Release from a Climate of Fear
THE man was getting old. If at all possible, he stayed near a companion, rarely going afar by himself. For he feared that otherwise he might meet death without anyone around to put a little water into his throat. This would be disastrous, he believed, because he would be in dire need of water to climb the steep hill that leads into eternity. Too, whatever companions surrounded him at death would entreat his spirit not to permit evil to enter the house that he was leaving, and entreat it to allow the women of his family to bear children.
In another part of the earth a man also viewed the prospect of death with dread. The belief of his people was that for a time the dead still possessed sensation, feeling. First, he believed, he would feel the crushing weight of the grave, then eternal darkness. Then, somehow, he would be leaning on two sticks cut from his garden when angels of death would arrive to ask his spirit: “Who is your God?” While he was being questioned, his head would strike the tombstone and he would sneeze and say: “Glory to Allah, lord of the universe.” In order to be sure to answer properly after death, the man, while living, always rehearsed this statement when he sneezed.
At the same time, far away, another man was fearful that he might die a sudden or violent death, not because of the kind of death itself, but because he might not have time to be “shriven” (granted absolution by a priest’s services), thus making his final peace with God. His relatives, however, were more fearful than he was, for they must quickly open all the doors and windows at the moment of his death, to liberate the soul. This is because they believe that great care must be taken not to offend the souls of the dead, who have malevolent powers. A member of the family places his hands over the dead man’s heart and closes his eyes, lest he cast a spell. Mirrors in the house are covered so that both the living and the dead may not see the reflection of the dead person or of death itself. The man’s cattle and bees, now belonging to a new owner, are quickly notified of the death so that they will not blindly follow their former master in dying.
Yes, fear of death and, more especially, fear of the dead, are universal. The three persons just described were, respectively, a native of West Africa, a Moslem of Iran and a Catholic peasant of Poland. Their views differed in detail, but they had the same fear of death and the dead.
Even in Russia, the efforts of a materialistic Communistic government have not eliminated the fear and mystery of death and the desire to live on after death. In fact, the permanent embalmment and display of Lenin’s body and, later, the body of Josef Stalin beside it, is very similar to the ancestor worship of African and Asian tribes. It actually constitutes a cult of national heroes. And the elaborateness of state funerals and their ceremonials reveal their preoccupation with death to be greater than they would like to admit.
One writer observes: “Even the most hard-boiled materialist, who his life long has loudly voiced the conviction that death is the end, realizes when the hour of death comes that his theory is only a hypothesis which may or may not be correct. He too then notices that as a person he is something other than an animal with a specially large and differentiated brain. He then sees that his materialistic theory does not cover his personality and that his alleged explanation of death amounts to ignorance.”
THE SLAVERY THAT FEAR OF DEATH BRINGS
The Bible is therefore fully true when it speaks of those “who for fear of death were subject to slavery all through their lives.” (Heb. 2:15) How many persons under dictator rule have wanted to speak out against atrocities they see committed, but their lips are sealed by fear of death! How many have been controlled through threats against relatives living in dictator lands! But, more oppressively, fear of the dead, particularly of ancestors and dead members of the family, causes millions to live in a veritable climate of fear.
The Hindu, for example, believes he has many lives to live through a process of reincarnation, until he at last reaches a state of reabsorption into or identity with the “Oversoul,” Brahma, the essence of the universe, immaterial, uncreated, timeless. One Hindu man recounted that all his life he had lived in dread of the many “deaths” and “lives” that he had ahead of him, as he would reappear in different animal and human forms for an indefinite period of time.
The Bushmen of Africa attribute all sicknesses and misfortunes mainly to the spirits of the dead, and a person neglecting to propitiate and appease his ancestors may bring harm even to others. The Chamula, a Maya Indian population of Mexico, though “Christianized” as Catholics, try to get the soul of the dead to leave the house by burning red pepper. The smoke supposedly drives the soul out so that it will not linger around the house.
The Bible describes death as an enemy, not a friend, of man. (1 Cor. 15:26) And truly death brings shock, grief, loneliness, confusion, a sense of loss and often great hurt to the personality of the survivors. It often cuts off men and women in the prime of life, when they are in their best position to do good for their fellowmen. Aging, which is really the gradual process of dying, debilitates many long before their actual death. Death is a bitter enemy.
But why the fear of the dead or their “souls” or “spirits”? And why the fear of a prospect of “hellfire” or “purgatory”? This is all because of a teaching not found in the Bible—the belief in the immortality of the soul. And why is this so widespread, common to every language and tribe? Because it has an ancient source, ancient enough to affect all nations. When and where was this?
