The following is a very interesting and enjoyable dialogue between myself and a Catholic brother who also has a blog. The original content is from a post entitled "Who Continued Creating" regarding Christ's death. As you'll see, we delve into some extremely fascinating topics regarding the theological ramifications that one's belief concerning the state-of-the-dead has on one's view of Christ's death and resurrection. Enjoy!
Thomas' Original Comment-
"Interestingly, in your brief thoughts laid out here, you have also just answered the question of how the dead can be conscious after death. When we die perhaps we slip into that realm where time no longer has a grasp on us. It could be argued that the dead can see the Resurrection already before them - seemingly in a moment they have experienced new life - though to us who are left behind here on earth, time marches on. It is a matter of perspective.
The dead are outside of time and can see time from a new perspective. This is why Jesus could tell the thief, "Today you will be with me in paradise."
Perhaps the dead can view time from the outside looking in - sort of a "window" on time. They can see us, and can know our needs and wants. God can allow this, as He is the Master of all time and space. This is how the dead are able to offer our prayers to God like incense, as in the Book of Revelation. This is why Moses and Elijah could appear with Jesus in the Transfiguration - God can allow them to step through the window of time.
This is also why Jesus could tell the parable of the rich man who wished to warn his brothers of their impending doom. Why would Jesus tell a parable that reflects a FALSE view of death? It makes much more sense that Jesus would reflect TRUTH in his teachings. If the dead man could see his brothers and be conscious of them, then there must be some time/space alteration when we die.
If the dead can offer our prayers, or can appear with Jesus beyond the grave, or experience "paradise" as though it is "today," then time and space must be different when we are dead.
Just as Jesus, after death, could be both "asleep in death" and yet remain the sustainer of creation, so too can those who have died be both asleep and alive in Christ. God is the God of the living not the dead. So who are we to say what that new life is like?
I understand that your immediate response will be, "Just read what I have already posted on this subject." ...Well, I have read that post. But what I am saying is that you are still left with your question above: How can Jesus be "asleep" and yet remain the Sustainer of Creation? If Jesus truly experienced death (which I believe He did) then we must explain death in different terms than your Adventist church seems to explain it. Something is wrong with a "sleeping" death if it means that Jesus ceases to be who He is. However, if we allow that death itself entails a time/space alteration then we have opened up the necessity to re-interpret what you posted about death previously. Perhaps the "sleep" theory relies to heavily on how we perceive time here on earth and doesn't take into consideration God's view of time, and our sharing of God's life after death."
My Initial Response -
"Our difference is this: I don't believe we will ever be outside of time, as God is. If we were outside of time after death, we would then be omnipresent, for we could then be all places at once in the view of those "within time" if we were no longer restricted by time.
This is not my only reason, though, for believing that those attributes belong to God alone. There are also the passages in Isaiah which speak of the redeemed gathering together from new moon to new moon and from sabbath to sabbath to worship God...which to me shows that we, as created beings, are always within the confines of time and space.
But regardless of that fact, for the one who dies and ceases to exist, or sleeps in the grave, as some like to say, it will be as a split second before we open our eyes in the resurrection. They will not be conscious of any passage of time. As you said, it is only to those of us who remain here on earth that it seems like they have been gone for so long.
I don't find any Scriptural evidence for praying to anyone other than God. He is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent...surely He does not need help hearing or answering the prayers. On the contrary, the Bible is clear that God Himself always hears our prayers.
One important thing to remember about parables is that they are designed primarily to teach one truth. If we read into them and try to make doctrines of all the various parts and place meaning where none is intended, we "wrest the Scriptures to our own destruction."
The rich man and Lazarus was certainly not told by Jesus with the intention of explaining what happens when we die. I may write a post on this parable, as it is an interesting one.
Certainly all the saved aren't in Abraham's chest cavity...and certainly they cannot look over and see wicked people burning in agony, let alone have conversations with them...certainly a single drop of water on a burning man's tongue would be of no comfort...and probably most importantly, we cannot ignore the hundreds of Bible verses which show that the dead are "sleeping in their graves", "know nothing", "all their thoughts, love, hate, etc have perished", the "dead don't praise God", the dead "wait in the grave until the resurrection", the dead "have no more portion in anything done under the sun", etc. etc.
To arrive at a correct understanding of any Bible truth, we must get all the Bible passages on the subject, and look at the big picture...when we do that, things become very clear, and parables such as the rich man and Lazarus can be seen for their true meaning.
For me the answer to the question of how Jesus can be in the grave and yet be the sustainer of all things is simple...He is God. :-)
With God all things are possible.
If there is one thing that the state of the dead doctrine relies too heavily on, it is Bible texts. For I must admit...our human minds can come up with all kinds of neat ideas about what happens when you die, but if we listen to the plethora of Bible verses on the subject, we must come to the conclusion that the dead are in the grave until the resurrection.
