It is appointed for men once to die and after this the judgment. (Heb. 9: 27)
All our life is a preparation for that moment when we leave it and go before God to hear the verdict that will decide the life that we are going to live forever after we have left this world. The most certain thing in life is that one day we must die. The most uncertain thing is when we shall die. There is no orderly queue. Sometimes we are expecting a person to die who is seriously ill and yet that person recovers and somebody else we know who was in perfectly good health dies quite unexpectedly.
It is natural to he afraid of death. But by God's help every man can face death with confidence and peace of mind.
What do we know about life after death? Is there in fact any life after death? We are certain that there is life after death on the word of God. God confirms what our unaided intelligence dimly yet strongly surmises.
The Soul Cannot Die
Our own reason and intelligence can give us good grounds for believing that when the body dies something in us lives on. Man is not just body, he is also spirit. He has a soul. The body is a material thing. When the life goes out of it, as we say, it falls into its separate parts. It drops to dust.
But there is something in us that is not a material thing, that cannot come apart, that cannot corrupt. How do we know?
You stand by the body of a friend who has died and you may be struck most of all by the fact of death. Everything seems finished. And yet if you think it over the conviction deepens that death is not the end.
You find a letter that your friend had written to you during his life. He had used paper and ink to capture his thoughts. But his thoughts were more than just paper and ink.
During his life he had spoken to you. His thoughts had been a sound in the air. But they were more than just a sound. Nor were they just a twist of a membrane in his head. They were more than just material things. There was something in him which paper and ink, sound, flesh and blood, even a brain could only roughly capture and express.
He had spoken, for example, of Justice, of Truth. But Justice and Truth are not material things. A material thing can be weighed, has a colour, a shape, can be measured. Even the material force that we call energy, such a thing as electricity, can be measured.
But who can measure Justice or Truth? These are ideas, spiritual things. You cannot say, "How long is justice?" "How wide is truth?" These things have no parts and so they cannot come apart. They cannot corrupt.
Now if a man can have spiritual ideas then there is something in him that is not material. And that something we call his soul. When the body dies the soul lives on.
Pagan Belief in Life After Death
That conviction is not just sentiment. It is sound reasoning. It is a conviction that has been shared by the vast majority of mankind. Wherever we find traces of human beings — burial grounds, graves thousands of years old, we find, too, evidence of belief in survival after death.
The ancient pagans like the ancient Jews, God's chosen people, had the same conviction. But survival is very little. There is life beyond the horizon of death. But what kind of life? And that is where reasoning power begins to fail. So the pagan took little comfort from his belief in immortality.
"We, when we go down there among the dead, what are we? A handful of dust and a shadow," wrote the pagan poet.
Even in the Bible in the Old Testament you will find phrases which show that the ancient Jews only learnt very slowly that life after death is more than just survival. You will find phrases like this:
Better a living dog than a dead lion... The dead know nothing more. They have said goodbye to this world and all its busy doings under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 9.)
But as the ages rolled on God gave more and more light. So if you take up the Book of Wisdom you can read these lovely words: