Thursday, December 31, 2009

Do human souls exist before this world?

My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about the pre-existence of human souls:

Q:  If Jesus always existed, even before He was born to the Virgin Mary, what about other people?  Do human souls exist somewhere before the person is born in this world?

This is a topic of much speculation in conversations I have heard.  There are many theories and stories about the status of people before they are born, but sadly, most of these bear a closer resemblance to fairy tales than they do to reality.  There is a general consensus that humans exist in a material aspect, called the body, and an immaterial aspect, commonly called a soul or spirit.

Even though one of the most popular of these ideas, called reincarnation, comes from non-Christian religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, it is believed anyway by numerous Americans.  This belief holds that there is really no beginning or end to the existence of the soul.  Instead, reincarnation teaches that a soul moves from body to body, living numerous lives.  A good life would ensure a promotion to a better species in the following life—from a fly to a dog, for example.  An immoral life would result in a demotion in the next life—from a human to a raccoon, for example.

Another category of these stories teaches that a human soul exists in heaven, on other planets, in other spiritual realms, or any of a number of places, before finally being introduced to a body at some definite point in time.  Adaptations of this story portray bodiless human souls being born as a result of some intimate relation between the souls deceased humans.  Others picture these souls spending time with God, conversing with their dead relatives, or any of a number of other imaginative scenarios.  I even encountered one person who was convinced that her child had been given an orientation to earthly life by his grandfather during the short time between the grandfather’s death and the child’s birth.

Still other types of stories portray humans as existing as angels before being assigned to human bodies.  These stories seem to be quite appealing to those who also hold the misconception that people become angels after death.  All of the stories mentioned to this point are no more reliable than fairy tales, and some, in fact, are quite unbiblical. 

Jesus did exist eternally with the Father before He was born, but for those of us who are not God, this is not the case.  God has no beginning and no end.  He has always and will always exist; therefore Jesus also existed from before the creation of the world, even though He would not be born as a man until only about 2000 years ago. 

Unlike God, humans do have a definite beginning, although their existence does not end—even at death.  At the time a human child is conceived by his parents, he exists for the first time—both in body and in soul.  Before this moment, the person does not exist.  Even after death, a person’s body and soul both continue to exist, although separated for a time—the body in the grave and the soul either with Jesus or imprisoned awaiting judgment. 

When Jesus physically returns to earth on the last day, the bodies of all the dead will be raised from their graves and reunited with their souls.  Each person will be judged and will live eternally, in both body and soul, in eternal blessing or eternal punishment, according to their trust in Jesus or lack thereof. 

Thursday, December 17, 2009


My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about the Incarnation

Q:  I believe Jesus was a real man who lived around 2000 years ago, but I’ve heard that He is God.  Which is true?

It is correct to conclude that Jesus was a real man who lived in Jerusalem at the time described.  It is also a true statement that Jesus is God.  Jesus is a real person who was fully God, but at the same time completely human.  The Church’s ancient councils described this by saying that He was one person composed of two natures—divine and human.  It is not that he was half God and half human or sometimes God and sometimes human, but at all times He was both God and human simultaneously, and continues to be today.  It is also important to note the distinction that a man did not become God, but that God became a man.

Jesus is called the Son of God by scriptures because God is His Father.  Although there is only one God, He is three persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  All are equally God, but there are not three Gods—only one.  Jesus existed as God with the Father and the Holy Spirit eternally, and He is called the Son of God because, by a supernatural act of the Holy Spirit, God is His Father and the Virgin Mary is His mother.  We call this miraculous event the Incarnation, which we remember as we celebrate Jesus’ birth at Christmas.

He was conceived when the Angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her about God’s promise that she would be the mother of God’s Son, and the Holy Spirit caused Jesus to be conceived even though Mary never had an intimate relationship with her fiancĂ© Joseph, or any other man.

Because of the miracle of the Incarnation, Jesus is like all other humans in every way, except for one.  He is sinless.  Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” 
While we are inclined to act against God’s laws from our very beginning, this was not so for Jesus because of the extraordinary way in which He was conceived and born.  While we continue to fail at living up to God’s law throughout our lives, Jesus faced every temptation known to humans, but did not sin against God’s law. 
When he had become an adult, and after three years of preaching and teaching, Jesus was executed by being nailed to a cross, and on the third day following His execution, He rose to life again.  By His death, he acted as a substitute for all people in suffering God’s wrath as punishment for sin, and by rising again, He proved that His sacrifice was accepted by God. 

