Friday, September 15, 2017

Postmortem stages

The Bible distinguishes between this life and the afterlife. It subdivides the afterlife into the intermediate state and the final state. And it subdivides the final state into heaven and hell. The question is how to sequence these stages. 

I. Traditional Protestant eschatology

Every man has one of two eternal destinies. Every man is either heavenbound or hellbound. Those run on parallel tracks.

In addition, the traditional view has a two-stage postmortem eschatology: when a man dies, his soul passes into the intermediate state. Then, on the day of judgement, the dead will be resurrected. The saints will spend eternity on the new earth while the damned will presumably spend eternity at some alternative physical location. 

The parallel tracks temporarily converge at the Parousia, where you have a common event (the general resurrection), then they diverge after that event.

There's a simple logic to the traditional position. On the one hand, men die at different times. On the other hand, the day of judgment is a one-time event which all men will experience at the same time. The intermediate state is sequenced successively and individualistically while the final state is simultaneous and corporate. 

The only folks who don't experience the intermediate state are people alive at the time of the Parousia. 

II. Catholicism

In traditional Catholicism, those who die in a state of grace pass into Purgatory before they go to heaven, while those who die in a state of mortal sin are inexorably hellbound. 

III. Universalism

A universalist must do something with all the passages regarding eschatological judgment. In universalism, heaven and hell aren't parallel tracks, but successive stages: many decedents must go through hell to get to heaven. They first go to hell when they die: a purgatorial hell. Then they graduate to heaven.

IV. Annihilationism

Annihilationists subdivide into dualist and physicalist annihilationists. They must do something with the passages regarding eschatological judgment.

According to physicalist annihilationism, the damned pass into oblivion at the moment of death. They are resurrected at the day of judgment, suffer a period of temporary punishment, and are then annihilated.

According to dualist annihilationism, the damned pass into the intermediate state at the moment of death, in which they suffer psychological punishment. They are resurrected on the day of judgment, and then annihilated. 

Each position only has so many possible combinations, given the variables. There are only so many ways in which the variables can be serially arranged. So the variables fall into place, depending on the commitments of the adherent.  

The traditional Protestant position is the most straightforward reading of Scripture. That's how Scripture lays things how. After you die, you either pass into a heavenly or hellish intermediate state. And the final state is a physical extension of one of those two conditions. 

A challenge facing annihilationists and universalists is how to show that Scripture selects for their particular series of postmortem events. Universalists have a different sequence from annihilationists. Dualist annihilationists have a different sequence from physicality annihilationists. Does the Bible specifically outline one sequence of postmortem stages over another? Or is it the position in itself that dictates a specific sequence of postmortem stages? 

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