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I would like to float something out to you folks. Several times, in the past few months, I’ve bumped into comments from folks talking about what happens after we die that are confusing, misleading, and doctrinally vague. In one case, a person teaching a Bible class offended it deeply when he left them with the impression that at death our souls are asleep and are unaware of being with the Lord, until the Day of Resurrection. I understand the need to teach what “the Resurrection of all flesh” is all about, and that in our zeal to comfort those who mourn, we not give the impression that their loved one is just kind of “translated,” body and soul, to heaven and that the Resurrection is but an afterthought, but it has seemed to me, again, lately, via several comments I’ve read here and there, that it seems some are under the impression that the Scriptures teach a kind of “soul sleep.” Has anyone else heard this? Where do you think it is coming from?
Here is why we Lutherans absolutely reject and condemn any notion that at death our souls are “asleep” and unaware of heaven until the Day of Resurrection. This is how Francis Pieper handles this issue in his Christian Dogmatics, [also available in a digital edition] which remains to this day one of the very finest explanations of Lutheran theology available in English. If it is not required reading of all who aspire to the office of the ministry, it surely should be. This is from Volume 3, p. 511 and following:
The State of Souls Between Death and Resurrection
Holy Writ reveals but little of the state of the souls between death and the resurrection. In speaking of the last things, it directs our gaze primarily to Judgment Day and the events clustering around it. With their coming to faith, the blessedness of the Corinthians was complete except for the bliss awaiting them at “the coming of Lord Jesus Christ” on Judgment Day (1 Cor. 1:7). And with Paul the Philippians and all Christians confess: “We look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body” (Phil. 3:20–21). See also Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 4:13 ff.; 2 Tim. 4:7–9; Titus 2:13. Great significance the Day of Judgment and its sequels have also for unbelievers. They “shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power when He shall come” (2 Thess. 1:9–10). But what meanwhile becomes of the soul? What is the state of the souls between death and the resurrection?