We have some very fine Christian friends of many years standing, men and women whose integrity is without question, and whose love and care has been afforded us time and again. Differences of understanding on odd points of Biblical interpretation have never demolished the trust and care we have for each other. And this has been said as a prelude to one such point – the subject of SOUL SLEEP. The fact that they believe in it and we do not will make the reading of these papers on pre-existence a possible bone of contention, but we are assured that if will make no difference to our fellowship. Indeed, we all aspire to ‘keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace’.
Advocates of SOUL SLEEP take texts like Psalm 115:17 as definitive.
“The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence”
“The living know that they shall die, but the dead know nothing, neither have they any reward, for their memory is forgotten.”
Or again, Psalm 88:10-12
“Will You show wonders to the dead? Shall the Rephaim [i.e. fhe fallen angels] arise and praise You? Shall Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave, or Your faithfulness inAbaddon? [meaning ‘destruction’] Shall Your wonders be known in the dark? And Yourrighteousness in the land of forgetfulness?”
Taken on face value, these texts would seem to indicate that after death we are in a state of sleep until fhe resurrection, hence fhe expression SOUL SLEEP. But our own understanding is that these verses give only a limited view of things. Just as our pre-existence theme has continually suggested a veil of forgetfulness as we come to fhe earth, so with many there will be another such veil of forgetfulness at the point of death. As Psalm 31:17 declares,
“Let the wicked be ashamed; let them be silent in Sheol“
And Psalm 9:17
“The wicked shall return to Sheol, even all the nations that forget God.”
And Hezekiah, faced with imminent death, cried to the Lord, saying
“Sheol cannot praise You, death cannot celebrate You. Those who go down to the Pit cannot hope for Your truth.'”(lsa.38:19)
There is a strong suggestion that only the wicked dead are in such a condition, a state referred to by our Lord as OUTER DARKNESS, and if it is “outer” then it is excluded from somewhere that is “inner”, and if it is “darkness” then it is the antithesis of “light”, and such light may very well be a figurative expression for truth and knowledge, thereby explaining Hezekiah’s words. He must have reviewed his past life and recognised failure, and saw the Lord’s words to him as a final judgment. He asked for an extension of life to enable him to show God a new faithfulness and then to die in accordance with other texts.
As an example, we quote freely from the O.T. Apocrypha, feeling that its expressions are a sure guide to Hebrew thought and knowledge of those days. Take for example Wisdom 3:1
“The righteous souls are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them.”
‘They are in peace – – their hope is full of immortality – – in the time of their visitation they shall shine forth – – they shall judge nations and have dominion over peoples, and the Lord shall reign over them for ever.” (Wisdom 3:3-8)
Another example may be found in Wisdom 4:7
“A righteous man, though he die before his time, shall be at rest.”
The “rest’ spoken of here is not “sleep” any more than the children of Israel were told to “sleep” all day Saturday because it was their day of rest. Compare this with Isa.57:1
“The righteous man perishes and no man lays it to head, and godly men are taken away, none considering that they are snatched from the evil to come. He enters his peace; they rest in their beds; each one walks straight before Him.”
Notice here – “peace”, “rest”, and “walking”, all epithets of the after-death slate. Contrast this with Wisdom 4:19
“But the wicked shall be in perpetual desolation, they shall be in anguish, and their memory shall perish.”
What shall perish? Their MEMORY! Total amnesia of that which could bring them hope – until the Lord intervenes. Surely this is portrayed by our Lord when He spoke about the rich man and Lazarus. There was a great gulf of separation between them. The rich man was tormented by the recollection of his own past folly, and the flame was burning that organ which had been the most responsible for his waywardness – the tongue. But no water was allowed. He had to endure the results of his folly. It is our own understanding that this great gulf was fixed, not for eternity, but until God decides to close it. Judicially it has already been accomplished, as the old chorus put it –
Oh the love that drew salvation’s plan,
Oh the grace, that brought it down to man,
Oh the MIGHTY GULF THAT GOD DID SPAN, at Calvary!
Mercy there was great, and grace was free,
Pardon there was multiplied to me,
There my burdened soul found liberty, At Calvary!
It is our strong belief that a time will come, after the close of God’s Millennial Kingdom, when that “mighty gulf” will be spanned in actuality, and those who have been held in outer darkness, the land of forgetfulness, will be granted light once again. Such is the vastness of God’s grace, even to the most evil of men. So much then for the problem of soul sleep. Whilst appreciating the force of the verses the advocates of this theory bring forth, yet we find them of only limited application, and the wording is such as to be misunderstood unless compared with other relevant Scriptures.
