Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Bible and the Supernatural: The Shadow of Death

Scriptures: Job 26:5-6, Job 34:20, Job 38:17

In the midst of Job’s troubles, he has a debate with his three friends, after which a fourth observer has a long monologue. Finally, God steps in and questions Job.

Considering the circumstances of the speeches, it is not surprising that the topic of death comes up. The first reference comes from Job, the second from the fourth observer (Elihu), and the last from God Himself.

Observations: Buried deep within long monologues, these verses can be easy to overlook. However, their shortness doesn’t negate their significance. Indeed, despite their brevity, they offer some significant details about death and the afterworld, as we frequently call it:

1. Other realms exist beyond the one we inhabit. We might not know much about these other places, though Scripture does draw an increasingly detailed picture throughout its pages. Lack of information, however, doesn’t mean these places are nonexistent. They are real.

2. These other realms have a physical location. They aren’t merely a state of mind. They inhabit physical space so specific that Job could declare that at least one of these realms is located “below the waters,” however you might interpret such a phrase.

3. A barrier separates the land of the living and the realm of the dead. They are separate places, and they don’t intermingle. Moreover, this barrier can be opened and shut, implied by God’s use of the word gate. But although this barrier applies to people (and perhaps other beings), God is aware of all that goes on in every realm; nothing is hidden from Him.

4. The transfer between the two realms occurs instantly, suddenly, violently, and irresistibly. So dying might take a long time, but the final crossing is quick, often coming at unexpected times (implied by the idea of the middle of the night). Nor can you stop death. As much as we might try to elude it, we all eventually die. 

Significance: Death, dying, and all the unknowns that go with them are an uncomfortable subject. Probably because there are so many unknowns. If there is something we humans dislike, it’s the unknown. Unknowns remind us we are finite and mortal. They remind us we aren’t in control of the universe—which can be downright terrifying if you don’t trust the One who is in control.

Now God could have left us in the dark about what happens with death and what follows. Yet in His gracious compassion, He has given us glimpses into the mysterious thing call death.

This assures us first of all that God is indeed omnipresent and omniscient. Otherwise He wouldn’t be able to tell us about the gates of death or explain about Sheol. This means that we can trust Him in the matters of death and the afterlife even if we ourselves do not fully comprehend them.

It also confirms that these after-death realms are very much real. They aren’t stories dreamt up to scare us into believing in God. Yes, some of the places described are flat-out scary. But if they weren’t real, God would have made that clear because He does not lie.

Therefore, as uncomfortable as the topic of death might be, as unclear as the picture of the afterlife often is, we cannot escape the reality of either. We will die. We will experience an afterlife of some kind. The question is—how are we preparing for both?

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