Soul Sleep

We have in our chapel’s upper room a hibernating tortoiseshell butterfly. He seems to daily relocate to a different part of the window, so his winter sleep is not as peaceful as it might have be. The heating, such as it is, is likely to disturb him with false sensations of spring. Hopefully, in four months' time, he will flutter away to feed and make merry*.

Some Christians and pseudo-Christians teach spiritual hibernation, or soul-sleep. This belief seems to have some scriptural warrant, and teaches that the soul after the body’s death becomes dormant, losing consciousness, until reawakened at the Judgement. Paul tells the Corinthians:

After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. 1:15:6

It is apparently taught by the Lord Jesus:

And all wept, and bewailed her: but he said, Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth. Luke 8:52

And the Jewish prophet, Daniel:

And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Daniel 12:2

These quotes are taken from periods both before and after the resurrection of Christ; each indicates a sense of dormancy or even unconsciousness. This is certainly the teachings of the Watchtower organisation and the Christadelphians. Yet scripture should be taken as a whole, and other texts indicate a living, conscious experience, for both the wicked and the righteous, after their bodies and souls separate. We are told that Hades, that temporary hell, will be thrown into the lake of fire. Jesus informed the dying thief that that very day he would be in paradise with Him, not that he would awaken to it in several millennia. Furthermore, in 2 Cor. 12:4, Paul is ‘caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.’ This place was somewhere that a fully  conscious man could enter and appreciate. Hebrews 9:27 indicates that judgment occurs immediately upon death, and the hopeful apostle tells the Philippians in 1:23 that he has

a…desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better.

It is being with Christ that he longs for, not nodding off. When the text talks of sleep, it probably refers to the body’s appearance of sleeping, or of the spirit’s temporal, disembodiment. When one naps, one is still alive, but not in full control of memory and body. Upon awaking, one recovers full control of one’s faculties and limbs. Those departed souls in heaven and hell are just minds and personalities minus the bodies which remain rotting in the ground. At the resurrection, they become more properly human: embodied, as the Creator originally intended. It is in that state that they shall enter the permanent abodes to which their relationship with Christ, or lack thereof, determines: paradise on earth or the fires of judgement. When I die, I hibernate without my body, but like our butterfly friend, I may still move, think and be fully sentient.

*Someone released that butterfly into the fresh air Thursday afternoon. I do not fancy his chances.