Sometimes when I meet people in my travels, the conversation will turn to the faith-traditions that we grew up in. When I tell people that I grew up a Seventh-day Adventist, it always gets their attention. Adventism has had a long history of being disparaged by other Christian organizations over the years as being a cult. At the same time, it has been in the news lately as being the fastest-growing denomination in America. People in the field of public health have noted that Adventists tend to live about 10 years longer than the average population. Vegetarianism, a diet recommended by Adventists, is becoming increasingly popular. People are intrigued, and interested, to know more!
“Well”, I begin, “Adventists have pretty much the same belief-system as other protestant denominations, except on a few small points. Like our name suggests, we worship on Saturday instead of Sunday, and we believe in the imminent return of Christ. Another doctrine that we hold, that is quite unique to other Christians, is that we believe that the “dead are dead.”
This always seems to get a facial display of shock and surprise. “Do you mean that you believe that the soul sleeps in death?”, is a common response. “Well”, I reply, “some Adventists might believe that. The concept of ‘Soul Sleep’ is even found in some of our literature. Other Adventist evangelists and commentators might rather say that, ‘the soul ceases to exist’ in death. In reality, the more official position of the Adventist church would be that people don’t have souls, at least not in the sense of a spirit that can live on after death. Adventists would say that the idea of an immortal soul is a concept that comes from paganism and Greek philosophy rather than from the Bible. So, if people don’t have a soul in the first place, there cannot really be a soul that “sleeps”, or a soul that ‘ceases to exist’. In fact, it didn’t exist in the first place!”
This is a difficult concept for many Christians to take in. “People don’t have souls?” “The dead are dead?” “Why would anyone want to believe that?” As one way to help people understand this seemingly alien concept, I thought that it might be helpful to prepare a list of reasons why it is good to believe in monistic nature of mankind and that the “dead are dead”!
Twelve Top Reasons Why It Is Good to Believe That the Dead are Dead:
1. It protects us from the deceptions of Satan
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8 (NIV)
“For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” Matthew 24:24 (NIV)
The very first deception that Satan brought upon our world, formed the foundation for almost every other cunning snare. Many of these have fooled even the most devout Christians.
John 8:44 records Jesus as stating that the devil is a “liar and the father of it” .
The book of Genesis documents the first lie. God had told Adam and Eve that they could eat of every tree in their beautiful home, except for the one that was in the very middle of the garden. If they ate of that tree, they would surely die. Satan came along and spoke to Eve from the tree, and spun his first big deception.
He said to Eve, “You will not certainly die.” Genesis 3:4
Not too many Christians make the connection between this first lie of the devil and the widely held belief that people have an immortal soul. I would submit that it is something that should be carefully considered. Almost every channel that Satan uses to deceive people today, has its root in this first basic lie, “You will not die!”
2. We no longer need to be afraid of ghosts!
People have told me that one of the things that they like the most about the belief-system of Adventism is that they no longer have to be afraid of ghosts! If people do not have immortal souls, they cannot live on to haunt people after they die! Do you believe in ghosts? Are you afraid of ghosts? If you embrace the teaching of monism or at the very least, the idea that people do not have immortal souls, you no longer have to be afraid of ghosts!
This may not be a big issue for people who live in the West, where apparitions of the dead are a rare sight, but in many countries that I travel, people live their entire lives in constant fear of “ghosts”. God does not want His people to live lives of fear! He says, through Paul,
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7
3. It guards us against the ideas of reincarnation
Many people believe that the souls of people come back in another life-form, or a new born baby after they die. This is not just Hinduism or Buddhism. This concept is fundamental to the growing New Age movement of the West. While it may seem like an innocent and harmless idea, the implications are heavily aligned with ideas that Satan would like people to embrace! Ideas like, “don’t worry too much if you don’t get your act together in this life, you will have many chances to become a better person in future life-cycles.” “Don’t worry too much about people if they live lives that are irresponsible and immature, they are probably just ‘young souls’. After they have gone through several more life cycles, they will become more mature.” “If you want to gain wisdom and insight about how to live and what to believe, allow yourself to become a ‘channel’ for a wise soul to speak through.” “Don’t be so surprised by ‘love at first sight’. The person that you find yourself inexplicably attracted to may actually be someone with whom you shared a whole lifetime together, in a past life! Embrace your long lost love! It’s not really adultery when you are reuniting with a long lost ‘soul mate'”!
