What Happens When We Die?

Every pastor has been asked this question: What happens when we die? In fact, the pastor often hears this question more poignantly in these terms: Where is my father/mother/brother/sister/friend now? This puts the pastor on the spot to be both theologian (what does the Bible/Christian tradition say?) and judged (with God or not?).

At this point saying it is all speculation, or we don’t know, or she’s in God’s hands now, or or or won’t do. Folks like to have some firm answers when it comes to their loved ones who have just died. The pastor’s responsibility is to minister to that person with the gospel.

So what do we tell folks? I wonder today if some pastors might speak up to how they answer such questions and what they’ve learned in pastoral ministry from such questions and from dying and death and funerals. And do you think Thiselton’s participant/observer view resolves the issue?

Tony Thiselton has what I think is a commendable approach, which he calls a “new approach” to this very question. He argues that in the history of the church Christians have favored one of two major interpretations: one argues the dead in Christ go immediately into the presence of Christ/God, and the other view argues that the dead in Christ enter into an intermediate state of deep sleep until the resurrection. Which seems to take us back to what most people don’t want to hear when they ask the question about Aunt Sally. But Thiselton thinks J.C. Ryle can help resolve this dilemma: Is it immediate or intermediate?

Both, Thiselton argues. How so?

First, we need to observe that there is biblical evidence for each view.

Immediate: Phil 1:23: “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far…”;  2 Cor 5:6: “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.”

Intermediate: 1 Cor 15:52: “in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” 1 Thess 4:16-17: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

Are we forced between two options? Do we have to choose? Thiselton contends we don’t. He argues, using the work of J.C. Ryle, that what we have here is different perspective depending on the difference between participant and observer. More of that shortly.

Luther argued that the dead in Christ go into a deep sleep and don’t know anything until the resurrection. Furthermore, those who die in Christ are “in Christ,” so that Moltmann can argue that isn’t an empty waiting room but instead an entrance into the realm over which Christ rules. Thiselton would argue that are “in” Christ and “with” Christ but not yet “conscious of being with Christ” (70).

Thus, he comes to this conclusion. For the dead in Christ, or existentially, the person immediately enters into the presence of Christ since that is how that person experiences the postmortem condition. But ontologically, or from the angle of the observer (the pastor, the family, the theologian), that person will be resurrected only at the Second Coming, the time at which that person (who has been sleeping/dead) becomes conscious of being with Christ. Thus, the language of both texts can be resolved through the difference between the participant and the observer.

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  • Tim

    Good post, strongly bolsters my soul sleep views. I always wondered how to deal with that particular verse in light of all the other ones that seem to suggest otherwise.

  • Fr Chris

    At Mt St Mary’s we were exposed to Aquinas who said our spirits go to be with Christ but our bodies at the resurrection. The difficulty being that you are not fully yourself when you are in heaven until after the resurrection of the body (Aquinas would admit this difficulty).

  • Paul W

    Not given this much thought before. My default setting on this has been that:

    1. “immediately” upon death children of God go to be with God,
    2. this initial experience is conscious and blessed,
    3. it is also a disembodied existence during this “intermediate” time until the final resurrection,
    4. At the resurrection they receive new bodies,
    5. After being re-embodied there is a new life on a new earth,
    6. This new re-embodied life is more fitting for humans and so perhaps there is also a fuller experience of blessedness in association with it.

    To be honest I really don’t have any idea if the above perspective is relatively common or fairly idiosyncratic.

  • Simon

    I don’t think first century Jews like Jesus and Paul would have had an eschatology of “disembodied existence” whether as an ultimate or intermediate state. The church only seems to have adopted this theology as it shifted from a hebraic to a neo-platonistic matrix through which to understand the NT. So whenever I read the texts which some would use in support of disembodied readings my first thought is “well, it can’t mean that, so what could it mean within a more Jewish worldview. I think some of the Pauline texts can be read as refering to ecstatic worship experiences and texts such as Jesus’ parable of Lazarus are more of a literary device to make an earthly point than a basis for a strong eschatology.

    I’m probably wrong of course, so it will be a nice surprise when Jesus makes me a sunbeam…

  • Harald Solheim

    Nice post and I agree with the way Thiselton concludes. My only question is: What does this view mean for how we understand the destiny of those not being save?

