A few short months ago a friend of mine was killed in tragic circumstances. I created a post here on this blog encouraging fellow Christians to trust in the truth of the Bible and to pray for this friend to be restored to life, as promised in the Bible. And then a few weeks later I lost another friend prematurely…resulting in another post… and just this past week yet another friend has died suddenly and unexpectedly. This third loss is of a very long-standing family friend; our families have known one another and been friends for over twenty-five years. So this is the third friend I have lost so far this year. All male, all young, all well before their time.
Before I launch into the main part of this article, I would like to thank people who have shared with me their thoughts about raising the dead. A few of these thoughts correspond to what I think, a few are the opposite of what I think. I thank you all, and I want you to know that I highly respect you, which I hope you already know. Sometimes, the opposite viewpoints were expressed by my elders in Christ for whom I have the utmost Christian respect, people of integrity and honesty. Here I would like to explain why I believe what I believe.
This is my viewpoint regarding this. It is simply this: I believe that God can raise the dead. The Bible records this happening several times. Furthermore, the Bible promises that this will also happen through people who believe in Christ. I believe in the truth of the Bible. I believe in the power of God as recorded and promised in the Bible. I also believe that it is God’s will to raise the dead, which I will explain later. And I am going to give myself to prayer in the unflinching expectation that God will answer this prayer and bring restoration of life. I believe this. I am serious about this. I am not playing or in any way joking or casual about this matter. Part of the reason I am writing this post is to encourage other Christians to believe in the power of God as promised in the Bible to accomplish supernatural things; seemingly huge things like raising the dead, as well as “smaller” things like healing the sick, help in our everyday lives, meeting all our material needs, and providing us with excellent spouses for marriage (Please God!)!
I also believe that God can work through our prayers – yours and mine to accomplish these supernatural acts. This is why I encourage you to get praying, to develop a familiarity and fluency in prayer, to understand how to engage with God in prayer.
Who is doing the raising? – Cultivating confidence in prayer!
I think it is really important to establish this point.
When God raises the dead (or otherwise performs a miracle), then it is God doing the raising, not me, or whoever might be praying. God is merely working through my prayers. It is not that I am doing the raising, as if I am magically or illegally invoking God’s power . If it is God doing the raising, then I think we can assume that He is working according to His own will, otherwise obviously He would not do it. So I can pray and pray, confident that if it happens, then it is God’s will, and if it is not God’s will, then it will not happen.
The will of God?
Let me now deal with this, as this is an area in which I disagree with many Christians.
Sometimes, when someone dies, Christians will take it that that is an indication of the will of God, that it was somehow in the will of God for that person to die. However, I just don’t believe that that is the way God’s will works, that God has a step by step will for your life: first you do this, then you do that, then you move to such and such a country, and you get married, and you die at such and such an age. I don’t believe that. I believe that the will of God is simply this: firstly that we should be saved from the condemnation of hell to a relationship with God, and the blissful promise of heaven, through accepting Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. Secondly that we should be like Jesus, pursuing Christ-like character, day by day drawing ever deeper into Christlikeness, becoming more holy, more pure, more full of the Bible, more intimate with God Himself. Thirdly that we should live our lives in the service of God, making His truth known, spreading the knowledge of Christ, inviting other people into the Kingdom of God, pursuing prayer to make God’s power known on earth. Within these things, I believe that there is great freedom for us to choose how to live according to our own preferences, and also through making intelligent and prayerful decisions and analyses.
I will always assume that it is God’s will to raise people back to life when they have died prematurely for the following reasons:
If someone is a Christian, then they cannot do any work for God when they are dead. Jesus says in what I understand to be an analogy for death: “…the night is coming, when no man can work…” John 9v4. If someone dies prematurely, then all the extra work that they could have done for the Kingdom of God is lost. If they are restored back to life, then all that potential is restored. Jesus says “the fields are ripe for harvesting…”[but there are not enough harvesters] John 4v35. When someone is already a trained, skilled and knowledgable worker for the Kingdom of God, then their death removes all of that from the workforce of the Kingdom of God. It is like turnover in business terms. Thinking in the most pragmatic (back) down-to-earth terms, I think it is more efficient for us to retain our workers. As it is, there are not nearly enough Christian workers for all the work that has to be done. This is why I believe that when Christians die prematurely, we need to call them back. Sorry, no Heaven for you just yet!
Even so, there is an acceptable “retirement” age from work down here on earth, but I believe that this should be when people are old and have lived full lives. Then we can happily release them to Heaven.
It is not just about doing work for God. It is also just about seeing out the measure of your days, fulfilling various human requirements, getting married, having children, seeing your grandchildren, having a full and complete life down here on earth. God promises us in Psalm 91v16 that “with long life He will satisfy us” – (although I guess in the light of the New Testament, then that could also be understood as referring to the eternal life to be enjoyed in Heaven).
