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COVID-19 sharpens questions of afterlife - Odessa American: Religion

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COVID-19 sharpens questions of afterlife

Ministers review doctrines concerning what happens after death

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Posted: Saturday, February 27, 2021 3:30 am

What happens when we die?

The Bible gives some indications while ministers take on the prodigious task of filling in the blanks.

Clergymen Raul Garcia Jr., Mike Vestal, Robert Thayer and Michael Sis have varying interpretations of relevant scriptures like Luke 16:19-31 and 23:43, Second Corinthians 5:1-10, Philippians 1:21:23, Second Timothy 1:16-18, Hebrews 12:14, First John 5:12 and Revelation 14:13 and 21:27.

But they agree that those who live according to the commandments of Jesus Christ will join him upon the ends of their earthly lives.

“The Book of Revelation talks about the New Heaven and the New Earth,” said the Rev. Garcia, pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church. “It says that nothing we experience in this life will compare with the glory of the Father and his presence in Heaven.

“When we die, we believe that God will judge and welcome his children into his presence. In Luke 23:43, Jesus tells the thief on the cross beside him, ‘Today you will be with me in Heaven.’ There is no intermediate time between death and getting to experience that presence of God. If we live the life of love that he has commanded us to live, we will be welcomed into his presence.

“We don’t have to die to experience that in this life. We get to meet God in the process of salvation. That’s one of the most important reasons that he put us here on Earth.”

Vestal, minister of Westside Church of Christ in Midland, was asked about the belief that there are intermediate states called “Paradise” and “Torment” where disembodied souls await the final judgment and the receipt of their eternal bodies. “There is some indication of what we might call intermediate states in Luke 16:19-31, also confirmed by what Jesus said in Luke 23:43,” Vestal said.

“I don’t know. The Bible doesn’t tell much and we typically don’t want to speak unless the Bible speaks. There is not a tremendous amount of material about where we go immediately after death, but I do know that faithful Christians go to be with Christ and that we are at home with the Lord. I don’t know exactly what lies ahead, but knowing that I will be with be with Christ in a better place by far is sufficient for me.

“Nothing that happens after death gives anybody a second chance to get right,” Vestal said. “The moment you die, you have a pretty good idea of where you’re going to be. Subjects like these are very interesting, but it is far more important to get right with God now so that the matter of where we will be when we die is not a subject for great discussion but a source of great hope and confidence in Christ.”

Odessa Bible Church Pastor Robert Thayer cited Second Corinthians 5:8 to say Christians may be “confident that while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord and if we are separated from the body, we are at home with the Lord.

“When we pass away, we go right into the presence of the Lord,” the Rev. Thayer said. “First John 5:12 says that he who has the Son has life and he who does not have the Son does not have life. Those who do not have Christ as their savior do not go into the presence of the Lord.”

The minister said the year-long pandemic has brought the question of what happens after death more to the forefront. “Especially today, Americans are being confronted with their mortality and many are not doing very well,” he said.

“Scripture tells us not to be afraid. We hold that accepting Jesus as our savior removes the sin that separates us from God. We are adopted as his children at that moment of faith and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.”

Asked why many intelligent people remain agnostics or atheists, Thayer said, “I think the general answer is that they love darkness more than they love light.

“It can be hard to accept the fact that you have fallen short of the glory of God. What I tell people is that God loves them, but there is a problem called sin. The solution to that problem is Jesus, who died and rose again. If we accept him by faith, by grace he gives us the right to become the children of God and we go straight into his presence when we pass away.”

The Most Rev. Sis, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of San Angelo, said there are three possibilities when one dies: “The soul could go straight to Heaven, the soul could go straight to Hell or the soul could go through a temporary purification process that we call Purgatory.

“All of those who are going through Purgatory will eventually spend eternity in Heaven,” he said. “Nobody will be left in Purgatory forever. There will be a general resurrection when our body is transformed, glorified and rejoined with our soul forever.

“Heaven is a transformed existence beyond the limits of time and space. It is eternal joy in union with God and in communion with all the angels and saints.

“Hell is eternal suffering, separation from God forever. If someone is going to Hell, they go immediately upon the death of their body. Those who die in a state of unrepented mortal sin go directly to Hell, not to Purgatory.”

Sis said everyone in Purgatory will eventually be in Heaven, “but at the time of death they are not ready for the intimate union with God that Heaven is.

“They need some purification,” he said. “Purgatory is a preparation for Heaven. Revelation 21:27 says that nothing unclean shall enter Heaven. This purification process could possibly be instantaneous. We don’t know how long it will take. Purgatory is not an opportunity for conversion that has not occurred in earthly life. Purgatory cannot bring about a reversal of a fundamental direction of one’s earthly life.”

In a review of sin and its effects, the bishop said each sin causes suffering for the one who commits it. “Every sin creates disorder within our human soul,” he said.

“Sin also disrupts our relationships with God and others. Even after we have received forgiveness, we still must undergo a process of purification and restore those disrupted relationships. This process of purification can take place either in this life or in Purgatory. Whatever part of the process remains unfinished upon the death of our body must be completed in Purgatory before entering the full presence of God in Heaven. Hebrews 12:14 says, ‘Pursue that holiness without which no one will see the Lord.’

“Those in Heaven and on Earth pray for those in Purgatory and our prayers are beneficial to them. For example, in Second Timothy 1:16-18 Paul prays for his dead friend Onesiphorus: ‘May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day.’”

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