  • phil_style

    If people retain consciousness and continue some kind of disembodies existence right after they have died, then how do we explain the lack of reporting such existence from people who have died and been medically resuscitated?

    Besides a few “NDE” events, there’s just not enough people remembering what happened after their lives ended (like my mother for example, who was dead some time after a vehicle accident, before being medially resuscitated).

    If I’m going to accept any kind of life after death, it seem to me that it would have to occur after the “culmination” of history. And, the experience would be just like waking up in the morning – the time would have passed in an instant for the person experiencing it, just as the whole night (or months in a coma) passes in an instant.

  • Stuart B

    Just wondering, how does this fit in with Luke 23:43?
    “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
    Would it be that Jesus reassurance is that, for the thief, it will seem like he is resurrected ‘today’?

  • phil_style

    @Stuart, number 7, look what happens to that phrase when we move the comma over by just one word.

    “I tell you the truth today, you will be with me in paradise.”


  • scotmcknight

    Stuart B, Thiselton sees that one as the angle of the participant.

  • SkipR

    What about the passages in Revelation indicating that the departed saints are in some way observing what’s happening to their brothers and sisters on earth and longing for deliverance for them? Or the Hebrews passage regarding a “great cloud of witnesses”?

  • Pastorally, I’ve always lifted from Peter Marshal who said, “Remember as a child when you were out visiting with you parents somewhere and the hour grew late and you fell asleep in a strange place only to wake up in the morning in your own bed in your own room, carried there by a parent who loved you? That is what it is like for us when we die.”. For me it covers all the theological bases but more than that, his analogy gets right to the heart and emotion of our questions.

  • JoeyS

    Scot, how do we reconcile OT accounts of Sheol? We can place them in the category of theological mythology, but what of people who take them as historical? Samuel and Saul, for instance?

  • Jayflm

    I don’t think that it is ‘copping out’ to say to a family that their loved one is somehow enjoying a fuller experience of God’s Kingdom, but there is more to come for them, and for us. “yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.” (Hebrews 11:39-40)

  • This is what I believe: there is more evidence in life after death experiences. I believe that even in Christ, one goes (perhaps through a tunnel) and then sees all their life experiences laid before their eyes… as they say. Every thing they’ve ever done, or chosen to do, (and experienced). This obviously still leaves much room for “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

    BTW, excellent post on the comma change, “phil_style”. As all can see, all this still is in line with NT scripture. And I mostly believe in what God’s Words are about people in general soon after death: “How wide is the road that leads to (eternal) destruction, and how many enter through it. Yet, how narrow is the road that leads to life, and ONLY A FEW FIND IT.” Mat 7:13

  • Alan K

    Most people assume that the love of God requires a happy, conscious existence beginning immediately for the departed. This is understandable because people are going to pattern heavenly existence from earthly existence, and the time of grieving is not the time to try and sort out the continuities and discontinuities of heaven and earth. The words “I am convince that neither death…nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” are great comfort in the midst of sorrow.

    That said, as a minister conducting a funeral, resurrection is what I am called to witness to. Because the grave could not contain Jesus Christ, so too will the grave not be able to contain the departed or us. The participant’s life must be located theologically for the sake of the observers–that is, located in the life of Jesus Christ.

  • Norman

    The language of resurrection is often framed in poetic and apocalyptic Jewish terminology that simply can’t be taken literary without getting far afield of the original intent. We simply know that Christ overcame Death to demonstrate the reality of our hope. Resurrection is often framed as a corporate raising of Israel out of bondage to the first Adam’s method of seeking God. The Last Adam; Christ brings all faithful into the renewed Israel where abandonment to the grave and a residence in Hades has been destroyed and is no longer in place. The change that took place in a twinkling of an eye occurred at the judgment of Israel and the Nations at the end of Israel’s old covenant. It was a juridical change of the covenant that occurred instantly and henceforth all the faithful in Christ are son’s of God and brothers with Christ and receive the same benefits of His resurrection which means post mortem we like Christ are in God’s presence. Under the old covenant there was a restriction and they called it sheol, the pit, or hades that prevented those post mortem ascending to God because of Sin’s lack of atonement. There is however no need to wait until the end of this physical planet which may last another 100,000 or 1 million years to continue in soul sleep

    Now what does that reality looks like post mortem; your guess is as good as the next fella but soul sleep was an old covenant understanding and has been defeated. The Hope of Israel was life from the Dead which meant separation from God’s presence. We are not still waiting for that hope to be fulfilled someday in the future.

