Let's go back to the beginning. The Bible has a number of ways to guide us and educate us about the things we experience, and death is part of the human experience, at least in our present state of existence. So, why do people die? At the beginning of humankind, there were two people (Adam and Eve also known as Ish and Isha) in a place known as the Garden of Eden. It was a beautiful and peaceful place with flowing rivers and fruitful trees. God was in the presence of the first two humans and gave them a rule:
- 1. Do not eat of the knowledge of the tree of good and evil (Genesis 2:16, 17)
Yep, it was actually just one rule that humans had to follow. You probably remember the rest of the story, but if not, then please read Genesis 3:1-24. This is the part of the story that gets a little shady, because an evil character enters the picture. Yep, Satan, the devil, the serpent, and the adversary, he tricked the woman into thinking that it was acceptable to eat of the knowledge of the tree of good and evil. Then, the woman also gave some fruit to the man. They both ate it. Well, that was a miserable mistake because it was in direct disobedience to the rule God had set forth which was - don't eat the fruit.
Do you remember what was the consequence?
Now, at this point, you might be thinking, if we have a heavenly Father who is all-loving and merciful, then why would He punish His children so severely? I mean death seems pretty harsh, doesn't it? Well, there is a Bible verse that helps to answer this question. "Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?" It is not acceptable for a human to question their Maker's ultimate decisions. He is merciful and will have mercy upon us. Just stay with me and let me explain. For now, though, we have learned that the Almighty God, Jehovah/Yahweh, has held His children accountable to the rule which He gave them, don't eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, or else... God is just and His judgment is righteous.
Let's discuss what happens at death. Human beings now experience a phenomenon that was not part of the original plan. Mortality. Death comes in many different forms, accidental, intentional, viral, disease, famine, and pestilence, and as some might say, the natural aging process. Humans have not found a cure for the mortal's existence. But there is a cure, do you know what it is?
So, what does happen at death? The scriptures describe a simple process.
- The body goes back to the earth.
- The spirit of life goes back to God.
Yep. That's it. It should be clear, that there is not a place, according to the scriptures, where human ghosts or human spirits float around in heaven. And the Bible does not say that there are people in a fiery torment right now. You might have heard it described as "hell". What does happen in some cultures is that dead bodies are burned. This is a sanitary way to handle a corpse. This was also true in ancient Israel. According to an article on the Blue Letter Bible, this place was known as Gehenna and it became a place to burn refuse. Apparently, it burned continuously. There is more to that story, but that's enough for now. Here is a Bible verse that describes a little bit about Gehenna.
"If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched where ‘Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched where ‘Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire where ‘Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’" (Mark 9:43-47) So, there are a few Bible verses that describe a "hell fire", but Jesus used this as an analogy, a figure of speech, to help illustrate that this type of death is permanent.
Where does a person go when they die? King Solomon put it pretty well in this poetic passage he wrote and is found in the book of Ecclesiastes.
Remember your Creator
while you are young,
before the days of trouble come
and the years when you say,
“I find no pleasure in them.”
When you get old,
the light from the sun, moon, and stars will grow dark;
the rain clouds will never seem to go away.
At that time your arms will shake
and your legs will become weak.
Your teeth will fall out so you cannot chew,
and your eyes will not see clearly.
Your ears will be deaf to the noise in the streets,
and you will barely hear the millstone grinding grain.
You’ll wake up when a bird starts singing,
but you will barely hear singing.
You will fear high places
and will be afraid to go for a walk.
Your hair will become white like the flowers on an almond tree.
You will limp along like a grasshopper when you walk.
Your appetite will be gone.
Then you will go to your everlasting home,
and people will go to your funeral.
Soon your life will snap like a silver chain
or break like a golden bowl.
You will be like a broken pitcher at a spring,
or a broken wheel at a well.
You will turn back into the dust of the earth again,
but your spirit will return to God who gave it.
(Ecclesiastes 12:1-7, NCV)
By now you might be thinking, "this is all getting a little depressing". Well, it's not meant to be negative, we are just trying to learn about why people die, and where do they go when they die. When these tragedies happen, the close friends and family of the victim experience a psychological impact. Even for those followers of the Son of God who knew that there would be a resurrection of the dead, were sad when Lazarus died. Even Jesus/Yeshuah Wept. Here is a short passage about that event. "So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away. And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, “The Teacher has come and is calling for you.” As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him. Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, “She is going to the tomb to weep there.” Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, “Where have you laid him? They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!” And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.”Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with grave clothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.” (John 11:17-44, NKJV)
And another passage from King Solomon gives us guidance. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest." (Ecclesiastes 9:10) If there is no work or knowledge in the grave, then logically we can understand that there are not dead souls floating around in heaven or burning in torment right now. That's not logical. King Solomon wrote that when people are in the grave, they are inactive. Completely.
So then, where does the hope come in? The idea of a resurrection. Even Martha knew that Lazarus would rise again in a future resurrection. Ponder this: if Martha knew there would be a future resurrection, why do some religious scholars teach that there is a heaven where human souls are floating around observing all of our activities? In reality, when a person dies, they are simply asleep until God's resurrection. There will actually be multiple resurrections. But that's a study for another time. Basically, there will be some people resurrected to live on the earth forever as humans and there will be some humans resurrected to live in heaven forever. The ones who live in heaven are known as the 144,000 saints. They are a special chosen elect group of people. We have hope to part of one of these resurrections and should aspire to be a saint.
But that's not all. Did you know death itself will also be destroyed in the future?
"Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 15:50-58)
"And 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)
There are many scriptures that discuss the topic of death. But I hope that this short dissertation will enlighten you to the fact of why humans die, where do people go when they die, and what hope do we have to look towards in the future. If you were able to better understand those three main points, then this discussion has been fruitful and we will, perhaps, find comfort and solace in the truth of our existence as humans. This does not mean that it will always be easy, but we should have hope to look forward to in the future, after all, we are a chosen people and a royal priesthood. Let's work towards the ultimate goal of eternal life through the redemption of our king, the Son of God, Jesus Christ/Yeshuah.
Stewart, Don. (n.d.) What is Gehenna? Retrieved on December 16, 2018 from https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_168.cfm
Further study reference on death and hope.
1 Thessalonians 4:14
In this world, we often hear the expression that death is a part of that “circle of life”. But death is an ending. The true circle of life in the new kingdom will be just that: unending!