Friday, October 14, 2016


(“Pastor's Parcel” from The Moving Spirit devotional newsletter, 10/2016)

I’m a pastor concerned about God’s Kingdom, but also a citizen who cares for our nation’s welfare. Like the ‘voter’ in this cartoon, I’m worried. Am I alone in feeling unusually depressed about this presidential election year?

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (the 1938 movie) left me deeply suspicious of politics. A later film, Dave (1993), echoed the message that rich business interests control both elected officials and the media. If true, then such powers this year made sure that a ‘Mr. Smith’ wouldn’t be running. J. F. Clarke said, “A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman, of the next generation.” Controlling interests never want true statesmen in office.

Pessimistic? Yes, but it reminds me of optimism about another kind of vote. Political debates can distract us from important outcomes that depend on us personally. Each of us has spheres of influence, areas of direct responsibility. In these, our decisions effect ourselves, others, and eternity. Only we can make these choices. It’s our soul’s vote alone.

With the choices offered by our media-driven political system, I’m sure God won’t judge our success in life by our apathetic or reluctant voting. But if we join our cry to the cartoon lady’s “Anyone else...,” Jesus might reply, “How about electing Me as Executive?

Christ is indeed the best Choice for life’s administration. He can balance our budget without taxing our energy. He’s a Commander-in-chief who will defend us against spiritually foreign foes. His governing offers “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” as well as peace —but it’s a peace that begins in us, as we obey His law of love. Let’s cast our prayer-vote for Jesus to run the country and our lives.
Pastor David Hatton

Monday, September 19, 2016


Signed copy may be purchased through Tictail
(Before becoming a preacher, a nurse, an amateur artist, or a massage therapist, I was a poet. I still am. Getting my poetry published in more than homemade binders had been a dream for years. Health challenges and the rise of modern book-publishing technology merged to motivate me to make the effort. Now all five of my poem books are published in paperback and Kindle editions.

I wanted to put the introductory essays for each collection on my blog. If you want to know what makes me tick, my poetry tells it better than a biography.

This "Introduction" and the concluding poem are from my fifth book of poems. To read the posts from my others, click on these links:
Poems Between Heaven and Hell;
Poems Between Darkness and Light;
Poems Between Death and Life;
Poems Between Birth and Resurrection.)

“Introduction” to
Poems Between Here and Beyond

Ancient Chinese wisdom aptly pictures humans with feet on earth and heads in heaven. We inhabit two worlds, one tangible, measurable, concrete; the other intangible, difficult to measure, often elusive. Men and women are body-spirit beings, participating simultaneously in two modes of existence: material and mental. We’re not spirits wrapped in flesh or bodies with souls, but a marriage of them, a wedding of the animal and the angelic, an amalgamation of the chemical and the transcendent, a unique union embodying God’s image.

We can’t escape being replicas of our Creator. If we try denying our God-likeness, human art betrays us in paintings, plays, novels, songs, poems and other creative works. We image a Supreme Artist. Or if we try denying God as the Decider of “good and evil,” we empty our own personal moralities of meaning. We can’t remove an Ultimate Authority from the human equation without forfeiting the divine certainty that we are “very good” parts of creation (Gen 1:31).

Confidence in a Self-revealing God gives us a much more solid and human-friendly perspective. His existence (God reveals Himself in Scripture as “Father”) makes creativity and morality not just gifts but callings. As image-bearers of the Designer and Judge of all things, we were meant to mimic Him. He calls us to create new designs and to live holy lives.

Communicating truth is also part of that divine image. God is love, and love communicates. So, the God of truth and love is also a Communicator, sharing truth with us and infusing into us a persistent attraction to it. This explains why human creativity is often an attempt to communicate, using story, song, poetry, music, dance, drawing, sculpture.

Perhaps our greatest purpose in imaging God is to be His ruling representatives. He made us mediators, belonging to both the cosmic and celestial worlds. Ultimately, His revealed plan is to bring both realms under a single, divine government administered by human servant-leaders.

This coming reign has a human King, in fact, “the King of kings and the Lord of lords” (Rev 19:16). The Old Testament foretold His First Advent—the transcendent God’s incarnation into creation as a human being “to reconcile all things to Himself” (Col 1:20). The New Testament culminates in His Second Advent: the God-Man’s return in His resurrected body to reign over “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1). Although this renewed universe awaits future fulfillment, it has already begun in the hearts of those following this Savior, Jesus Christ. In a real sense, the future is already here while still on its way.

