What happens when you die?

When I was a younger man, I used to carry a large, wheeled cross on my shoulder and pester people about God. Really. You’d be surprised how unpopular this made me with everyone. One of the things I used to open with was, “Excuse me. Can I ask you a question?” Once I had their attention, I’d ask them, “If you died tonight, where would you spend eternity?” It never failed to provoke an interesting discussion. There’s not much to do in our town, and there was even less in 1989, so I ended up with a lot of people listening to me.

I have to admit now that I don’t know the answer to my own question. Specifically, I’m not sure where people go when they die. I used to think that, like the thief on the cross next to Immanuel who repented, any believer would be granted access to Paradise the same day.

So, I don’t know what to do with passages like this:

John 5 :28 Marvel not at this: for the hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice,
29 and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment.

Two things stick out to me here;

1.) How do people in their tombs hear anything? Their ears are rotted away. Is it their souls that hear it? What have their souls been doing all this time? Just lying there? Sleeping?

2.) The good go to life, but the bad go to “judgment.” What is judgment? Death, or Hell? The opposite of Life is Death. But, if they are already dead, why resurrect them just to kill them?

Another thing that always bothered me-where did righteous people go before Jesus came? The Mormons teach that there is a holding area called “spirit prison.” None of the Christian churches I ever attended ever discussed this issue, but the Mormon doctrine is actually backed up by the Christian Bible- 1 Peter 3:19 and 4:6.

No one ever explained to me what “Abraham’s bosom” is, either. Immanuel tells a parable in Luke 16 about Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus was poor and died and went to Abraham’s bosom, but the rich man went to Hell. (I don’t know if this is the same Lazarus that he resurrected in John 11, but that would kind of suck, wouldn’t it? You die, you go to Abraham’s bosom, and then Jesus brings you back to life and you have to live on Earth again.) Interestingly, the only thing required of Lazarus to enter said bosom was to be poor. And the rich man didn’t immediately burn up in Hell-he was being tortured there, and was self-aware enough to remember his life and hold a conversation.

That brings up the question of eternal torment. Romans 6:23 says “The wages of sin is death.”

The wages of sin is death. Not hell, but death. “Wages” implies some type of standardized exchange of services and payment. I work, I get paid. I sin, I(eventually) die. It seems to revolve around a fairly just and equal rate of exchange. But Christians will (reluctantly) tell you that the payment for sin is eternal punishment. After having just established that God views sin and death as some type of business arrangement that is predicated upon ideas of fairness and justice that makes sense to us, He then proceeds to exact the ultimate penalty of eternal torture for 75 years of sin.

Theologians have attempted to remedy this in all sorts of ways, but none of them make any sense. To begin with, they can’t even explain why it says the wages of sin is death, not hell. They will try to say that “death” means separation from God, but I have yet to encounter any proof of this. Why would the Bible not make it clear by saying, “Hell,” instead of coming up with an arcane meaning for a word with a completely different connotation? Adam and Eve were promised death for disobedience, not an eternal roasting. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Ezekiel 18:4. Soul death seems pretty final.

And yet….

Jude 1:7 “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” Not much point in a fire being eternal if it doesn’t have something to burn. Unless it serves as a warning to those living in Heaven not to rebel, as Lucifer once did.

Malachi 1:4 “Edom may say, ‘Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins. But this is what the LORD Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the LORD.” In some versions, “always” is translated “eternally.”

Mark 9:47 “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ Everyone will be salted with fire.” I don’t know what my “worm” is, but I’m quite sure I don’t want it salted with fire. It sounds painful.

So we don’t go to Heaven right away, and whether or not there is a Hell is confusing. What’s behind door number three?