Our Memory of Those Who Have Passed into Death
Is it God who takes our loved ones?
What does God’s own word say?
DEATH is unnatural for humans, in that man was not created to die. It was not purposed for him by his Creator. Therefore death causes sorrow through the deep loss felt by surviving relatives and friends. We remember our loved ones, their personalities, their warmth, their love and hopes, and it saddens us.
When a person dies, do we sustain permanent loss? Should the sadness occasioned by death be a cause for abject sorrow and hopelessness? The Scriptures answer that those believing in God should not “sorrow just as the rest also do who have no hope.” Why? Because God has made a loving provision that greatly comforts us.—1 Thess. 4:13, 14; 2 Cor. 1:3, 4.
Well, then, can we properly say that God “took” the one who has died? No, for death is called an “enemy” in the Bible, and God does not cooperate with mankind’s enemies. To the contrary, he promises to destroy death as well as all other enemies of man.—1 Cor. 15:26.
DEATH’S ORIGIN AND DESTRUCTION
How did death come about? By reason of man’s own disobedience to God, which the Devil had a hand in bringing about. Adam rebelled against God. Therefore “through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.”—Rom. 5:12; Gen. 2:17; 3:19.
It is natural to be anxious over the condition of those who have died. Where, now, are they? you may ask. The Bible says they are in Sheol or Hades. These two words, in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, respectively, mean the same thing: the common grave of mankind. Those in Sheol (Hades) are actually dead, not suffering. “They are conscious of nothing at all.” “There is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol,” say the Scriptures. (Eccl. 9:5, 10; Gen. 42:38) Jesus himself was there for parts of three days. The apostle Peter said that Jesus was in Hades, but was not forsaken by God, for God resurrected him.—Acts 2:31, 32.
Jesus likened the condition of his friend Lazarus in death to the unconsciousness of sleep. He told his disciples: “I am journeying there to awaken him from sleep.” When his disciples did not understand, “Jesus said to them outspokenly: ‘Lazarus has died.’” There is no record that Lazarus described any experiences of consciousness had during his four days in the death state.—John 11:11-14.
The promised destruction of death through Jesus Christ’s ransom sacrifice holds forth hope to all of us who have lost loved ones. Of course, it takes more than death’s destruction to help those who have died. It entails also the bringing back and giving of life to them. Christ’s sacrifice being “for all,” it must somehow benefit the billions of human dead. (1 Tim. 2:5, 6) It will. God promises to destroy, not only death, but also Sheol-Hades, the common grave!
This means the destruction of cemeteries. How can this be done? By emptying them of the dead, who are held relentlessly in the grave. God promises: “From the hand of Sheol I shall redeem them; from death I shall recover them. Where are your stings, O Death? Where is your destructiveness, O Sheol?” (Hos. 13:14; 1 Cor. 15:55) The apostle John, in describing his vision, said: “The sea gave up those dead in it, and death and Hades gave up those dead in them, and they were judged individually according to their deeds. And death and Hades were hurled into the lake of fire.”—Rev. 20:13, 14.
GOD’S MEMORY AND THE RESURRECTION
This means a resurrection from the dead for our loved ones. What a blessing! What a wonderful hope and comfort! This is done by means of God’s memory and power. Job prayed for God to conceal him in Sheol and after a time limit remember him. (Job 14:13) He thereby revealed that he viewed the dead to be resurrected as not forgotten and gone forever. Doubtless with this understanding the evildoer put to death alongside Jesus asked to be remembered when Jesus would come into his kingdom.—Luke 23:42.
Now, while we may have been made sorrowful by the death of a few, think how much more God has been saddened by the pitiable state of the human race in sin and death for nearly 6,000 years. (Lam. 3:33; Ezek. 18:32) And how much more greatly he loves and cares for those who have died is proved by his memory of them in every detail, and by the lasting quality of his remembrance of them. If not one sparrow goes forgotten before God, or falls to the ground without his notice, certainly he thoroughly remembers humans whom he will resurrect.—Matt. 10:29, 30; Luke 12:6, 7.
To us, those who have died gradually become a dimmer memory, but not so with God. Nevertheless, for many years we can remember personalities enough to recall what they were like, and to desire to see them again. How much more so does God, who loves mankind so much that he gave his only-begotten Son to provide a resurrection for them. (John 3:16) God remembers everything, and can bring the person, the same personality, actually and tangibly back to live on this earth. Since God can, if he so chooses, know before a child is born exactly what all his personality traits are—and the Bible tells of instances in which He has done this—how easy it is for God to reconstruct such one’s life pattern after he has lived and manifested these traits.—Gen. 16:11, 12; 25:23.
