Sin and Death
A disaster is invariably headline news. Sudden and violent death arouses curiosity; but the subject of 'death' itself is not news nor, strangely enough, does it generate much interest. Yet, in the time that it has taken you to read the previous two sentences, it is estimated that 25-30 people have died (that is, over 6,250 people an hour or 150,000 a day). One day you will be one of them! The chances are not that you will be involved in one of the disasters, which account for relatively few deaths, but that on one otherwise ordinary day your daily routine will cease and the world will carry on without you. This is why a study of the subject of death is of prime importance.
Thoughts of death give rise to the questions, 'What am I?' 'What happens to me when I die?' 'How do I fit in with God's purpose in creation?'
Basically there are three possible attitudes to death:-
- Ignore it
- Take the view that it is not really what it seems to be
- Face its stark reality and look for a way of escape.
Let us look more closely at these three attitudes.
1. IGNORE DEATH
This is the attitude of a growing section of those who are influenced by Western culture. The goals of materialism, the philosophy which predominates in Western society, are centred in science. The scientific approach to the problems of life deals with these things which can be measured. Speculations such as 'What happens after death?' do not lend themselves to the scientific method and therefore they are largely ignored.
Many people, dazzled by the bewildering array of marvels which science has produced, dismiss all thoughts of death from their minds as much as possible.
2.THE VIEW THAT DEATH IS NOT REALLY WHAT IT SEEMS TO BE
This is the age-old view taken by the vast majority of the world's religions. Death, it is said, is not the end of life but the gateway to eternity. At the root of the great variety of forms which this belief takes is the idea that man has an 'immortal soul'; that there is something in man which cannot die, but which at death is released from the body and lives on in another form.
But these ideas cannot be proved from experience nor from the religious books of the world which, apart from the Bible (2 timothy 3:16), are only the speculations of minds groping in the dark. Man needs a reliable revelation from God, his Creator, on the subject of death.
The Bible is the only book which provides this. It demands that man must
3. FACE THE STARK REALITY OF DEATH AND LOOK FOR A WAY OF ESCAPE.
NOWHERE IN THE BIBLE CAN BE FOUND THE IDEA THAT MAN HAS
AN IMMORTAL SOUL WHICH LIVES ON AFTER DEATH.
This may come as a shock to those who hold orthodox Christian beliefs, but the immortality of the soul (person), is the same lie told by the serpent in the Garden of Eden. God told Adam and Eve that if they partook of the fruit of one particular tree, "Ye shall surely die" (Genesis 3:3). However, the serpent, when told of God's firm instruction, rejected that instruction and confidently told the woman, "Ye shall NOT surely die." (Genesis 3:4). That the serpent was wrong and God right, would soon emerge. Millions of people believe the lie, because it is promulgated by trusted preachers and philosophers, who should know better.
The Bible clearly states:
"For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything." "There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest" (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10).
This fact may not be very comforting to contemplate, but it should be a cause for humility and should provoke a realization of man's urgent need for a way of escape.
SALVATION COMMENCES WITH HUMILITY
God has declared, "To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word" (Isaiah 66:2).
The description "poor" means that the man recognizes that he has nothing of value while he is mortal. The word "contrite" means humble.
Man is naturally a proud creature. The idea of having an immortal soul appeals to his inborn pride. But if we want the whole truth, we do well to cast aside all preconceived ideas, however flattering, and to consider carefully what God has revealed about man's natural condition.
THE NATURE OF MAN
The Bible goes to the very root of this vital subject. It tells how, in the beginning of human existence, death came about. The record of the first human beings, Adam and Eve, is no myth! Consider the deep significance of the facts recorded in the opening chapter of the Bible.
"The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7).
Adam's body was made from the elements which form the basis of all matter. These elements were shaped by the all-powerful Creator into the marvellous complexity of the human body, with all its delicate and interrelated organs. In principle the same marvel occurs today in the development of a baby in the womb.
Adam's body of dust was given life from God who "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" and what otherwise would have been a lifeless body "became a living soul".
WHAT DOES SOUL MEAN?
Quite often in everyday language, men get it right about the SOUL, whereas Theologians miss the mark. Such expressions as....".the poor old soul"...or..."hundreds of souls perished", readily convey in the true sense that the reference is to people.
The International distress signal....S.O.S., meaning.. SAVE OUR SOULS, is another example. It is not a plea to rescue something which is invisible or intangible, but rather to rescue the whole being , that those concerned might hold on to life and be restored alive to loved ones.
The word used for 'soul' in most Bible passages is the Hebrew word Nephesh, which means beast, body, creature, or man, and nowhere in the Bible is the word used in a sense of immortality.
To consider this much misunderstood word, let us go back to the beginning of creation, written about in Genesis 2v7.
"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground AND BREATHED INTO
HIS NOSTRILS THE BREATH OF LIFE AND MAN BECAME A LIVING SOUL".
