The answer likely lies in the fact that death is an inescapable part of mankind’s reality in this present world and we are unable to truly know what it is like to be dead.
Whether death comes with the stunning blow of unexpectedness or follows a long, painful decline over months, weeks or days, death almost always brings that crushing sense of finality, sorrow and abruptness that you can no longer see or touch or engage in conversation with that individual any more. While those aspects of death are almost universal for us all, our beliefs about death and what lies beyond can be either a source of comfort or of great uncertainty and trepidation.
Many people say that death is just a natural part of life and, indeed, we know it will eventually catch up to us all. Yet in all reality, death does not seem to fit in very well with the concept of a happy life. Death heralds a termination, a separation of loved ones, an event where we can no longer share with those who have passed from life. It leaves a void in the hearts of those who are left. Will it always be this way for mankind?
Looking far back in time to when Jehovah God and His Son created that first man and woman, all was perfect: Adam and Eve were given one simple commandment to follow and that was to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They could eat of any of the other trees of the garden, but God specifically told them that they would die if they ate the fruit of that one particular tree or if they even touched it. (Genesis 3:2-3)
We are probably all familiar with the account of how the serpent (Satan) lied to Eve by telling her that she and Adam wouldn’t die if they ate the fruit of that tree. Of course, Eve did partake of it and gave Adam the fruit to eat, too. And exactly as God had warned them, mankind’s days were numbered from that day forth and the earth was cursed. He exiled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden so they would not also eat of the tree of life that could allow them to live forever. (Read Genesis chapter 3.)
Because of Satan’s deceit and mankind’s disobedience, generations from that time forward were doomed to experience aging, disease and ultimately, death. It became an inescapable sentence. And while that appears to be a very dismal prospect, conversely, there is an incredible promise of a life to come that is far better we can even imagine: A life that won’t end in death.
Many of those who were entrusted to record God’s holy word spoke and wrote about the hope of the resurrection that would one day come. Job said, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27 NIV)
After Lazarus died, Jesus said to his sister, “…Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” (John 11:23-24 NASB) The prophets Ezekiel (Ezekiel 37:1-14) and Isaiah also spoke of a resurrection when those who died would be raised back to life. Isaiah wrote: “But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise—let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy—your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.” (Isaiah 26:19 NIV)
As you read the scriptures referenced above, note how these individuals stated their belief in a resurrection. The word resurrection means, “a standing up again; a recovery; raised to life”. They knew that the grave was simply a place of unconsciousness. Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.”
The Bible often refers to hell as being nothing more than the grave. It be surprising to learn that even Jesus Christ was in hell (Hades or the grave) for 3 days and 3 nights when he was crucified. As the apostle Peter taught, “Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh suffer decay.” (Acts 2:29-31 NASB) The scriptures contradict the theory that hell is a place of burning torment where there is consciousness.
The apostle Paul spoke of the resurrection, as well: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 NASB)
“Sleep” in these verses refers to being dead. Paul is telling those who believe in God’s word that they should not sorrow to the same degree as those who do not have the same knowledge or hope that there will be a resurrection to eternal life. He is not saying that the death of a loved one will be without sadness or pain, but that there is an assured hope of someday being raised back to live forever in a place up that is free of grief and death.
The apostle John wrote of a time when “…God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
Not too many years ago, I sat beside my beloved father as he exhaled that last, decidedly final breath of his life. While there were, of course, many tears shed by those of us who loved him and a deep sense of loss; there were also feelings of peace and relief that he was no longer subject to the suffering that had plagued his daily life in those final weeks. He was truly at rest and believed in the resurrection of life. By that, we too, found solace.
One of the greatest comforts one can possess is knowledge of what happens at death and beyond for those holding a strong belief in, and obedience to, Jehovah’s truth. Of course it will always be sad when loved ones pass from this life. We still miss them deeply. Yet there is reassurance that the resurrection which begins at Christ’s second coming will herald a new start when we might be reunited with them again. Can you imagine the unparalleled joy at that day?
Paul wrote, “Because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:14-18 NIV)
Our greatest and best hope, then, is to learn what God’s will is for us so we, too, can experience the joy that will be fulfilled when death is swallowed up in victory once and for all. (1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 52-57; John 6:39-40) By taking the time to discover the truth about death and the resurrection to either a perfect life on a renewed earth, or an existence as a spiritual being in the heavens, we only have to look as far as the Holy Scriptures. With that knowledge, and a heart that desires seeking out the will of our Creator and His Christ, we can learn to overcome much of the fear and uncertainty that we may have held about death.