Street preacher Dale McAlpine was busy regaling the shoppers of my home town yesterday with the good news that they’re all sinners destined for hell. The God who created them will, Dale assured them, face an eternity of torture unless they turn to Jesus.
Dale didn’t have many (any) takers for this wonderful good news. One brave person, a young woman, asked him why, if people are resurrected, the cemeteries remain resolutely full. Good point! Dale, armed with his megaphone and hectoring ignorance, responded that it is the soul that survives death and is taken up to Heaven to live eternally with God. For those without Jesus, their souls will be consigned to hell where they will burn for eternity.
How unbiblical is that? The Bible does not teach that believers will go to live forever with God in heaven. Eternity in Heaven is not on offer. The New Testament writers anticipated the arrival of Heaven – God’s new Kingdom – on Earth. When it did, they believed, the dead would be resurrected: the saints to everlasting life in new spiritual bodies on a regenerated Earth (Revelation 21:1-4), the rest to eternal damnation.
Paul has some vague ideas about what will happen to those who die before the general resurrection – he thinks their souls will be kept safe ‘in Christ’ (whatever that mean but doesn’t suggest they will be living it up in Heaven. Rather, he describes them in 1 Thessalonians 4:14-15 and 1 Corinthians 15:20 as being ‘asleep’. Many Christian ‘thinkers’ really take exception to this idea, though Paul says this intermediate state won’t last for long; the Kingdom on Earth was imminent. He believed it would arrive while most of those he was writing to were still alive (1 Thessalonians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 15: 51-52).
It’s all tosh, of course. Paul had absolutely no idea what happens to people after death. He invented everything he said about it, from the independent existence of sleeping souls to Jesus arriving on the clouds to resurrect the dead in new spiritual bodies. These bizarre ideas come from a fevered brain convinced it had seen a dead person alive again and thought it had once taken a trip to the third heaven (whatever that is).
How do we know Paul invented it all? Because of the aspects of his teaching that should by now be history: the arrival of God’s Kingdom on Earth, the resurrection of the dead and Christians being supplied with new spiritual bodies ( while the rest of us roast in hell.) None of these things happened when he said they would, or indeed at all. We know it too because we are aware both instinctively and empirically that there is no continuation after death. When the body ceases to function so too does the ‘self’, which can be generated only by a living brain. We have no ‘soul’ that goes on alone after death and which will one day be clothed in a new sparkly body.
Here’s my challenge then to those who believe and propagate such nonsense; the Dales, the evangelicals, the fundies and the oxymoronic intellectual Christians of this world: provide evidence of one individual who has survived death in the way Paul said they would. Show us one believer who has been resurrected or whose soul is currently sleeps in Christ or who now lives in Heaven. The only proviso is that this must be a real person who is 100% human; not a mythical demi-God, not a character in a story, not someone for whom the evidence of a resurrection is extremely poor. Not, in short, Jesus. Where is the evidence anyone else has experienced a resurrection or embarked on their eternal life in heaven? Billions of believers have died since Paul created his fantasy. Surely there must be someone…