Hope for the Living and the Dead
HAVE you ever wondered where the dead are? Whether they are in heaven or in hell or confined to some other place like limbo or purgatory? Or just what is the state of the dead? Have you ever wondered why men die? What happens at death? Is it just the body that dies and not the soul, or do both die? What is a soul? Most thinking persons ask themselves these questions. But on these points there are about as many theories as there are people on earth.
Strange, is it not, that there should be so many conflicting opinions when all of Christendom’s religions claim to get support for their doctrines from one harmonious book, the Holy Bible? Surely the Bible is not so vague or confusing on these issues as are the theories and philosophies of men, nor is it divided into as many conflicting opinions regarding the place and state of the dead. In fact, the Bible is in perfect harmony on this subject.
The Bible is plain that man is a creature created. Note Genesis 2:7 (NW) on this point: “Then 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.” Thus we learn that man is a combination of two things, namely, the “dust from the ground” and “the breath of life.” The combining of these two things or factors produced a living soul or creature called man. The apostle Paul called Adam “a living soul” at 1 Corinthians 15:45. That this soul, Adam, could die is clearly stated by God at Genesis 2:17 (NW): “You will positively die.” There should be no question in the minds of intelligent creatures of Adam’s mortality.
Why does man die? Again the Bible plainly answers for us in the third chapter of Genesis that man disobeyed God’s commandment and proved himself unfit for existence. Ge 2 Verses 17-19 (NW) contain the pronouncement of the judicial decision: “And to Adam [God] said: ‘Because you listened to your wife’s voice and took to eating from the tree concerning which I gave you this command: “You must not eat from it,” cursed is the ground on your account. In pain you will eat its produce all the days of your life. And thorns and thistles it will grow for you, and you must eat the vegetation of the field. In the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return.’” This sentence says nothing about punishing man in a place of eternal torment, nor does it speak of a limbo or purgatory. It states plainly that man is to labor and then return to the dust from which he was made. Is not that what we have witnessed for the past six thousand years?
Even the prophets believed that the dead returned to the dust. The inspired record at Ecclesiastes 3:19, 20 says: “For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.” The inference is that both animals and man are created from the same dust, breathe the same air, and in death both go to the same place. Both are made from dust and both return to dust again.
Some may object to this view, and say: “Is not this a rather hopeless view to take? Does not some part of man live on? What about the soul? Does not this live after the human body dies?” The Bible states specifically that the living creature man is a soul, and nowhere does it say that man possesses a soul alive apart from his body. After reading Ezekiel 18:4, 20 there should be no doubt in the minds of those who believe the Bible that the soul dies. Those verses very conclusively say: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” If it dies, then it is not immortal as some claim.
As to the state of the dead, note what God’s Word has to say on the matter: “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” In these few verses the Bible tells us plainly that the dead are in the grave, that they “know not anything,” that “there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom” there. If that is the state of the dead, then they are not undergoing conscious suffering or torment as some teach, nor are they in a state of bliss. The dead simply, plainly, do not know anything. They are unconscious. They are dead.—Eccl. 9:5, 10.
Some may feel disappointed, thinking that the wicked are not punished for their wicked deeds or the righteous rewarded for their good efforts. The wicked do not go unpunished. They are “like the beasts that perish.” They die without hope of ever living again. The righteous who die have hope of a resurrection from the dead. Jesus emphasized the hope of a resurrection with these words: “Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment.” As Jesus called Lazarus forth from the memorial tomb four days after burial, so he will call all of humankind that are held in the memory of God and these will come forth with an opportunity to live for all eternity under his Kingdom arrangement. This was the hope of the prophets of God, to live under the kingdom of God by Christ. As Job wrote: “O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands.”—Ps. 49:12, 15; John 5:28, 29, NW; Job 14:13-15.
But we living today who exercise faith in Jehovah God and his Son Jesus Christ have the unspeakable hope of never dying! Some might find this hard to believe; nevertheless, it is true. Listen to the words of Jesus (John 11:25, 26, NW): “I am the resurrection and the life. He that exercises faith in me, even though he dies, will come to life, and everyone that is living and exercises faith in me will never die at all. Do you believe this?”
Jehovah’s witnesses believe it. This is the hope of the dead and the living. The dead receive it through a resurrection; the living, through the spirit and power of God, who makes this hope both understandable and possible.