I do enjoy reading about your point of view, though. Keep 'em coming. :-)"
Thomas' Second Comment -
""I don't find any Scriptural evidence for praying to anyone other than God. He is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent...surely He does not need help hearing or answering the prayers."
Just to clarify...when Catholics "pray" to saints, we ask the saints to pray on our behalf - to pray WITH us - we do not pray TO the saints. It is no different than asking any living fellow Christian to pray with you. If God hears all of our prayers, then why would you ask fellow Christians (living or dead) to pray with you? Simple, because it is not a matter going to other Christians INSTEAD of God, rather it is going to God WITH other Christians - a heavenly prayer circle.
My main point is this: I am certain you have many Biblical texts that back up your conclusion about the dead being unconscious or non-existent...but just as you pointed out certain elements of Scripture (in the parables, for instance) should not be taken too literally, I too would say that things like "from sabbath to sabbath" and "from new moon to new moon" should not be taken as literal markings of time. They could be metaphors. And perhaps "sleep" does not mean that the dead are REALLY unconscious from their own perspective, but rather they are only "asleep" from OUR perspective. Those of us who are left here in this life experience their death as a "going to sleep." The Bible uses this analogy to describe a certain perspective of death. But even Jesus said that God is the God of the LIVING, when referring to the Patriarchs. The Patriarchs are dead, yet they are also alive. It depends on your perspective.
All of this is very interesting, but it is just you and I going round and round about who is interpreting correctly. When it comes down to it, we won't convince each other based on the "Bible Alone." We each have a different way of interpreting the Bible, and it is that interpretation and not the BIBLE that is the question. It is a matter of two competing "systems" of interpretation. This is why I like to study the history of these doctrines to discover whether they can be traced to ancient sources.
Anyway, you are still left with a problem...Either Jesus really did die and experienced an unconscious death (as you define death) and so ceased to be the Sustainer of Creation, or He did not really die, He experienced something other than death, remaining conscious, and so his passion was a farce in that respect."
Thomas' Third Comment -
"Allow me to clarify...
To begin with, let us say that you are correct. Let's assume that "death" is a state of unconsciousness. Let's put aside any other doctrinal differences you and I might have about saints or time/space awareness or anything else, and let's just say that "death" is exactly what Adventists claim it to be...When someone experiences death they go unconscious (or cease to exist...or however you understand that to be). Death means that the person ceases to be a conscious being.
Now we are faced with passages such as this..."...he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:8)It would seem that being "obedient to death" would mean to subject oneself to the reality of death. And the reality of death is that it is an unconscious state, or to be put out of existence altogether. To say otherwise is to say that Jesus was NOT obedient to death. He did not really "die."
If Jesus is God (which I assume you believe in the doctrine of the Trinity), and Jesus really did die which the Scriptures say He did, then we must say that God ceased to be God when Jesus died... That is, if death means what you say it means, then when Jesus died the Son of God stopped being God and went dormant or out of existence completely.
That pretty much sums up your initial post. You have stated the dilemma that is present in the Adventist position. But rather than question the doctrine itself you defend your position by simply saying, "Well, all things are possible with God."
So what does that mean?
Does it mean that Jesus did not experience death the same way that you and I do? Well then, that means that the Scripture is false when it says that Jesus was "obedient to death." It means that Jesus did NOT experience death at all. He experienced something different than death - some altered version of death. He was not obedient to death, but obedient to some pseudo-death - He did not follow through in His obedience nor did He experience the death that He came to conquer. How could He conquer that which He never faced?
This possible "alternative version" of death may in theory preserve Jesus' divinity, but it creates a huge problem for the Adventist position. It calls into question the reality of Jesus' Passion and death...
Either way, this one doctrine seems to conflict with the bigger issue of the person Jesus, the Son of God, and what His life and death means to us. When that happens, when a core precept of Christianity is challenged by a minor doctrine, it seems the wise thing to do would be to explore a different way of understanding your notion of death.
Please understand that I am not attacking the Bible in any of this. You and I both use the Bible to arrive at our conclusions. But the Bible can be interpreted to mean a great many things. What matters is whether it is being interpreted correctly. You yourself admit that some passages should be interpreted literally and other figuratively (like Jesus' parables, for instance). The problem is that many people disagree on how that should be - what is literal and what is not. If you believe that the Adventist Church has cornered the market on biblical interpretation it is no different than when any other church claims to do the same thing...including the Catholic Church, I might add. We ALL believe that we "got it right." And we believe we got there with biblical passages to back it up. I don't blame you for that.