This kingdom context is where I live, think, preach, and write poetry. Along with others in Christ’s Body—His Bride, the Church—I serve as one of the King’s royal ambassadors in a familiar but foreign land. It’s familiar, because He created it, sustains it, and plans to fully renew it. But it’s foreign, because human sin and selfishness have misshapen it. His kingdom has come, but it’s still coming. Jesus initiated God’s salvation plan, but we still pray for His reign’s full consummation, using the familiar words He taught us: “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). Christians live in a world of already but not yet. So does everyone else, even if unconsciously.

As I’ve aged, I’ve become more aware of the body-spirit nature of humanity. The here-and-now of the material world is quite blatant. We spend time and energy maintaining the body and its health, engaging in labor and leisure, accumulating and managing possessions. But the beyond of the spiritual world impinges on these material dimensions of life with a long list of immaterial values and virtues, some of which are listed as fruits of the Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).

While our spiritual lives anticipate a destiny hereafter, our future afterlife begins here and now. Christ’s First Advent firmly planted the future’s presence in historical time. His earthly work established an ongoing beachhead of God’s Kingdom in our fallen, sin-scarred world. Tradition calls this holy battalion the Church Militant—Christ’s loyal followers still engaged in earthly spiritual warfare. The Church Triumphant comprises that group of faithful souls who now rest from life’s labors, awaiting a reunion with their physical bodies promised by Christ’s resurrection. Yet, by that mystery described in the Creed as “the communion of saints,” these departed believers are still surrounding us as “a great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1), watching our progress in faith and cheering us on to victory. Christians live between a present here and future beyond.

All my previous poetry books are “poems between.” While this introduction explains the name of this fifth one, its title certainly doesn’t account for the wide variety of themes and thoughts expressed by the poems included—some written years ago and some included merely for comic relief. But this long preface does describe where and in what frame of mind most of them were written. At this stage of my life, I feel even more keenly my location in this “between” mode of living. Yet, although less active now, since my retirement from hospital nursing, I also feel in the midst of dynamic momentum.

We never move through time; time moves through us. Our present is without dimension, sandwiched between an irrevocable past and an unfurling future. The now dividing them cannot be subdivided, but it can be wasted. We can ignore our calling as God’s image-bearers, squandering the remaining days of our sojourn between here and beyond in trivial pursuits. I pray these poems paint pictures, sing songs, preach sermons, tell tales that will stimulate awareness of time’s limits and encourage decisions of personal involvement in the present and future reign of the King.

— David L. Hatton

*     *     *     *     *     *     *


All babies bring from heaven
Some vestiges at birth
To modify the burdens
And daily grind of earth.
Angelic light still gleaming
From eyes that know no guile,
They capture us with wonder
And charm us with their smile.

When parents are devoted,
Their inborn love protects
These precious little infants,
Just as the Lord expects.
But this is not the reason
He calls adults to share
Their sweet maternal nurture
And strong paternal care.

God sends us helpless babies,
So innocent and dear,
To challenge selfish habits
That we’ve picked up down here;
To lift us from our folly
And fill our empty cup;
To teach us precious lessons
And help us to grow up.

— David L. Hatton, 10/5/2015
(Poems Between Here and Beyond, © 2016)

For more single poems from this volume, visit my website's “Poetry Page.”

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Several things in life can launch a search for ultimate meaning. Two facets of that search are the quest for identity (“Who am I?”) and the discovery of purpose (“Why am I here?”). Our human tendency to create is an excellent doorway for entering that search and exploring the answers to those two questions.

The fact that toddlers naturally become amateur creators, before ever pondering questions of identity or purpose, partially answers both questions. If human creativity is inborn, it points toward an answer to who or what humanity is. This relationship of creativity and being is best illustrated in a two-step process experienced by very young humans.

In the first step, when infants start recognizing that their hands belong to them and can function under their control, they start moving and manipulating other objects in the world, things that they learn are not a part of them. If babies could articulate this profound lesson philosophically, they might say, “I and the world around me are not synonymous. I can do things I want to it, and it can do things to me I don’t want. Ouch! That steel pole is hard!” This is why only adults who forget childhood wisdom pretend to lose their personal identities in pantheism: “I and the metal pole am ONE. The lump on my head from running into it while meditating must be maya, just an illusion....”

