A dear Christian sister whose 21-year-old-son was killed in Afghanistan asks: “Until Judgment Day, are Christians who die just ‘sleeping,’ or are they with the Lord? I know the Bible says we won’t have our glorified bodies until the resurrection but it also says that to be ‘absent from the body’ is to be ‘present with the Lord.’”
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I am so sorry for the loss of your son. May God give you special comfort and his supporting Presence each new day.
As for the state of the departed, the most common biblical description throughout both Old and New Testaments is that they have fallen asleep. Paul uses this imagery in his word of comfort to believers whose loved ones have died (1 Thes. 4:13-18). On the other hand, he also contrasts living now in the body on earth with dying and being with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:1-8; Phil 1:21-24). I tend to think that the sleeping imagery is the prevailing New Testament light on the subject, but I am not dogmatic.
If they are unconscious, our loved ones who departed in Christ still are “with the Lord” and are secure in his tender care. (Is there a sweeter picture than that of a child sleeping in a parent’s arms?) If conscious of Christ’s presence, they still await being clothed in a glorified, immortal body at the resurrection. In either case, their blessedness results from union with Christ and having been given his Spirit (John 11:25-26; Rom. 8:9-11). Our hope beyond death is always in God, never in some notion of inherently natural human immortality. Your son is safe now and you will certainly see him again when Jesus comes again.