These ideas are not so innocent and can get the christian into a world of trouble! If you do not believe that people have souls, you will never be deceived by the clever seductions of reincarnation!
4. It guards us against ancestor worship
Again, this is not such a big issue in the Western World. However, in many of the countries where I travel it is huge! The central focus of people’s homes, in many cultures of the world, is a “spirit house”, where people can honor and worship the spirits of their dead ancestors. Daily gifts of food, tobacco and alcohol are offered up along with prayers for protection and good fortune. This is more than just showing respect for your ancestors, this is just what the name implies; it is worship. Ancestors in many cultures are elevated to the level of gods.
In the days on Moses and the Exodus, the children of Israel were escaping a culture that was heavily invested in the cult of the dead and ancestor worship, especially the worship of dead kings. To distance them from this culture, the very first commandment in a list of ten from Mount Sinai was,
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20: 3
5. It protects people from falling under the influence of spirits
Christians, living in the West might not be deceived by the ideas of ancestor worship, but what about “ancestor influence”? Consider the following scenario that has happened to many Christians. You are struggling with a point of doctrine. From your study, you might be in the process of being convicted that the Bible teaches something different than the long-held doctrine of your faith-tradition. Under the stress of your cognitive dissonance, you get a dream, vision or actual apparition at the foot of your bed! Your beloved mother, whom you have lost in death, is telling you that Jesus has asked her to come and talk to you about the things that you are studying! Wow! What are you likely to believe? Are you going to accept what the Bible seems to be teaching or what Jesus has just told your mother to tell you, fresh from the throne room of God? Which will have more authority? The answer for most people will depend on what they believe about what happens when people die.
If they do not believe in the immortality of a soul that goes to heaven at death, they will never run the risk of falling for this kind of deception of Satan!
6. It protects us from ideas and philosophies that lead people into the occult
Almost all supernatural phenomena that people report having witnessed or experienced, have their foundation in the ideas of dualism and the immortal soul. Some of these ideas may seem very fascinating and even faith-confirming to some Christians. Things like “near death experiences” or “out of body experiences” may offer “proof” of the afterlife and different planes of existence. While seemingly innocent, these and many other “recreational” practices like séances, Ouija boards, psychic readings, fortune telling, and horoscopes, all have the potential to lead people further and further into Satanism and the occult. If you do not believe in dualism or the immortality of the soul, you become immune to these “gateway drugs” to the occult, witchcraft and Satan worship.
Consider the warning of Paul,
“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” 1 Timothy 4:1 (NIV)
7. It harmonizes with the teachings of Jesus
“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” John 6:40 (NIV)
When does Jesus say that people will be raised up? Does Jesus ever explicitly teach that the Greek Philosophy of dualism is right, that people have immortal souls, and that they go directly to their reward at death? Other than the parable that Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus, the teaching of Jesus was in harmony with the writings of Daniel, and the general belief of the Jewish religion of the day, that people will get eternal life through the process of the “resurrection”. This great event is always associated with the events of the last day.
8. It harmonizes with the beliefs of the followers of Jesus
In the book of John, chapter 11, we have the wonderful story of the resurrection of Lazarus, a friend of Jesus. (Different guy than the Lazarus of Jesus’ parable) Lazarus has been dead and in a tomb for four days. Jesus finds his sister Martha at the grave site. This is the conversation that they have:
“Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Verse 23, 24
When did Martha believe that her brother would live again? Mary, Martha and Lazarus had been close followers of Jesus. They had listened to his sermons on the mountainside, on the Sea of Galilee, and enjoyed His table conversation in the privacy of people’s homes for several years before this sad day. If Jesus had embraced the Greek philosophy of dualism and the immortal soul, we might expect Martha to have said to Jesus, “Oh, I know Lord… My brother is already risen and in heaven, enjoying the company of Abraham!” Instead, Martha reflects the traditional teaching of the Jews, based in the writings of Daniel, that the faithful dead will be raised up at the “last day”. In fact it is very curious that Lazarus mentions nothing of his four day “tour of heaven”. We might expect that he would even be a little miffed at having been snatched out of the “bosom of Abraham”, to have to return to this cold dark, evil world. Yet, his amazing “after-death” experience, does not make it in to the early tradition of the Christian church. It was almost as if he was “sleeping” the whole four days, just as Jesus had said.
