Archaeologists have uncovered tombstone inscriptions from the ancient world so common that the inscription was abbreviated, much as our “R.I.P.” (“Rest in Peace”). These inscriptions read: “I was not. I was. I am not. I do not care.” Despite prevailing modern thought about how “religious” ancient cultures may have been, many people did not believe in an afterlife.
Nowadays, some people still think that we are only made of matter—atoms of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and such— and that there is no soul. They believe that “dead is dead,” and the only thing that lives on is the legacy of one’s children and one’s notable works. They think they are now in the land of the living and will one day go to the land of the dying, but we Christians know that the opposite is true. Death leads to a change of venue—from time into eternity. C. S. Lewis said it this way: “Humans are amphibians—half spirit and half animal. As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time.”
Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud claimed that any hope of life after death stifles caring about the serious matters of this life. They have been shown wrong by the imposed atheism of communist governments. A citizen of one of those communist countries said, “The state took away belief in the resurrection of the dead and we saw a consequent growth in crime and immorality because people were taught to live only for today and only for themselves.” There is a direct relationship between belief in a life-to-come and ethical responsibility for the life we have now.
Christians fully embrace the truth that we are immortal souls who have bodies. In this life, Jesus is drawing our souls closer to Himself: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16 ESV) One fine day, we are assured by Scripture, we’ll be given bodies to match our eternal souls in the next life.
For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in Heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. (2 Corinthians 5:1 NLT)
My brother-in-law, Dr. Paul Francel, a neurosurgeon, tells a story about the reality of the soul. He was on a team of doctors—with a vascular surgeon and an anesthesiologist—doing a trans-abdominal approach to a man’s spine. The anesthesiologist would sedate the patient while the vascular surgeon would expose the man’s spine via the abdomen. Paul would then perform surgery on the spine. As the vascular surgeon began exposing the spine, he slipped and cut the inferior vena cava (a large vein carrying deoxygenated blood into the heart). It immediately gushed blood. He furiously began repairing the vessel but the patient lost his heartbeat. Finally, after the vein had been repaired, the team used a defibrillator to restore the man’s normal heart rhythm. The surgery continued as planned, concluded, and the patient was wheeled into the postoperative care unit. A tragedy had been avoided, and no one outside the medical staff would ever know; that is, until the doctors got into the recovery room with their patient.
“What happened in there?” The man demanded to know. The doctors were incredulous. The patient went on. Pointing to the vascular surgeon, he said, “You got extremely agitated and started cussing. I looked at Dr. Francel and he had a really concerned look on his face. I knew something was wrong, so I decided to go out into the waiting room and tell my wife—but while I was in the hallway, I realized I couldn’t speak to her without my body! Next thing I know, I’m waking up in post-op. What happened?” He could tell them how many other medical personnel were in the operating room and even what music was playing. The team of doctors told him what happened.
There’s more to the story—the man met Jesus while his soul was separated from his body. Jesus told him that it was not yet his time to die, and the man has made many changes to his life since that experience. Money is not nearly as important—family and people are. His soul is being transformed into the person Jesus wants him to become, both now and forever. And when his earthly body has run its course, he knows his life will not stop. His soul is immortal. Perhaps that man’s tombstone will read: “I was. I am. I will continue to be. And I care—a lot!”
I’ve known Paul Francel (my wife’s brother) since he was 15 years old. Paul was his high school’s valedictorian, scoring twin 800s on his SATs. He finished Harvard in three years, went on to get a PhD in Pharmacology plus an MD in a total of five years, and then trained in Neurosurgery. Since, he’s also completed an M.Div.. Paul has several other stories like the one you just read (and he says many surgeons have stories like it). The bottom line: We are not bodies that happen to have souls. We are each an immortal soul with a body.
Dr. Paul Francel