Vol. 11 No. 5 May 2009
It is no mark of courage to speak lightly of human dying. We may do it in bravado, or in wantonness; but no man who thinks can call it a trifling thing to die. True thoughtfulness must shrink from death without Christ. There is a world of untold sensations prodded into that moment when a man realizes his hour is come. It is all over—his chance is passed, and his eternity is settled. None of us know, except by guess, what that sensation is. Myriads of human beings have felt it to whom life was dear; but they never spoke out their feelings, for such things are untold. And to every individual man throughout all eternity that sensation in its fullness can come but once. It is mockery…for a man to speak lightly about that which we cannot know till it comes (Baxter, When Life Tumbles In, 103).
Seemingly one of the most faithful foes in our time is the morning obituaries. Without partiality or prejudice, it faithfully reveals the truthfulness of Moses’ statement, “The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10). It tragically reports the deaths of little ones and the middle aged. No distinction is made of race, language or gender. None are beyond the reach of the words, “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
What the Scriptures Say about Death
Death has been referred to as “Giving up the ghost” or “breathed his or her last” (Genesis 25:8; 35:29; Lamentations 1:19; Acts 5:10). Bildad the Shuhite called death “the king of terrors” (Job 18:14). Job simply referred to death as “my change” (Job 14:14). It has often been called, “Going to thy fathers” (Genesis 15:15; 25:8; 35:29) or “Putting off this tabernacle (2 Peter1:14). Job additionally stated, “I shall go the way of no return” (Job 16:22). The Psalmist contended that death is “going down into silence” (Psalm 115:17). God told Adam, “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). The apostle Paul said of man’s last great venture on earth, that it is a “departure” (Philippians 1:23).
The word “death” means a separation and the end of a state or condition. One, therefore, could be dead in one sense and alive in another. To illustrate, the apostle Paul wrote, “I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died” (Romans 7:9). Did Paul mean to say that he became extinct or that he ceased to be? Certainly not, but that he ceased to be ignorant of sin through knowledge of God’s law. One may say that his death was a separation of his ignorance and his intellect. To the Colossian church Paul declared, “You are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). These Christians, contends Paul, had life after their death. They were dead to the world and its sinful devices but alive to God. James revealed that “the body without the spirit is dead” (James 2:26). Did he therefore intend to say that such a separation resulted in the extinction or annihilation of one? During the death of Rachel, Moses records, “And so it was, as her soul was departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-Oni: but his father called him Benjamin” (Genesis 35:18). When our Lord was approaching His own death (separation of body and spirit), He lovingly told the penitent thief, “today, you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Luke then recorded the last of the seven sayings of the cross: “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46). Though the lifeless bodies of the thief and our Savior were taken down from the crosses, their spirits were together in the hands of the Father in that place dubbed “Paradise” by the Lord.
Death is certain (Ecclesiastes 9:5), but what of life after death? Where do we go immediately after death? Does one go directly to heaven or hell? Is there a time of sleep before the resurrection? Is there a place of departed spirits? Are there books to which we could turn to acquire these coveted answers? To borrow the words of King Solomon, “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). In fact, many shelves of our local libraries are literally filled with books that purpose to answer these questions. Though much can be learned from the various books on the grand subject of life after death, there is only One who truthfully claims: “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death” (Revelation 1:18).