Thursday, October 8, 2015

What Happens Immediately After People Die – Annihilation

     This series covers five leading thoughts about what happens to us after death, Annihilation, Catholic Options, Soul Sleep, Instantaneous Resurrection, and Disembodied Existence. None of these postings is an exhaustive discussion but I want to see what the Bible has to say about each.
     This is the first post and covers Annihilation.
·         Annihilation – there is nothing after death. This has two flavors.
o   Everyone is gone after death and cease to exist.[1]
o   Only unbelievers are extinguished from existence.[2]
     The first flavor of annihilation, where everyone ceases to exist after death, is the primary theology of atheists. Since they believe we are no more than animals, biological machines that have evolved from lower forms of animals, and there is no God, then this life is all there is. When we die, we cease to exist and that is the end of us. Doesn’t that just give you hope? Also, there may be religious people who have the same belief.
     Solomon was supposedly the wisest man of the ancient Near East (1 Kings 4:30). He wrote this, “All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth" (Eccl 3:20-21[3])? If atheists had a mind to study the Bible, they would lock on to this verse to verify their belief. Fortunately, we have a lot more in the Bible than this one verse to help understand that this isn’t all there is.
     Many who don’t believe the Bible teaches about a judgment that results in everlasting punishment for unbelievers also look at only a few verses to support the position that unbelievers or wicked people will be snuffed out of existence. Korah wrote of himself, “But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself” (Ps 49:15). It is clear he believed that his essence would survive death to be with God. However, he also speaks about the rich man who trusts in himself (Ps 49:11), “But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish” (Ps 49:12). If we misunderstood what this means, he ends the psalm with, “He will join the generation of his fathers, who will never see the light [of life]. A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish” (Ps 49:19-20).
     Based only on Solomon, it appears that atheists could be right until we look at Korah. He clarifies that there is life after death, at least for those who trust in God. The overwhelming message of the Bible is that there is life after death for those who trust in God. Even Job, who lived hundreds of years before Korah and perhaps even before Abraham,[4] believed that he would be resurrected. “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God” (Job 19:25-26). It is quite obvious that belief in life after death for believers has always been part of Scripture.
     There are several examples in the Bible that affirm that the righteous have not been extinguished. However, I’ll save those examples for the discussion on soul sleep.
     Will wicked people be snuffed out? There are some who will zero in on the words “destroy” and “perish” in reference to the wicked to support their idea evil unbelievers will not exist after death. Destroy and perish are often used in the Bible to indicate this eternal punishment rather than being wiped out of existence. Just as Jesus referred to sleep when Lazarus had died (John 11:11), so these two words are synonymous with death of the wicked.
     Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28) and again, “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:5). People will use these verses and other to indicate that hell will eradicate a person from existence. However, they also have to ignore or reinterpret verses where suffering in hell is clearly unending. In reference to hell, Jesus said, “Where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched'” (Mark 9:48). He also said, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matt 25:46).
     Perhaps the most vivid picture of the wicked in the afterlife is Jesus’ description of the rich man and the poor man, Lazarus, who both died. “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side” (Luke 16:22-23). Jesus’ story easily summarizes that neither believers or unbelievers cease to exist after death. Both appear to be conscious of their surroundings as well.
     Next time, I’ll comment on the Catholic concepts of what happens to believers immediately after death.

[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3 ed. (Grand Rapids, USA.: Baker Academic, 2013), 487, Kindle.
[2] Ibid., 1136.
[3] Bible verses for this post are from the 1984 New International Version (NIV).
[4] Eugene H. Merrill, Mark F. Rooker, and Michael A. Grisanti, The World and the Word: an Introduction to the Old Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2011), 17405. Kindle.

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