I had not given much thought to how a temporarily disembodied existence would differ from embodied existence aside from the absence of pain and suffering, and some level of enjoyment of the presence of God. If a whole human being is a body/soul unity, then for the human being to fully function, such a union is necessary. (While the body is essential for most functionality, the person is grounded in the soul, hence the person survives the death of the body.) Our souls are certainly influenced, developed, and matured through its interaction with the world, which involves sensory input. If this is the case, then the TDP state would be a time when no further development of the person would take place. Death would “fix” the level of maturity and perhaps education of the individual until the resurrection. So, if a child dies in utero or at any stage of development, then that level of maturity would be fixed until the resurrection. I think this also makes sense of the justice of eternal punishment. This would be the case whether one holds to eternal conscious torment or annihilationism.
So what would this “fixity” look like? Is the disembodied soul conscious or “asleep?” Based on his comments in his book, I think if Rossiter were to change his mind and adopt substance dualism, he would argue for soul sleep, since that is the closest to his position. His reasons for this are:
Bible writers refer to the dead as “asleep.”
Death is “the absence of life.”
Consciousness entails sensory input, which requires sensory organs. (my paraphrase of his overall position. I invite his correction if I’ve gotten it wrong.)
“Asleep” is a common euphemism for death throughout the Bible. It is easy to understand why, since someone who is dead, unless completely mutilated, often can look like they are asleep. Does this mean that if the soul persists, it is unconscious? Not necessarily, but it might. On the side of conscious disembodiment, we have one account that could be a parable, or it could be an account of actual persons. We have Jesus’ words to the criminal on the cross, the appearance of Moses on the mount of Transfiguration, and we have some references in Revelation. Since the references in Revelation are apocalyptic, it is difficult to develop a strong argument from such texts.
In the case of the story of the rich man and Lazarus, we are told of a rich man in a place of torment, and Lazarus in a place of comfort. Darrell Bock argues that it is a parable. Any lessons to be taken about afterlife must, on Bock’s view, be limited to the permanence of the final judicial state. (Bock, NIV Application Commentary on Luke). If this were the only textual evidence for temporary disembodiment (TD) then at best we are left with “maybe.”
Another text, or set of texts, that seem ambiguous with respect to this issue are the verses in Revelation. Revelation 6:9-11 says,
When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, [l]will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.
This passage portrays souls in “under the altar” and “crying out.” It uses the imagery of conscious souls of the dead. Likewise, Revelation 20:4 speaks of John seeing “the souls…” Rossiter references this in his book. He notes that for them to “come to life” they would have to be dead. So even if this were not apocalyptic in its genre, it is not a strong argument by itself for conscious TD.
Some passages offer a stronger argument for a conscious state in the intermediate afterlife. Luke 23:39-43 tells of a criminal crucified next to Jesus whom Jesus told, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Rossiter argued that the comma could have been placed after “today” instead of “you.” I respond to this here. He then concedes,
“Even if every one of these points were abandoned— granting that both Jesus and the criminal went directly to heaven as spirits on the day they were crucified— the reality is that it wouldn’t necessarily say anything about what will happen to each of us when we die. This event would give us the exception, not the rule. (Location 1150 Kindle edition.)
I know he said more than this, such as his assertions about the nature of death, but I will address that later. For now, this statement above is a case of special pleading. If there is no soul that survives the death of the body, then what exactly is going with Jesus, to paradise? (Likewise, how is Jesus?) Rossiter does the same with his response to the Mount of Transfiguration:
Moses may have been a rare exception based on his privileged place within the Old Testament narrative. Whatever the case may be, both were physically present with Christ anyway, and the situation served as an inauguration event; they are hardly examples of disembodied spirits coming back to interact with the living. (2792)
How would Moses have been physically present? I would say he was empirically present, such that he was visible. (I often wonder, how did the apostles know who Moses and Elijah were? It’s not like they had social media accounts full of selfies. Maybe Jesus addressed them by name?) This is different from saying his substance was subject to the laws of physics. There may be better explanations for this appearance than TD, especially of a conscious form, but Rossiter’s view cannot account for it.
For the sake of keeping the length of this post under control (and because I need a nap before I leave my hotel at 3:30 am tomorrow,) I will address the nature of death as it relates to this discussion in my next post.