Is Death Really the End?
PROBABLY no other issue has been as perplexing and persistent as the question of what happens after death. For thousands of years, brilliant minds in every civilization have pondered this question. But human philosophy and scientific research have merely yielded a jumble of theories and myths.
What about the teachings found in the Bible? Some may argue that on the subjects of death and the afterlife, the Bible is just as confusing. To be fair, however, we must face the fact that the confusion is caused by the many religions that muddy the clear waters of Bible teachings with fallacies and legends. When you ignore the traditions and myths and stick to what the Bible actually says, you discover a teaching that makes sense and offers hope.
Before You Were You
Take, for example, the two quotes from King Solomon found in the preceding article. Those scriptures make clear that the dead—both humans and animals—are conscious of nothing at all. Hence, according to the Bible, there is no activity, feeling, emotion, or thought in death.—Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6, 10.
Is this hard to believe? Consider: What is the condition of a human before coming to life? Where were you before the tiny cells from your parents merged to become the living person that you are? If humans possess an invisible entity that survives death, where does that entity reside before conception? The truth is, you have no prehuman existence to remember. Before you were conceived, you did not exist. It is that simple.
So it is logical to conclude that when we die, our consciousness returns to exactly the same state it was before we were alive. It is as God told Adam after he disobeyed: “For dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19) In that sense, humans are no different from animals. Regarding the condition of the dead, it is just as the Bible says: “There is no superiority of the man over the beast.”—Ecclesiastes 3:19, 20.
Does this mean that human life is limited to merely a few decades followed by an eternity of nothingness? Or is there some hope for the dead? Consider the following.
An Inborn Desire to Live
Virtually everyone considers death to be an unpleasant subject. Most people especially seem to avoid discussing their own death or even thinking about it. On the other hand, they are bombarded by television and movie scenes of people dying in every imaginable way and by stories and images of real deaths featured by the media.
As a result, the death of strangers may appear to be a normal aspect of life. Still, when it comes to the death of a loved one or to our own death, there is nothing normal about it. This is because humans have a deep-seated natural desire to live. We also possess a keen sense of time and a perception of eternity. King Solomon wrote that God “has planted eternity in men’s hearts.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, The Amplified Bible) Under normal circumstances we want to keep living indefinitely. We want life with no expiration date. There is no indication that animals have such a yearning. They live with no awareness of the future.
The Enormity of Human Potential
Humans not only desire to live indefinitely but also have the potential to remain busy and productive forever. There seems to be no limit to a person’s capacity to learn. It has been said that nothing in nature compares with the human brain when it comes to complexity and resilience. Unlike animals, we have creative minds capable of reasoning and understanding abstract concepts. Scientists have barely scratched the surface when it comes to understanding the potential of the human brain.
Much of this potential remains as we grow older. Neuroscientists have recently learned that most brain functions remain unharmed by the aging process. Researchers working for The Franklin Institute’s Center for Innovation in Science Learning explain: “The human brain is able to continually adapt and rewire itself. Even in old age, it can grow new neurons. Severe mental decline is usually caused by disease, whereas most age-related losses in memory or motor skills simply result from inactivity and a lack of mental exercise and stimulation.”
In other words, if we could keep the brain intellectually stimulated and free from disease, it could keep working indefinitely. “‘The brain,’ declares molecular biologist James Watson, co-discoverer of the physical structure of DNA, ‘is the most complex thing we have yet discovered in our universe.’” A book by neuroscientist Gerald Edelman explains that a section of the brain the size of a match head “contains about a billion connections that can combine in ways which can only be described as hyperastronomical—on the order of ten followed by millions of zeros.”
Does it seem logical that although endowed with such potential, humans should live just a few decades? This sounds as unreasonable as using a powerful locomotive with a long train of freight cars to transport a grain of sand across a distance of just a few inches! Why, then, does mankind have such an enormous capacity for creative thought and learning? Could it be that humans, unlike animals, are not supposed to die at all—that they were created to live forever?
Hope From the God of Life
The fact that we have an inborn desire to live and an enormous capacity to learn leads to a logical conclusion: Humans are designed to live much longer than a mere 70 or 80 years. This, in turn, leads us to another conclusion: There must be a Designer, a Creator, a God. The immutable laws of the physical universe and the unfathomable complexity of life on earth fully support belief in the existence of a Creator.
If, in fact, God created us with the capacity to live forever, why do we die? And what happens after death? Is it God’s purpose to bring the dead back to life? It would seem logical that a wise and powerful God would provide us with answers to these questions, and he has. Consider the following:
◼ Death was not part of God’s original purpose for mankind. The first mention of death in the Bible indicates that dying was not what God originally intended for humans. The Bible account of Genesis explains that to allow the first human couple, Adam and Eve, opportunity to manifest their love and loyalty, God placed a simple test upon them. It consisted of a prohibition against eating from one particular tree. God said: “In the day you eat from it you will positively die.” (Genesis 2:17) Adam and Eve would die only if they rebelled, thus failing the test. The Bible account reveals that they proved disloyal to God, and therefore they died. In this way, imperfection and death were introduced into the human family.