Jesus Christ demonstrated this ability to bring a person back from the dead with all his characteristics—his full identity—when he called Lazarus from the grave. Lazarus’ brain cells had certainly broken down by this time, in fact, his body itself had progressed well into a state of decomposition. His sister Martha said: “Lord, by now he must smell, for it is four days.” So it required a reconstruction of personality and body to bring Lazarus back.—John 11:39-44.
GOD’S CONCERN FOR THE DEAD
So never feel that God is not concerned. He certainly did not show unconcern for mankind when he sent his only-begotten Son to suffer at the hands of rebellious men and to die as a ransom. Neither is God unjust, that he should let the ransom benefits be for only a few—largely wasted. Otherwise he would not have inspired his apostle to write: “For just as through the disobedience of the one man many were constituted sinners, likewise also through the obedience of the one person many will be constituted righteous. . . . just as sin ruled as king with death, likewise also undeserved kindness might rule as king through righteousness with everlasting life in view through Jesus Christ our Lord.”—Rom. 5:19-21.
Why, then, does not God exercise his power now to bring back those who have died? Even here his loving-kindness is demonstrated. For he does not bring them back, again to undergo the terrible afflictions now oppressing mankind, with danger of death every day. Rather, he purposes to restore them when the righteous reign of his Messianic King Jesus Christ is in force over all the earth. Then the environment will be ideal for real life in happiness. How Jehovah and his Son must look forward to that time with even greater anticipation than we do!—Acts 17:31; 24:15.
FALSE TEACHINGS TAKE AWAY COMFORT
In view of God’s loving provisions for the living as well as for those who have died, how blasphemous it is for clergymen to claim that God is tormenting dead persons in a purgatory or “hellfire.” And how cruel and heartless it is for these men to collect money from bereaved relatives and friends on the pretense of helping persons or souls in one of these imaginary places.
An example of lack of concern for those who have lost loved ones is a tract published by the Franciscan Mass League, issued at St. Francis Friary in New York city. It encourages the reader to “Enroll yourself now in the Mass League for the Living.” “Do not depend too much on those whom you leave behind to assist you, when you fall into the Hands of the Lord in judgment,” the brochure reads, “‘Out of sight, out of mind,’ will be the lot of most of us.”
Then the pamphlet urges the enrollment of “departed” relatives and friends in a Mass League, “the usual offerings for memberships” being “For the living, $5.00. This membership continues perpetually after life; For the deceased, $2.00.” “Your dear departed ones may be suffering in Purgatory on your account,” says the tract. A quotation is made from an apocryphal book, which is no part of the inspired Scriptures: “‘It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins’ (2 Mach. xii, 46).”
However, it might be noted that Judas Machabeus, who is quoted in the text, was not praying for souls suffering in a supposed purgatory, but concerning their hope of resurrection from the dead, as the context shows. (Verses 43, 44) And in verse 45 those who had died were said, not to be in purgatory or in any conscious state, but to have “fallen asleep.”
The clergy, by teaching falsely concerning the state of the dead and by taking advantage of the sorrow of persons for their loved ones who have died, have taken money by playing on the fears and helpless feelings of the survivors. They are therefore actually guilty of extortion. They are lying, misrepresenting God and taking away from the living the hope and comfort the Scriptures give.
According to God’s sure promise and guarantee, the living can hope with full assurance that their dead loved ones will be back to a full opportunity for life. Then, under Christ’s Kingdom rule to which the evildoer alongside Jesus looked forward, they can prove whether they are persons who love and obey God’s instructions.
Accordingly, what should we the living do at this time to ensure our being alive to welcome them back from the dead and really be of help to them? We should study God’s Word the Bible now with a view to full obedience to its righteous principles. Doing so, we may survive the destruction of this present system of things, which destruction all evidences indicate is very near. (Matt. 24:7-14, 34; Zeph. 2:3) How fine it will be to welcome back the dead and to have a share in helping these resurrected ones to a greater knowledge of God, leading to everlasting life!—John 17:3.
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Is there a sound basis for believing that the dead will live again?