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This post is by Dr. John Roller, an expert on the doctrine of Conditional Immortality. You can visit his blog at johnroller.com and hear an interview I (Sean) did with him on Truth Matters or download his e-book about the historical development of the doctrine of hell. The following question and answer was sent out as part of the “Roller Update.”

Q: How do you respond when someone who knows that you believe in “soul sleep” goes through the death of a loved one and tells you that they find comfort in thinking that that loved one is in Heaven looking down?

A: Depending on the situation, maybe I just smile and give them a hug. Not every situation is a good opportunity for theological discussions! But, if the situation is appropriate, and the person is seriously interested in discussing the issue, I try to (gently) point out to them that I think that it’s unwise to draw “comfort” from what isn’t true. An analogy, if you don’t mind: do you really want your adult children to believe that it was Santa Claus who brought them all those Christmas presents during their childhood? Although it might not “feel” as good, wouldn’t it be better for them to come to an understanding of the truth? So, why should I allow my friends to believe something that isn’t true? Wouldn’t it be better for me to share the true teaching of the Bible with them? Here’s another point: the idea that one’s “loved ones” go to Heaven when they die is built on the assumption that the “soul” survives death, and that those loved ones were saved, and therefore headed for their eternal reward. But, the other side of that coin is that those who die unsaved would go to Hell when they die. What if someone’s loved one wasn’t a Christian? Would they still find comfort in thinking that that loved one is in Hell? I kind of doubt it. Maybe “soul sleep” is more “comforting” to people (like me – and maybe you?) who have gone through the deaths of loved ones that weren’t saved than it is for those whose entire circles of family and friends are Christians; I don’t know. Be that as it may, people have a right to believe whatever they want to believe, even if it isn’t true. Personally, I’d rather believe what’s true than what’s “popular” or what “feels good.”

by Dr. John Roller

7 Responses to “Comfort the Grieving or Tell the Truth?”

  1. on 05 Oct 2010 at 9:06 pmRay

    There’s a reason we tell people that someone is with the Lord after they have left this life and it isn’t because we base it on superstition or fantacy.

  2. on 06 Oct 2010 at 9:46 amFrank D

    What is it based on, Ray?

  3. on 06 Oct 2010 at 11:57 amRay

    Truth is based upon God by whose spirit the scriptures were written. In Christ the promises were given and by the spirit of God he came. From his throne of glory above, Christ came when the time was full. God sent him to deliver from sin and the ways of this world as well as the pains of this life. Those who trusted in him, who died in Christ are clothed in heaven above though their earthly bodies remained in the grave. Though their breath of life failed to exist on this earth upon their death, they were taken into the presence of God by the spirit of Christ that was in them. Now in the presence of God they sorrow no more. In him they are filled with joy. Heaven is real. God is true and Jesus is their saviour. One day our earthly bodies will be changed and we will be with Jesus in glory. There will be a resurrection for those who came to receive salvation in Jesus. In that salvation there are precious promises for the ages to come.

  4. on 10 Oct 2010 at 3:25 pmDoubting Thomas

    What I don’t understand about your interpretation is, How can there be a resurrection followed by a day of judgment, if on the day we die we are all immediately judged to see if we are fit to ascend to heaven or not???

    If everyone who has died has already been judged then, What is this judgment day that the bible repeatedly talks about???

  5. on 10 Oct 2010 at 8:43 pmRay

    It seems to me that Christians who have died were taken into the presence of God by the holy spirit and are presently being judged by the Lord. It seems to me that he is presently teaching them and correcting them if necessary.

    Doesn’t the Bible teach that men die and then the judgement?

    It seems to me that there is an ever present condition of being judged in the presence of the Lord in heaven.

    Let’s remember that a day with the Lord is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day.

    When Jesus died on the cross, he commended his spirit into the hands of God. I suppose that Jesus was much more connected to the spirit of God than he was with the flesh, that is, that he considered spiritual things more important than anything earthly that might draw him away from the will of God, and the things that tend to pull a man away from God do concern the flesh.

    So I trust that Jesus went into the presence of God upon his death, doing so in the spirit while his body was hanging on the cross in the condition of being dead.

    For the Christian, to be absent from the body (at the time of death) is to be present with the Lord. There in heaven are they not clothed? I trust that they are even though there is a resurrection to come.

    That’s what it looks like to me.

    When you read Ehp 3:15, what does the family in heaven look like to you? To me it looks like there is a family of God in heaven.

    I trust there is a family of God in heaven and that there is a family of God here on this earth, and though they are divided by distance,
    and though there be some differences, it is the same family of God.

    I believe God has many judgments, and times of judgment.

  6. on 10 Oct 2010 at 8:56 pmDoubting Thomas

    It appears to me you are saying that there will be 2 judgments. The first judgment happens when we die, and God decides whether we should ascend to heaven or not. Then the second judgment happens after Yeshua/Jesus returns to earth. To me this is simply not biblical. There is nothing in the bible that says anything about there being 2 different and separate judgments.

    If in the first judgment God decides you are worthy of ascending to heaven to be with him, then what is the second judgment for???

  7. on 11 Oct 2010 at 6:41 pmRay

    I believe that those who die in Christ are taken by the holy spirit which is in them to the throne of God which is heaven, and there they meet the Lord and the family of God who have gone there before them. There Jesus does the interaction with them, thus judging them.

    I’m not saying that this is a judgment to see if you are worthy of being taken to heaven by the holy spirit. For them I think it is something that has already happened. It happened to them when they died.

    This is not to say there will not be judgments of God at a later time.

    I believe God is judging all the time. I trust he’s doing that in heaven with the angels and all that is in heaven. I believe God loves judgment since he’s all about righteousness. I believe God is judging people here on earth. I believe there will be judgements in the future.


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