Summary: According to the Bible, dead people do not praise God. The Bible says this again and again. they do not praise the Lord - So, where do they go then?We all know there is no purgatory, so where do we go then? Psalm 115:17 Ecc 3:20-
If we want to understand how life ends, I suggest that we understand how it began. Life is, after all, a bigger mystery than death. We struggle to explain it. We can describe the chemical processes that keep us ticking from day to day, right down to the cellular level, but we’re not entirely sure what life actually is. What makes us self-aware and conscious? What is the spark that actually gives us life?
The biblical account of human origins is remarkably simple: “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).
We are carbon-based life forms. My eighth-grade biology teacher said that, essentially, we’re “made of the same stuff you find in your chimney.” Though he was not a believer, that teacher might have been surprised to discover that he was agreeing with the author of Genesis, who tells us that human beings were made from “the dust of the ground.”
We understand and can explain that we are made of the same chemical elements as the ones that make up the earth and all that’s found on it. What we don’t understand is how inorganic elements become walking, talking, thinking beings with distinct personalities. How does a collection of chemicals laugh, cry, hate, and love? How can someone make you and me from a pile of dirt?
The Bible writers present God as the One who provided the spark of life, the One who breathed into Adam’s nostrils “the breath of life.” Thus, the formula for life is simple:
Dust of the ground + the breath of life (the God-given spark) = a living being
And, surprisingly (or not so surprisingly), the biblical formula for death is simply a reversal of the formula for life:
Dust of the ground – the breath of life (the God-given spark) = a dead being
David put it this way: “You hideYour face, they are troubled; You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust” (Psalm 104:29, NKJV).2 Genesis says much the same thing: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19, ESV).3 And the book of Ecclesiastes says something similar, but with a small twist: “The dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7, NASB).4
At this point some confusion starts to build. Just what is this “spirit” that goes back to God?
Spirit and breath
Popular theology today says that human beings have a conscious soul that inhabits the body during life, and it departs the body at death. And the author of Ecclesiastes seems to say the same thing—that our bodies turn to dust and our “spirits” head for the higher realms, to be in the presence of God. But in the language in which Ecclesiastes was written, that’s not what the verse is saying.
The Hebrew word that’s been translated “spirit” in English is ruach. This word can actually mean several things—wind, breath, mind, and spirit among them. But the primary sense of the word is simply “breath.” That’s why, in the King James Version, we find this odd passage: “All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils” (Job 27:3, KJV).
Was Job actually telling us that a ghost was living in his nose? No!
The word translated “spirit” here is ruach, which, as we’ve noted, can also mean “breath.” If we take Job to mean some sort of disembodied ghost, we run into the ridiculous assertion that Job had a ghost up his nose.
The ancient Hebrews often communicated their thoughts through parallel assertions, a pattern that is especially frequent in the book of Psalms. In this case, Job’s expressions, “the breath that is in me,” and “the spirit of God that is in my nostrils,” mean the same thing. Job is acknowledging that his ability to live is a gift that only God can give. When God withdraws that gift, we stop breathing, and then we die.
And that’s what the author of Ecclesiastes was saying: the dust returns to the earth, and the spirit—the breath—returns to God. In fact, in the New American Standard Bible, the translators went to the trouble of creating a marginal note to let us know that “spirit” can be translated “breath.” And for the sake of our modern Western minds, it probably should have been translated that way in this case. Ecclesiastes is saying the same thing that Genesis and Psalms say: When you live, it’s because God has granted the gift of life. When that gift is gone, you stop breathing and turn back into dust.