  • Paul D.

    The “immediate vs. intermediate” is a function of the linear view of time with which we still operate, whether as “participant” or “observer.” If even post-Einstein physics can conceive of non-linear time, how much more the category of eternity! Perhaps, like the recently detected “faster than light” sub-atomic particles, we will arrive before we leave.

  • phil_style

    @Paul, a minor (and rather pedantic point) the “FTL” particles did not arrive before they left, but sooner than expected, that is all.

  • DRT

    Grandpa was a professor of philosophy after dropping out of the priesthood because he met Grandma. He died at age 95, a wise old man.

    On his death bed he told my Mom that he was not sure what will happen after he died, and that bothered him…. I wish we knew….

  • dopderbeck

    Since the saints who have gone before us can pray with us and for us, it seems clear to me that “soul sleep” is an incorrect view.

    Now, some will of course say that the saints can’t pray with us or for us. But that reflects, I believe, a terribly impoverished ecclesiology. The Church is all the saints, living and dead, and this, I think, is what the Church has always believed. Therefore, with respect to Aunt Sally who was known to have been a faithful saint in life, the Pastor can offer great confidence that she is even now in the presence of the savior and continues to intercede with him for us. (None of this, BTW, necessarily commits us to the practice of praying to the Saints or of denoting some people formally as Saints.)

    With respect to someone other than Aunt Sally who was not known to be a follower of Christ, it seems to me that the appropriate words are those of hope in God’s boundless love and grace — a hopeful but necessarily more agnostic posture, but hopeful nevertheless.

  • Jim

    This is timely as I prepare a memorial message for tomorrow. Randy Alcorn proposes an intermediate body during a conscious intermediate state. This has the downside of multiplying hypotheses. But it commends itself to me since Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5 that “we HAVE a house” in the heavens and are not naked. I’ve correlated this with the insight of N.T. Wright that given the Holy Spirit, our resurrection lives are already being formed now, so why wouldn’t they continue to develop in the intermediate state, with the our full resurrection existence being unveiled in the last day?

    Having said that, I’ve also used the model of Ryle and Thisleton to resolve the problem, without being entirely comfortable with the relationship between time and eternity that it seems to pre-suppose.

  • dopderbeck

    A further note: I think a conversation like this inevitably stumbles on the notion of “time.” We speak of “post-“mortem as though death simply marks a continuation of time as we now experience it. But that is certainly incorrect, because death marks the passage to “eternity.” Since “eternity” by definition is outside time, there is no simple correlation between the passage of time as we now experience it and the state of eternal existence. Thus we don’t really have any analog for what Aunt Sally herself experiences in eternity.

    I think the best we can say is that Aunt Sally is with Christ; she prays for us; but for her, it is not as though some span of “time” passes before she is raised bodily. I suspect that the moment of “death” is a moment in which time collapses into eternity, in which all the potentialities of time are realized instantaneously. Thus I think we can speak of Aunt Sally as presently being with Christ and interceding for us and also as anticipating the resurrection and also as experiencing no flow of time as we know it between those events. Thus also I think we can speak of the moment of death as an expansive space for the completion of God’s work in every person who would participate in God’s life — a reason I think we can be agnostic yet hopeful concerning people other than Aunt Sally.

    Yet the passage from time into eternity necessarily remains a mystery to the living and therefore can’t be discussed as though that experience is the same kind of experience as showing up at the Dentist’s office on Tuesday.

  • Jim

    This is a bit off topic perhaps, but in an older essay, philosopher Nick Wolterstorff argues that the Hebrew biblical notion is one of everlasting time, and that the notion of a timeless eternity found in Boethius and classical theism is alien to it. As Wolterstorff deftly puts it, if God dwells in timeless eternity, then it is hard to see how God knows what time it is :D. I think Wolterstorff makes a strong case, while I also want to affirm that God must transcend time in some, mysterious way.