The lesson children learn naturally is profound, because it verifies their existence, their being. Descartes was close, when he said, “I think, therefore I am.” But his idea needed the help of later existentialist philosophers who said, “I do, therefore I exist.” A positive response to the question of individual being, “Do I exist?” is easily demonstrated by a small child: “See that toy block. Watch! I’m putting it on top of another one. There, see? Who did that? I did! I exist! I am!" Such young logic lays the “am” groundwork in the question “Who am I?” But the “who” of individual identity needs further definition. This leads to the second step.

Manipulating the world, through moving toy building blocks around, is rudimentary creativity. As humans grow, they become more skillful at it, utilizing other media. Architects stick with blocks, but get more sophisticated at stacking them. Painters keep improving in how they push wet pigment around; sculptors, in how they shape clay or stone; writers, in how they shuffle words into poetry, plays, prose, and political speeches. Thoughtful observation of this creativity in almost every example of human work makes it obvious that no one arranges building blocks in exactly the same way. We may imitate other creators, but there’s always some personal uniqueness, even in how we copy them.

While the search for identity may last from the cradle to the grave, the effects of it outlives us, as we touch others with our personal uniqueness and individual creativity. The truth crystallized in John Donne’s “no man is an island” means that, as individuals, we are making history now and will remain a part of history afterwards. Our creativity is important; it counts. But counts for what? Why is it important? What’s the purpose? “Why am I here?

Perpetual “Why” questions on youngsters’ lips can drive parents crazy. In this world where “no man is an island,” they see myriads of creative works by other individuals. “How” questions may gain answers about the way things were made or their manner of operation, but kids go on to ask, “What’s it for? Why was it made?” These questions seek the goal, the purpose, the objective. Human works of creativity—sometimes alone but more often in a concerted effort—are meant to accomplish or provide something. Creative work says, “I’m not just unique as a person, but my individuality makes an important contribution.”

This two-step process in simple, youthful logic offers one possible explanation for Jesus saying, “Let the little children come to Me... for of such is the kingdom of heaven,” (Mat 19:14, NKJV). Their little feet are on the right track. If our individual, purposeful creativity points to ultimate meaning, then there must be a Creator with personal individuality Who has an important purpose for all of His massive creativity in this gigantic universe.

The One whom the Bible calls “Maker of heaven and earth” has personally identified Himself by the name “I AM.” Our human identity crisis ends when we allow the great “I AM” to answer our question, “Who am I?” Basically His answer is: “You are an image of Me. You are My image-bearer.” Our significance as individual creators finds ultimate meaning by trusting that our Creator,  the Maker of all things, individually designed each one of us exactly as He did. “Why are we here?” Our unique, purposeful creativity is a result of His. And when our discovery of His unique, purposeful creativity ends our search for ultimate meaning, it will open us up to an eternal exploration of that meaning. Then we’ll answer Descartes and the other philosophers. “I am, therefore I think! I am, therefore I do!”

I want to conclude with a poem. It’s a favorite of mine, and never seems old or boring to me. You see, everything I’ve said above is not hypothetically contrived but authentically realized. God made me on purpose, and within that purpose was poetic creativity. More than that, He has let me know numerous times that I’m writing for Him and for others, and not just for myself. As far as I'm concerned, that immortalizes my creative effort. So I never tire of it myself or tire of sharing it with others. See if it speaks to you:
Someday you’ll compose a song or sing one very well,
Feel a thrill of satisfaction in a tale you tell,
Draw a picture, paint a portrait, shape a lump of clay,
Plan and build a dream-house, act a part within a play,
Plant a lovely flower garden, set a gem in gold,
Cut and piece and sew an outfit new and sharp and bold,
Tinker to invent a gadget saving people time,
Write an essay or a story set in prose or rhyme,
And, while feeling fresh fulfillment where you have achieved
In the goal of each ambition by your mind conceived,
You will pause when all about you birds are singing, too,
Wind is whistling, stars are shining, everything you view
Whispers softly hints behind them of a happy Mind,
As if all that is around you stands both sealed and signed
By a Person, Great Designer, One you imitate
When you follow yearnings to be skillful and create.
— David L. Hatton, 2/22/1992
(from Poems Between Darkness and Light ©1994, 2014)

Thursday, February 25, 2016


Among my favorite writers is a man who was way ahead of his time—the missionary statesman and prolific devotional writer E. Stanley Jones. One of the paragraphs in his Mastery devotional not only answers the above question but reflects on why the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is the paramount doctrine behind a true hope for the human race.

