What Happens When We Die?

By Elias Ayala (M.A.T. & Mdiv)

There are many theories as to what happens to human beings when they die. Some say that we merely cease to exist, and our bodies go into the ground, decompose, and that”s it. Others speak of a bright light, and a tunnel where the deceased person is welcomed into the company of loved ones. Still others suggest that human beings go through a process of reincarnation whereby due to good karma, they come back in another form so as to continue the cycle of life until the process of reincarnation is broken, and nirvana is reached. The Christian position on this question is answered when one reflects upon the teachings of scripture. For the Bible provides a clear answer to this question.

The Bible teaches that man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), and that we are ontologically speaking a body/soul composite. There is an aspect of man that is physical in nature, and there is an aspect that is spiritual in nature. Created from the dust of the ground, God fashioned our physical bodies and breathed into man the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). Upon God breathing the breath of life, the scriptures say that man became a living soul; hence, we as human beings are living souls with physical bodies. It is important to point out that we are souls “with” bodies; we are not our bodies alone. Our identities are not wrapped up in our physical make up. It is for this reason that upon death, which constitutes the separation of our bodies from our souls, we do not cease to exist even though our physical bodies are no longer functioning. The Apostle Paul says, “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him” (2 Corinthians 5:8-9). Notice that while one is away from the body, there is continued conscious existence.

Since death is such, that the body and soul become separated, our souls go to be with the Lord. However, there is strong indication that those who do not belong to the Lord go elsewhere when they die. We see quite clearly in Luke 16:19-31, that there are two distinct and separate places to which the dead go upon their death. These places are not connected such that a person who is in one place, can freely go to the other, and vice versa. For those who are in heaven, their existence is that of disembodiment. Souls that go to be with the Lord remain without bodies until they are given newly resurrected ones in the last days, when the Son of Man will shout, and all the dead will hear his voice and be raised; some to everlasting life, and some to everlasting damnation (John 5:25). Those who are in Christ, will not remain in heaven as disembodied souls, but rather, God will make a new heaven, and a new earth for us to dwell, where we will forever be with him. Our final state of existence will be one of physicality. Our resurrected bodies will be physical in nature as we inhabit a newly created earth where there is no sin, evil, disobedience, etc. Hence, as New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright summarized: “Christians do not believe in merely life after death; rather, they believe in life after, life after death” (My paraphrase). After our death, we go to be with the Lord as disembodied souls, and we await the resurrection of our bodies in which we will then have an eternal physical existence.

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