Mankind is more occupied with life than death, but the reality of death forces itself upon us whether we want it to or not. Death gets our attention because of diseases, accidents, old age, and the loss of loved ones. Solomon wrote of death by saying: “It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting,” Why? Because death teaches important lessons about life (Eccl. 7:1-4).
How did death enter the world? God created man to live, not to die, and made every provision to sustain life (Gen. 1:27-28; 2:7-9). God warned that sin would bring death. Sin brought death first spiritually as guilt, shame, and separation from God and then physically as pain, decay, and the separation of man’s spirit from his body (Gen. 3). Death was the result of Satan’s work and man’s choice to sin, but not God’s design.
Man struggles to understand the seasons and cycles of life and death. Solomon puzzled over the inexorable march of such times and seasons: “a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up” on and on it goes (Eccl. 3:1-15). Man as the creation cannot fully resolve the riddle of life and death. “Though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it…. but time and chance happens to them all. For man also knows not his time” (Eccl. 8:16-17; 9:11-12). The unanswered riddles and puzzles of life and death test our character and our faith in God.
We can know we were created for God’s purposes, not our own (Rev. 4:11). “For of him, and through him, and to him are all things” (Rom. 11:33-36). No matter how many riddles and puzzles we see, God is in control of the universe and of our existence. Since he made us as free moral agents, we can choose to obey or disobey him, but we cannot escape the consequences of our choice. Therefore, it is foolish to argue with God or to resist his will. Our defiance will not change his purposes or harm him in any way but results in self-destruction.
Is death the end? Job observed, “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.” He noted plants are cut down and grow up again, but man does not, and so he posed the question of the ages: “If a man die, shall he live again?” (Job 14:1-15). Jesus Christ is the resounding answer, Yes! After spending three days and nights in the grave, he arose and left it empty. Angels told the women who came to the tomb, “Be not frighten: You seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him” (Mk 16:1-6). His resurrection is the guarantee of our resurrection, thus we may say, “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:51-58).
What happens when we die? The Hadean world receives our spirit when it leaves our body to await the resurrection. Jesus proved the spirit survives the death of the body to await the resurrection. He rebuked those who denied this truth as “not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.” He quoted as proof God’s statement concerning the patriarchs who were long dead, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” This proves the spirits of the patriarchs are still “living” though their bodies are in the grave (Mt. 22:23-33).
In the last great day, all the dead will hear the voice of Jesus and come forth from the grave: “They that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (Jn 5:28-29). Thus, it is evident that life on earth is a testing ground which prepares us for eternal life or eternal punishment. Our attitudes and actions are constantly examined by God in view of the final Judgment. What a sobering thought.
What does God want from us in this life? The Bible is full of passages summarizing what God wants of us. “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl. 12:13). Our love, trust, and respect for God are shown by obeying his word. Though God commands formal worship, he also teaches us to translate our worship into daily action. At all times and in all situations, we are to “hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate. . . . let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream” (Amos 5:15, 24). And what doth the Lord require of thee, “but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:6-8). Life is brief and uncertain, filled with “labor and sorrow.” Knowing our time is short, our prayer should be, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Ps. 90:10-12). We find God’s wisdom in God’s word.
Jesus summed it all up in these words: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (Matt. 22:37-40).
What must one do to show that they love God even as he loved us? Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (Jn 14:15) If we keep the commandments of God, we shall be saved. So, what commandments must we obey in order to be saved? (Acts 2:37) It’s the question of life and death. God desires all who hear, the gospel of Christ (1 Cor 15:1-4) to believe Jesus is the Christ the Son of God and confess such with their mouth. (Rom 10:9,10) He also wants all confessed believers to repent and be baptized in Jesus’ name for the remission of their sins. Acts 2:38 Faith plus works equals salvation. Did then, does now. Faith without works is dead. (Jam 2:20) Christ died as the perfect sacrifice for our sins.
When we obey these first steps of the gospel, God adds us to the church of Christ and then teaches us how to worship him in spirit and in truth. (Jn 4:23,24 f; Acts 2:47) Thus, he redeems us from the destiny of hell and leads us to an eternal home in heaven. Ultimately, that is what God wants for us to spend eternity with him in heaven. That, is the real meaning of our existence, the final purpose of life and death on earth. Let each of us ask himself, “Am I living according to God’s purpose and will for my life? Am I preparing to live with him for an eternity, or preparing to be separated from him for an eternity?” “Have I answered the question of life and death?” If not, why not? Now is the accepted time. Now is the day of salvation. (2 Cor 6:2) Today if you will hear his voice, harden not your heart. (Heb 3:7,8) Get your house in order and prepare to meet the Lord our God! (2 Kin 20:1 f; Amos 4:12)