Do you know what a “materialist” is? No, it is not someone like my wife who collects material for sewing. A materialist is someone who believes that everything in the world is physical. All of matter, energy, and the building blocks for life have been here from the beginning. Everything has evolved to make up the world as we know it. Everything about the nature of humans can be explained in physical terms. Our brain is made up of matter, chemicals, and electrical connections, and the brain’s workings explain all the aspects of our being. The materialist can point to experiments on the brain which demonstrate that everything in our lives is controlled by some part of our brain, including our morality, our emotions, and our spirituality. Proof that all is controlled by the brain is pointed out by the fact that personalities can drastically change if the brain is injured. A person may change from easy-going and nice to a nasty and lewd person, from a spiritual God worshipper to an atheist, or from moral behavior to immoral, all due to changes in the brain. What we call free-will is also a function of the brain, and all of our choices are determined by some physical cause. There is no Divine Spirit working with our spirit that can influence and determine what our lives will be like; our brain alone is responsible. There is no other dimension of reality. What Christians would call spirit or soul does not exist. Death to a materialist is simply the cessation of all bodily functions. When the brain waves, the heart pulses, and all bodily functions cease from working, we are dead. When we die we go out of existence and we are nothing more than a memory in the minds of people who knew us, or knew about us.
But, is there a dimension outside the realm of the physical known as spirit? (Psalm 104:30) Can a spirit outside of us communicate with us, and is there a part of us that can exist outside of our physical bodies? Some people, while undergoing surgeries, and who have temporarily died, have reported seeing their own bodies from a vantage point outside of them. They claim experiences of leaving their bodies and being able to see and hear what is going on in the room around them. Additional evidence for the existence of a spirit dimension comes from what the Bible reports. For example, Jesus, when he was being crucified, offered His spirit up to God the Father. (Luke 23:46) Jesus also said that a person dying on a cross next to Him would be with Him in paradise. (Luke 23:43) The Bible defines death, not as the ceasing of bodily functions, but as the separation of the spirit from the body. (James 2:26) When Jesus raised a girl who died, the Bible says that her spirit returned and she arose immediately. (Luke 8:53-55) Would God’s revealed truth be wrong about such a matter? Some would say the Bible is written from a primitive point of view before science came along to explain everything, implying that the Bible is inaccurate because people did not know any better. But there are very good reasons to believe in God, who is Spirit (John 4:24), and who has created us with the ability to be connected to both the world of the physical, and to the world of spirit. Christians believe that God created us to be multi-dimensional. (Genesis 2:7; Isaiah 42:5) This means that body and spirit are united as one and being a whole person requires that body and spirit not be separated from each other. As believers in Christ, our certain hope declares that the resurrection of the body, united with spirit, is God’s intended purpose.
Death is a reality that most people fear. (Hebrews 2:15) Each one’s fears may differ. For example, some people fear annihilation and the loss of their personhood because they do not want to lose their identity. Some who know of God’s judgement may fear punishment or hell. (Ecclesiastes 3:17; Hebrews 9:27) Other fears may include a fear of the unknown, the pain they may have to endure in dying, or the anguish of leaving all they love behind. We may try and ignore death by keeping busy, or putting it out of mind, but there is too much around us to remind us of its reality and inevitability. We can’t help but know that death is always nearby, and when we do, we are likely to experience various degrees of anxiety.
What kind of comfort can satisfy us in the face of death? Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) believed that the basic drive in all humans is the will to live. However, our will to live is frustrated because we all die. Therefore, he concluded, all we can do is comfort and console one another as best we can in the face of our hopelessness. It is common for people to do what Arthur Schopenhauer recommends and learn to comfort one another in various ways. Some say things like, “Don’t be afraid, death is just a part of the cycle of life, a part of nature’s way. We live on in people’s memories, or through the artifacts we leave behind, or by disintegrating into the earth and becoming a part of nature.” Another comfort statement addresses the belief that we cease to exist when we die. Some say, “Just think what it was like before you were born, when you did not exist; you felt nothing. After you die it is the same. It’s not so bad to feel nothing, is it?” When it comes to actually dying, I personally do not find much comfort in such words. To me, Christianity offers much better comfort. It teaches that believer’s will be resurrected and live forever in a world free of evil. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) I once heard someone remark, “But who would want to live forever? After a time, it would get very boring.” I can appreciate such a comment because the thought of living forever does seem incomprehensible. But such a remark fails to take into account our new nature, and that God is infinite. The possibilities of what God could create for our activity and enjoyment are endless. There is another kind of very helpful comfort besides words and beliefs. It is greatly comforting to be surrounded in our dying days by people we love, and who love us.
