“Soul Sleep” or Immediate Resurrection?

January 14, 2014

Charles Miller, in the comments, shared this quote from Emil Brunner’s The Eternal Hope (available in its entirety as a PDF here). I am not familiar with his work (a lacking in my education, clearly) but have ordered this volume and look forward to reading it. Brunner says what I was trying to articulate in a much more elegant manner:

It can be solved the moment we become clear that there is a before and after to the earthly world. Here on earth there is a before and an after and intervals of time which embrace centuries or even millenniums. But on the other side, in the world of the resurrection, in eternity, there are no such divisions of time, of this time which is perishable. The date of death differs for each man, for the day of death belongs to this world. Our day of resurrection is the same for all and yet is not separated from the day of death by intervals of centuries– for these time-intervals are here, not there in the presence of God, where a thousand years are as a day.

June 25, 2013
I first posted this over five years ago. Obviously these matters have been on my mind for years and even more so of late. I still think this is a plausible understanding and it brings me comfort.

First posted: February 9, 2008
Or what about both? N. T. Wright has made the news again, this time in an interview with Time, and he presents a view of heaven and the resurrection that is not the “traditional” view. Time magazine gave it the lovely title, “Christians Wrong About Heaven, Says Bishop.”

Wright’s view is not nearly as provocative as Time would have us believe. It is also not that new. Of course Wright is correct that most Christians do have a very different view of what happens after death and before the final resurrection than that held by early Judaism and the New Testament. But I am not sure that I buy Wright’s argument of soul sleep either.

Soul sleep is the notion that after death Christians go into a sort of stasis, until the final resurrection and the day of judgment. Wright doesn’t use this term, but it is the one that I first heard my father use when I was in high school and we were discussing these matters. Wright described it this way in the article,

TIME: Is there anything more in the Bible about the period between death and the resurrection of the dead?
Wright: We know that we will be with God and with Christ, resting and being refreshed. Paul writes that it will be conscious, but compared with being bodily alive, it will be like being asleep. The Wisdom of Solomon, a Jewish text from about the same time as Jesus, says “the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,” and that seems like a poetic way to put the Christian understanding, as well.

Wright’s view certainly does fit the New Testament evidence better than other readings, but I want to suggest a slightly different view.

WARNING: this is all just a theory, feel free to rip it apart, and I do not suggest that it is doctrine in any way. That being said, I do not see that it is heretical or out of keeping with New Testament teachings or conceptions of early Judaism.

If we assume that God is outside of the space/time continuum then why must we continue to think of the life after death is in a linear progress? Could it not be that when one dies one is also outside of this linear path and thus, regardless of one’s point in history, all arrive at the same moment? Christ’s return then is not “delayed” but is always in the future and always at this moment. Perhaps a graphic can illustrate this better than my words.

Removing the limitations of the linear passage of time opens up other possibilities. It also makes the passage of time less daunting when considering Christ’s return. (Has it troubled any other Christians out there that Jesus was closer in history to David than to us? Brings to mind Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker trilogy and the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.) Still, I don’t think this conception is heretical and in fact accommodates NT teachings as well.

So what do you think?

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