  • DanO

    Jim @23, Wolterstorff makes a good point. One could suppose that God knows what time it is by the fact that He dwells in us. He is thus connected to *our time.* Maybe some of our difficulty lies in our definitions of time.

  • dopderbeck

    I like Wolterstorff, but I think, insofar as I understand his argument, that he is wrong about God and time. Since God’s being is not like ours — He is not “in” time — the question is a non-sequitur. Since there is no “time” for God He has no need to know “what time it is.” When we speak of God’s “action in time,” we are speaking analogically.

    But really, what is “time” anyway? I don’t pretend to fully understand how theoretical physics uses terms like “spacetime” and “world line,” but I understand enough to know that our intuitive notions of the “flow” of time are usually too simplistic.

  • dopderbeck

    A relevant Scientific American article that explains this better than I could: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=is-time-an-illusion

  • Nothing happens. We wait until God raises us from the dead. If there is no resurrection, there is no life after death, period.

    Since dead people can’t experience the passing of time, from their perspective they will experience the day of the Lord immediately upon their death.

    Thiselton’s view isn’t new.

  • I should have put “wait” in scare quotes. Dead people can do nothing, and that includes waiting.

  • JTM

    Is Moses “sleeping”? Is Elijah “sleeping”? They did not seem to be in Matt. 17. I take Phil. and 2 Cor. at face value, and 1 Corn. and Thess. as referring to the resurrection of bodies, not souls/spirits, of the dead in Christ.

    Or to paraphrase Jesus if I may….Is God the Lord of the sleeping, or the awake…..I would say, He is Lord of the very much awake, but not yet experiencing the fullness of the resurrection.

  • Commenting this late, I can only be redundant, but concerning believers I have long answered the question like Thiselton (above)–that the deceased experiences death/resurrection as if immediately, although he/she would be as sleepimg to observers.
    I have also long used the same illustration quoted above from Peter Marshall, that pictures the sleeping child in the parents’ arms — safe and present but unaware. Specifically, I sometimes conclude a memorial service with the words: “And so we say to [the departed], ‘Sleep sweetly in Jesus. We’ll see you in the morning!'”
    Unbelievers, however, it appears are simply DEAD — as if they did not exist. But they will be roused to face God in judgment, not raised immortal like the saved but “unto condemnation” and finally the second death.

  • I arrive at the same conclusion, but by a slightly different means.

    At death, we step “outside” time – time has no more effect on us. So, we are then immediately with the Lord as our next conscious moment is of that act.

    As noted, to those still “in time” there is a sense of before/after, but not for the dead.

  • @dopderbeck, #22: “…death marks the passage to “eternity.” Since “eternity” by definition is outside time…”

    Dunno, Dave. Perhaps there is some distinction between eternity and eternally. Perhaps a re-think of Rev. 21, of where the New Jerusalem comes ‘down’ from and to, of where we are when God is now dwelling with us – whether that is on a restored, renewed earth or floating “on the clouds” (eating Philly Cream Cheese Lite, to round out the picture!) – perhaps all those things come in to play.

    I’ve never considered the possibility of eternity with no time…will have to think on that one a bit…the ‘eternal now’…every ‘moment’ existing simultaneously. I guess it could be.

    Somehow, we will be ‘in Christ’ as he is ‘in the Father’ (theotokos?)…Christian pantheism? A timeless, eternal, ‘absorption’ into the Trinity?

  • I’m not a pastor, but I’ve spent my life first as a pastor’s child and then as a pastor’s wife. I’ve spent plenty of time with mamas who are burying babies and young wives who have lost their husbands.

    And truthfully, since you asked for the pastoral view, there is no comforting thought outside of believing that their loved one is safe in Jesus’ arms. No mama can really accept that her baby is soul sleeping – she NEEDS to know that Jesus is holding that little one.

    So, wrong or right (judge me if you wish, I could not tell a grieving mother otherwise…) that’s exactly what I say: “Your baby is very much alive, he is safe with Jesus. You will see him again some day.”

