What happens to us when we die? Most of us are familiar with reports of those who have near death experiences, situations where the person has no vital signs but then comes back to life. This happened to a member of a congregation I was serving some years back. He shared the experience with me. His account was the same as others I’ve read about: floating above his body while he observed the medical team working on him, a feeling of bliss and peace, an absence of fear, and then being drawn back into his body. He did not, as some people have reported, see any visions of Jesus or departed loved ones.
Some years back a book by the cardiologist, Dr. Maurice Rawlings, entitled, “To Hell and Back”, told of such experiences and as the title suggests, not all of them were blissful. We don’t hear about those. After all, who wants to say that they went to hell? On the other hand, none of those raised by Jesus in the New Testament ever told (at least not in the Scriptures) of their experience on the other side. While none of this answers your question as to what I believe here are my thoughts and beliefs based upon the Scriptures.
Along with St. Paul in I Corinthians 15 (note verses 50-57) I believe death to be a sleep from which we shall awaken. Death is no more a threat than a “shadow” in a valley (Psalm 23) because of Jesus’ victory. There is no consciousness.
Is there a division of body and soul? While people speak of the soul going to heaven while the body remains on earth may offer comfort to the family, I would rather speak of the total person, body and soul, resting in God’s arms awaiting the resurrection; the soul being that life principle (or breath) he breathed into humans at the time of their creation. It is that which Jesus gave up when he died. We also will give up that same life principle when we die. It will return upon our resurrection.
The resurrected body will be very different from our present one which is limited by time and space. Note the change in Jesus’ body and actions after his resurrection as recorded in the Gospels.
Finally, death is a drawing nearer to our Lord. Note the promise of Jesus in John 14:2 where he speaks of preparing a place for us and his words to the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43, “…today you will be with me in paradise.”