A disaster is invariably headline news. Sudden and violent death arouses curiosity; but the subject of ‘death’ itself is not news nor, strangely enough, does it generate much interest. Yet, in the time that it has taken you to read the previous two sentences, it is estimated that 25-30 people have died (that is, over 6,250 people an hour or 150,000 a day). One day you will be one of them! The chances are not that you will be involved in one of the disasters, which account for relatively few deaths, but that on one otherwise ordinary day your daily routine will cease and the world will carry on without you. This is why a study of the subject of death is of prime importance.
Thoughts of death give rise to the questions, ‘What am I?”What happens to me when I die?’ ‘How do I fit in with God’s purpose in creation?’
Basically there are three possible attitudes to death:-
1. Ignore it
2. Take the view that it is not really what it seems to be
3. Face its stark reality and look for a way of escape.
Let us look more closely at these three attitudes.
1. Ignore death
This is the attitude of a growing section of those who are influenced by Western culture. The goals of materialism, the philosophy which predominates in Western society, are centred in science. The scientific approach to the problems of life deals with these things which can be measured. Speculations such as ‘What happens after death?’ do not lend themselves to the scientific method and therefore they are largely ignored.
Many people, dazzled by the bewildering array of marvels which science has produced, dismiss all thoughts of death from their minds as much as possible.
2. The view that death is not really what it seems to be
This is the age-old view taken by the vast majority of the world’s religions. Death, it is said, is not the end of life but the gateway to eternity. At the root of the great variety of forms which this belief takes is the idea that man has an ‘immortal soul’; that there is something in man which cannot die, but which at death is released from the body and lives on in another form.
But these ideas cannot be proved from experience nor from the religious books of the world which, apart from the Bible (2 Timothy 3 v 16), are only the speculations of minds groping in the dark. The experiments in telepathy and extra-sensory perception may prove that there is more to man than science has yet discovered, but they do not prove that ‘something’ lives on when the body dies. Man needs a reliable revelation from God, his Creator, on the subject of death. The Bible is the only book which provides this.
3. Face the stark reality of death and look for a way of escape.
NOWHERE IN THE BIBLE CAN BE FOUND THE IDEA THAT MAN HAS AN IMMORTAL SOUL WHICH LIVES ON AFTER DEATH.
This may come as a shock to those who hold orthodox Christian beliefs. But the Bible says,
‘For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.’
‘there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going’ (Ecclesiastes 9 v 5, 10). (Sheol is the grave).
This fact may not be very comforting to contemplate but it should be a cause for humility and should provoke a realization of man’s urgent need for a way of escape.
SALVATION COMMENCES WITH HUMILITY
God has declared, ‘But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. ‘ (Isaiah 66 v 2). The description ‘humble’ means that the man recognises that he has nothing of value while he is mortal. The word ‘contrite’ means dejected. Man is naturally a proud creature. The idea of having an immortal soul appeals to his inborn pride. But if we want the whole truth, we do well to cast aside all preconceived ideas, however flattering, and to consider carefully what God has revealed about man’s natural condition.
THE NATURE OF MAN
The Bible goes to the very root of this vital subject. It tells how, in the beginning of human existence, death came about. The record of the first human beings, Adam and Eve, is no myth! Consider the deep significance of the facts recorded in the opening chapter of the Bible.
‘The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul’ (Genesis 2 v 7).
Adam’s body was made from the elements which form the basis of all matter. These elements were shaped by the all-powerful Creator into the marvellous complexity of the human body, with all its delicate and interrelated organs. In principle the same marvel occurs today in the development of a baby in the womb. Adam’s body of dust was given life from God who ‘breathed into his nostrils the breath of life’ and what otherwise would have been a lifeless body ‘became a living soul’.
Life is a mysterious, indefinable, but readily recognizable quality imparted to dead matter. There is no evidence to suggest that life can exist independently of the body. The Bible reveals and experience shows the ‘body’ and ‘life’ are interdependent and together constitute a ‘living soul’ or ‘creature’. The word ‘soul’ is widely applied in the Bible both to man and to the animal creation. It is translated, ‘mind’, ‘beast’, ‘man’, ‘creature’, but it is never connected in any way with the idea of immortality.
A LIVING SOUL
The statement in Genesis 2 v 7: “And man became a living soul”, means that man became a living creature along with all the other creatures God had created. See Ecclesiastes 3 vs. 19-20:-
“For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.”
The word “soul” means “creature”. The soul is the man. The soul cannot live on separately from man or animal. The verses quoted show that man is entirely dependent upon God for his life. If God withdraws the breath, or spirit, of life from a man, he becomes a dead creature. It is essential to understand this, as many Christians hold the view that man has an immortal soul that lives on after death. This is not taught in the Bible. This was, in fact, the serpent’s lie in the garden of Eden. He said to Eve, “You shall not surely die” – a direct contradiction of what God had said to Adam and Eve. Ecclesiastes 12 v 7 proves man’s dependence upon God for his existence: “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” It does not prove that man goes to heaven when he dies. See John 3 v 13 and note in particular the words, “And no man has ascended up to heaven.” Man dies because of sin: “…the soul that sins, it shall die.” And in Romans 3 v 23 we read, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Therefore it follows that all die and become unconscious until the resurrection. 1 Corinthians chapter 15 deals with the hope of the resurrection in some detail.
MAN – A CREATURE TO GIVE GOD GLORY
Isaiah 43:6 “….bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the end of the earth; 7everyone who is called by my name, and whom I have created for my glory, whom I have formed, yes, whom I have made.”