    And regarding time, since there is no “night” there, the passage of time to those who have passed does not surely seem as longas it does to those of us still here. I can reassure them that for their child, it will only seem a brief moment before they are reunited with their mama.

    And that, of course, begs the question…what is the heavenly state of the child who has died? A mother wants to believe that she will hold her child again; but I don’t know that. Many believe that we are at our most “perfect” young adult stage in eternity – but I have heard some theologians say that perhaps God in his loving kindness allows us to make up for all of the missed moments. Maybe she will hold him and rock him and mother him for a time. Who am I to say? Who am I to steal that hope? Generally, people seem to be content to have that question answered with “I don’t know. But maybe. I hope so!”

  • One final thing….

    One horrible thing I have had to do was speak with young mothers who labored to bring forth stillborn babies – who had been told via their church doctrine that because their babies were conceived when they were not Christians, their babies would not be in heaven. Toss that one onto a grieving mother…..yeah, that’ll help comfort her immensely. (Not. The thought of her child in eternal, conscious torment because of her sin, which she can now do nothing about…that will send her into a deep depression for years to come. People who tell a mother that should have to hold her hand and bring her soup every day for a long, long time.)

  • scotmcknight

    Holly, and Tony Thiselton would say to that mama that her child is in the arms of Jesus.

  • Larry S

    Phil #8 – you’ve messed with one of my theological options – all with the placing of a comma. Have you looked at the greek in this sentence?

  • …oh….good. (())

  • At this point saying it is all speculation, or we don’t know, or she’s in God’s hands now, or or or won’t do. Folks like to have some firm answers when it comes to their loved ones who have just died. The pastor’s responsibility is to minister to that person with the gospel.

    Really? (to the first sentence) While dealing with numerous impending and just post mortem family situations in hospice care, I never once encountered a family or relative who wanted such specifics. Assurances, yes. Specifics, no. Perhaps those questions come further away from the experience of dying and the shock of death. The closest thing to a demand to know where her relative was, was from a substance-impaired woman whose mother died next to her in the middle of a TV show. “She was an atheist. She lived through the bombing of Berlin, so she refused to believe there was a God. Tell me she’s with God! Tell me she’s saved.” What can be given then, other than the peace of presence, care & assurance of God’s love, God’s knowledge of her mother, God’s provision of grace & mercy to us in Christ… That’s the gospel that I give to families experiencing death.

    Really? to the second question, too. Again, perhaps these questions come up later, after the shock has worn off, but theological discussions about locations were non-existent, except for one occasion when there was an inquisitive teenager w/ those questions in the room. The eternal presence of God-with-us who loves, then, now and forever was much more important than exact location. Paul’s “cloud of witnesses” was a far more understandable concept to these folks. Something similar was noted also by atheists, who have told me they still talk to their long gone spouse, or family member, or friend, as though they’re still present. (The rational mind that keeps contradicting what they’re actually doing often seems to be louder in these folks.) People seem quite aware that being departed from the body is not the same as being gone.

    Amen to the final sentence, and yes to Holly, too. God-with-us and the love of Christ don’t change when these bodies die, we believe.

    I agree with Thiselton that we don’t have to choose, and my experience thus far has been that if a chaplain/pastor is really listening to the hearts and longings of people, it is very rare that someone wants to nail God down on these points. I’ve never encountered it, nor do I recall my fellow chaplains struggling in this theological boat.

  • Larry S, #36, there’s no punctuation in the Greek manuscripts and codices. Your option would be one possible outcome, AFAICS, as is phil’s. Mystery.

  • Stuart B

    Ann #39 – as far as I aware, the reason that most (all?) translations place the comma as they do is because of consistency. Throughout the rest of the gospels Jesus uses the prefix ‘Truly I say to you,’ and then elaborates. It would make this verse an exception if he changed his phrasing to ‘Truly I say to you today,’.

  • phil_style

    @Larry S #36, lol, yeah I have 0 understanding of Greek and my little move of the comma is really NOT to be taken as any kind of textual analysis. As Ann F-R points out, the Greek texts did not use punctuation. It’s very possible that the original text does have all the grammatical consistencies with the translations that place the comma where you identify it should be (i.e. before the word “today”).

