In my last essay, I talked about how God is good despite the evil and suffering in the world. I ended my essay with the following sentence: “If humans choose good over evil during their journey here on Earth, they will go to this perfect place called heaven after dying.” To choose “good” here does not mean “good works” but rather “to avail oneself of salvation through Jesus Christ.” “Good works” are merely an outcome of salvation. They cannot earn salvation on their merits alone. This brings me to the topic of death and how the Christian view of human death is different from that of materialists and naturalists.
MATERIALISM AND NATURALISM
Materialism is the idea that the only things that exist are physical things. According to N. M. Roy, while we now know that the world is not made up of “hard, massy, stone-like atoms,” the underlying material of the world is still physical, even if this material turns out to be only energy.¹ According to this view, there is no spiritual realm, and thus there is no God. Similarly, naturalism is the idea that the world can be understood completely through physical laws² and empirical science.³Thus, philosophy and science should make no reference to the supernatural, i.e., anything outside of the natural world, because such things either do not exist or do not impact the physical, material world.²
ATHEISM, AGNOSTICISM, AND THEISM
From the above discussion, it can be seen that materialism is only compatible with an atheistic point of view. Atheism is the belief that God does not exist. On the other hand, naturalism is compatible with both atheism and agnosticism. Agnostics believe that nothing is known or can be known about God. Clearly I am not atheistic or agnostic. I am theistic. Theism, (in contrast to deism which was discussed in a prior essay), is the belief that there is a God and that God intervenes in the world’s affairs.4
DEATH FROM THE MATERIALIST AND NATURALIST VIEW
According to materialists and naturalists, when humans die, they cease to exist. Eventually, their tissues decompose to more basic compounds and elements. Because there is no spirit and no God, there is nothing that can survive this process. Death is therefore final. A person’s consciousness and personality, as well as their body, are ultimately lost.
THE CHRISTIAN VIEW OF HUMAN DEATH
The Christian view of human death is quite different. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 says “For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the Archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever” (NRSV).5
This letter specifically addressed the fate of Christians who died before the Second Coming of Christ. The technical term for the Second Coming is parousia. Thus, when Christ returns to Earth again, the dead who believed in Jesus as their savior (i.e., those who died in Christ) will be resurrected – body, soul, and spirit and taken into the heavens to meet Christ. Then those people who are alive at the time of the parousia will by taken up with those who have already died. Finally the unbelievers will be resurrected. Everyone in the heavens will then return to Earth; and the Judgment Day of Christ will commence.”
THE JUDGMENT DAY
Revelation 21: 12-14 says, “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books.”
Philippians 3: 20-21 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.”
Daniel 12: 2 says, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awaken, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
2 Corinthians 15: 50-54 says, “What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable… We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
These versus mean that whether we are still alive at the time of the parousia or have died and our bodies are being resurrected, everyone’s body will change to that like the Risen Christ.
John 20: 19-20 says “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”
In these verses, it can be seen that when the resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples three days after the crucifixion, Jesus had a body that could be seen and touched. There was something different about his body, but Jesus’ body was somewhat like his physical body – complete with wounds.
ON THE LAST THINGS
Revelation 20: 14- 15 says, “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”
The lake of fire is a metaphor for hell – a place of eternal separation from God. This is the basis of the meaning of life from the Christian point of view. The good are ultimately rewarded with good. The bad are rewarded with bad. Otherwise, there would be little if any meaning in life; and one course of action could be thought to be as good as any other.
This is a good place to remember what I wrote in a previous essay. Although I personally choose to believe in God (because I was raised in the faith and because I hope it is true), the truth of the matter is that we cannot be certain about the existence of God. As I’ve written before, the existence of God cannot be proven. It is a matter of faith and belief, not fact. In fact, it makes equally good sense to believe that there is no God as to believe that there is. Therefore, we cannot disparage someone because they are atheistic, agnostic, deistic, or theistic. As can be seen here, all of those positions make sense. All are reasonable and rational. We all have choice when it comes to what we believe.
In this essay, the views of human death from the perspective of materialists and naturalists, as well as that of Christians, were explored. Materialists believe that only physical things exist. This view leads to an atheistic perspective. Naturalists, on the other hand, believe that the world can be understood completely through physical laws and the process of science. This view is compatible with atheism or agnosticism. For materialists and naturalists, when a person dies they cease to exist – period. For Christians, however, when the physical body dies, the soul and spiritual essence of the person goes to sleep. Then the perishable body decays. When Christ comes the second time, people’s immortal bodies are resurrected and rejoined to their souls and spirits. This time however, people are eternal. Those in the book of life live with God forevermore. Those whose names are not found in the book of life are cast to hell – a place away from God for eternity.
1. Nath, R. “Manbendra Nath Roy (1987-1954).” Internet encyclopedia of philosophy: A peer-reviewed academic resource. Retrieved on August 31, 2018 from https://www.iep.utm.edu/roy_mn/#SH5b.
2. Jacobs, J. “Naturalism.” Internet encyclopedia of philosophy: A peer-reviewed academic resource. Retrieved on August 31, 2018 from https://www.iep.utm.edu/naturali/#H4.
3. Lewis, D. (March 13, 2012). “What is the difference between naturalism and materialism?” StackExchange.com. Retrieved on August 31, 2018 from https://philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/2406/what-is-the-difference-between-naturalism-and-materialism.
4. “Theism.” Oxford dictionaries.com. Retrieved on August 31, 2018 from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/theism.
5. The Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved.