Q: Are my loved ones who pass away already up in heaven?

Christians generally hold one of two views.  A minority – but growing – view hold to the teaching that men and women are souls, not that we have souls.  In Genesis 2:7, when God created Adam, the Bible says simply, The man became a living soul. A substantial number of Scriptural passages appear to support the concept that death is a sleep, that a person who dies simply rests until resurrection morning.  Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6 tell us that the dead “know not anything.” The years between death and the Second Coming pass by instantaneously for someone who has died in faith.  When Jesus comes again, as described in I Thess. 4:13-18, those who have passed away believing in Jesus will be raised to eternal, immortal life and will join the living saints in being taken to heaven (John 14:1-3). The unconscious nature of man in death, with years or centuries passing by in just a moment, helps explain why Paul could say in Philippians 1, “I desire to depart . . . and be with Christ.”

It is worth noting that in all the Bible’s numerous stories of resurrected people – Jairus’ daughter, the son of the widow of Nain, Eutychus – none of them describe their “soul” traveling to heaven during the interim between their death and the miracle of resurrection. In Lazarus’ case, he had been dead a full four days, and yet Jesus described him as “sleeping,” and easily woke him up.

In all honesty, however, the majority of evangelical Christians, in contrast, do believe that man possesses an immortal soul now, and that when a person dies, the conscious soul goes immediately to heaven, and then later is rejoined with their resurrected (now immortal) body. Some pose the question of how Jesus could promise the thief on the cross, “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).  Since crucifixion usually took several days to cause death, and since Christ Himself did not go to heaven that day (John 20:17), we consider the possibility that a misplaced comma occurred, and that the Bible passage might better read: “I say to you today, You will be with Me in Paradise.”  The bottom line is that Jesus has conquered death; God’s children are promised eternal life in Him . . . and there are too many challenging verses on both side of this Bible doctrine to allow for dogmatic assertions.