A brother who has read The Fire that Consumes inquired about the state of believers after the moment of death and before the resurrection at the Last Day, the period sometimes called “the intermediate state.”
* * *
If one begins thinking at the point of biblical anthropology, it seems to me one easily concludes that there is no conscious “intermediate state.” In the Creation story, God makes a mud man (body) into which he breathes “breath of life” (spirit/breath) and the creature becomes a “living soul”. Genesis uses the same expressions “breath of life” and “living souls” when talking about animals as well as humans.
There is no hint in Genesis (or most of the rest of the Bible) that people have a “soul” which is the “real” person and which automatically survives the death of the body. That is a notion which came from the pagan Greek philosophers, chiefly Plato, and which infiltrated early Christianity a century or two after Christ. For the biblical writers, the human creature is inherently mortal, and is totally dependent on God for existence at all times. One who has this biblical understanding would not automatically assume that there is any conscious intermediate state, but rather would think that “when you die, you’re dead.” That is not the end, however, because God will raise the dead — some for eternal life, some for condemnation and the second death.
There are a few Pauline texts, such as 2 Cor. 5:1-8 and Phil. 1:21-24, which seem to suggest that the believer, in union with Christ and possessed of his Spirit, might have some peaceful (if inactive) awareness of God’s safekeeping during the interim. (I do not think the Luke 16 parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man determines the outcome of this discussion, as I explain elsewhere in detail.
It seems very likely to me — although I might be wrong — that the practical effect is the same either way and that the differences just might be phenomenological rather than essential or existential. Even if there is no conscious intermediate state, it would seem to appear to the deceased believer that the instant after death ushers in the presence of Christ, since the Resurrection would be the next moment of awareness. From this standpoint, only those still living on earth are aware of time passing after their loved ones die.