    My point is just that we can make some amazing theological rebuilds based on some very, very “tiny” adjustments to texts – especially when we place all theological authority in the hands of the text.

  • Susan N.

    Holly (#33 and #34) – Very wise, healing words. When a person is grieving the death of a child (been there, done that), zealous Christians can be the most hurtful. They will say the damnedest (literally, cursed) things, in their attempt to be true to the “gospel.”

    Holly, you are so right. Especially in the initial stage of grief, imposing one’s theological propositions is so hurtful. A mother naturally feels anxious about the safety and security of their child/child’s soul. I think this is more pronounced for parents suffering the death of a child, because a child is innocent and helpless, to varying extents, in contrast to an adult who dies. Parents can’t stop feeling responsible for their kids. I know that for me, personally, I only wanted to know that my child was safe and in a loving Presence. Forever. Period.

    Over time, for me, working through my theology became more do-able. Then you can think about what might be true, or biblical, or whatever.

    At this stage of my life, 20 years post-loss, and with a more developed faith, I can admit that I simply do not know what happens to us, explicitly, when we die. I only affirm the utter goodness of God, and hope in His ability to deliver on His promises of an eternal life that is immeasurably better than this earthly existence.

    Having lost 5 “significant” parental figures (grandparents and mother) in the past 10 years, I am believing, perhaps naively and politically-incorrectly from an evangelical standpoint, that LOVE is eternal. It is the essence of resurrection life. Does the love we receive and give get “recycled” from generation to generation, lifetime to lifetime? I am believing that this is truer than anything. Is the love of God recycled through Jesus’ resurrection? Is Jesus’ life and love recycled through us? And on and on? That’s what means the most for here and now. “If you love me, obey my commands.” Essentially, Jesus preached “love.” We can parse the meaning of the word “love” so many ways, but when we get to the bottom of love as a verb that acts like Jesus, we’re doing it. Eternal life.

    Just my simpleton view of very high matters.

  • Susan, thank you. I am so sorry that you can speak firsthand of such loss.

    You are right – it seems to be specifically in the loss of a child that we need assurance that they are “safe,” and it is also in the immediate stage of grief. Reasoning or logic can come later if one needs it. It is almost unbearable grief to think of laying your child in the cold ground – because we are the ones who are supposed to keep that baby safe and warm. Our very bodies are tied, hormonally, into their protection. Mothers worry that their baby will be cold, or frightened – we who are mothers NEED to know that Jesus is holding them, soothing them, that they have no fear. (And me? I choose to believe that would be consistent with the picture of the loving shepherd in scriptures…)

    Your thoughts concerning love remind me of something I told a friend of mine who was widowed violently at age 29 (her husband died within a ten-hour time span from unexpected septic shock with three little ones. I picked her up at the hospital and brought her home to her nursing infant twins…) I did not know if I was theologically correct at the time, but I told her – “the love you shared with your husband is not gone. Love, once created does not die. It was not buried with him. That love is still here.” And maybe this is too weird for some people, too “out there,” too unverifiable – but to me it makes sense. If love is more than a feeling, if it is more of a created thing – where does it go? Somewhere – right? I like your thoughts. Much appreciation, my friend!

  • Susan, my editing was poor there – I wrote some, added some, and it came out sounding odd. I was trying to say she was widowed and left with three little ones at home. I’m sorry to sound so….bizarre. Oye.

  • DRT

    Susan N. #42,

    Thank you for that comment. I sense you…I appreciate you sharing you. Yes, there is more to it, love is more.

  • Susan N.

    Holly, your friend is so fortunate to have had such a wise and compassionate angel of mercy at that moment of shock and, the word “horror” comes to mind, because that about sums up how I felt at the time. Surreal.

    I read what you said earlier about those who would elevate the importance of the “gospel” above being gentle with the brokenhearted (bring that person lots and lots of soup thereafter to atone), and smiled. You’re a good egg, Holly (per the spoken blessing of Billy Beane to his ‘Moneyball’ protege-statistics guru Pete Brand.)

    It is loving souls like you, Holly, who help people like me let go of first base and get on to living the rest of the “bases” in life. God bless you for your kindhearted ways. 🙂

  • DRT

    …and Holly #33, #34,

    Wow, thanks.