How can we know there is life after death? There are many reasons that occur to people for believing that there is an afterlife. Some say that nature declares an afterlife. For example, seeds die in the ground but sprout up to new life; trees die in winter but leaf out in the spring; and a caterpillar goes into a cocoon but comes out transformed into a butterfly. Others say life after death is a moral necessity. We humans have a feeling that something is very wrong if there is never justice done upon those who have been so evil as to hurt and destroy the innocent. It makes sense to some that justice demands an afterlife to set things right. (Matthew 12:36; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:6) Another reason people give for an afterlife is that human longings always seem to have a fulfillment; we hunger and there is food, we thirst and there is water, we feel lonely and there is love. Since we have a longing to live and not die (Psalm 107:9; Ecclesiastes 3:11), there must be an afterlife to satisfy this longing. Far surpassing all of these reasons, the greatest evidence of an afterlife comes from the eye-witness accounts of people who told us they saw Jesus alive again after he had died and was buried. (John 20:26-29; 1 John 1:1-3) Witnesses also saw Him ascend bodily into heaven. (Acts 1:9-11) The existence of an afterlife is something God says we can know. (1 John 5:12-13) Such an assurance would certainly be a great comfort to us. A man named Job, in the midst of his extreme sufferings, had such an assurance. (Job 19:25-27)
How shall death be defined? According to the Bible, death involves three stages.
(1) Spiritual death is the state of being disconnected from God, the source of life. As the Bible puts it, we are dead in sin. (Ephesians 5:1-3) Spiritual death involves us in a dying process. The more we sin, the more we die; and this dying process leads to physical and ultimate death. We witness spiritual death when we see how our sins are destroying us. For example, good relationships and trust with people dies when we tell lies, steal, gossip, fail to keep confidences, commit adultery, or whatever. Death further progresses if we are plagued with remorse and guilt; we may suffer depression, withdrawal from people, or be unable to engage in the normal activities of daily life. If we develop a life dominating problem, such as alcohol or drugs, we can lose our health, our family, our job, our self-respect, and may come to the point of not wanting to live any longer. We are killing ourselves off. This process of dying little by little results from our decision to remain independent from God. We have rejected God as having the right to be our Lord. We do this by not accepting what He says and by doing things our own way. A spiritually dead person does not respond when people try to influence them to commit their lives to Jesus Christ as their savior and Lord. They are too proud and rebellious to admit that they are sinners and need to be forgiven and become new. The Bible says that the consequence of this sin of rebellion against God is death. (Genesis 2:26-17; Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 6:23)
(2) Physical death is an outcome of our being spiritually dead, or disconnected from God, and happens when the spirit leaves the body and the body ceases to function. (Psalm 104:29; James 2:26) We witness physical death every time we attend a funeral and burial.
(3) Ultimate death occurs in our afterlife. Because of our refusal to connect with God, He grants us our choice, no longer tries to persuade us to repent; and we are separated from God forever. The Bible calls this the second death. (Revelation 20:11-15) Sin always pays its wages and leads to separation from self, from others, and from God. The only answer to spiritual, physical, and ultimate death is to find a way to remove from our lives the sinfulness that is destroying us. (Ezekiel 18:4, 20)
What is God’s will concerning death? Some people think that God has it in for them because of terrible wrongs they have done, or because of their immoral lifestyles, or because they have been ignoring God. But the truth is that God does not want anyone to die, but for everyone to repent of their waywardness and choose the life He offers. (Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9) In fact, He loves us, even while we are living in sin, tries to get our attention and warn us, and has already sent us the answer to our need for life. (Romans 5:8)
What is God’s solution for death? In Genesis 22 there is the story about the time God told Abraham to sacrifice His only son on an altar. It was a test to see if Abraham truly trusted God and was willing to obey Him. As Abraham was about to kill his son, God caused a ram to become stuck in a nearby thicket. He told Abraham not to kill his son, but to take the ram and sacrifice the ram in his son’s place. The story is a picture of God’s answer for death. Instead of us having to die, we are replaced by another so that we can be set free to live. Many centuries later, that replacement for us came in the person of Jesus Christ. (Isaiah 53:4-6; 1 Corinthians 15:3; John 10:11-18) Deliverance from death is applied to us when we trust Jesus to be our rescuer from death and commit our life into His care and leadership. (John 3:16; 8:23-24; 11:25-26) When we take that step of trust, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to reside within us and the Spirit of God provides us with the power to be raised in two ways from the dead. We are first resurrected spiritually through conversion. To be resurrected spiritually means that we are created new and we begin to live a new kind of life. We are reconnected with God in a loving relationship. Our second resurrection is when Jesus returns; we are raised bodily from the dead to live eternally in God’s fulfilled Kingdom. Both resurrections are spoken of in the Bible. (John 5:24-29; Romans 8:9-11) Our fleshly nature and body must die, but the spiritual self and the new body will live. (2 Corinthians 4:16; 5:16-17; 1 Corinthians 6:14; 15:42-49)
