This essay concerns my view of post-mortem survival and whether or not there is an intermediate state. Being a Christian, I do believe in post-mortem survival (as all of us do, considering the resurrection). In this essay, I provide an account and support for what I believe, and defend against a few philosophical and theological objections.
Despite the fact that all Christians believe in a post-mortem survival, many Christians disagree over the nature of that survival. I believe in a resurrected body at the end of this particular time; once Christ has returned, he does so to judge the earth. At the resurrection, a new kind of body will be given to us, as foretold by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, and confirmed in Revelation 20:5-6. This is an embodied state, joining soul and body together in a harmony not to be divided for the rest of time; it is the final, permanent, and eternal state with God. Those who do not believe are also resurrected. However, their resurrection is not to be with God, but to be without him in conscious and everlasting punishment.
What happens when one dies? It is my view that an A-theory of time is correct. If this is so, then when one dies, one is not removed from time in any real sense. Instead, moments pass and time moves forward for all. 2 Corinthians 5:8 suggests that “To be absent from the body . . . [is] to be present with the Lord” (KJV). If this is so, then upon death, the soul is separated from the body and goes to Heaven for the intermediate state. If one is an unbeliever, then he goes to an intermediate state of punishment (cf. Luke 16, possibly). This soul just is the person, as a real existence is needed in this eternal state. If the soul is not identical to the person, then the person does not exist in the intermediate state, which seems contrary to what Paul is saying here. Further, while one may argue that consciousness takes place even if a person is not technically in existence, it seems natural to assign consciousness to personhood; there just is not the kind of self-aware consciousness natural to humans without personhood associated with it. Thus, in order for a person to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord, the person must be, at least in principle, separable from his body, and so enters the intermediate state.
There are a number of objections that can be lodged against my position. First, one can argue that either there is no intermediate state, or else that the biblical evidence for such a state can be undercut. For example, earlier in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul seems to be stating that we would be “naked” without a body, and we will not be found that way. Another interesting point is that the chapter does not seem to be speaking about the intermediate state at all, but rather connects this absence from the body with the judgment seat of Christ (cf. v. 10). If this is so, and Paul is concerned with the eschaton, then this passage refers not to any intermediate state whatsoever.
The answer to this objection is not definitive, and yet I still believe my view can survive. Consider the chapter itself, and a careful reading of the text will show that the heavenly house referred to in v. 2 is not necessarily the resurrected body. Instead, while it may very well include this information, it seems to be fitting in with Paul’s contrast between the temporal (or temporary) and the eternal (or everlasting) coming from the end of chapter 4. If this is so, the point is to show the distinction between the two competing things. The deeds done in the body do matter, but they matter precisely because of the judgment and because of who God is (and what he has designed us to do and to be). Further, there is a not-implausible interpretation of the text that suggests judgment occurs for the believer at death (cf. Hebrews 9:27, NASB). If this is so, then the intermediate state comes for the believer at death and upon the judgment seat of Christ.
Another objection could be that one should not even believe in an intermediate state (or at least not this version of it), because hylomorphic dualism is true. In this family of objections, you either need your numerically identical body or else some body that is yours; given the lack of a resurrection and the disembodied nature of the intermediate state, “you” do not exist in Heaven at all. Thus, either the intermediate state should be abandoned, or this particular view should, in favor of a diminished or otherwise-embodied existence.
I am not sure how much it makes sense to have a diminished existence where my soul is present but not me. To illustrate: what if it were reversed, and my body was present, but not me? I can only picture a zombie-like mass, without me there. With my soul, I could see responses to basic stimuli, but again, nothing like a person without me there. The point is only to say that diminished existence seems to be nothing like personal existence at all. Second, while one could receive a loaned body, it does not seem to be indicated anywhere in Scripture; it is only required philosophically on a particular form of hylomorphism.
Philosophically and theologically, one could also object that this is a kind of Gnosticism, where one places a higher value on the soul than on the body. But this need not be the case. First, the body should be valued due to stewardship concerns. God gave us these bodies and they should be taken care of well. Second, the judgment concerns our actions, all of which are done in the body. Thus, what we do here is of eternal significance, even on this view of SD. The view that states either the body is necessary to existence or else Gnosticism follows is making an error in evaluation.
Finally, a materialist could insist that there is no intermediate state since there is no evidence that such a state obtains. One could respond that there seem to have been credible near-death experiences (NDEs), and if there is even one accurate NDE, then dualism follows. While one could not draw many conclusions from NDEs, as they contain competing religious or metaphysical claims, all of them have a baseline agreement: there is a soul, and it survives the death of the body. NDEs warrant more, and careful, discussion and consideration. I believe the SD view of post-mortem survival is an accurate one, but I am open to having my mind changed on these issues.