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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Disembodied State of the Soul After Death

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In our almost total ignorance of the essential nature, whether of matter or spirit, and of the bond of union between them in the human constitution, we are able to predicate very little with certainty respecting the condition of the soul after its separation from the body. Neither science nor revelation affords us much positive information on the subject. After all the long and earnest inquiries of Christian as well as pagan philosophers a few general points only have been definitely ascertained. They may, in fact, be summed up in the two following propositions. (See PSYCHOLOGY).

1. The Soul Preserves its Consciousness after Death. The continuity of its intellectual and emotional powers is indeed essential to its identity, if not to its very existence, for we can form no conception of a disembodied spirit where these are absent. The so-called "soulsleep" is a contradiction in terms, for literal sleep is a state of the body rather than of the mind, or, at least, a status of the latter superinduced by a certain condition of the former. In like manner all the analogies based upon temporary unconsciousness by reason of accidents or disease during life are false and self-confuted, since the very relation of corporeity upon which they are hypothecated is absent in the premises. It is scientifically certain that all such comatose or insensible states are merely the result of injury or inaction on the part of the brain and other nervous centres, and are produced by purely physical causes; hence, if they prove anything at all in the case, they would argue a total and final cessation of all consciousness at death in other words, the mortality of the soul equally with that of the body. If the spirit really survives the dissolution of the flesh and this is conceded by those who maintain the theory in question then it must continue to possess and exercise its faculties, or else drop into a state which is tantamount to non-existence. A disembodied soul is difficult enough for us to apprehend in any supposition without this superadded notion of inanition of thought. [It is as nearly as possible analogous to a mere point, but this, if devoid of properties or functions, is a sheer nonentity. Moreover, a restoration to consciousness by means and in consequence of a reunion with the body would be a recreation and a total destruction of the idea of identity. (See RESURRECTION).

Accordingly, the uniform testimony of Scripture is clear as to the continued exercise of all its essential powers by the soul after death. Whatever else the parable of Lazarus and Dives may or may not mean, it certainly includes this, and the frequent, nay customary, use of such expressions as "being with Christ," etc., must imply, at least, as much as this. That the penitent thief and the apostle Paul expected to fall into absolute unconsciousness is abhorrent to common-sense and opposed to the plain tenor of their language. There could be no joy in such an anticipation, and there can be no comfort in it to modern believers. It is as unscriptural as it is irrational. (See SOUL-SLEEP).

2. The Disembodied Soul Ceases to Hold its Present Relations to Earth and Sense. This follows necessarily from the absence of the body, through which alone it maintains these relations. The supposition of the development or continuance of spiritual senses, or some occult faculty by which it discerns outward objects, is a sheer fancy destitute of logical or scientific support. A great deal of vague phraseology and equally indefinite imaginings is often indulged in by Christians on this point. Swedenborg carried his speculations so far as to invent a whole new world of post- mundane wonders and to people it with the creations of his fertile fancy. Sober theology should be wary of such extravagance. The figurative expressions of Scripture must not be pressed into the service of visionary conceptions. Nothing can be more certain than the total suspension of all communication with the external or physical universe by the disruption of the tie between the body and the spirit at death, and prior to its resumption at the resurrection. How far a disembodied spirit may be able to hold intercourse with another is a pure matter of conjecture, upon which experience affords no information. That God, and perhaps ahgelic beings, have direct access to the mind in that state is a reasonable supposition, but it must be purely by internal and spiritual influences, which leave no trace of means or method upon the consciousness as, in fact, they do not in the embodied state (John 3:8). They can be detected only by their character and tendency (1 John 4:1). The joys of the righteous and the misery of the wicked will doubtless be intensified by the absence of all distracting influences in the disembodied state, and will result chiefly, perhaps wholly, from the recollections and combinations of their former habits and associations of thought and feeling, just as in the state of final beatification or perdition they will be mainly due to similar causes. The soul will continue its usual state fixed by the absence of probation and external influences. Nor will it pursue the hallucinations of dreams, which are the effect of a suspension of the rational and perceptive faculties during sleep in a corporeal state, but will have the full consciousness of its position as to guilt or innocence, and the clear apprehension of its final award. A. practical lesson, this, of the importance of cultivating those moral faculties and spiritual aspirations upon which the happiness of a rational and accountable creature must everlastingly depend! (See INTERMEDIATE STATE).


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Disembodied State of the Soul After Death'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/d/disembodied-state-of-the-soul-after-death.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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