William Blake's  “Ancient of Days”

William Blake’s “Ancient of Days”

Poet Billy Collins has quipped that majoring in English means majoring in death. It is the big theme in literature. I was an English major.

None of us likes death and we don’t like to think about it, but we can’t help but think about it.

I had a course in the Bible as literature in college. The course didn’t convince me that the Bible is literature or convince me about anything religious. I found the book poorly written. It did not hold my interest.

The Bible has a lot about death.  Our beliefs about the dead will have an impact on how we live and how we approach death – with fear or peace.

Type in death and Bible and you’ll get plenty of hits and references to passages from the Bible, views on death and what happens in the end-times.

As a child, I was very curious about what happens when a person dies.

“Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” Ecclesiastes 12:7.

The body turns to the “dust” it was in the beginning, and the spirit goes back to God. The spirit of every person who dies – righteous or wicked – returns to God at death.

And our body?   “The body without the spirit is dead.” James 2:26.

I was curiously fearful of ghosts and spirits as a child.  I was pretty sure that sometimes that spirit sometimes doesn’t return to God at death – or at least not right away.  The Bible has no mention of that “spirit” having any life, wisdom, or feeling after a person dies.  It doesn’t wander around the Earth.

“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.” Genesis 2:7.

A soul?   A combination of two things: body plus breath. If the body and breath are not combined, no soul.

Can that soul die?   “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Ezekiel 18:20.  We are souls, and souls die. Man is mortal.

I wanted to believe that good people go to heaven when they die.  Then, some nun or priest told me that we don’t go to heaven or hell when we die.  “All that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth.” John 5:28, 29. We go to graves to await the resurrection day. That made me frightened. And sad.

There would be no purpose in a resurrection if people were taken to heaven at death.

I was also afraid that the dead were watching me. I imagined my grandparents were up there watching me – especially when I was doing something wrong. More fear.

My mother claimed at times in her life to have heard voices of those who had died. But the Bible says that the dead know nothing and they cannot communicate with the living.

“The living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.” “There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6, 10.

So much sadness, so much longing, so much death.