Do You Have an Immortal Spirit?
“ALL Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness,” wrote the apostle Paul. (2 Timothy 3:16) Yes, the Bible is a book of truth that comes from the true God, Jehovah.—Psalm 83:18.
Since Jehovah is the Creator of all things, including humans, he well knows what happens to us when we die. (Hebrews 3:4; Revelation 4:11) And in his inspired Word, the Bible, he has given truthful and satisfying answers to questions about the hereafter.
What Is the Spirit?
In the Bible, the words translated “spirit” basically mean “breath.” But this implies much more than the act of breathing. The Bible writer James, for example, states: “The body without spirit is dead.” (James 2:26) Hence, spirit is that which animates the body.
This animating force cannot simply be the breath, or air, moving through the lungs. Why not? Because after breathing stops, life remains in the body cells for a brief period—“for several minutes,” according to The World Book Encyclopedia. For this reason, efforts at resuscitation can succeed. But once the spark of life is extinguished from the cells of the body, any efforts to restore life are futile. All the breath, or air, in the world cannot revive even one cell. The spirit, then, is the invisible life-force—the spark of life that keeps the cells and the person alive. This life-force is sustained by breathing.—Job 34:14, 15.
Is that spirit active only in humans? The Bible helps us to reach a sound conclusion in this matter. Wise King Solomon acknowledged that humans and animals “all have but one spirit,” and he asked: “Who is there knowing the spirit of the sons of mankind, whether it is ascending upward; and the spirit of the beast, whether it is descending downward to the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:19-21) So animals as well as men are spoken of as having a spirit. How can that be?
The spirit, or life-force, can be compared to the electric current that flows through a machine or an appliance. The invisible electricity may perform various functions, depending on the type of equipment it powers. For example, an electric stove can be made to generate heat, a computer to process information, and a television set to produce images and sound. Yet, the electric current never takes on the features of the equipment it activates. It remains simply a force. Similarly, the life-force does not take on any of the characteristics of the creatures it animates. It has no personality and no thinking ability. Humans and animals “have but one spirit.” (Ecclesiastes 3:19) When a person dies, therefore, his spirit does not go on existing in another realm as a spirit creature.
What, then, is the condition of the dead? And what happens to the spirit when a person dies?
“To Dust You Will Return”
When the first man, Adam, deliberately disobeyed God’s command, He said to him: “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.” (Genesis 3:19) Where was Adam before Jehovah created him from the dust? Why, he was nowhere! He simply did not exist. So when Jehovah God said that Adam would “return to the ground,” he meant that Adam would die and return to the elements in the ground. Adam would not cross over to the spirit realm. At death Adam would once again be nonexistent. His punishment was death—absence of life—not a transfer to another realm.—Romans 6:23.
What about others who have died? The condition of the dead is made clear at Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10, where we read: “The dead know nothing . . . There is no pursuit, no plan, no knowledge or intelligence, within the grave.” (Moffatt) Death, therefore, is a state of nonexistence. The psalmist wrote that when a person dies, “his spirit goes out, he goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts do perish.”—Psalm 146:4.
Clearly, the dead do not exist. They cannot know anything. They cannot see you, hear you, or talk to you. They can neither help you nor harm you. You certainly need not fear the dead. But how is it that the spirit “goes out” from a person at the time of his death?
The Spirit “Returns to the True God”
The Bible states that when a person dies, “the spirit itself returns to the true God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:7) Does this mean that a spirit entity literally travels through space into God’s presence? Not at all! The way in which the Bible uses the word “returns” does not require an actual movement from one place to another. For instance, unfaithful Israelites were told: “‘Return to me, and I will return to you,’ Jehovah of armies has said.” (Malachi 3:7) Israel’s ‘returning’ to Jehovah meant a turning around from a wrong course and again conforming to God’s righteous way. And Jehovah’s ‘returning’ to Israel meant his turning favorable attention to his people once again. In both cases the “return” involved an attitude, not a literal displacement from one geographic location to another.
Similarly, at death no actual movement from the earth to the heavenly realm occurs when the spirit “returns” to God. Once the life-force is gone from a person, only God has the ability to restore it to him. So the spirit “returns to the true God” in the sense that any hope of future life for that person now rests entirely with God.
Consider, for example, what the Scriptures say about Jesus Christ’s death. The Gospel writer Luke relates: “Jesus called with a loud voice and said: ‘Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.’ When he had said this, he expired.” (Luke 23:46) As Jesus’ spirit went out of him, he was not literally on his way to heaven. Jesus was not resurrected from the dead until the third day, and it was 40 days later that he ascended to heaven. (Acts 1:3, 9) At the time of his death, however, Jesus confidently left his spirit in his Father’s hands, fully trusting in Jehovah’s ability to bring him back to life.
Yes, God can bring a person back to life. (Psalm 104:30) What a grand prospect this opens up!
A Sure Hope
The Bible says: “The hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear [Jesus’] voice and come out.” (John 5:28, 29) Yes, Jesus Christ promised that all those in Jehovah’s memory will be resurrected, or brought back to life. Among them will indeed be those who have pursued a righteous course as Jehovah’s servants. But millions of other people have died without showing whether they would comply with God’s righteous standards. Either they did not know about Jehovah’s requirements or they lacked sufficient time to make needed changes. Individuals of this sort are also in God’s memory and will be resurrected, for the Bible says: “There is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.”—Acts 24:15.
Today, the earth is filled with hatred and strife, violence and bloodshed, pollution and disease. If the dead were to come back to life on such an earth, surely any resulting happiness would be short-lived. But the Creator has promised that he will soon bring an end to the present world society that is under the control of Satan the Devil. (Proverbs 2:21, 22; Daniel 2:44; 1 John 5:19) A righteous human society—“a new earth”—will then be a wonderful reality.—2 Peter 3:13.
At that time “no resident will say: ‘I am sick.’” (Isaiah 33:24) Even the anguish of death will be done away with, for God “will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) What a prospect this is for those “in the memorial tombs”!
When Jehovah wipes out wickedness from the earth, he will not destroy the righteous along with the wicked. (Psalm 37:10, 11; 145:20) In fact, “a great crowd” of people “out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues” will survive “the great tribulation,” which will destroy the present wicked world. (Revelation 7:9-14) Hence, a great multitude will be on hand to welcome back the dead.
Do you yearn to see your loved ones again? Do you want to live forever in Paradise on earth? Then you must take in accurate knowledge of God’s will and purposes. (John 17:3) It is Jehovah’s will that “all sorts of men should be saved and come to an accurate knowledge of truth.”—1 Timothy 2:3, 4.
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“Dust you are and to dust you will return”
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The spirit can be compared to electricity
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The resurrection will bring lasting joy