So we could go round and round over who is right or wrong...but it is all based on interpretation, and these things can differ. The only reason I posted is to point out that your original post is right on the money about the Adventist problem with death. It seems to contradict Christianity itself. It seems to be a glaring problem with Adventism. I would explore this doctrine further if I were you and see who first proposed it, see if it is an ancient Christian belief or a modern invention. I'm sure the Scriptures seem to back it up, but when the doctrine seems to challenge Jesus' Sonship or the reality of His death that would be a huge red flag to me."
My Second Response -
"In regard to the first of your two recent replies, I just want to clarify my position about the Scriptures.
"but just as you pointed out certain elements of Scripture (in the parables, for instance) should not be taken too literally"
When I say that parts of Scripture should not be taken literally, I mean a very narrow portion of Scriptures...mainly parables. I think it is very dangerous to take this fact further than absolutely necessary...in other words, I believe Scriptures should be taken literally unless there is an obvious reason not to. So, the majority of Scripture should, in my view, be taken quite literally.
So I cannot take the numerous Scriptures referencing death as sleep and the state-of-the-dead and say that they should not be taken literally.
In reply to your second post...
For a certainty the Scriptures are clear that Jesus did die, and He was raised back to life. Those two facts must remain the solid foundation.
So, since I believe the Scriptures which say that death is essentially ceasing to exist, that is exactly what I believe Jesus did. I believe He died. Then...on the third day, He was raised again! :-) (That's an "amen!" moment)
The argument you posed is interesting because it's almost identical to the argument that I believe causes such a problem for those who believe we suffer in hell forever. It goes like this:
If the wages of sin isn't death, as the Bible claims, but instead burning throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity...if that is the wages of sin...then Christ did not pay the full cost...since He would have had to burn in hell forever to take our place.
Again, I want to reiterate that I believe the vast majority of Scripture should be taken literally, at face value, unless there is a clear and obvious reason not to. The only instance I can think of when we shouldn't take the Bible literally, is in parables and in prophetic visions which are full of symbolism, such as Daniel's visions and the book of Revelation, etc.
In my mind this fact doesn't lessen Christ's sacrifice or His divinity, but on the contrary, like I mentioned before, this biblical view of death makes it possible that Christ did pay the full wages of sin, which is death, and not burning in hell forever.
Rest assured, I will study this doctrine even more carefully, paying special attention to Christ's death and resurrection. :-)"
Thomas' Fourth Comment -
"I do apologize for going on so much…but I find this so fascinating. Thank you for indulging me...
You wrote: "I believe Scriptures should be taken literally unless there is an obvious reason not to."
I would agree to that premise. I guess we would differ on what that "obvious reason" might be. To me this issue of Christ's death is an "obvious reason" that we should at least consider some alternative interpretation as to what "death" means. (In other words, Adventists may have it wrong, and in having it wrong it may jeopardize your understanding of Christ’s divinity. And that would certainly be a “serious” reason.)
You also wrote: "If the wages of sin isn't death, as the Bible claims, but instead burning throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity...if that is the wages of sin...then Christ did not pay the full cost..."
Whoever said that the wages of sin is NOT death? I think you assume too much about non-Adventist doctrine. The wages of sin IS death (I am not denying that Biblical fact); and Jesus paid that price…He died! …But the question still remains WHAT is death. Is it an unconscious state where we are snuffed out of existence (in which case the Son of God ceased to be) or is it a conscious state where we still experience something?
If it is an unconscious state then the Adventists are right and Jesus ceased to be God when He died - He in fact went out of existence altogether, as you say – which means the Son of God was nonexistent for three days. That is a false doctrine by any standard of authentic Christian belief. God cannot stop existing or change His nature as God. He is eternal and unchanging.
So death must not be a cessation of existence…Unless you want to claim that Jesus did not REALLY experience death (which would then challenge core Christian doctrine on Jesus’ Passion). Either way you have a problem.
If however, death is a conscious state, and we do not cease to exist, then what do the dead experience? Perhaps they experience union with God and with all of the saints in Heaven? …But what if you reject God and Jesus and salvation…then what do you experience. Are you snuffed out then? Perhaps. Or perhaps that is where all of this “hellfire” comes in. We can leave that an open question for now.
Let me offer a larger view of what I am saying. I’ll summarize one possible interpretation of “death” and what Jesus’ death means. I’ll start from the beginning…
We go through our whole lives isolated from one another. We are separated by our physical and spiritual limitations: we have separate bodies, we are limited by space and time, we are limited by our experiences, we may be rejected by others, or abused, and so on, all of these things drive a wedge between us and our fellow man. We are also isolated from God and from His Grace. Since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden we have been cut off from God and we have had antagonism between one another.
What God wants is to bring us into Communion with Him and with each other, thus Jesus calls us to love one another and to love God above all else – LOVE conquers the isolation and division that mankind suffers from. When we open ourselves to Jesus and God’s love He can repair our fallen state; He can heal our isolation from Him and from one another.
Now what is death? Death is the penalty for sin (just as you say). Death is the ultimate isolation. It is a cutting off from all others. We experience tastes of this isolation in this life (we experience a certain isolation as I described above), but death is the final wage of sin. When we die we are cut off completely from God and from one another. That does not mean that we cease to exist. It means we experience consciously this extreme sense of isolation. It is a radical sense of being cast out and abandoned. And there is no way any mere human can overcome this isolation that death brings about. We cannot conquer death on our own.
Jesus came to earth as God-made-flesh. He is a man, and being a man He chose to experience death just as we do and He confronted this feeling of isolation that death brings about. He did conscious spiritual battle with death. BUT…and this is huge…Jesus is also God…and God is LOVE. When pure divine LOVE enters into the place of utter isolation that is death….what happens? Death is conquered!!! (There’s your Amen moment ;) )
The wages of sin is certainly death. But death is not a snuffing out of existence. Death is utter isolation and hopelessness (sometimes described as unquenchable fire or being shut out from the wedding feast or other metaphors). God brings us hope by shedding the light of Christ’s Love into the dark place of death. Death is transformed from the inside out.
Now, because of Jesus, when one dies with Christ, one finds LOVE waiting on the other side. Death looses its sting.
(I might add…. You argue that Jesus did not pay the full price because He did not suffer hell eternally. Well He was also not snuffed out eternally. So if it is the “eternal” part that you take issue with, then your doctrine suffers from the same problem. Wouldn’t it make more sense if Jesus went out of existence and then never came back? Isn’t THAT what death was all about before He came? Wouldn’t THAT be taking on the FULL penalty of death?)
(Also I must note that what I gave as one possible interpretation is NOT the OFFICIAL Catholic position. It is ONLY ONE theologians attempt at an explanation. And this theory has its Catholic critics. The Catholic Church actually allows for private interpretation as long as one’s private views do not conflict with core doctrine or that you do not force your view on others.)"
My Last Response -
"No need to apologize, I quite enjoy the dialogue! I'm just glad that you don't get angry and frusterated like so many tend to do when talking theology with those whose views differ greatly.
This is the first thought that came to mind when I read your post:
The first lie in the Bible was told by Satan, and it is very revealing. As his first lie to the human race, we can learn a little about one of the main deceptions he uses today.
It's found in Genesis 3:4, "Then the serpent said to the woman, 'You will not surely die' "
Interesting that Satan told Eve that she wouldn't really die.
Now, oddly enough, worldly people define death MORE correctly that most church members. For worldly people say that death means death.
Webster's defines "death" as: "Extinction of life."
Cambridge defines "death" as: "The end of life."
Yet the devil has implanted this idea within the churches that says, "When you die, you don't REALLY die...you go on living in a different form."
The last part of Satan's first lie was this: "You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
It's amazing how similar that sounds to what most churches teach today...that when we die, we don't really die, but instead our eyes are opened, we become a spirit similar to God and we somehow know good and evil.
The truth is that only God truly knows good and evil, and He has to tell us what is good and what is evil.
Like you said, it seems to come down to what we consider "death." But I still ask the question, if the wages of sin is death, and death means burning in hell forever, then how could Christ have paid the full price if He only "died" for three days?
I don't see Adventist's belief that death really means death somehow jeopardizes the divinity of Christ. To me, it only amplifies His love, that He was willing to die, really die, for you and me.
That was a good "Amen moment"! I couldn't help but have a big smile on my face as I read your account of Christ conquering death...good stuff!
I see what you're saying in regards to the eternal aspect of the wages of sin. But I don't believe it's the "eternal" part that is the wages of sin, it's "death...period."
What I mean is that it doesn't matter how long you cease to exist, it's the fact that you've been destroyed...perished. So Christ paid the full penalty, He died, or perished, on our behalf. The amazing miracle that we can't fathom is that Christ, as you said, conquered death and was raised again!
How do Catholics interpret passages like John 3:16 which say that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life?
If we lived forever separated from God, wouldn't that still be everlasting life? And does "perish" not really mean perish but, instead, living forever separated from God?
Like you, I must note that I'm surely no trained theologian of the Adventist faith...so I may not always say what a real theologian would...these are only my personal thoughts.
One thing that I appreciate is that regardless of what we believe about what happens when we die, if we abide in Christ while we're here and follow the light He's revealed to us, we'll just be happy to make it to heaven, regardless of the things we didn't have quite right. :-)"
So, I hope you've been blessed by this peek into the theological musings of a Seventh-day Adventist and a Roman Catholic.