The purpose of man’s creation was to give God glory, which means “honour”.
Unlike the animal creation man was given free will to obey or to disobey, so that he could exercise a certain degree of choice over his behaviour. We can appreciate how much more pleasure man could give God by using his free will to praise God.
Rev 4:11“You are worthy, our Lord and God,to receive glory, honour, and power, because you created all things, and they came into existence and were created because of your will.” (Gen 1:1; Acts 17:24; Eph 3:9; Col 1:16; Rev 5:12; 10:6)
To test man’s response to the use of his free will, God gave a simple test to Adam and Eve. They were told:
“Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2 v 16-17).
Man failed and so brought upon himself the sentence of death. Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent’s suggestion that they would be as gods, knowing good and evil, and because the fruit looked tempting and good to eat. In this way their pride and lust overcame them. These two characteristics have formed the basis of human behaviour ever since. Note carefully the words of the serpent tempting Eve, ‘you shall not surely die’ (Genesis 3 v 4).
This was a lie, a denial of God’s word, the lie which has formed the basis of man-made religions ever since.
Adam and Eve were subjected to the just condemnation of God. The words of the sentence pronounced upon them are significant for they give us the basic definition of death.
‘For you are dust, and to dust you shall return’ (Genesis 3 v 19).
That is, when a man dies he ceases to exist and decomposes into the elements of which he was made. ‘When his breath departs he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish’ (Psalm 146 v 4).
Death is a punishment for disobedience. After God had pronounced this sentence, He set a guard to prevent man from eating of the tree of life, ‘lest he … live for ever’ (Genesis 3 v 22).
Death is a punishment for sin. ‘the soul who sins shall die’ (Ezekiel 18 v 4).
There is a simple logic in this statement. SIN BRINGS DEATH. It is therefore of the utmost importance to find out what ‘sin’ is if we are to find a way to escape eternal death.
Sin is the disbelief of God’s Word and disobedience to His will. Its effects are universal.
‘All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3 v 23).
Adam and Eve have passed on this fatal tendency to all their descendants. This flaw in man constitutes ‘human nature’ or what the Bible calls ‘the flesh’, or ‘the carnal mind’.
It can take many aspects,
‘Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.’ (Galatians 5 v 19-21).
These are the natural consequences of the way of life upon which Adam and Eve embarked nearly six thousand years ago. Obstinate disregard for God’s way of love has brought the world to its present troubled state.
THE ONLY HOPE
In Lesson 2 some of God’s characteristics were examined. Some of man’s have now been briefly considered. The obvious and startling contrast is expressed by God in these words:
‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts’ (Isaiah 55 v 8-9).
It is clear then not only why man dies but why he must die. God is just and His justice cannot permit sinners to live for ever. But two of God’s many attributes are His mercy and His forgiveness.
‘But with you there is forgiveness, *x4.2 that you may be feared. ‘ (Psalm 130 v 4).
There is a vital need for God’s forgiveness, because man cannot stop sinning. ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves’ (1 John 1 v 8).
The Bible describes in detail God’s way – the only way to be set free from the vice-like grip of sin and death. The Way, in a phrase, is ‘through faith ‘The faith which God requires is a very special quality. It is defined as ‘the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’ (Hebrews 11 v 1).
Faith is not blind hope or belief in the absurd. It is complete trust in God and the firm belief that He really means to carry out what He has promised, even if its fulfilment appears to be an impossibility. Our faith then has to be demonstrated by obedience to God’s commands. The eleventh chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews describes many practical examples of faith. Foremost among these is the faith shown by Abraham. ‘He believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness’ (Genesis 15 v 6).
His faith was then shown by his obedience to God. Read James 2 v 17-26.
Thus faith and obedience can, in God’s mercy, secure the forgiveness of our sins and, in consequence, death also can be overcome. THIS IS THE ONLY HOPE MAN HAS OF ATTAINING IMMORTALITY. Eternal life is, in truth, a gift.
‘The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Romans 6 v 23).
The way in which this has been made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is dealt with in a later lesson. Eternal life is to be given at a future time when there will be a resurrection of the dead.
‘Many to them that sleep (that is, who are dead) in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life’ (Daniel 12 v 2).
Then those who are worthy of this precious gift will be changed into immortal beings. The resurrection of the dead may sound incredible but it is one of those things which God requires us to believe. We know that all things are possible with God.
The resurrection will occur when Jesus Christ returns to the earth.
‘For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven…and the dead in Christ shall rise first’ (1 Thessalonians 4 v 16).
Some of the signs which tell us that these momentous events are very near will be explained in Lesson 9 of this course.
We need to be ready for that day.
1. Death is the end of life, not the gateway to eternity.
2. Salvation begins with humility.
3. Death is caused by sin.
4. Sin is disbelief of God’s Word and disobedience to His will.
5. Man cannot stop sinning.
6. Man can obtain forgiveness by belief in God’s Word and obedience to His will.
7. Faith is belief of God’s Word and is shown by obedience to it.
8. Eternal life is the gift of God, to be given to His faithful children.
9. Eternal life will be given at the resurrection, when Jesus Christ returns to the earth; this is man’s only hope of obtaining immortality.
PASSAGES FOR BIBLE READING
Genesis 2 and 3 Psalms 49 and 146 Ecclesiastes 9 Romans 5 and 6 1 Corinthians 15