Because God is righteous, He could not leave sin unpunished, but because He is compassionate, He does not desire to punish the people who He created.  So, it was necessary that He arrange a way in which He could be compassionate toward humanity while at the same time satisfying His righteousness.  Therefore it was necessary that God become a man Himself as Jesus Christ, and the Incarnation became reality. 

In order for Jesus to be the substitute to suffer God’s wrath in our place for sin, it was necessary that He be human, because only the death of an innocent human could pay the price for sin.  At the same time, only God could satisfy the requirement of perfect innocence according to His law. 

In the life, death, and resurrection of the God-man, Jesus, God did all that was necessary to save humans from the punishment they rightly deserve for their failure to comply with His law.  In order to accomplish this, it was necessary that Jesus be both God and human, and all who trust in Him for the forgiveness of their sins receive it as a gift from God. 

Thursday, December 3, 2009


My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about Cremation:

Q: You mentioned in your last article that Christians bury the bodies of the dead. Does this mean that cremation is not an acceptable option for Christians?

Cremation is becoming a more and more common choice for Americans today, and even though it was also an option at the time the Bible was being written, there are no specific commands for or against cremation in the New Testament.

If there are no specific Biblical commands for or against cremation, we might wonder if it matters whether a body is cremated or buried. There are two things to consider when answering this: What do Christians believe about the body? What do our actions say to others about our beliefs?

In ancient times, cremation was practiced among those that did not believe the body would rise, either because they saw the body as only a temporary fixture or because they saw the body as an undesirable thing which acts as a sort of “prison” that the soul must endure during earthly life. At times cremation was also used in some places as a way of intentionally dishonoring the bodies of criminals, traitors, heretics, and other condemned persons.

Christians, on the other hand, believe that the body and soul together are God’s creation, which He intended to always exist together. Even though the two are separated for a time at death, they will be reunited to live as a whole person for eternity when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead. Bodies are not buried and cremation avoided among Christians for the purpose of keeping to some religious law.

Instead, Christians care for and bury the bodies of the dead as a way of illustrating what we believe about Jesus—that He is coming back. Placing a body safely in a grave or tomb is a way of illustrating our belief that the dead are not finished with their bodies, but they are merely awaiting resurrection. Because Christians believe that all the dead will rise on the last day, they treat their bodies accordingly.

In Old Testament times, and among Orthodox Jews to this day, burial was considered the only appropriate means for attending to the bodies of the dead. Among the Apostles and the first Christians, burial was also the only way that the bodies of their dead were handled, and burial typically remained the only method for handling Christians’ bodies for over 1800 years after Jesus rose from the dead.

Around a century ago, cremation returned to use after several centuries because of unfounded fears about the sanitation of burying bodies, and was embraced primarily by those who chose it for the purpose of denying Christian teaching about the body or as a way of rebelling against society. A number of people in today’s society find cremation attractive because they are uncomfortable with the thought of their bodies decomposing, but the Bible teaches that when a Christian is in the presence of Jesus, they will not feel fear or sorrow, including over the condition of the bodies they left behind.

Keeping in mind that it is not a sin to choose cremation, because there is no command about it in the Bible, burial is the ideal way for a Christian’s body to be cared for after death, because of the fitting way in which it acknowledges the way Jesus body was first buried, then raised from the dead on the third day. For all who trust in Jesus, their bodies await a similar resurrection on the last day.

Since modern life presents so many financial and logistical difficulties, it may simply not be possible for all Christians to commence with a traditional burial, but in cases where cremation is an unavoidable choice, Christians do still have a way to portray the truth about Jesus resurrection and their own coming resurrection in their deaths. Rather than scattering the ashes or having them kept by the living, ashes can be buried just as a casket would.

Many pastors and religious leaders advise this as the best practice for Christians to follow for the ashes of those who have been cremated because it allows the family to progress in grieving much the same way they do at the graveside service when the body is buried. Additionally, it allows them still to exhibit the idea of putting their body away safely alongside the bodies of those who have gone before them to wait for Jesus to come for them.