Before Adam began to breathe, he was a "dead soul"... all the organs were in place, waiting for the lungs to begin functioning , thereby setting in motion the living being.
"The BREATH of the Almighty hath given me life" (Job 33:4). We refer also to Genesis 1:20-21, quoting in part :20..."And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving CREATURE THAT HATH LIFE..."
Now the A.V. marginal note says to substitute "soul" for "life", thereby rendering "...let the waters bring forth the moving CREATURE THAT HATH A SOUL." Also, :24 reads..."God said....Let the earth bring forth the LIVING CREATURE after his kind, cattle and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind..."
So we find that, before Adam was created A LIVING SOUL,, many other beings were created in a similar way with a SOUL....INTERESTING, ISN'T IT ? Consider also such passages as:
Psalm 33:19- "...to deliver their SOUL FROM DEATH and keep them ALIVE in famine." Also Proverbs 19:15.
Psalm 63:1- "my SOUL THIRSTETH for thee." See also Proverbs 25:25.
Ezekiel 18:4- "the SOUL that sinneth IT SHALL DIE"
Matthew 10:28- "fear him which is able to DESTROY BOTH SOUL AND BODY in hell" (the grave - see Hell and the Grave).
Matthew 26:38- "my SOUL is exceeding SORROWFUL, EVEN UNTO DEATH". See also Revelation 16:1.
THE MYTH OF THE IMMORTAL SOUL:
We surely understand now that SOUL IN EVERY INSTANCE RELATES TO A LIVING BEING which, HUNGERS, THIRSTS, SINS, SORROWS AND DIES.
This destroys the MYTH OF THE IMMORTAL SOUL.
The long standing challenge thus remains... PROVIDE FROM THE WORD OF GOD, THE WORDS IMMORTAL SOUL coupled together. Some would claim Solomon did this in another way when he wrote..."Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; and THE SPIRIT SHALL RETURN TO GOD who gave it". (Ecclesiastes 12:7). This is often quoted to prove there is a "spark of life" which continues on at death, returning to be with God.
However, this is not so. The word translated SPIRIT, is often translated "BREATH" and it is that "breath of life" that returns to God, who gave it. Job states in Job 34:14..."IF HE GATHER UNTO TO HIMSELF HIS SPIRIT (BREATH) and His breath, ALL FLESH SHALL PERISH... every moving creature that hath LIFE (soul)" - human beings, animals, birds and fish.
Thus we are compelled to believe that if man has an IMMORTAL SOUL, then SO DO THE ANIMALS, BIRDS AND FISH. Such a belief is of course, sheer fantasy, for the Apostle Paul tells us that when the Trumpet blows to announce the RESURRECTION, when Christ comes..." THIS MORTAL MUST PUT ON IMMORTALITY" (1 Corinthians 15:53).
MAN - A CREATURE TO GIVE GOD PLEASURE
The purpose of man's creation was, as with that of all creation, to give God pleasure. "Thou has created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created" (Revelation 4:11).
Unlike the animal creation, man was given free will to obey or to disobey, so that he could exercise a certain degree of choice over his behaviour. We can appreciate how much more pleasure man could give God by using his free will to please God and not himself. It is a pleasure which, on a lower scale, parents gain from children who voluntarily obey and respect them.
To test man's response to the use of his free will, God gave a simple test to Adam and Eve. They were told:
"Of every tree ... thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:16-17).
Man failed and so brought upon himself the sentence of death. Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent's suggestion that they would be as gods, knowing good and evil, and because the fruit looked tempting and good to eat. In this way their pride and lust overcame them. These two characteristics have formed the basis of human behaviour ever since. Note carefully the words of the serpent tempting Eve, "Ye shall not surely die" (Genesis 3:4).
This was a lie, a denial of God's word, the lie which has formed the basis of man-made religions ever since.
Adam and Eve were subjected to the just condemnation of God. The words of the sentence pronounced upon them are significant for they give us the basic definition of death.
"Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" (Genesis 3:19).
That is, when a man dies he ceases to exist and decomposes into the elements of which he was made. "His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish" (Psalm 146:4).
Death is a punishment for disobedience. After God had pronounced this sentence, He set a guard to prevent man from eating of the tree of life, "lest he ... live for ever" (Genesis 3:22).
Death is a punishment for sin. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4).
There is a simple logic in this statement. SIN BRINGS DEATH. It is therefore of the utmost importance to find out what 'sin' is if we are to find a way to escape eternal death.
Sin is the disbelief of God's Word and disobedience to His will. Its effects are universal.
"All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
Adam and Eve have passed on this fatal tendency to all their descendants. This flaw in man constitutes 'human nature' or what the Bible calls 'the flesh', or 'the carnal mind'.
It can take many aspects, "The works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulation's, wrath, strife, sedition's, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like" (Galatians 5:19-21).
These are the natural consequences of the way of life upon which Adam and Eve embarked six thousand years ago. Obstinate disregard for God's way has brought the world to its present troubled state.