The Gospel then begins with the Incarnation. All religions are man’s search for God; the Gospel is God’s search for man; therefore there are many religions—there is but one Gospel. All religions are the Word become word; the Gospel is the Word become flesh. Therefore all religions are philosophies; the Gospel is fact. Philosophies may be good views; the Gospel is Good News. The Gospel is not primarily a philosophy—it is Fact. The philosophy grows out of the Fact. The Fact of Jesus is our starting point and is our Gospel. It is the Gospel of Jesus before it is the Gospel of God or the Gospel of the Kingdom. The Gospel lies in His Person-He didn’t come to bring the Good News-He was the Good News. This Gospel is not spelled out, therefore verbal; it is lived out, therefore vital. Jesus didn’t come to bring the forgiveness of God—He was the forgiveness of God. There is no other way to God, for Jesus is the Way from God. He is God coming to us. Therefore there can be no other way.

Those who insist that every religion is a valid way to God are like those who argue the unfairness of failing their math test. The teacher grading them is not bigoted or narrow-minded for insisting on mathematical accuracy but merely being realistic. Man’s search for God runs off in as many directions as finite human thinking can imagine. But logically, if the Maker of matter and mathematics, the Engineer of time and space, is on a hunt for lost humanity, His search would be as precise as the natural laws that run His universe. He would make a straight and narrow bee line to find those who have wandered from Him.

Do an exhaustive study of the religions, or be so bold as to invent your own. You will discover the “good news” of Jesus Christ light years beyond their reach. His Incarnation—God becoming human to search and rescue wayward humans—is without parallel among the belief-systems devised by human minds. The way of the true God, the God Who really exists, is that of a Shepherd searching for lost sheep, that of a loving Father seeking His wayward children. The Creator’s way is as insistent and accurate and absolute as His math.

Michelangelo's sculpture
As E. Stanley Jones said, “there can be no other way” than His for resolving and repairing the shortcomings of the human condition. God had to get involved personally and intimately by becoming one of us. But the only way God could get any closer to humanity than by taking upon Himself our human flesh was to take upon Himself our human sins. This makes the Gospel of Jesus Christ the most uniquely human-friendly faith conceivable. Theologically and spiritually, it does not get any better than this!

There is no greater affirmation to our fleshly humanity than the Bethlehem manger,  no greater demonstration of God’s divine love for us than the Cross of Calvary, no greater proclamation of true human hope than the empty tomb of Jesus Christ. The Christian Gospel is matchless, unparalleled, outstripping all other religious claims and concepts. That’s why it’s exclusive . . . why it alone is authentically “good news” . . . and why any honest student of religion, who really grasps the message of Christ in the New Testament, will be forced to conclude, “If there is a Gospel, there’s only just this one.”

Friday, January 22, 2016


The title isn’t a typo. Read it again, with new capitals and strategically placed dashes…

eart—He art—Heart—Hear the art—h!

When merged together consecutively, the word “earth” spells repetitions of the phrase:
He art, He art, He art,
or the word:
Heart, Heart, Heart,
or the imperative sentence:
Hear the art, Hear the art, Hear the art.

As far as I know, this spelling trick with our planet’s name works only in English, and it’s not something I came up. The interesting story of how I learned of it often comes to mind when I look at the painting I did using this word-play.

In January of 1996, I acted upon a growing desire to learn art by enrolling in an elementary drawing class at a local community college. I ended up taking one each semester, a total of 11 art courses over a five year period.

In the last weeks of a “color theory” class, we were given a very regulated painting assignment for our final. Except for tints and tones, it was to contain just 3 colors. Only 3 sheets of letter-size paper could be used, taped together in any arrangement we chose. And the painting had to contain some form of lettering. I had trouble coming up with an idea for it. But one night shift I got some help from a patient I took care of in labor and delivery.

The previous nurse on the PM shift gave me a fairly straightforward report. It was this patients first pregnancy, and she wanted to try delivering without an epidural. For that reason, shed requested to move to an “ABC” (alternative birth center) room, where she could shower and move more freely about the room to cope with her contractions. An ABC room was soon to be available....

