9th issue in series (find the other parts here.)
Post-Death Consciousness (Leg 7)
(. . . Dear Mark . . .)
Is the book of Ecclesiastes inspired? Certainly; nor do I intend to disparage it, as it is my favorite (literary) read in the Bible. However, as a work order has just been received, I must head off to attend to it. A hammer should be sought if hammering is needed; a saw if sawing, a plane if planing, course grit sand paper where course sanding is needed, and a polishing cloth is the only tool in this short list useful for polishing. In each case, the job or need determines the tool to be brought forth from the box. Until it is the one that can—that is specifically designed to—perform the job, a given tool should stay packed and on the sidelines.
As I understand the issue, the job at hand is to determine whether consciousness is put on hold between death and bodily resurrection, or whether we (men) “enjoy” a state of consciousness—with or without a form/body to go with it—while from our graves we await developments.
The Bible speaks upon many topics, and men sometimes study the Bible topically, including when a subject piques one’s interest. A novice of today is able to find what many who have gone before him have said that the Bible says on so many given topics. If one chooses his experts well, such accessible works form a wonderful resource base. Other men, such as yourself, don’t need the Bible predigested by others, and will want to interact directly with the text, and search out their own answers from translations and lexicographic word study tools, etc. That seems to me vastly superior, if one has the time, knowhow and intensity of interest. Either way, technology-age man can perform topical Bible studies related to his peculiar tastes and felt-needs.
If the Bible speaks upon many topics, it also speaks from many modes, as well as to our several parts and essences as humans as through this earthly journey we weave our way. To give example, the Bible addresses our religious component, it addresses our civic component, our family member component, our literary component and our emotional component.
What, therefore, is the purpose of the book Ecclesiastes? What sort of tool is it, by what modes and to which of our components does it seem to speak? It is a deeply philosophical book, and a book upon which all philosophy ought perhaps to be built. It speaks poetically and directly into my spirit in ways my mind is often at a loss to define. It is not, however, an approval stamp directing that every (philosophical) statement within ought to be held literally true. It is certainly not God’s final word on non-philosophical matters. Sure, in one place Solomon may say, “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten,” but in another, he says, “Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth (Ecc 3:21 ESV)?” or even “And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. But better than both is the one who has never been born, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun (Ecc 4:2-3 NIV).”
If you’re going to make Ecclesiastes the authority on human destination, I wonder you didn’t cite these passages, for we now see three ideas on the topic, the one you endorse and two additional:
- Post-death man is (temporarily) unconscious.
- Post-death men’s spirits may reside in a different place than post-death animals’ spirits.
- Post-death man has a level of happiness greater than pre-death man, yet inferior to the pre-born or stillborn man.
But in a day that Baskin-Robbins is scrambling to offer one flavor for each gender choice now on the books, why limit ourselves to just three selections? As long as unused letters remain in the alphabet, new genders each man can assumedly assign . . . itself are waiting in the wings. The US Supreme Court has many times proved the Constitution says so many things it doesn’t say (nor would its founders). Can Ecclesiastes also yield the seeker a still greater number of definitive—if contradictory—positions on human mortality? Of course it can.
If I wanted Ecclesiastes to say that when a man dies he will NEVER have consciousness again, I would cite how the mausoleum “is the end of all men, and the living will lay it to heart.” (Thus, from the same book you “proved” that consciousness is gone while men are physically dead, I can “prove” that beyond the grave life is gone EVERMORE.) I could fortify this position in Ecclesiastes 7:2 (RSV) by the words of 9:10, and say, “For in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” Viola!
Ecclesiastes 9:4 might be seen to imply a status reversal, however: a fall from a higher to a lower glory, where even a “living dog” is found to be “better than a dead lion.”
Oh, but if I insist on select fiber samples from Ecclesiastes being the definitive word on man and the Hereafter, here comes another load of confusion on top of all others. The thought behind Ecclesiastes 11:8-9 would seem to be: “Enjoy your life and be productive above ground while you can, because after these will be days suffered beneath ground—where doing doesn’t exist—and those days will be many.” (Why? We—both redeemed and condemned among Mankind—are there waiting, anticipating the consummation of all things. To support this I further reference Ecclesiastes 9:1 (NASB) “For I have taken all this to my heart and explain it that righteous men, wise men, and their deeds are in the hand of God. Man does not know whether it will be love or hatred; anything awaits him.”
So, adding to the list above (altering only the order):
- Post-death man is permanently unconscious.
- Post-death man is conscious and restless in his grave. Uncertainty grips him.
