A Beautiful LieVol. 26 No. 4
With terrible consequences.
By Gillian Bethel
Which would be the preferred experience for people who die: to go straight to heaven and be with Jesus, or to be unconscious until the resurrection and go to heaven with Jesus then? Either way, their next conscious experience would be with Jesus, wouldn’t it?
But which would be the preferred experience for the bereaved: to believe their loved ones are in heaven, or to believe they are “sleeping” until the resurrection at Christ’s coming? Many would say it’s more comforting to believe he or she is in heaven. But why is that, if it will be all the same for the deceased? Could the answer be that it gives those who are living the possibility of continuing relationships and communication with them?
Losing loved ones in death is very difficult. The sudden emptiness and finality can seem unbearable. Without warning the person is not accessible anymore and won’t be back. It’s natural to miss them and long for a continuing relationship with them. Believing they are conscious and happy somewhere is comforting, and even more comforting is the thought that they can see us and communicate with us, and we with them.
“My son has been dead for one month now. I know he’s in heaven because he asked Christ to come into his heart and asked for forgiveness of sin. My husband and I both at different times have heard his voice, very faint, calling out to me, his mom. He says, ‘Hey, Mom….’ When my husband heard it, he cried; when I heard it, I felt like I was floating. It happens when we least expect it.”¹
Surely an experience like this would be very comforting to grieving parents. It means relationship and communication is continuing in some measure. Or is it? Among Christians there are two views of what happens after death and two ways of looking at experiences like the one above. We will see that more than we realize hangs on which one we choose.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER DEATH?
The first of these two views is well known. At death the immortal soul is believed to go to heaven or hell forever according to the choices the person made in life. Some believe souls in heaven will return with Christ in the future and be reunited with resurrected and immortal bodies. Many believe souls in heaven can observe and even communicate with people on earth. The second view is less familiar. The soul is not believed to possess innate immortality, but at death “sleeps” in an unconscious state until Christ’s second coming and the resurrection of the righteous, or until after the millennium when Christ resurrects the wicked. Then the wicked receive judgment and the second death, which is total annihilation, but the righteous enjoy eternal life with Christ in the New Earth. When all the biblical evidence is reviewed carefully, it heavily favors the second view, although verses can be found which apparently lend support to the first. However, careful examination of the context of these verses shows that they are being misapplied. For example, pastor and author Jack Wellman, who favors the first view, nevertheless admits:
Many use the verse in Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” as evidence that their loved ones can see them from heaven, but is that what this verse is really about? I don’t believe it is.²
He then gives a contextual study of the verse showing that this cannot be what it is referring to. He concludes as follows:
…I could find no conclusive Bible evidence that our lost loved ones can see us from heaven. We can only speculate at best. Where the Bible is silent, I believe we ought to be. Where the Bible doesn’t speak specifically on the subject, then we should not speak specifically on the subject.³
Good counsel! Yet the desire to find Bible verses that apparently support the first view is strong because many people want to believe it’s true. Unfortunately, there is a vast difference between looking for Bible verses to support a desired belief, and basing one’s beliefs on a thorough study of the Word of God with a desire for truth, whatever it may be. But what if that desired belief is backed up by personal experience, such as that of the parents who heard their son speaking to them? If God’s Word clearly says one thing, but can be construed differently to match a person’s desire and experience, it creates a dangerous situation. Why dangerous? Consider what happened in a beautiful garden long ago.
THE FIRST BEAUTIFUL LIE
“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Genesis 2:16, 17.
Eve knew this well; she even had it memorized, although not quite correctly. When quizzed by the serpent she replied, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.” Genesis 3:2, 3. But the serpent responded with something Eve never suspected—a beautiful lie: “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:4, 5.
This was a direct contradiction of God’s word. How could Eve have believed it? “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.” Genesis 3:6, 7. The serpent tempted her to desire the fruit for two appealing reasons: it was good food and a source of wisdom. Eve chose her desires over God’s word. When Eve tempted Adam, there was even more reason to disbelieve God’s word—experience. Eve hadn’t died! They chose desire and experience over the clear word of God, and that seemingly little choice triggered the moral equivalent of a nuclear explosion. Sin entered, starting a chain reaction that is still going on with horrifying consequences. It took the death of the second Person of the Godhead with infinite suffering to even make it possible to stop it. Far from providing wisdom, their “little” choice resulted in moral blindness and put them under the deadly power of the enemy of truth.
Satan is a master of beautiful lies. He knows how to appeal to our desires (often not bad in themselves) and how to help us misinterpret our experiences to match them. There was nothing wrong with desiring good food and wisdom, but they were not to be found by disobeying God’s command. And the experience was misinterpreted. The fact that Eve did not immediately die was due to the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Revelation 13:8. There was already a plan of salvation in place, already a Savior, so there could immediately be mercy because Someone else was going to bear the justice—the full penalty for sin. God’s words about the tree were true. God’s words are always true, and anything that contradicts them, no matter how appealing, is always false—a beautiful lie. Believing these lies is truly dangerous because of the blindness it creates and because of whose power of suggestion it puts a person under.
PROTECTION FROM BEAUTIFUL LIES
Our only safety from beautiful lies is the truth accessible in God’s Word. Our desires and reasoning are not safe ground. Even experience can be misleading. Are our loved ones really communicating with us if the Bible says:
For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion forever in anything that is done under the sun. Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6.
The Bible clearly forbids communication with the dead, but it’s very tempting to try it if we believe they are communicating with us. Deuteronomy 18:9–14. So God’s Word is a protection. If the dead are unconscious, who is really communicating? The author of beautiful lies—the master of disguise who is even able to transform himself into an angel of light. 2 Corinthians 11:14. Cruel, isn’t it?
There’s one more twist to this. It has implications for the final generation. Jesus warned His people that at the end of time, deception would be very great: “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show grveat signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” Matthew 24:24.
A message contradicting the Bible from a deceased child, parent, or spouse could be an overwhelming deception for those who believe their loved ones still exist in some sphere. Only those Christians who pin their faith on what the Bible says, rather than what their desires and experience tell them, will be safe from the beautiful lies of the last days. Christ has told His people before, but will they believe His words against all appearances? It will take very clear spiritual perception, so it’s important not to have these perceptions dulled by falling for beautiful lies now.
Spending time studying God’s Word carefully for ourselves is not optional when it comes to walking safely as Christians. It’s encouraging to recall the promise, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” James 1:5. We don’t need any “forbidden fruit” to get wisdom. If we ask God, any of us can find out what the Bible really says because He gives us the Holy Spirit to “guide us into all truth.” John 16:13. God is ready and waiting to give us the ultimate experience and desire of our hearts—His beautiful truth!v
Gillian Bethel teaches Bible and English at Hartland College.
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