Do You Have an Immortal Spirit?
IS THERE life after death? That question has perplexed mankind for millenniums. Over the ages, people in every society have pondered the subject and have come up with various beliefs.
Throughout the world, including the Pacific region of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia, many people believe that a “spirit” survives the death of a person. Does something inside a person really leave the body at death and continue living? What is the spirit in a living person? What happens to it when we die? God’s inspired Word, the Bible, gives truthful and satisfying answers to these questions.
What Is the Spirit?
In the Bible, the words translated “spirit” basically mean “breath.” But this implies much more than the act of breathing. The Bible writer James, for example, states: “The body without spirit is dead.” (James 2:26) Hence, spirit is that which animates the body.
This animating force cannot simply be the breath, or air, moving through the lungs. Why not? Because after breathing stops, life remains in the body cells for a brief period—“for several minutes,” according to The World Book Encyclopedia. For this reason efforts at resuscitation can succeed, and body organs can be transplanted from one person to another. But once the spark of life is extinguished from the cells of the body, all efforts to restore life are futile. All the breath in the world cannot revive even one cell. The spirit, then, is the invisible life-force—the spark of life—that keeps the cells alive. This life-force is sustained by breathing.—Job 34:14, 15.
Is that spirit active only in humans? The Bible helps us to reach a sound conclusion in this regard. Wise King Solomon wrote: “Who is there knowing the spirit of the sons of mankind, whether it is ascending upward; and the spirit of the beast, whether it is descending downward to the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:21) So animals as well as men are spoken of as having a spirit. How can that be?
The spirit, or life-force, can be compared to electric current that flows through a machine or an appliance. The invisible electricity may be used to perform various functions, depending upon the type of equipment it powers. For example, a stove can be made to generate heat, a computer to process information and perform calculations, and a television set to produce images and sound. Yet, the electric current never takes on the features of the equipment it activates. It remains simply a force. Similarly, the life-force does not take on any of the characteristics of the creatures it animates. It has no personality, no thinking ability. Both humans and animals “have but one spirit.” (Ecclesiastes 3:19) Hence, when a person dies, his spirit does not go on existing in another realm as a spirit creature.
What, then, is the condition of the dead? And what happens to the spirit when a person dies?
“To Dust You Will Return”
When the first man, Adam, deliberately disobeyed God’s command, Jehovah said to him: “In the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19) Where was Adam before Jehovah created him from the dust? Why, he was nowhere! He simply did not exist. So when Jehovah God said that Adam would “return to the ground,” he meant that Adam would die. Adam would not cross over to the spirit realm. At death he would once again become lifeless, nonexistent. His punishment was death—absence of life—not a transfer to another realm.—Romans 6:23.
What about others who have died? The condition of the dead is made clear at Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10, where we read: “The dead know nothing . . . There is no pursuit, no plan, no knowledge or intelligence, within the grave.” (Moffatt) Death, therefore, is a state of nonexistence. The psalmist wrote that when a person dies, “his spirit goes out, he goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts do perish.”—Psalm 146:4.
Clearly, the dead are unconscious, inactive. They do not know anything. They cannot see you, hear you, or talk to you. They can neither help you nor harm you. You certainly need not fear the dead. But how is it that the spirit “goes out” from a person at the time of his death?
The Spirit “Returns to the True God”
The Bible states that when a person dies, “the spirit itself returns to the true God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:7) Does this mean that a spirit entity literally travels through space into God’s presence? Not at all! The way in which the Bible uses the word “returns” does not require an actual movement from one place to another. For instance, unfaithful Israelites were told: “‘Return to me, and I will return to you,’ Jehovah of armies has said.” (Malachi 3:7) Israel’s ‘returning’ to Jehovah meant a turning around from a wrong course and again conforming to God’s righteous way. And Jehovah’s ‘returning’ to Israel meant his turning favorable attention to his people once again. In both cases the “return” involved an attitude, not a literal displacement from one geographic location to another.
Similarly, at death no actual movement from the earth to the heavenly realm occurs when the spirit “returns” to God. Remember, the spirit is the life-force. Once that force is gone from a person, only God has the ability to restore it to him. So the spirit “returns to the true God” in that any hope of future life for that person now rests entirely with God.
Consider, for example, what the Scriptures say about Jesus’ death. The gospel writer Luke relates: “Jesus called with a loud voice and said: ‘Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.’ When he had said this, he expired.” (Luke 23:46) As Jesus’ spirit went out of him, he was not literally on his way to heaven. Jesus was not resurrected from the dead until the third day. And it was 40 more days before he ascended to heaven. (Acts 1:3, 9) At the time of his death, however, Jesus confidently left his spirit in his Father’s hands, fully trusting in Jehovah’s ability to bring him back to life.
Yes, only God can bring a person back to life. (Psalm 104:30) What grand prospects this opens up!
A Sure Hope
The Bible says: “The hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear [Jesus’] voice and come out.” (John 5:28, 29) Yes, Jesus Christ promised that all those in Jehovah’s memory will be resurrected, or brought back to life. Instead of sad announcements that people have died, joyful reports will tell of those who have been restored to life. What a delight it will be to welcome loved ones from the grave!