But my dear coworker neglected a “biggie” in her report, which I discovered upon entering the room. As part of her way of dealing with labor, my patient was laboring in the nude. After making sure she didn’t mind having a male nurse, I began to work with her as I would with any other patient.

Most moms dont labor totally naked, but the sight of bare body parts was as normal in my OB job as it was in the figure drawing class I’d taken at the college. Both healthcare and that specific art class can help a person see nakedness with new eyes. They heighten awareness and appreciation of our anatomys fearfully and wonderfully made beauty, rather than treating nudity in terms of sex appeal, which is the ongoing obsession of our depraved culture. Nursing and art didnt dull my vision; they healed it.When I saw this patient’s lovely pregnant form fully exposed, I began imagining the challenge of capturing it on paper in charcoal or pastel.

My way of keeping my nursing care human-friendly was to try having normal social conversations with patients and their families. That’s how I discovered that my patient was an artist. When I shared my own love for art, she gave me a wonderful gift: “EarthEarthEarth.” She explained how running the word “earth” together spells those three things: “heart,” “he art,” and “hear the art.” Immediately, I envisioned the possibilities of using this in my art assignment.

Much to my teacher’s consternation, I was the first of his students in this assignment ever to cut up my three sheets of paper and paste them into a polygon. It was the only shape I could make to fit the circular nature of my project while staying within his limit of 3 sheets of paper. He also chided me for choosing the primaries for my 3 colors, but I told him my composition needed them.

I wanted my art-piece to preach, and I think it did by displaying Earth’s dependence on the Triune Godhead. God is Creator: “HE ART!” God is Lover: “HEART!” God is Teacher: “HEAR THE ART!”

The magnificent beauty of creation came from the mind and hand of the Almighty. The gracious redemption of Earth’s wayward human population came from the bleeding heart of God’s loving Son. The call and counsel for us to see and enjoy the divine artistry of Earth’s Designer come from the Holy Spirit. All Three Members of the Trinity are personally connected with the story of Earth, and Earth itself, as a uniquely designed and carefully placed planet, points to our need for personally connecting with its Triune Creator.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


Perhaps, because so many of us grew up playing make-believe games and controlling what we imagined—whether teddy bears, dragons, paper dolls, or invented companions—we wrestle with the concept of a real God: the Creator, Ruler, Judge. A real God would have ultimate control. His very existence could demolish our comfortable mental castle of retreat from personal failures and mistaken choices. For this reason, some of us try warding off this real Deity from attacking our fantasy world by using such magical phrases as: “I can’t accept a God like that!” or “My concept of God is. . .” (and each fills in the blank with what he or she wants).

Those familiar with C. S. Lewis know that in his younger years he was a skeptic. He doubted God’s existence and certainly could not accept the Triune Deity revealed in the Bible. But his philosophical journey of dealing honestly with logic led him to face the real God. That confrontation toppled the castle walls of his agnostic dreams or illusions of less “threatening” gods. When he finally bowed his knee in allegiance to the true, living God, Jesus Christ became his King.

Some who read Lewis become infuriated at how his logic gnaws away at their dysfunctional fantasies about God. That was his purpose: to dismantle their comfortable, make-believe worlds just as divine truth stripped away his own escapist imaginations. One such effort was his book Miracles. The following passage1 from it may lure you to read the whole work. But the quote serves to conclude the brief point I’m making and to reinforce it by stating it even more clearly. . . .
Men are reluctant to pass over from the notion of an abstract and negative deity to the living God. I do not wonder. Here lies the deepest tap-root of Pantheism and of the objection to traditional imagery. It was hated not, at bottom, because it pictured Him as man but because it pictured Him as king, or even as warrior. The Pantheist’s God does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you. There is no danger that at any time heaven and earth should flee away at His glance. If He were the truth, then we could really say that all the Christian images of kingship were a historical accident of which our religion ought to be cleansed. It is with a shock that we discover them to be indispensable. You have had a shock like that before, in connection with smaller matters—when the line pulls at your hand, when something breathes beside you in the darkness. So here; the shock comes at the precise moment when the thrill of life is communicated to us along the clue we have been following. It is always shocking to meet life where we thought we were alone. “Look out!” we cry, “it’s alive. And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back—I would have done so myself if I could—and proceed no further with Christianity. An “impersonal God”—well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads—better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap—best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband—that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (‘Man’s search for God’!) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He found us? 
So it is a sort of Rubicon. One goes across; or not. But if one does, there is no manner of security against miracles. One may be in for anything.
1. C. S. Lewis, Miracles (Macmillan: New York, 1978), pp. 93-94.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Death has different meanings in Scripture, depending on what part of a person dies. Paul’s prayer in Thessalonians 5:23 (WEB) lists these parts: “May your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 
 These three components or our human nature are similarly described in the creation of Adam: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath [spirit] of life; and man became a living soul.” (Gen 2:7, KJV).