Getting back to the issue of pre-existence, we see immediately the necessity to have investigated soul sleep, because if it has the ring of truth, then ALL cases of after-death experience would have to be spurious, no better or more informative than the wierd dreams that we all have during sleep. But the growing catalogue of case-histories, running into thousands, tells quite a different story. Men and women, young people and children, all have similar accounts to tell, whether they be from backgrounds as diverse as Buddhists from Christians, as Red Indians from Zulus, or atheists from God-fearing souls. Dr Raymond Moody speaks of Betty Eadie’s account as “the most profound and complete near-death experience ever.”Prior to this, George Ritchie’s experience, told in “Return from Tomorrow” was probably the most revealing. More recently, the testimony of Ian McCormack in “A Glimpse of Eternity” has held us all spell-bound as we watched his Video. Some of our readers have read Betty Eadie’s book, “Embraced by the Light,” and we have already had correspondence relating to the issues she raised. But perhaps most of those who are now reading these pages will not have had this opportunity, or indeed the time, to have read the book. We still wish to encourage a thorough reading, if only to obtain the “feel” of her amazing story, and what it did for her when returning from the dead.
However, certain quotations from the book will be apposite in this final number on pre-existence. Betty is the daughter of a Sioux Indian mother, and she has eight children. The account of her death relates back to November 1973 when she was 31 years of age, and in hospital awaiting a hysterectomy operation. After actually dying, the first thing that was revealed to her concerned her own family. She saw them back at home, and relates her feelings thus –
“As I watched them individually, a preview of sorts ran through my mind about them, enabling me to see ahead into each of their lives. I came to know that each of my children was on earth for their own experiences, that although I had thought of them as “mine”, I had been mistaken. They were individual spirits, like myself, with an intelligence that was developed before their lives on earth. Each one had their own free will to live their life as they chose. I knew that this free will should not be denied them. They had only been placed in my care. I knew that my children had their own life agendas and that when they had completed them, they too would end their stay on earth.”
How important a revelation. How important for each one of us, to know that our children are only “lent” for a season, with a heavy burden of responsibility placed on our shoulders to present them back to the Lord by the time they have reached the age of discretion, and never to look upon them as our POSSESSIONS. The fact that all of us were independent freely created spirits before coming to this earth goes to reinforce our individuality, and realise that we belong ONLY to God as Creator. All the relationships that obtain on earth in families should go to enhance this truth, and help us to relate to God as Father. As Jesus said to His disciples, “Call no man your father upon the earth, for One is your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt.23:9) We are not advocating that children should cease calling their parents Mummy and Daddy, but rather understanding the tenor of what the Lord meant by these words.
The next point that Betty makes concerns her meeting with the Lord Jesus, and in her words,
“I knew that I had known Him from the beginning, from long before my earth life, because my spirit REMEMBERED Him.”
And then she said,
“Things were coming back to me from long before my life on earth, things that had been purposely blocked from me by a “veil” of forgetfulness at my birth.”
She went on to say how she learned that many different situations had been allowed to develop on earth, even different religions, and that, as she put it,
“There IS a fullness of the gospel, but most people will not attain it here. In order to grasp this truth, we need to listen to the Spirit and let go of our egos.”
On contemplating the purpose of life on earth, she was taken back to the creation and witnessed a replay! This is how she described it.
“I REMEMBERED the creation of the earth. I actually experienced it as if it were being re-enacted before my eyes. This was important. Jesus wanted me to internalise this knowledge. He wanted me to know how I felt when the creation occurred. And the only way to do that was for me to view it again and FEEL what I had felt before. All people as spirits in the pre-mortal world took part in the creation of the earth. We were thrilled to be part of it. We were with God , and we knew that He created us, that we were His very own children.”
The next lesson was about pre-mortal planning.
“Each spirit who was to come to earth assisted in planning the conditions on earth, including the laws of mortality which would govern us. These included the laws of physics as we know them, the limitations of our bodies, and spiritual powers that we would be able to access.”
Further to this thought was the following –
“I was told by the Saviour that the spirit creation could be compared to one of our photographic prints; the spirit creation would be like a sharp, brilliant print, and the earth would be like its dark negative. This earth is only a shadow of the beauty and glory of its spirit creation, but it is what we needed for our growth. It was important that I understand that we all assisted in creating our conditions here.”
“I saw that in the pre-mortal world we knew about and even chose our missions in life. I understood that our stations in life are based upon the objectives of those missions. Through divine knowledge we knew what many of our tests and experiences would be, and we prepared accordingly.”
Remember how we spoke about Judas Iscariot, and how ill-advised he was in asking to come to the earth at that time and for the purpose he so strongly demanded. Truly “it would have been better for him had he not been born”. [i.e. born at that time etc.] Betty continued on this theme, –
“God made the promise that He wouldn’t intervene in our lives UNLESS WE ASKED HIM. And then through His omniscient knowledge He would help us attain our righteous desires. We were grateful for this ability to express our free will and to exercise its power. This would allow each of us to obtain great joy or to choose that which will bring us sadness. The choice would be ours through our decisions.”
In returning to the theme of creation she said that
“upon receiving the plan of creation, we sang in rejoicing and were filled with God’s love.”
Doesn’t this remind us of the verse in Job 38:7 quoted before, about the creation of the earth, “when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” Of great value and instruction is what Betty had to say next.