9. It allows for the Bible teaching of the Resurrection
All throughout the New Testament, the teaching of the resurrection is huge! Jesus showed that it was possible, when He raised Lazarus from the dead. He died Himself and was resurrected to demonstrate His victory over death. By these examples, the new Testament holds out hope to people that even though they die, they can still live again through the process of a resurrection, at the end of time, when Jesus comes back again. This is the Biblical teaching of the only way that people can live again after death. People live, not because of some spiritual energy that drifts away from the body at death, but because of the Resurrection-event, at the end of time. If people go straight to heaven or hell when they die, what is the point of a resurrection? If Paul, the apostles, and all of the followers of Jesus are already enjoying life with Jesus in Heaven, why would they ever want or need to come back and go through the process of a resurrection at the second coming?
10. It allows for the Bible teaching of a Judgment, at the end of time, to decide people’s reward
One of the biggest themes in the four gospels, one of the biggest teachings of Jesus, is that at the end of all things there would be a time of judgment, when every life would be assessed, in a fair and open trial. Some would be shown to be faithful followers of Jesus and be invited into the reward of the Eternal Kingdom. Others would be shown to be evil, lazy or corrupt and be “cast into utter darkness, where there would be “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. You have probably read all of the parables of Jesus that have this judgment theme. In every case, this amazing judgment scene takes place at the end of time.
Have you ever wondered how the Christian Church can teach that people go directly to heaven or hell when they die, when the judgment does not take place until the end of time? Doesn’t the judgment need to happen before people get their just reward? Monism honors the Biblical teaching of a time of judgment at the end of time. The teaching of the immortal soul bypasses the judgment altogether.
11. It allows the Bible to be our only authority for doctrine
Where does the Bible say we should go to get our doctrine?
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” 2 Timothy 3:16
Many Bible scholars are coming to realize that the teaching of an immortal soul is not found anywhere in the Bible. There are a couple of stories that people like to point to that seem to hint or infer that people have immortal souls, but when Bible scholars do a dispassionate, unbiased examination of Scripture, using their knowledge of the original Biblical language, and the prevailing ideas of the time that the Bible was written, they are coming to the conclusion that the Bible, including the New Testament, teaches that the afterlife is accessed only through the resurrection, not through an immortal soul.
If the Bible does not teach that we have immortal souls, where do people get this idea? The idea has been around since the beginning of time. Do you remember the “first lie” of point number one?
This is a lie that Satan has propagated throughout all Earth time. Most cultures of Earth have believed in some sort of dualism where the real essence of the person does not die when the body dies. This belief sets people up for worshiping their ancestors and falling for the doctrines of spirits.
The greatest influence on the pop culture of Jesus day and on the times of the early church fathers that had a profound influence on the formulation of Christian doctrine was Greek philosophy; specifically the teachings of Plato.
To put it quite bluntly, according to a growing number of Bible scholars, if you believe in dualism and the immortal soul, your doctrine is rooted in Plato, not Scripture!
12. It agrees with the discoveries of modern science
Most scientists today, who are doing research on the human brain, are coming to the conclusion that Plato was wrong! As it turns out, people do not have spirits or souls. The perception that people have of some kind of independent spiritual component to their experience, that can exist or travel outside the body, is only an illusion that is created by our brains, or some external stimuli on the brain.
How nice it is that science is just now coming to the conclusion that what the Bible has taught all along about the nature of mankind, is correct! People are made up of one holistic entity where the body, mind, emotions, memories, personalities, and spiritual experiences, all work together to make up one integrated network that we call the life-experience. Who we are is not based on an immortal, reincarnating spirit inside us. Who we are is actually a combination of the genetics we inherited from our parents and the life experiences, education, training, and development that we have had. Parents, teachers and caregivers can shape and influence who we become. Traumatic experiences can have a major impact on who people become. Personal choices and decisions impact who we will become. Diet can impact our personality and character. Drugs and substance abuse can bring changes to people’s behavior. Physical injury or disease can alter the person who we become. Everything we say and do has a lasting impact.
Amazingly, this harmonizes beautifully with the teachings of the Bible. The recent reports of the scientific community on the mind, brain and human experience should not cause a crisis of faith, it should be an affirmation of faith and the validity of Scripture! At least it is faith affirming if you believe in the Biblical teaching of the monistic nature of people and that, “the dead are dead”!