What is the Soul?

The soul seems to begin when that fleshly dust and spiritual breath come together. It connects them as a God-designed mediator. Our soul integrates our visible animal bodies and our invisible angelic spirits, making us body-spirit beings who can interact with both the material and spiritual realms. These three parts of our humanity form a lifelong amalgamation—a human trinity—that images the Creator in special ways, both separately and in union.

The soul has self-awareness and a personal identity that thinks, feels, chooses, and remembers. Other people can perceive an individual’s spiritual character when the soul reveals his or her unique personality via the body. A person’s soul, though not seen directly, is recognized through the bodily activity of thoughts communicated, emotions expressed, and actions taken.

A computer can illustrate this tri-unity of body, soul, and spirit. The body with its brain, nervous system, sense organs and musculature, is like the computer’s motherboard, RAM and ROM memory, hard drive, and input and output devices. The spirit is like the electrical power energizing the whole unit. But the different programs loaded and the personally stored data make up the functional soul of the computer.When the power is turned off or an essential physical component breaks down, the programs and data continue to exist on disk or backed up on a cyberspace memory cloud. When the physical computer (body) is turned on (spirit), it has a functional character (soul). The computer’s body is visible; its electrical spirit is not. While the programs and data are also invisible, they become uniquely recognizable through the running computer. While not perfect, this analogy might be helpful to some.

The “Soul Sleep” Misinterpretation

Because the Bible often speaks of death as “sleep,” some teach that the soul goes nowhere at death but either ceases to exist or unconsciously rests in “the grave” with its disintegrating corpse. The latter scenario becomes a strained interpretation when the grave is the ocean, or when an explosion literally makes a real grave impossible. The former idea fails to explain the martyred souls in heaven described in Revelation. Those “souls” weren’t asleep in their graves but had wide-awake wills actively choosing to express mental thoughts with strong emotional feeling, all in a definite, non-earthly location:

And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:9-10, KJV)

If it’s important in our conception of death to know which part of us dies, it’s also important to know which part of humanity is sleeping, when Scripture metaphorically uses “sleep” to indicate death. People can mistake which part is asleep by confusing the metaphor. The appearance of literal sleep provides the metaphorical significance of “sleep” as a description of how a dead body appears. Observers no longer see choices of the will, perceive no more sad or happy feelings, hear no thoughts being communicated. Shake a dead person vigorously. Why is there no response? “The dead know nothing,” says Ecclesiastes 9:5. The corpse is profoundly asleep. The dead body has nothing more to do with the ongoing activities of this physical world, except to disintegrate and be reabsorbed by it.

What Sleeps in the Body’s Death?

Christians believe that bodies, sleeping in death, will awaken at the resurrection. How so? How can a buried corpse absorbed by a tree root, or a drowned body scattered throughout the ocean, or one vaporized by an fiery explosion, be reconstructed into its original state as a resurrected body? In Christ’s resurrection, all the matter in His body was still local. In ours, some molecules from those who died at sea might end up on our table in the next bite of fish. This thought may bring emotional discomfort, but it poses no scientific problem. What sleeps in death is not the body’s array of personal dust but each person’s specific arrangement of DNA.

The material composing the bodies of living creatures is in constant flux. Cellular structures are continuously being built up or repaired with new molecules taken in as food. Old cell material is likewise being broken down and discarded from the body as waste. This process of construction and destruction replaces all the atoms in a human body approximately every seven years. In other words, “we’re not what we used to be.” We’re not living in the material body we had seven years ago. Even the old atoms on each double-helix DNA molecule have been exchanged for new ones. However, the DNA stays the same, except perhaps for some minor mutations.

