Consciousness After Death, Prayers, and the Afterlife

Consciousness After Death, Prayers, and the Afterlife

Preface: I wrote the following as an Appendix to a book, “One Ignatian Journey” which I am writing concerning the St. Ignatius Spiritual Exercises.   Having been out of Roman Catholic theological circles for 49 years, I hit a roadblock in the section of the Exercises regarding prayers to the Saints. This roadblock was later challenged by a Homily by my pastor regarding the “Communion of the Saints.”  This is my present attempt to sort it all out… Let me know if you have any suggestions.

Before determining if one should pray “to” or ask saints to pray “for” us, we should attempt to understand if the saints are conscious after their spirit leaves the body and enters into a Mystical Union with God, (or, returns to the God who gave it.)  Death is a Mystery, and cannot be completely understood by humans still alive.  Consciousness after death can be argued several ways from the Scripture, but I submit my views on the matter as they are now, and some reasons for those views.

 

Luke 12:22-30

 

28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

NIV

 

Comment: This is NOT a Parable.  Some believe doctrine is not to be established from Parables because of the figurative nature of Parables.  This Scripture views the State of the Dead as being one of consciousness.

 

Luke 23: 39-43

 

43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

NIV

 

Comment: This is NOT a Parable.  This views entering Paradise today, or immediately, (without Purgatory,) and implies there will be consciousness upon the entry into Paradise, although it does not specifically say so.

 

Luke 9:28-36

 

29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31 appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.

NIV

 

Comment: This is NOT a Parable.  God is the God of the living, NOT the dead.

 

Luke 16:19-31

 

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

 

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

 

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

NIV

 

This IS a Parable, but if the dead are not conscious, how would Abraham know, having died 450 years before the law, anything about Moses and the Prophets who came much later than him?

 

1 Corinthians 15

 

1 Cor 15:6

6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.

1 Cor 15:22

22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

NIV

 

Comment: This is NOT a Parable, and comes from the Apostle Paul, who according to tradition was taught by Jesus for 3-1/2 years.  Mysteriously, the dead in Christ have been raised to more human life on earth.  These individuals would most likely have shared their after death experiences with the early church, and the writings written of the catacomb walls concerning the state of the dead could have been traditions from these individuals.  How many died in Adam?  ALL.  How many are to be made alive? ALL.  Therefore, the wicked will also be made alive and experience consciousness after death, although most likely in a state without communion with God, having a vast gulf, or another dimension separating them from God.  This is at the same time the dead in Christ, are in Communion with the saints, and in Communion with the Mystical union of One God.  See the next verse:

 

1 Thessalonians 4

 

13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.

NIV

 

Comment: To me this speaks of the Mystical dimensions of time and space, being that there is NO time in eternity, that we now experience Communion of the Saints, with those who have died, and with those who are alive.  By not precede, somehow, the fulfillment of God’s promises occur mysteriously outside of the parameters of time and space, perhaps in a another dimension.

 

 

 

Finally, see:

 

Revelation 22

 

Rev 22:14-20

 

14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

 

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

 

17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.

 

18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

 

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

 

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

NIV

 

Comment: At the end of time, after the New Jerusalem is here, those outside the gates of the city, are alive and conscious.  The Spirit and the Bride call out “Come!”  Is there still hope for the dead in Hades?  Will ALL be saved, as God has Himself indicated is what He hopes for, and none perish?  At least it appears the dead, all who die, are in a state of consciousness after death.

 

Now, given that they are conscious, should we pray “to” the saints, or ask them to pray “for” us?

 

Having examined whether the dead “in” and “outside” of Christ (I actually don’t believe anyone can exist “outside” of Christ.) are conscious or unconscious, or “asleep” or unconscious after the Spirit given by God returns to God who gave it, and promoting the belief that, according to what we think from our very limited knowledge of the state of the dead, that is, that the “dead” (actually they are alive) in and out of Christ are conscious, I believe the next step is to meditate on the following Scripture:

 

Heb 12:1-3

12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

NIV

 

If we are surrounded by this great crowd of witnesses, which may imply has reference to the Communion of the Saints, mentioned in the ancient Nicene Creed, how could these dead be witnesses if they are unconscious, or “asleep?”  Could these witnesses be the ones who, In Rev. 4 & 5, have their prayers presented with incense before the throne of God?  Do the prayers submitted to God by the 24 elders include our own prayers, who are “alive?”  After all, we just read in Hebrews 12 that we ARE surrounded by this great crowd of witnesses, the ancient believers, ancient even at the time Hebrews was written 2,00 years ago, who died before Christ, but aren’t these witnesses  “dead?”  NO, apparently not, according to the logic of the Apostle, Paul, or whomever wrote the book of Hebrews.