How does death affect the way Christians live their lives? We do not fear death, run from death, or deny death; instead we learn to face it and to participate in death. Participating in death does not sound like a happy or logical thing to do, but for the Christ-follower, death is the path to life. (Luke 9:24; John 12:24-25) Here are five ways we find life by participating in death. (1) We allow death to create in us a dependency on God. God has the only answer to death. There is no place else to go. Jesus once asked His disciples if they wanted to leave Him. They answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:66-68) The apostle Paul told us that we have the sentence of death in us so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8-10) Fearing death has the potential of bringing us to trust God as our deliverer. (2) We participate in death by welcoming it as our doorway into a new world. We live with a sure hope and we look forward with anticipation to a wonderful life in the next age of planet earth. (Hebrews 11:13-16; Luke 23:41-43; 2 Peter 3:13) (3) We participate in death when we deny ourselves in order to meet the needs of others. Because God supplies our needs and we have a future inheritance awaiting us, we do not have to selfishly hold on to our money or possessions. (2 Timothy 6:17-19) Our life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions, or in our having to grasp for security in this world. (Luke 12:13-21) We willingly lose a part of our life by freely giving to bless people and meet needs. (4) We participate in death by dying to sin. By walking in the Spirit we continually override those negative traits that God says are the producers of death so that we can live our new life in Christ. (Colossians 3:3-11; Romans 8:12-13) (5) Finally, we participate in death by willingly and boldly identifying with Jesus in His sufferings. We become willing to stand up for Him even if it means persecution. (Acts 20:22-24; 21:13) One of my favourite stories is about a missionary travelling by boat to a far away country to share the message of Jesus’ love and forgiveness with a tribal people. A shipmate asked him where he was going. When he told him, the shipmate said, “Don’t you know those people are dangerous? You could die out there.” The missionary calmly replied, “I died before I came.”
We seldom stop to think about how precious life is. Born into a family, we grow up through our childhood enjoying the things kids do, but with very little thought and appreciation of what life means to us. The sacrifices of those who love us escape notice. We marry and raise our own families, and if we are fortunate along the way, we develop close loving relationships with our family members and a few choice friends. Life continues on from season to season taking us into old age. We may have taken life for granted, but now, through all the ups and downs and hurting and forgiving, we have grown fonder of those we love, so much so that it deeply saddens us to seriously think that one day our relationships with our life companion and beloved family and friends will come to an end. It doesn’t seem right that death should rob us of all we have come to hold dear and treasure and enjoy. We wish that it would not end. Jesus gave us hope when He said, “I go to prepare a place for you and I will come again and receive you so you can be where I am.” (John 14:1-3) Jesus will come back for His followers, and together, we will rise to meet Him. There is no greater comfort anywhere. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18) Christ-followers believe there is a God who is outside of all material things, who has created us, and who has not abandoned us, even though we abandoned Him. We believe in God because we have heard from Him and He has convinced us, by showing us through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, that there is something more. We are not imprisoned in a limited universe, nor are we imprisoned in a life of our own making, subject to death. We have been set free and have had our eyes opened to see the existence of the supernatural. One who has personally seen Christ said; and I paraphrase his words, “If Christ is not real and if he has not risen from the dead, we are of all people most miserable, and our faith is worthless. But Christ has risen from the dead and His plan is to abolish death.” (1 Corinthians 15:12-26) We, who belong to God due to our supernatural birth into His family, possess the life that He promised, and we will never die. (John 11:26)