When reduced to its essence, our personal DNA is a numerical arrangement, much like the computer’s stored programs. If the physical computer is destroyed, the programs can be reloaded on an entirely new unit. But the difference with DNA is that it holds the specific formula for the physical unit’s unique design. This is why I personally believe that the intangible numerical formula of our personal DNA—expressed tangibly in this life through the medium of matter—is registered in the soul and taken with it, along with our entire personal memory, when the soul and spirit leave the body in death. As far as our bodies are concerned, “we’re just a number,” but a number “wonderfully and fearfully made” by creation’s Master Mathematician.

Michelangelo's "Resurrection of the Dead"
On Resurrection Day, what’s the point of having our bodies restored from the same material our DNA was borrowing for the last seven years of our lives? Any nearby dust will do. What about the undesirable results of a believer’s DNA defects, caused by sin in a fallen world? Surely each of our DNA programming will be restored to the perfection of the Creator’s original design. Jesus said He “came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), and not only the soul and spirit were lost in the Fall. Christ’s glorious physical resurrection is the pro-type of our own. He will reconstruct our bodies to be “like His glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). Sadly, this hope for “the redemption of our bodies” is a part of the Gospel not emphasized in modern evangelism. Yet bodily resurrection is so important that Paul declares, “in this hope you were saved” (Romans 8:23b,24a, ESV).

Putting the Soul Sleep Doctrine to Sleep

But this resurrection hope doesn’t include the unconsciousness of the soul in death. Widespread belief in “soul sleep” or in the soul’s annihilation at death is relatively recent. Various versions of this concept have been held by Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses since the late 1800s. However, this doctrine is absent from the teachings of the primitive church, although one critic reports that “according to historian Philip Schaff, soul sleep fomented in the mind of a specious fourth century pantheist named Arnobius.”

In modern times, the growing number of those bold enough to share their personal testimonies of near-death experiences have confirmed the early church’s teaching. Even though these episodes are usually only “near-death,” some of those describing NDEs were professionally evaluated as clinically “dead.” In other words, God let them miraculously come back from death to tell their stories. While their descriptions may vary, these people unanimously report a continuing consciousness, sometimes seeing the bodies they left behind. They talk about still experiencing their soul’s ability to think, feel, choose and remember. It might take only one NDE to convince teachers of “soul sleep” that their doctrine was erroneous. If not, their final death certainly will.

In discussions with Jehovah’s Witnesses, I sometimes show them Genesis 49:33 in their New World Translation: “Thus Jacob finished giving these instructions to his sons. Then he drew his feet up onto the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people.” I explain how this verse mentions first body, then spirit, and finally soul. If they say, “Oh, but to be ‘gathered to his people’ means to go to the grave,” I show them the next verse, Genesis 50:1, “Joseph then threw himself on his father and wept over him and kissed him.” Then I point out, “You forgot something. Jacob wasn’t buried yet. His body was still there, but a special part of him had just been ‘gathered to his people.’ Don’t you find that theologically embarrassing?” No, they don't. A footnote in the Watchtower translation tells them to ignore the clear implications of this phrase by insisting it to be merely “a poetic expression for death” rather than a divine revelation of what actually happened. This is the kind of stubbornness that could benefit from an NDE.

I had a Seventh-day Adventist friend who was similarly adamant in her belief about the soul’s unconsciousness in death. When she died, I envisioned her immediately regretting her insistence on that doctrine. I even wrote a poem to be read at her graveside service, believing that someday in the afterlife she will thank me for doing so.

That poem is probably the best conclusion I can make for this article.


For eighteen hundred years was taught
That only corpses went to graves,
That souls went on, awake in thought,
While bodies slept ’neath dust or waves.

I choose to keep the older creed
That says our flesh must rest from toil,
Awaiting, like the planted seed,
That Day of Rising from the soil.

If later teachers’ words are right—
That souls must sleep before they rise—
Then when I hear that Trumpet bright,
I’ll wake up and apologize.

But if they’re wrong, then their mistake
Was known the moment that they died,
For even now they’re wide awake
Repenting for what they denied.

I’d rather be aroused from sleep
To find that I was duped by lies
Than be awake in death to weep
Till God decides to dry my eyes.

— David L. Hatton, 3/12/2013
(to be in Poems Between Here and Beyond)