◼ The Bible compares death to sleep. It speaks of ‘falling asleep in death.’ (Psalm 13:3) Prior to resurrecting his friend Lazarus, Jesus explained to his apostles: “Lazarus our friend has gone to rest, but I am journeying there to awaken him from sleep.” And Jesus did just that! The Bible says that when he called, “the man [Lazarus] that had been dead came out” from the “memorial tomb”—fully alive once again!—John 11:11, 38-44.
Why did Jesus speak of death as a sleep? Because a sleeping person is inactive. During deep sleep, there is no consciousness of surroundings or of the passing of time. There is no pain or suffering. Similarly, in death there is no activity or consciousness. But the comparison goes further. With sleep, one expects to wake up. And that is exactly the hope that the Bible offers for the dead.
The Creator himself promises: “From the hand of Sheol [the common grave] I shall redeem them; from death I shall recover them. Where are your stings, O Death? Where is your destructiveness, O Sheol?” (Hosea 13:14) Another Bible prophecy states that God “will actually swallow up death forever, and the Sovereign Lord Jehovah will certainly wipe the tears from all faces.” (Isaiah 25:8) This process of bringing dead ones back to life is called resurrection.
◼ Where will resurrected ones live? As discussed earlier, mankind has a natural desire to live continuously. Where would you want to live forever? Would you be satisfied knowing that after death you would keep on living as part of an abstract universal life force, as some religions teach? Would you desire to continue your existence as a different person, with no memories of who you were before dying? Does it appeal to you to come back to life as an animal or a tree? Given the choice, would you really want to live in a world devoid of all human experience and earthly joys?
Under ideal conditions, would you not love to live on a paradise earth? The hope offered in the Bible is exactly that, namely, to live forever right here on earth. God created the earth for that purpose—to be inhabited by those who will love and serve him forever in happiness. That is why the Bible says: “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.”—Psalm 37:29; Isaiah 45:18; 65:21-24.
◼ When will the resurrection take place? The fact that death is compared to sleep indicates that the resurrection does not usually take place immediately after death. A period of “sleeping” takes place between the time of death and the resurrection. In the Bible, a man named Job raised the question: “If an able-bodied man dies can he live again?” Then he answered: “I shall wait [in the grave] until my relief comes. [God] will call, and I myself shall answer.” (Job 14:14, 15) What a joy it will be when that time arrives and the dead are reunited with their loved ones!
No Need for Morbid Fear
Admittedly, the hope that the Bible offers does not necessarily remove all fear of death. It is natural to be apprehensive about the pain and distress that sometimes precede death. Understandably, you may fear the loss of a loved one. And if you fear the sad consequences that your own death might have on your loved ones, that is also natural.
Still, by revealing the true condition of the dead, the Bible helps us to dispel any morbid fear of death. There is no need to fear an afterlife of torture by demons in a burning hell. No need to fear a dark ghostly realm where souls wander restlessly forever. And you need not fear that all the future has to offer is an eternal state of nonexistence. Why? Because God has a limitless memory, and he promises to bring all the dead who are in his memory back to life here on earth. The Bible guarantees this with the words: “The true God is for us a God of saving acts; and to Jehovah the Sovereign Lord belong the ways out from death.”—Psalm 68:20.
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“For dust you are and to dust you will return.”—Genesis 3:19
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“[God] has planted eternity in men’s hearts.”—Ecclesiastes 3:11, The Amplified Bible
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YOUR QUESTIONS ABOUT DEATH ANSWERED
Admittedly, there are questions regarding death and resurrection not addressed in these articles. Many have found satisfactory answers to such questions by carefully studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. We encourage you to do the same. The following are just a few questions for which you will receive answers:
◼ What is meant by the Bible terms “hell” and “lake of fire”?
◼ If there is no fiery hell, how are bad people punished?
◼ According to the Bible, the spirit leaves the body at death. What is that spirit?
◼ Why are there so many reports of communication with the dead?
◼ What is the meaning of the word “soul” in the Bible?
◼ When will the resurrection to a paradise earth become a reality?
◼ Will all who die be resurrected regardless of their conduct while alive?
Please see the back page of this magazine to learn how you may obtain a clear, Bible-based answer to each of these questions.
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Jesus said he would “awaken [Lazarus] from sleep”
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Imagine the happiness that will result when dead loved ones are resurrected!