The Bible’s Viewpoint
Can You Help the Dead?
“From the beginning the Church has . . . offered prayers in suffrage for [the dead] . . . so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.”—“Catechism of the Catholic Church.”
COMMON to men of all races is a concern for the condition of the dead. Perhaps you have felt grief and emptiness at the death of a loved one. You might wonder whether those who are deceased continue a conscious existence, whether they are suffering or at peace, and whether there is anything that you can do to help them.
Many religious people believe that they can help the departed. Hindus, for example, hold that by cremating the body of their loved one on the banks of the Ganges River and scattering the ashes in its waters, they can guarantee eternal bliss for the dead person’s soul. In the Orient, Buddhists burn paper effigies of cars, homes, clothes, and money, in the belief that the deceased will then be able to use such possessions in the next world. In Africa, alcoholic drinks are poured out at the graveside, with the idea that this offering will benefit the dead one.
Catholicism teaches that if a person dies without repenting of some “mortal sin,” he has excluded himself from God’s favor. This state “is called ‘hell.’” On the other hand, it teaches that someone who enjoys God’s favor can hope to attain “supreme, definitive happiness” with God in heaven, but not before being perfectly purified. Purification may require his spending time in purgatory to endure a “cleansing fire” as punishment for errors that can be forgiven. While in purgatory, though, a person can be helped by suffrages—intercessory prayers offered through the office of the church—and also by Masses held for him. Such services are usually paid for by friends and relatives of the deceased.
It is natural to want to do all you can to alleviate any suffering your loved ones might undergo. If helping them were possible, would not God explain clearly how to go about doing it? Let us see what the Bible teaches about helping the dead.
The Condition of the Dead
All the practices mentioned above are based on belief in the immortality of the soul, that is, that part of a person continues living after his physical body dies. Is that what the Bible teaches? “The living are conscious that they will die,” it says, “but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all, neither do they anymore have wages, because the remembrance of them has been forgotten. Also, their love and their hate and their jealousy have already perished, and they have no portion anymore to time indefinite in anything that has to be done under the sun. All that your hand finds to do, do with your very power, for there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol, the place to which you are going.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6, 10) Sheol is simply the Hebrew word for the common grave of mankind.
Regarding death’s effect on a person’s consciousness, the inspired psalmist wrote: “His spirit goes out, he goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts do perish.”—Psalm 146:4.
The Bible’s statements are authoritative and reasonable. What do you think? Would a loving father make his children suffer because of sinful tendencies that are a part of their nature? (Genesis 8:21) Of course not. So why would our heavenly Father do anything similar? When some in ancient Israel adopted the pagan ritual of burning their children in sacrifice to false gods, Jehovah condemned such a hateful practice, defining it as ‘a thing that he had not commanded and that had not come up into his heart.’—Jeremiah 7:31.
Man’s sins result in death, not torment in an afterlife. “The wages sin pays is death,” according to the Scriptures, and “he who has died has been acquitted from his sin.”—Romans 5:12; 6:7, 23.
The dead are not suffering. Rather, it is as though they were in a deep sleep, without consciousness—pleasurable or otherwise. There can be no question about it, then, that all the efforts people make to help the dead run contrary to Bible teachings.
What Hope for the Dead?
That is not to say that your dead loved ones will remain unconscious forever. On the contrary, their prospects are bright.
Before bringing his dear friend Lazarus back to life, Jesus said that he was going to “awaken him from sleep.” (John 11:11) On another occasion he explained that “all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out.” (John 5:28, 29) The resurrected will already have been acquitted of their previous sins and will thus not have to suffer for what they did while they were alive before. They will have the opportunity to learn to enjoy life under perfect conditions. What a prospect!
If that prospect appeals to you, do not hesitate to verify the trustworthiness of these promises. Jehovah’s Witnesses will be delighted to help you.
HAVE YOU WONDERED?
◼ Are the dead conscious?—Psalm 146:4; Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6, 10.
◼ Would God allow the dead to suffer in a burning hell?—Jeremiah 7:31.
◼ Is there hope for the dead?—John 5:28, 29.