitable. Except this is a system that also profess to hold to the original message of Jesus, and why he died, and that the core truths have not been adapted to any circumstance at all.

Anonymous said...

Here's a thought; we have no "finite" memory of any time spent outside our current space/time continuum, such as our life prior to birth and our life after death. Both experiences occur in the spiritual realm where "God" resides outside this physical, finite realm of time and space. But there are exceptions; Jesus, began to remember who he truly was at the age of twelve.