 

As we examine the Mystical Union with the One, (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henosis) spoken of by the Greeks and others attempting to understand our relationship with God, and spoken of by many others in relationship to a Christian understanding of our union in Christ, (see http://www.christianperfection.info/tta102.php) the One, the only, and One True God, we can see from scientific evidence that all material matter, and every human being, in flesh, is doomed to a state of non-existence physically speaking, and our only hope is to enter into communion with this One God, the One, who is Eternal.  It is by Faith, not works, that we enter into this mystical Union.  It is a gift.  It is the Faith of the Ancient ones mentioned in Hebrews that is commended and it may be imagined that it is our Faith, given to us as a gift from the same source as the Ancient ones, that will also be commended.  Therefore it is important to approach our understanding of the Communion of the Saints from a perspective of Faith, realizing that some things will always remain a Mystery.

 

I grew up in the Catholic Church, until about 19 years old, accepting all such matters of heaven and hell, and the state of the dead, purgatory, and nearly everything as a matter of Faith.  I was not a converted person, although I had outward signs of being “religious” when I was 19, and came to a still ongoing conversion experience at about 19 and was drawn into a type of cult which believed in the doctrine of “soul sleep,” where the understanding was that a person is unconscious after death, until one is resurrected on the day everyone else who has ever lived and died is resurrected.  Jesus himself uses the term, as does Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 4:14:

 

1 Thess 4:13-18

 

13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage each other with these words.

NIV

 

When I was 19, I believed the statement of Jesus, since there was no punctuation in the Greek text, should read concerning the thief on the cross, “Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in Paradise.”  Putting the comma in that place allows one to think that sure, the thief will be in Paradise, but after an indeterminate time, and the thief will be asleep until he is resurrected in a general resurrection.  Looking at it now, it makes no sense to put the comma there.  Everyone knew that it was today already.  Jesus had no need to tell anyone that it is today. It is today, I am writing this, but I do not need to tell everybody it is today, they already know it is today.   I have believed for many years that the correct translation should be, “Verily I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

 

The Book of Revelation speaks of life and time in another dimension different from ours where exact chronology appears to be in flux.  See Rev 5:

 

Rev 5:7-10

8 And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song:

 

“You are worthy to take the scroll

and to open its seals,

because you were slain,

and with your blood you purchased men for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation.

10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,

and they will reign on the earth.”

NIV

 

One can think of the prayers of the saints being the prayers of the saints whose spirits are currently in heaven, or Paradise, and also of our own prayers.  We are assured a resurrection of our bodies here too.  One can think of the Witnesses witnessing to God in prayer, and of our doing so too, continually.  Thus, it makes sense to me, that we do actually pray “with” the saints.  According to whether one should pray “with” the saints, the Ancient ones, with whom we are in communion, and ask the saints to pray “for” us, or if we should pray “to” the saints as part of this Communion, Let’s agree that we can and do pray “with” the saints as they present their continual conscious prayers to God, along with our prayers too.

 

Another reason for our agreeing we pray “with” the Great Cloud of Witnesses, and are in Communion with the Saints, can be found in Rev. 8:

 

Rev 8:3-5

 

3 Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. 4 The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand. 5 Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.

NIV

 

With the prayers of all the saints, means, to me, the prayers of ALL of the saints, the Ancient ones, before Christ, all those who  are in Christ since his earthly life, and all of us today who are “in” Christ.  I think the subject of praying “with” the saints, including these Witnesses, is clear, we do it, let’s continue to do it.

 

Again, see Hebrews 12:

 

Heb 12:1-2

12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

NIV

 

It appears these witnesses are watching us, watching our life in pursuit of perfection, watching in a state of consciousness, all we do for and “to” each other.  They are witnesses to our lives, also giving testimony as witnesses to the lives they have led, the sufferings they have suffered, to us.  Therefore, if they are conscious, and we sense their communion with us in Christ, it is logical, that in addition to praying “with” them, as we see is Biblically promoted, to take another step, and ask the saints to pray “for” us.  This is a step of Faith, witnessed to by Tradition, those who have gone before us in the Early Church, beginning as early as the third century, witnessed to even earlier by writings on catacomb walls, (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_Christian_inscriptions) allow us to entertain the same precepts as those who wrote on the walls, that of asking the saints to pray “for” us.  Let us also keep in mind the traditions expressed here had a living memory recollection of speaking to those who personally knew Jesus, the apostles, and the 500 or so who were resurrected from the dead mentioned in Matthew 27.

 

Matt 27:50-56

 

50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

 

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. 52 The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

 

54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

 

55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

NIV

Let us imagine that these holy people resurrected form the dead, although they were to die again, could tell of their experiences in the state of the dead, in a similar way that those who have had Near Death Experiences can also testify to the afterlife.  Let us imagine they, who are to in Communion with the saints, and are now a part of the Vast Cloud of Witnesses, told the many women present, watching from a distance, who would live even longer, women whom Jesus chose to be his living witnesses, of the Traditions of the afterlife told them by those resurrected at Jesus’ death.

 

Thus, I accept as a matter of Tradition, asking saints, who are alive, and conscious, and witnesses to and for us, to pray “for” us, according to the Tradition of the Early Church, written on the catacomb walls.

 

As to the matter of praying “to” the saints, I do not see it.  I think one should pray “to” God alone, and I refer to Jesus’ instructions about praying “to” the Father, or “to” God.

 

John Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

About jcooperforpeace
Peacemaker in Fellowship Engaged in Active Nonviolence and Social Justice

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