Q&R with Brad Jersak – “Do people who die just sleep or are they in God’s presence?”

Question 1:

Do you think when a person dies they just sleep or do they go to be in God’s presence?

Response:

When someone dies, we know that they are are in God’s presence, since Paul says, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8) and they join the “cloud of witnesses” with Christ on “Mount Zion” along with all those “spirits of righteous men and women made perfect” (Hebrews 12). They are part of the great multitude who worship at God’s throne (Revelation 5). We know from these passages that at the very least, those who died “in Christ” are now with Christ and are alive and conscious, as we see with Elijah and Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration. In that sense, we will be very much alive with him.

On the other hand, some passages seem to say we won’t “be clothed in” (receive) our new immortal and incorruptible bodies until a future, final resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15, for example) and so our salvation will only be fully complete then, when we are made completely whole. So in the meantime, some liken death to sleep. They do this for two reasons:

First, Christ and the apostles spoke of those who were ‘asleep’ just to emphasize that they are not dead. Sleeping people may seem dead (unless they toss and turn and snore) but they really aren’t. They wake up. And those who have passed away seem dead, but Christ proves that they will ‘wake up’ … referring to the resurrection.

But also, the idea of the sleep analogy is that the departed do not yet have their resurrection bodies, so whatever they are hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling or touching now (with the Lord) is not experienced through their physical senses–their ears, eyes, tastebuds, nose or skin (because the body is decomposing in the grave) … and yet they truly experience these things. How is that possible?

That’s where the sleep analogy comes in. “I slept but my heart was awake” (borrowing the words of Song of Solomon 5:2). Some compare consciousness in death to dreaming while we sleep. In our dreams, we may experience a host of sensations vividly, but that’s not happening through our bodily senses. We experience our dreams in our minds. So we might compare this to how those who are alive with the Lord might experience life with Christ very vividly even prior to having their final resurrection body. The difference is that it’s much more than a dream. Being in the presence of Christ is an awakening far greater than we’ve ever known.     

Question 2:

Do you think God is with people as they die, and do you think the person who is dying is aware of God’s presence?

Response:

God is certainly with people as they die, as he is with all people at all times. Sometimes God’s reveals himself to people at the time of their death in a unique and profound way. In fact, I’ve witnessed this a good number of times, even among those who had begun to pass over and were revived either by medical personel or miraculously. On the other hand, it is possible that some have so willfully blinded themselves to God’s love in this life that they cannot see him continuing to shine his grace on them in the last moments of this life. Even so, I am very hopeful about their awareness of Christ just after that, since he now holds the keys of death and hades and therefore, those who die without knowing he was with them might yet know his presence thereafter.  

Question 3:

What if you loved God but weren’t a good enough Christian? Is there a level of being good enough in your faith that decides if you go to hell or not? What if you screwed up too much or made big mistakes? 

Response:

Is there a screw-up more powerful than the love of God? Is there a sin that his blood can’t wash? Is it by being good enough that we are saved or is it by the faithfulness, goodness and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ?

In my prayers, I often remember the prodigal, the prostitute, the publican and the thief on the cross and I remind myself that each of them experienced God’s super-abundant grace that was capable of cleansing them from every last sin-stain. One old saint said that all the sins in the world are like a drop of water compared to the ocean of God’s love. To imagine that our sins and screw-ups and inadequacies could eclipse the sunshine of God’s infinite love would require a very small God indeed! As Paul said, “Where sin abounds, the grace of God abounds all the more!”

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