Death—A Doorway to What?
SURELY everyone desires to enjoy a life of happiness beyond our present existence. Life now is all too short and filled with trouble. A University of Virginia student well summed up the attitude of people in general when he said:
“It’s very hard for the average working Joe to go through life and all that it imposes on us and then say to himself: ‘You mean this is all there is?’ The general thought is that there has to be something more to it than just this.”
It is natural for humans to think this way. Why? Because God created man, not to live only 70 or 80 years, but forever. Thus the Bible speaks of the “hope of the everlasting life which God, who cannot lie, promised.”—Titus 1:2.
But how will this hope be realized? By means of an immortal soul? Many think so.
The belief in an immortal soul is practically universal. The magazine Presbyterian Life of May 1, 1970, describes the popular concept: “There is a divine soul in each of us, imprisoned in our bodies. When, at death, we toss aside our bodies, our souls return to their true home in heaven.”
The reports of many who have been revived from apparent death would seem to confirm this concept. For example, typical is the description of what one woman said happened to her when she was supposedly dead:
“After I floated up, I passed through this dark tunnel and came out into brilliant light. A little bit later on, I was there with my grandparents and my father and my brother, who had died. There was the most brilliant light all around. And this was a beautiful place. There were colors—bright colors—not like here on earth, but just indescribable. There were people there, happy people.”
On the other hand, most revived persons tell nothing about a life beyond. Dr. George E. Burch, who is a well-known cardiologist at Tulane Medical Center, explains: “I have interviewed approximately 100 such patients. . . . They told me that during the three and a quarter or less minutes before they were revived, they all experienced a sensation of deep, pleasant, peaceful sleep.” They did not remember anything.
Why are there such conflicting reports? What really happens to us when we die?
Ongoing Life After Death?
“People of most cultures believe that at death something which leaves the body has ongoing life,” observes the book Funeral Customs the World Over. But the questions are: Where did this belief originate? Does the Bible teach it?
The above-quoted Presbyterian Life, which described the popular concept of the soul, points to the source of the belief. It explains: “Immortality of the soul is a Greek notion formed in ancient mystery cults and elaborated by the [ancient Greek] philosopher Plato.” Dr. Moody, who sought parallels in ancient writings to what revived patients told him, writes: “The philosopher Plato left us descriptions of occurrences very similar to those experienced in near-death situations.”
But doesn’t the Bible also support this immortality-of-the-soul teaching? Moody had to acknowledge that it really does not. And Presbyterian Life concluded emphatically that there is “nothing in Scripture to back up the idea that souls have ‘an immortal subsistence.’”
In agreement, The Jewish Encyclopedia observes: “The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is a matter of philosophical or theological speculation rather than of simple faith, and is accordingly nowhere expressly taught in Holy Scripture.” (Italics added.)
No, the soul is not some separate part of humans that can survive death. The Bible does not teach this pagan concept, as the New Catholic Encyclopedia explains: “The soul in the O[ld] T[estament] means not a part of man, but the whole man—man as a living being. Similarly, in the N[ew] T[estament] it signifies human life: the life of an individual, conscious subject.”
Search the Bible as you may, you will not find one text that says that the soul is immortal or that it survives a person’s death. Yet you will find many Bible texts that say the soul dies, or is subject to death. For example, the ones at Ezekiel 18:4, 20 read: “The soul that is sinning—it itself will die.”
So the Bible does not teach that death is a door to a life beyond. Such a teaching is a lie. In the magazine Psychology Today of July 1977, it is observed: “Thousands of years ago, a snake of all things, said to a certain young lady, ‘Ye shall not surely die.’ Ever since then it seems we have believed, or liked to believe, this first lie.” (Gen. 3:4) The truth is, death is a terrible enemy—it is the end of life, nonexistence.—1 Cor. 15:26.
How is it, then, that some people, after being revived, report having experienced life beyond “death”? Surely, not all the people who report these things are lying, are they?
From youth on many people have been inculcated with belief in an afterlife, and so these ideas about immortality are embedded deep in their minds. Dr. Nathan Schnaper, who sees many of these revived patients, discounts their stories as psychological fantasies. “These people are experiencing a vacuum,” he says, “and psychologically we can’t abide a vacuum. It’s a void that must be filled, so they invent these experiences.”
This is not to say that they do this intentionally. Significantly, patients under medication also have reported hallucinations and out-of-the-body experiences. Similarly, in the critical minutes while a patient is near death—when the heart stops pumping blood, yet before the cells die—the brain’s oxygen-starved condition produces extraordinary effects. Those who recover may be merely reporting the results of this altered state. Julian DeVries, the medical editor of the Arizona Republic, identifies such factors as being responsible for the experiences reported.
“When physical prowess is at its lowest ebb,” he writes, “as under anesthesia, or the result of disease or injury, automatic control of bodily functions diminishes accordingly. Thus, the neurohormones and catecholamines of the nervous system are released and pour out in uncontrolled quantity. The result, among other manifestations, is the hallucination, rationalized after returning to consciousness, of having died and returned to life.”
Yet the above does not explain how certain patients, upon revival from apparent death, know about things that happened while they were unconscious. As Dr. Moody said: “If Mr. Jones tells you his spirit was hovering about the ceiling and proceeds to describe who was in the room when and what went on, it seems as if one has no alternative but to believe him.” How can this remarkable knowledge of revived patients be explained?
Also, if death brings an end to life, how will the hope of everlasting life promised by God be realized? How can anyone ever enjoy life beyond the grave?
Let us now examine these questions.
[Picture on page 8]
“I passed through this dark tunnel and came out into brilliant light . . .”