- Post-death man suffers a downward status shift
We have not been exhaustive; we have only kicked some ideas around based on “proof strands” ripped from a Bible book we are asking to back up our pet theologies. So, yes, I protest the extracting of a somewhat indiscriminate thread here or there from Ecclesiastes as a means of to speak conclusively on a matter it wasn’t designed to address. Please check the box for the correct tool or tools for the job.
If I was so brash as to label Solomon’s assertions in Ecclesiastes “philosophy,” I similarly see Job’s [early] averrings as a combination of assumed truisms, feelings, pain and the things Job concluded from the experiences his life had thus far presented him.
You cite Job 7:21, wherein Job says “For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be.” In the first place, by the context coming immediately before this verse, we perceive that Job is addressing God, not his companions. He is pouring out his heartfelt feelings. You cannot take these words to be proof of non-consciousness in the grave any more than you can take the same words to prove that Job is educating God on a fine point. Many chapters later Job repents of things he said in ignorance. So that:
- Job was NOT intending to educate God in the first place, and
- Even if you would argue otherwise, Job repented of his (earlier) folly.
You next cite proof from Job 14, extracting verses 12 and 21. I will begin by citing Job 14:5 in proof again of Whom Job is addressing. Again, Job is addressing God, not Job’s peer companions. Here are your two quoted verses: “So [man] lies down and does not rise; till the heavens are no more, people will not awake or be roused from their sleep.” And “If their children are honored, they do not know it; if their offspring are brought low, they do not see it.” Same argument. If we make Job’s confessions from pain to be our textbook on human mortality, we must also conclude that Job is bringing God up to speed on things Job supposes God doesn’t know!
This time, however, I would come closer to accusing you of intellectual dishonesty than I usually do, for withholding the very next verse in your “proof” that consciousness doesn’t exist in the grave. Job 14:22 has Job stating that, “They feel but the pain of their own bodies and mourn only for themselves.” In other words, according to Job’s (then present) theology, man is experiencing physical pain while in the grave.
Like Solomon’s voice coming through in the writings called Ecclesiastes, statements Job and his pals posit as fact toward the beginning and middle of the book of Job—the human dialogue intensive—accurately represent the thoughts and experiences of those men, which is a different statement than saying those men’s free suppositions and life-experience-gained thoughts are necessarily accurate.
Moreover, I again hold that the content of Ezekiel chapters 31-32 is more likely straightforward expository Scripture concerning the (unredeemed) dead. (Please consider consulting Leg 1.)
You expressed opinion that Abel’s blood crying out to God is symbolic, not literal. I do not insist that Abel’s blood literally cried to God concerning his brother’s deed against him. Certainly, an omniscient God doesn’t need anyone to draw His attention to anything. But I’m not so sure Abel’s blood didn’t cry out. God has many times stated through the scriptures that the life is in the blood. So, here is my pointed question to you: Is your theology shaping the way you read Scripture or is Scripture shaping your theology? (To create a Calvinist, the recruiter must insists the proselyte view all Scripture in light of certain special scriptures that will put the necessary lenses in front of his eyes to see accurately. I ask you again, is your theology shaping the way you read Scripture or is Scripture shaping your theology?)
I look back again and notice again that my response is a ragged and meandering road. However, I have taken some time to think this matter over and look up a few scriptures that I hope will provide you [Mark] some fuel for thought. I must stop here or near here to return to other duties, but I really enjoyed wondering what thought provoking arguments I could present you, and I hope that, despite my paper’s rough quality, you can see what I am getting at, things I could, perhaps, present more eloquently with more time.
[Like myself, you probably imagine these words mean I am ending this paper here. Grow up! The only way to ensure the perpetuality of this paper is to try to bring it in for a landing. You, Dear Reader, are not off the hook for several installments to come. Courage!]
Martin D. Carlson
 In fact, in your paper’s citation proofs, you stop just one (1) verse short of including this. That is, you cite among your proofs Ecclesiastes 3:19-20, “For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.” You cite this without mentioning the uncertainty Solomon next expressed, the “who knows?” question that comprises the next verse!
 Again I must claim that I only found a pun within the copyediting process of my work!
 Not (an intended) pun. Job is pronounced job and Job (from the next paragraph) is pronounced Jobe. Get it?
 I have to turn this work in tonight; please check me out on this by reading Job 7, Blog Reader, instead of insisting I “prove” this one.
 Reading Job 42:1-6 with understanding will show this forth, especially in light of Job 40:1-8.
 But don’t take my word for it, Dear Blog Reader, look it up!