ORIGIN OF FALSE BELIEFS ABOUT THE DEAD
There is no record of belief in immortality of the soul prior to the Flood. The Flood apparently erased all previous records, except that of the Bible, which speaks of no such belief before the Flood. Back then the Garden of Eden was still visible; the Flood destroyed this garden. And the account of the rebellion of Adam and the consequent bringing of death upon all his offspring was current knowledge.
For some time after the flood all mankind still spoke one language, under the patriarchal headship of Noah, the servant of God. It was in these postflood times that Nimrod, Noah’s great-grandson, arose as a rebel and a professed benefactor of man. He sought to prevent mankind from obeying God’s command to spread over the earth and to carry true worship of God with them. Of Nimrod, it is written that he was “a mighty hunter in opposition to Jehovah.” (Gen. 10:8-10) Under his leadership those leaving the direction of Noah and his son Shem determined to build a tower. This tower was for a religious purpose unauthorized by God.
The people’s action under Nimrod was truly a rebellion against God, as evidenced in God’s frustrating their efforts by confusing their language. Now, though they moved out in all directions, their false religion went with them. (Gen. 11:1-9) Some remained at Babel, which city became a religious center. In the beliefs of the Babylonians with regard to death we can see the seed of the beliefs with regard to the dead that appear in the religions of all nations.
What did the Babylonians believe about the dead? Says Robert W. Rogers, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (Vol. 1, p. 373): “In Babylonia, the great question of all the ages—‘If a man die shall he live again?’—was asked and an attempt made to answer it. The answer was usually sad and depressing. After death the souls of men were supposed to continue in existence. . . . they lived in dark rooms amid the dust and the bats covered with a garment of feathers, . . . Those who fell in battle seem to have had special favor. They received fresh water to drink, while those who had no posterity to put offerings at their graves suffered sore and many deprivations.”
THE WAY OF RELEASE
Is there a way of release from this international climate of fear of death and of the dead? Yes, there is, by getting a knowledge of Bible truth, by coming to know what kind of God the Creator is and what he has provided for man. The apostle Paul states that God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, came to earth, was born as a man of flesh and blood—not to help angels, not to do anything for angels who had chosen a course of disobedience—but that “through his death he might bring to nothing the one having the means to cause death, that is, the Devil; and that he might emancipate all those who for fear of death were subject to slavery all through their lives.”—Heb. 2:14-16; Jude 6.
So, when the nations make offerings for the dead, they are not really helping or propitiating some supposed “spirits” of dead men, for there are no such spirits. The Bible says: “The living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all, neither do they anymore have wages, . . . and they have no portion anymore to time indefinite in anything that has to be done under the sun.”—Eccl. 9:5, 6.
There is, therefore, nothing to fear from the dead. They have no consciousness, nothing that lives on to interfere with or trouble those still carrying on with life “under the sun.” It is futile to set out food for them, or to offer gifts in the form of weapons, clothing or special sacrifices.
The one who has held men in fear is the Devil. He had no power to cause Adam and Eve to die. It was Jehovah God who sentenced them to death and drove them out of the garden of Eden, away from the “tree of life.” However, the Devil, by inducing the ancestor of all mankind, Adam, to sin, led to sin and death by inheritance for all men. (Rom. 5:12) God’s Adversary can play upon the sinful tendencies, the weaknesses of men and women, and also on the ignorance of those who do not know the truth. He can lead men into an untimely death. Those who believe in the false idea that dead persons are yet in some way alive fall into the snare of the Devil and his associate wicked demons, who do indeed exist. A person is actually playing into the hands of the demons when he makes sacrifices and performs rites to help the dead, pays money to release souls from a “purgatory” or other imaginary place, or to appease the dead. Of such things, the apostle Paul writes: “The things which the nations sacrifice they sacrifice to demons, and not to God.”—1 Cor. 10:20.
Being an enemy, death is truly undesirable and grievous to anyone who loves life. But it should not be a cause of excessive, crushing grief to one who knows the truth about death and about God’s purpose to resurrect the dead during the thousand-year reign of his Messianic King. The Christians in the city of Thessalonica, surrounded by Grecian customs based on the Babylonian belief in the immortality of the soul, were told by the apostle: “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant concerning those who are sleeping in death; that you may not sorrow just as the rest also do who have no hope.”—1 Thess. 4:13.
This true hope God gives to relieve men of fear of what comes after death, the great enemy that has caused so much distress. It removes the pain of death to know that the Lord Jesus Christ, after emptying the grave of all mankind, will also do away with every trace of sin (which brings condemnation to death) in all obedient persons. Then Adamic death, as the last enemy of man to disappear, will itself be thrown into “the lake of fire,” the symbol of everlasting extinction. Thus the resurrection of the earthly dead during Christ’s thousand-year reign will banish the climate of fear in which mankind has lived for centuries. It will be forever removed. What a grand release!—Rev. 20:13, 14; 1 Cor. 15:26; Rom. 8:20, 21.