“In the spirit world no one is made to feel uncomfortable by being forced to do or accept things for which they are not prepared. Patience is a natural attribute there. I’ll never forget the Lord’s sense of humour, which was as delightful and quick as any here – far more so. Nobody could out-do His humour. He is filled with perfect happiness, perfect goodwill. There is a softness and grace in His presence, and I had no doubt that He is a perfect man. I KNEW Him, His spirit, His feelings, His concern for me. I felt His kinship with me, and I knew that we were family. I felt that His relationship to me was both like a father and an older brother. He was close to me, but there was also an element of authority. He was tender and good natured, but also responsible. I knew with a sure knowledge that He would never misuse His authority, that He would never even desire to do so.”
Another important passage, later in the book, concerns our earth life. She writes as follows:-
“I was told that our prayers can benefit both spiritual beings as well as persons on the earth, if there is reason to fear for a departed person’s spirit, if there is reason to believe their transition may be difficult or unwanted, we can pray for them and enlist spiritual help. They [i.e. her ministering angels] told me that it is important for us to acquire knowledge of the spirit while we are in the flesh. The more knowledge we acquire here, the further and faster we will progress there. Because of lack of knowledge or belief, some spirits are virtual prisoners of this earth. Some who die as atheists, or those who have bonded to the world through greed, bodily appetites, or other earthly commitments find it difficult to move on, and they become earth-bound. They often lack the faith and power to reach for, or in some cases even to recognise, energy and light that pulls us toward God.
These spirits stay on the earth until they learn to accept the greater power around them and let go of the world. When I was in the black mass before moving towards the light, I felt the presence of such lingering spirits. They reside there as long as they want to in its love and warmth, accepting its healing influence, but eventually they learn to move on to accept the greater warmth and security of God. Of all knowledge, however, there is none more essential than knowing Jesus Christ. I was told that He is the door through which we will ALL return. He is the only door through which we CAN return. Whether we learn of Jesus Christ here or while in the spirit, we must eventually accept Him and surrender to His love.”
Near the end of her story, Betty had this to say,
“A time was established for each of us to complete our earthly education. Some spirits would come only to be born, to give experience to others and then pass quickly out of this world. Some would live to an old age to complete their goals and benefit others by allowing them opportunities to serve. Some would come to be our leaders or followers, our soldiers, or our rich or poor, and the purpose for their coming would be to provide situations and relationships that would allow us to learn to love. All who would be led into our paths would lead us to our ultimate achievement. We were to be tested under challenging conditions to see how we would live the most important commandment of all – to love one another.”
“During this view of the pre-mortal existence I was impressed by the beauty and glory of each spirit. I knew that I had been there before, that each of us had, and that we had been filled with light and beauty. Then the thought came to me, referring to us all, ‘If you could see yourself before you were born, you would be amazed at your intelligence and glory. Birth is a sleep and a forgetting.'”
And with that, we will close this chapter. The brief quotes from Betty Eadie should have been sufficient to whet the appetites of our readers, to want to see the whole of her book.
One thoughtful correspondent wrote to us with a word of caution, saying that she had learned that Betty Eadie had connections with the Mormon Church at some stage of her life, and this may have coloured her testimony, knowing that the Mormons also believe in pre-existence. I obtained information from a friend about this, and will now quote what is printed on one of the Mormon leaflets entitled “Eternal progression.”
Many people have wondered, ‘Did we exist before our birth? Why are we here on earth? Where will we go after death?’ The answers to these questions have been revealed by our Father in Heaven. We are literally His children. We lived with Him as spirits before we were born. We were individuals and were created in the image of our Father.
Various Scriptural quotes are then given, ones that we have had occasion to refer to ourselves, together with a text from one of their own books Alma 13:1-13 which we don’t possess. Some sensitive or cautious souls might be alarmed to know of this connection, but we hasten to say that there is no problem at all. Those who investigate the various sects and cults have always found a mixture of truth and error. Why should we be alarmed because an element of truth is found? Should we cast away the truth just because it is contained within the creed of some sect? Shall we disbelieve in creation just because it is one of the strong points of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ teachings? We have no idea where the Mormons obtained their knowledge about pre-existence, and would like to have some further information. But it troubles us not one iota that they also espouse this item of knowledge. Furthermore, after reading numerous accounts of after-death experiences, there appears to be no “carry-over” in either direction, no manipulation of the experiences received due to earth-bound beliefs. The experiences that people have are entirely controlled from outside themselves, and often, when they return, they speak about wonders they’d never known before. It seems to be the case with Betty Eadie as much as with others. Sometimes the experiences granted to individuals are most remarkable, and for those who desire to travel onwards with a pioneering mind, there are many exciting things to learn.
And so we conclude this series of five papers on the subject, and hope that they will be received with interest and an enlargement of faith. May the Lord enable each one of us to know where we stand in relation to the subject of pre-existence, and how the knowledge should affect our lives.
Once again, we ask our readers to correspond with us on these important issues. Our purpose is not that of the philosophers on Mars Hill, always looking for “some new thing” to toss around in conversation, but rather to approach any new issue that may arise and research it to see whether it holds some vital truth to stimulate our faith, and help us in our daily walk. Please may we therefore have some feedback on this issue. Thank you.