If someone is not a Christian, then the very simple reason why I would call them back is to give them a chance to repent and accept Christ (and then be used in His Kingdom and then proceed to live out the full measure of their days) before releasing them to death and judgement.
I made a joking reference to Heaven above. However, I believe that when someone is called back from the dead, then we are intercepting the soul/spirit before it ever gets to Heaven, even before it ever gets to judgement. So it is not really that we are calling someone back from Heaven. Different people have died and come back and said different things, that they saw Heaven, they saw hell etc etc. Well (shrug) obviously I am in no position to say that they are categorically right or wrong.
However, this is what I believe. Because we are dealing with the dimension of Heaven rather than earth, then time works in a very different way there to how it works here. I do not believe that we are disturbing a soul for the following reason: I believe that when someone dies, as far as they are concerned, they immediately get to the judgement seat of God without any discernible lapse of time. If however, we successfully call them back down to life on earth, then it is as if we intercept the soul in that split second and instead of facing the judgement seat of God then they wake up back on earth and to them it is as if nothing happened, no matter how long they have actually been dead on earth, while for us remaining on earth any amount of time may have elapsed. I appreciate that this is probably a very heavy paragraph, and possibly a bit overwhelming if you are not used to thinking of such things. However, this is why I believe that we can call people back confidently, without fearing that we are calling them back from the enjoyment of Heaven.
When we call someone back, it is not so that they can stay alive indefinitely on earth. This person will still grow old, still grow sick, and eventually die again. We know that. However we are calling them back so that they can live out the measure of their days on earth. It may be that they die prematurely again. In that case we can still call them back again. We are not trying to keep every human being alive here on earth forever. Death is God’s method of releasing human souls from life on earth to eternal life in Heaven or eternal punishment in hell. It is just that we reject this where it happens prematurely.
There are a few other points I would like to make regarding this subject. I do not have time just now to go into them but I will summarise them here:
1. How to pray to bring a soul back to life. This is a bold point for me to write on considering that I have never actually done it. However I have been praying and I believe that the simple answer is to persevere. From a few recent thoughts that have occurred to me (that God has laid on my heart, I believe,) I hope to write a post about understanding the science of prayer soon – with the word “science” chosen very deliberately for its “scientific” connotations.
2. Raising the dead and other supernatural manifestations of God’s power are not supposed to be a big deal. That is, they are not supposed to be extraordinary. When I make the claim that God raises the dead, that is not supposed to be outrageous or unspeakably radical or immensely controversial. This is the power that we as Christians should be able to consider as normal in our day to day walk with an extraordinary God, the way this power was normal in the extraordinary life of Jesus.
3. It didn’t “work” last time. Here I am again, encouraging people to pray to see the dead raised, even though it apparently did not work last time. However, I believe that every prayer we pray (in faith) does work. It is like this: every penny we have has purchasing power. However we can only make the purchase of what we want to buy when the sum total of all our pennies put together is equal to the price of what we need to pay. So it is with prayer. Each of our prayers (that we pray in faith) has force. However the sum total of our prayers has to be sufficient for the “price” of what we are asking for. And raising the dead requires a very big “prayer price”. This is why we need to persevere!
4. When someone dies, I believe that that is an expression of things that are happening in the spiritual realm. I don’t believe that death is necessarily an expression of the will of God. God has given us the power to engage in these spiritual battles through prayer. I believe that we might be able to prevent these deaths in the first place through our prayers. However, if death has already occurred, then God’s infinite power can still work to restore life.
5. Potential Bureaucratic headache and other hard questions
The big thing about death as commonly understood is that it is so final. This provides closure to the human life on earth. It is based on this closure that life can move on for those remaining on earth: wills are read and assets are distributed, crown princes move on to become monarchs, and crucially, spouses get remarried. If it so happened that people started returning back to life from death in any considerable scale, then this would greatly upset life the way that we know it. If any particular death was not necessarily the end for the person who died, then life would remain in a state of flux for people down here on earth. And then you have the question of how old someone will be when they come back. This might not be an issue if they return to earth only a few hours or days after they die, but what if the time period of absence is significantly longer than that…? Would it be as if they had never died, or would they now be relatively younger than an identical twin who did not die by the period in which they were absent? Would “Returner” certificates have to be issued, alongside original birth and death certificates?
In the Bible Jesus called forth Lazarus back to life after Lazarus had died and been buried. John 11. However, how exactly would it work in these days logistically if someone has already been buried? These are the kind of troublesome questions which I believe would make most Christians steer well clear of this issue. This is why I am happy that it is God doing the raising – not me! So it is His problem to deal with these things and work them out – although He will most likely work through our prayers to provide solutions to these issues.
Tree image by Petr Kratochvil at http://www.publicdomainpictures.net