A Closer Look at Some Myths About Death
THROUGHOUT history, man has stood perplexed and apprehensive before the dark prospect of death. What is more, fear of death has been fueled by a mix of false religious ideas, popular customs, and ingrained personal beliefs. The problem with fear of death is that it can paralyze one’s ability to enjoy life and erode one’s confidence that there is meaning to life.
Popular religion is especially reprehensible for promoting a number of popular myths regarding death. By examining a few of these under the light of Bible truth, see if your personal perceptions about death can be clarified.
Myth 1: Death is the natural end of life.
“Death . . . is an integral part of our lives,” says the book Death—The Final Stage of Growth. Comments like this reflect the belief that death is normal, the natural ending of all living organisms. In turn, such a belief has fostered a nihilistic philosophy and opportunistic behavior in many.
But is death really the natural end of life? Not all researchers believe so. For instance, Calvin Harley, a biologist who studies human aging, said in an interview that he does not believe that humans “have a program to die.” Immunologist William Clark observed: “Death is not inextricably intertwined with the definition of life.” And Seymour Benzer, of the California Institute of Technology, muses that “aging can be better described not as a clock but as a scenario, which we can hope to edit.”
When scientists study the design of humans, they are baffled. They find that we have been endowed with resources and capabilities that far exceed the needs of our 70- to 80-year life span. For example, scientists have found that the human brain has immense memory capacity. One researcher estimated that our brain can hold information that “would fill some twenty million volumes, as many as in the world’s largest libraries.” Some neuroscientists figure that during an average lifetime, a person uses only 1/100 of 1 percent (.0001) of his potential brain capacity. It is appropriate to ask, ‘Why do we have a brain with such a large capacity when we utilize only a tiny fraction of it in an average lifetime?’
Consider also how unnaturally humans react to death! For the majority, the death of a wife, a husband, or a child can be the most upsetting experience of a lifetime. People’s entire emotional makeup is often jarred for a long time after the death of a person dearly loved. Even those who claim that death is natural to humans find it hard to accept the idea that their own death will mean the end of everything. The British Medical Journal spoke of “a common expert presumption that everybody wants to live as long as possible.”
In view of man’s general reaction to death, his amazing potential for remembering and learning, and his inward longing for eternity, is it not clear that he was made to live? Indeed, God created humans, not with death as the natural outcome, but with the prospect of living on indefinitely. Note what God set before the first human pair as their future: “Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it, and have in subjection the fish of the sea and the flying creatures of the heavens and every living creature that is moving upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:28) What a wonderful, lasting future that is!
Myth 2: God takes people in death to be with him.
A 27-year-old mother who was dying and leaving three children behind told a Catholic nun: “Don’t come in and tell me this is God’s will for me. . . . I hate it when somebody else tells me this.” Yet, this is what many religions teach about death—that God takes people to be near him.
Is the Creator really so cruel that he would callously inflict death on us, knowing that this breaks our hearts? No, not the God of the Bible. According to 1 John 4:8, “God is love.” Note that it does not say that God has love or that God is loving, but it says that God is love. So intense, so pure, so perfect is God’s love, so thoroughly does it permeate his personality and actions that he may rightly be spoken of as the very personification of love. This is not a God who takes people in death to be near him.
False religion has left many confused as to the whereabouts and condition of the dead. Heaven, hell, purgatory, Limbo—these and various other destinations range from being incomprehensible to being downright terrifying. The Bible, on the other hand, tells us that the dead are unconscious; they are in a condition best compared to sleep. (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; John 11:11-14) Thus, we need not worry about what happens to us after death, any more than we worry when we see someone sleeping soundly. Jesus spoke of a time when “all those in the memorial tombs” would “come out” to renewed life on a paradise earth.—John 5:28, 29; Luke 23:43.
