I have dialogued with several people who deny there can be conscious experiences without a physical body. I have heard this objection from both annihilationists and universalists. I don’t know if that is a majority position in either camp, but it has come up enough that I should address it.
They claim that once your body dies, especially your brain, you are no longer capable of thinking, feeling, or reasoning. When you die physically, so does your consciousness. This is supposed to show why it is impossible for an unbeliever to have conscious torment in an intermediate state such as Hades.
By contrast, according to eternal conscious torment (ECT), disembodied spirits are fully capable of conscious experiences. In fact, the unbelieving dead are currently experiencing some level of torment in Hades, waiting for the Last Judgment.
Which view has it right?
Does the Bible teach you cannot have consciousness without a physical body, or does it teach that spirits can think?
I think the answer is pretty clear.
Take God, for example. What do we know about God’s being? We know He is spirit.
“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
We also know that spirits do not have material bodies:
“See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39).
So God is a spirit without a material body. If those annihilationists and universalists are right, God should not be capable of conscious experiences. By contrast, according to ECT, God should be able to think.
Who is right? Can God think?
Here’s the Lord’s own answer:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD (Isa 55:8).
God has thoughts.
In other words, God is the ultimate example of a bodiless spirit Who has conscious experiences. You don’t need a material body to think. That’s why it is possible for the unbelieving dead to be tormented in Hades.
The Biblical evidence for bodiless consciousness is very abundant. What were those annihilationists and universalists thinking?