    One of the most formative events of my life was having my favorite cousin taken from all of us when I was about 14.

    When his Mom, my Aunt, died a decade or so ago everyone could only say that “finally Aunt is with her son again, thank God”.

    The other thing I learned about is that people need help when they need help and not on my schedule. My cousin wanted to talk to my Dad about what was happening, but Dad did not have the time that week, …. and then it happened and he never will have the chance again. I know that people need help when they need it.

  • Susan N.

    Aw, thanks DRT (#45). You have been a great friend to me here for as long as I’ve been around JC. I’ve been having kind of a down day, to tell you the truth. The virtual hugs help. It’s definitely the kind of day that makes me want to hug both of my kids and thank God for the blessings that they are to me. What else is there? Love. You know it, bro. We forget that in all the hustle and bustle of living.


  • Susan N.

    DRT (#47) – I know (have understood) from past comments about your cousin’s tragic death how much that loss has affected you and your entire family. I can empathize with the replaying of events leading up to a sudden, unexpected death. Grief seems to come with a heightened sense of awareness in the effort, I think, to remember and hold onto every moment with the one who died. Then you get to wondering, “What if…” and, “If only…” Regretting, in the process, every perceived failure and missed opportunity to change the course of events.

    That cycle kept me in an extended iterative loop of anger/depression/despair at my own inability to anticipate or circumvent the death of my son.

    The lesson that you have learned, to be fully present, to listen *care*fully, and to be willing to respond to immediate needs, is such a good one. In a way, it is being “wide awake” and able to enter into the suffering of others. Have you read any/much of Henri Nouwen? As I am greatly benefiting from your rec. of Richard Rohr’s meditations, I think you would be blessed by the writing of Henri Nouwen. He speaks to a lot of what I’m trying to convey, much more eloquently than I.

    Forgive yourself for past perceived failures, DRT. Be merciful to yourself, because even with intentionality, our loving, in its humanly limited ways, will never be perfect. We offer our love with a prayer that God will bless it and allow it to be fully received and to minister to others’ needs. Only God knows and loves perfectly. We open our hearts to the work of being transformed by our suffering and weaknesses, so that God can use even the yucky stuff of our past for good.

    I know this seems off-topic to the posted conversation starter, “What happens when we die?” But, if I may suggest that, while this question is valuable to some extent in ministering to a grieving person (per Holly’s comments on what *not* to say), a more relevant question is, “What happens to the bereaved when a loved one dies?” “What are we (the Church) going to do, how are we to love and care for the brokenhearted *well*?” The ways in which we provide our healing or hurtful (or indifferent) “presence” have great meaning and impact here and now.


  • Mark E. Smith

    I have been teaching that the spirit/soul goes to be with the Lord, while the body awaits resurrection. The two are united at the return of Jesus to enter into the Age to Come. God didn’t create people to be disembodied souls, but body and soul together.

  • Johan

    As a non-christian follower of Jeus I find the Chrisitan spirit/soul/body business confusing. My view as that the soul is the result of the interaction of the spirit and the body. The body is my contact with the physical dimensions and time, my spirit is my contact with my creator/father. When the two meet the soul becomes who I am, the intellect, the emotional being, the conciousness. When I die my soul stops existing and my spirit joins the spiritual world where time does not exist nor do the other dimensions. I will be given a new “perfect body” at the resurrection.

  • Barry Edge

    Please forgive me if you’ve referenced these scriptures. I believe the participant/observer phenomenon is a clear teaching of the NT. It was first suggested to me nearly 40 years ago from the epistles, but there are also two real-life gospel situations in which Jesus Himself reveals this very thing through demonstration and promise.

    Before Jesus raised Tabitha from the dead, Jesus said to the crowd (observers), “The girl is only sleeping.”

    The thief on the cross asked Jesus to remember him “When you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “TODAY you will be with me in paradise.”

    I should explain: there are many who believe that Christian blessings never occurred until after the resurrection of Christ and the general
    dispensation of the Holy Spirit, but if this is true, why would the gospels make such a strong point of proclaiming, numerous times, phrases like, “Many believed in Him,” and “Your faith has saved you.” ? Another topic for another time, perhaps.