Myth 3: God takes little children to become angels.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who studied terminally ill individuals, referred to another common perception among religious people. Describing a real incident, she stated that it is “unwise to tell a little child who lost her brother that God loved little boys so much that he took little Johnny to heaven.” Such a statement casts God in a bad light and does not reflect his personality and behavior. Dr. Kübler-Ross continued: “When this little girl grew up to be a woman she never solved her anger at God, which resulted in a psychotic depression when she lost her own little son three decades later.”
Why would God snatch a child to get another angel—as if God needed a child more than the child’s parents did? If it were true that God takes children, would that not make him an unloving, selfish Creator? Contrary to such a perception, the Bible says: “Love is from God.” (1 John 4:7) Would a God of love cause a loss that even humans with any measure of decency would not tolerate?
So why do children die? Part of the Bible’s answer is recorded at Ecclesiastes 9:11: “Time and unforeseen occurrence befall them all.” And Psalm 51:5 tells us that all of us are imperfect, sinful, from the time of our conception, and the eventuality for all men now is death from any number of causes. Sometimes death strikes before birth, resulting in a stillbirth. In other cases, children succumb to their dire circumstances or have accidents and die. God is not responsible for such eventualities.
Myth 4: Some people are tormented after death.
Many religions teach that the wicked will go to a fiery hell and be tormented forever. Is this teaching logical and Scriptural? The human life span is limited to 70 or 80 years. Even if someone was guilty of extreme wickedness all his life, would everlasting torment be a just punishment? No. It would be grossly unjust to torment a man forever for the sins that he committed in a short lifetime.
Only God can reveal what happens after people die, and he has done so in his written Word, the Bible. This is what the Bible says: “As the [beast] dies, so the [man] dies; and they all have but one spirit . . . All are going to one place. They have all come to be from the dust, and they are all returning to the dust.” (Ecclesiastes 3:19, 20) There is no mention here of a fiery hell. Humans return to dust—to nonexistence—when they die.
In order to be tormented, a person has to be conscious. Are the dead conscious? Once again, the Bible gives the answer: “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, because the remembrance of them has been forgotten.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5) It is impossible for the dead, who are “conscious of nothing at all,” to experience agony anywhere.
Myth 5: Death means the permanent end of our existence.
We cease to exist when we die, but this does not mean that everything is necessarily finished. The faithful man Job knew that he would go to the grave, Sheol, when he died. But listen to his prayer to God: “O that in Sheol you would conceal me, that you would keep me secret until your anger turns back, that you would set a time limit for me and remember me! If an able-bodied man dies can he live again? . . . You will call, and I myself shall answer you.”—Job 14:13-15.
Job believed that if he was faithful until death, he would be remembered by God and in time be resurrected. This was the belief of all of God’s servants in ancient times. Jesus himself confirmed this hope and showed that God would use him to raise the dead. Christ’s own words give us this assurance: “The hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear [Jesus’] voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment.”—John 5:28, 29.
Very shortly God will remove all wickedness and establish a new world under heavenly rulership. (Psalm 37:10, 11; Daniel 2:44; Revelation 16:14, 16) The result will be a paradise over the whole earth, inhabited by people who serve God. In the Bible we read: “I heard a loud voice from the throne say: ‘Look! The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his peoples. And God himself will be with them. And he 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 21:3, 4.
Free From Fear
Knowledge of the resurrection hope coupled with knowledge of the One who is the source of that provision can comfort you. Jesus promised: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) That includes emancipating us from the fear of death. Jehovah is the only one who can actually change the process of aging and death and grant us eternal life. Can you believe in God’s promises? Yes, you can because God’s Word always comes true. (Isaiah 55:11) We urge you to learn more about God’s purposes for mankind. Jehovah’s Witnesses will be delighted to help you.
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The problem with fear of death is that it can paralyze one’s ability to enjoy life
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SOME COMMON MYTHS ABOUT DEATH WHAT DO THE SCRIPTURES SAY?
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Knowing the truth about death frees us from fear
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Barrators—Giampolo/The Doré Illustrations For Dante’s Divine Comedy/Dover Publications Inc.