What Is Death?
“THERE is an eventuality as respects the sons of mankind and an eventuality as respects the beast, and they have the same eventuality. As the one dies, so the other dies.”—Eccl. 3:19.
But it is easier to accept the finality of death in the case of animals than in the case of man. One result of this is that many people believe that man possesses an immortal soul, and for this reason is superior to the animals.
What the Soul Is
However, the Bible does not differentiate man from animal as regards being a “soul.” The same Hebrew and Greek words that are translated as “soul” in many Bibles, or as “creature” or “being” in others, are used for both man and animal. Please read for yourself what is stated at Numbers 31:28, Genesis 1:20-24 and Revelation 16:3, where these original-language terms are found.
This is indicated in the Bible’s description of the creation of man: “Jehovah God proceeded to form the man out of dust from the ground and to blow into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man came to be a living soul.” (Gen. 2:7; “creature,” New English Bible; “being,” Revised Standard Version) Thus the “soul” was not added into man’s body. The “soul” is what man became when his body was activated by the breath of life. No, man does not have a soul. He is a soul. The animals are souls too.
As with animals, the human body is made up of billions of living cells. They are all animated by the “spirit of life.” It is with reference to this “spirit,” or “life force,” that the Bible says that mankind and animalkind “have but one spirit.” (Eccl. 3:19-21) This spirit of life is sustained in the body by breathing, and this breathing activates the entire organism.
If breathing ceases, or if the replenishing and sustaining elements are cut off from body cells, these cells die. This is evident in a lizard’s tail, or a man’s hand, if cut off from the body.
So, really, human souls and animal souls have the same life force from God. But this life force neither has personality nor survives death.
Purpose for Humans Different
Is this to say that there is no difference in God’s purpose for man as contrasted with the beast? Not at all, for there are a number of vital differences.
For one thing, man has a brain with thought processes far superior to those of the animals, giving humans the power of reason together with a superior memory and a concept of time. Man is not guided largely by instinct as are the animals, but is endowed with freedom of choice and decision. Also, man was made in God’s image, so he has a measure of God’s qualities of wisdom, justice, love and power that the animals lack.
There is another vast difference: Man was not created to die! On the contrary, God created man with the capacity to live forever! The record in the first two chapters of Genesis shows that God created man and woman perfect. They were also to have perfect children. They were then to extend their Edenic paradise to the ends of the earth, and to live on it forever.—Gen. 2:8-25.
The animals, though, were not created with any prospect of living forever. They were living and dying before man was created; they continue to do so. Before the flood of Noah’s day, they were being killed to provide clothing for humans, and for sacrifices. (Gen. 3:21; 4:4) After the Flood, God gave man the authority to kill them for food also. (Gen. 9:3) So their life-span has always been limited, with death the final and inevitable end.—2 Pet. 2:12.
True, God created humans from the dust of the ground just as he did animals. But he designed humans to last indefinitely—forever—under the right conditions.
Why Man Dies
If that is the case, then why does man die? Because eternal life depends on obedience to the laws of the Creator. Obedience to those laws on the part of our first parents, Adam and Eve, would have meant continued life. Disobedience meant death: “You will positively die,” were God’s words. (Gen. 2:17) Disobedience cut the lifeline to the Sustainer of life, for with God is “the source of life.” (Ps. 36:9) Had Adam and Eve not disobeyed God, they would not have died.
Sadly, our first parents misused their free will and decided on a course of life independent from God. That set man’s mind and life on a channel that was contrary to God’s will. Now, man was no longer perfect, since rebellion led to missing the mark of perfection. As he used up the tremendous vitality God gave him, he aged and eventually died, ‘returning to the dust of the ground.’ (Gen. 3:1, 19) Since he was now a defective ‘pattern’ himself, he passed on the inheritance of imperfection and death to all his offspring.—Rom. 5:12.
How Man Dies
In death the reverse of what took place at man’s creation occurs. Breathing stops. The spirit, or life force in all the cells, is extinguished. The brain ceases to function and the thoughts perish. “His spirit goes out, he goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts do perish.”—Ps. 146:4; Ezek. 18:4.
This agrees with what is known scientifically of the death process. When the heart stops beating, the blood ceases to circulate nourishment and oxygen (from breathing) to the cells of the body. Yet the cells do not die immediately. That is why it is possible to revive some people whose breathing and heartbeat have ceased. Absolute death comes with the disappearance of the life force, or spirit of life, from the body cells.—Ps. 104:29.
Death means a state of total inactivity. The dead “are conscious of nothing at all, . . . for there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol [the grave].” This means that the dead cannot be helped by religious or spiritistic efforts or by human scientific means.—Eccl. 9:5, 6, 10.
But what about the spirit manifestations that are associated with the dead? The Bible explains that spirit creatures were produced before the material universe was created. Some of these angels, including Satan, rebelled against God. They are the ones who impersonate the dead, and this is done to support Satan’s first lie, that man ‘positively would not die’ if he rebelled against God.—Gen. 3:4; John 8:44; Jude 6.
Thus, the consulting of the dead, funeral rites for appeasing or paying homage to them, prayers for them, and all spiritistic practices are based on a deception, a lie. Money paid for such services does not bring God’s favor, nor does it influence the dead. Instead, it plays right into the demons’ hands. That is why God forbids participation in these practices.—Deut. 18:10-12; Isa. 8:19.
Understanding and acting in harmony with the truth about death liberates one from fear and futile practices. It also puts one in position to appreciate and benefit from our Creator’s purpose to provide a real conquest over death.
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Your Soul Is You