Death and Sunset

I once listened to a certain preacher who, when speaking of death, said substantially: “Though the Bible represents that man really dies, as in the expression ‘Abraham is dead’ (John 8:52), yet we are to no more take the statement literally than we are the oft-repeated declarations about the sun’s rising and setting. It, as a matter of fact, does not really rise and set, but only appears to. So man does not really die; the Bible only speaks of appearances when it says, ‘Man dieth’ (Job 14:19). We only appear to die as the sun appears to set. We also hear people continually talking about sunrise and sunset, and we talk about it, and so do astronomers even, who know better; yet we all speak of merely what seems to be, and not of reality.”

  1. The Bible does not set out to teach astronomy. If it did, it certainly would not teach that the sun rises and sets when it does not. It is not a text-book of natural science. Man is its subject, and not the sun, moon, and stars. It tells of his creation—how he came to be, of the place he occupies in creation, of his capabilities and powers, of his nature, of his condition in death, and of his ultimate destiny. It instructs in regard to all this, because it is this that lies in the field of its design, and we must take what we find as a rigid reality. This is not the place for “appearances,” but for realities. The Bible as a revelation has to do with man, and its declarations are to be taken as they stand, without any gloss. The preacher’s idea was that only the body died, the man himself living right on as before; so when the Bible says,Abraham is dead,” “Moses my servant is dead,” “Your fathers did eat manna, and are dead” (John 8:52; Joshua 1:2; John 6:58), and the like, it means that only their bodies died, but their souls did not.
  1. We can but regard this as a piece of thorough, theological quackery, the smallest and most shameful kind of trifling with sacred things. It is taking the whole question for granted. How does he know that only the body dies, and the soul or spirit does not? Not from anything the Bible says, but simply because he thinks so, and is going to have it so anyway, if he does have to ride rough-shod over Scripture, reason, and common sense. The Bible tells us that “man dieth and wasteth away; yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?” In Heaven? No. In hell? No. “Man lieth down, and riseth not; till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep” (Job 14:10–12); the same man “that liveth,” “dieth,” and “lieth down” in death, not the body of man as distinguished from the intelligence, but The difference is he is dead. “Devout men carried Stephen to his burial” (Acts 8:2). Stephen was dead, and they went and buried him. Some say a man cannot be buried, but his body can be. The real man goes into another state of existence; but the Bible tells us that the first Christian martyr was buried—somewhat of a difference.
  1. The Bible informs us that “the dead know not anything” (Ecclesiastes 9:5); that their love and hatred and envy is now perished (verse 6); that “they are extinct” (Isaiah 43:17); that those that have been long dead are in darkness (Psalm 143:3; Lamentation 3:6); that in the day of death the “thoughts perish” (Psalm 146:4); that “the dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence” (Psalm 115:17); and that the dead in Christ shall come forth from their graves when the Lord comes to judgment (1 Thessalonians 4:14–16). Then no part of man remains alive from death to the resurrection. In order for man to live again, he must die (Job 14:14; Revelation 20:5). So when the Bible says “Abraham died” (Genesis 25:8), we believe it wholly, not in part.
  1. Men say that the sun rises and sets, yet they know that really it does not. So we say men die, but we know they do not really. Now do we know as precisely that men do not literally die as we know that the sun does not literally rise? No. Science demonstrates that the sun, as related to the earth, is stationary. Every school boy knows that. But does science demonstrate that a part of man remains alive after a part of him dies? No. On the contrary, facts strongly indicate that consciousness is destroyed in death. Men can demonstrate that the sun does not rise and set, but they cannot show that a man is alive when he is dead. [All emphasis author’s.]

The Review and Herald, May 3, 1881.