Millions consult with the spirits of the dead. Others cite experience of a 'near-death' encounter. What does the Bible say? Is there life beyond the grave?
The idea that there is life beyond the grave generates mixed emotions. Dear old Uncle Tom lived a life of 'cussin and swearin'. The preacher at his funeral talked him into heaven - but, with deep regret, none of his friends would buy that! So, perish the thought, he must be in 'the other place'. Aunt Mo, however, was a saint. She put up with Tom's antics years beyond their golden wedding. Surely she has her place in heaven? Their boy Billy is a bit of a mix. It could yet go either way with him.
Then there are those mysterious movements of a glass on the ouija board, spelling out messages from beyond the grave.
And the throaty sound of a voice of a departed loved one channeled through a medium in a darkened room. There is, too, the strange bright light seen by some few hovering
between life and death. And what about the detailed descriptions some give of life in a previous existence?
The evidence seems overwhelming that when you die there is indeed life beyond the grave.
Lottery of Death
Yet it all seems a bit of a lottery. Fundamental Christians would deny heaven to any who have not embraced Christianity. If the missionary doesn't penetrate the jungle in time a whole village is confined to hell fire. Too bad for all who lived before Jesus came, or who have never heard of him. Buddhists after a life of self-denial blend with eternity in Nirvana. Paradise is the reward for good Muslims - especially if they die destroying their enemies. The Hindu dies expecting physical re-birth in, hopefully, a better caste. But perhaps he may return in an inferior form - a mouse, for example. It's all a bit confusing.
Death, for most, is a mystery. The 'good' may embrace it joyfully and stoically. Perhaps the majority of mankind accept it as 'that's life'. Others dread it. Christians fret over the fate of an irreligious loved one-child or spouse or friend. Did they really make it into an eternity of bliss? The worry has driven some to distraction and even to suicide.
We are born into a world of ready-made ideas. Most of us as we grow simply accept what is 'sold' to us by parents, peers and teachers. The rich variety of religious belief worldwide is evidence that there's no commonly accepted standard. Even within any one faith, Christianity for example, there's no total agreement. For the after-life some accept a stark choice of heaven or a fiery hell for all eternity. Others add in an intermediate state, purgatory, for the innocent or the not-so-sures. Increasingly there's doubt among Christians about the very notion of hell-fire.
All these religions , of course, assume there is a God out there. So would you not expect Him to have given some guidance on such a vital matter as life beyond the grave? Would it not be cruel for a God of love to leave His creation in such crass ignorance, worried about the future?
In fact, the supreme Creator God has given clear instruction. If we want, we can be assured of the future, of what lies beyond that moment when life's spark is extinguished. God's manual for life, the Bible, spells it out for us.
The Human Condition
All of us die sooner or later. That's a fact of life. Light goes from the eyes, the skin pales, muscles stiffen. But has 'life' gone somewhere? Is there within us some entity that survives death? In popular terms, do we have an 'immortal soul'?
To imagine that this life is all there is, that all we experience is somehow pointless, seems grotesque. If you believe you evolved accidentally from some muddy swamp - then, clearly, when you die that's it. We are then at the peak of our evolutionary growth and life crashes into the buffers. Dead.
But we instinctively know better than that. Maybe two percent of mankind hasn't a religious bone in their body. Virtually all of us believe we survive death in some form. But how? Is life before and after we die a continuum? Straight from here to eternity?
To imagine that two fully grown complex humans could independently 'evolve' within one reproductive life-span is the laugh of the last millennium, a stretch of the imagination that is nothing more than blind faith.
We are, instead, created beings. And created with purpose - an incredible mind-bending purpose that transcends all human imagination. The Creator of the vastness of the universe (and where do you think that came from?) also formed our first parents. From the material elements. With intelligence. And not without guidance.
Adam and Eve were instructed in how to maintain life. If they failed to 'follow the manual' - the divine instruction for life - they would eventually die (Genesis 3:3). They freely chose to ignore
the manual, and they died. The Adversary, however, had assured them that they wouldn't die should they disobey. And that's the great lie that has beguiled man ever since.
In effect Satan told them, falsely, that they had an immortal soul. It is the great lie that underpins such false notions as going to heaven or hell or purgatory upon death, of communication with the dead, of prayer to saints and to Mary in heaven for intervention.
The concept was a battleground of philosophers for millennia. From the seventh century before Christ, however, Satan's deception gained the upper hand. By the time Jesus appeared all the major religions had embraced that man is born with inborn immortality. Even many in Judaism had come to believe it. Unsurprisingly, there's little agreement as to when the soul enters the body - at conception, birth, with the first breath, passed on from someone else, pre-fabricated in heaven etc.
The Scriptures - the writings of the Old and the New Testaments know nothing of an immortal soul. They reflect God's original statement "You shall not eat [of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] ...lest you die".
When we die you and I will 'return to dust' (Genesis 3:19). The theme is often repeated. The prophet Ezekiel, for example, writes "The soul [Heb. nephesh] who sins shall die" (Gen. 16:4, 20). In Ecclesiastes we read (Gen. 3:19-20): "What happens to the sons of men also happens to the animals ...as one dies so does the other. Surely they all have one breath .... All go to one place; all are from the dust and all return to dust". Humans - and animals - are souls. They do not have souls!
That the 'soul' can die is a universal Biblical theme. The same term nephesh is applied in the Scriptures to lower animals beast, fish, living creature etc (e.g., Genesis 1:20-25).
Elsewhere the same word is translated dead body (Numbers 19:11)! Jesus even stated that the soul (the Greek psuche is the equivalent to nephesh) can be destroyed (Matthew 10:28).
Israel's, King David is a type of Jesus the Messiah. Is he in heaven? Not according to the apostle Peter. Addressing the crowds seven weeks after Jesus was resurrected he said of David: "...he is both dead and buried ... [and he] did not ascend into the heavens" (Acts 2:29, 34).
By contrast Peter says of Jesus: "... his soul was not left in hell [Gk hades, the grave], nor did his flesh see corruption" (v.31). He had 'poured out his soul [nephesh] unto death' - by the thrust of a Roman lance - as a sin-offering in our place (Isaiah 53:10,12). As God explained to Moses, "The life [nephesh] of all flesh is its blood" (Leviticus 17:14). The 'soul' in Bible terms is our life-force - all the elements, physical and emotional, that sustain our physical existence.
When your loved one dies he or she is truly dead. No more consciousness. No more pain or suffering. At rest and in peace. No harps or hot coals - or pitchforks. And no communication with the living.
The apostle Paul - and Jesus himself - likened death to a sleep. And as with sleep, there is an awakening. The patriarch Job understood the process. In his suffering he cries out for the happy release of death: "O that you would hide me in the grave ...until your wrath [i.e., his terrible affliction] be past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me. If a man die shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will t wait until my change come. You shall call and I will answer you. You shall desire the work of your hands" (Job 14:14f).
We humans are unique in creation. For unlike the inferior animal creation death will not hold us. Ahead is an awakening from sleep, a resurrection from the dead. Jesus said "...the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear his voice and come forth - those who have done good to the resurrection of life and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgement" (John 5:28f).
Life beyond the grave, in other words, is certain. But only after the supernatural intervention of the Creator God to raise each of us from the sleep of death - a 'sleep' which may have endured for thousands of years.
When you will be resurrected, said Jesus, depends on the choices you are making now.
To comment on this article or request more information, please contact James McBride by e-mail at the comment form below.
For PDF or mailed copy, see CGOM. Excerpt from New Horizons Issue 25, January/February 2001. Edited by James McBride of the Churches of God, United Kingdom.
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