To understand death, we must first consider life. Where did life come from? Why are we here? What is our purpose? Are human beings any different from other living things?
The answers are crucial if we are to grasp the big picture.
To understand death, we need to first consider: What is life? The world's greatest thinkers, including the Greek philosophers Plato, Aristotle and Socrates, have struggled with this question. Scientists and theologians have dedicated lifetimes to trying to find the keys that unlock the mystery of human existence.
But only the One who created life in the first place can supply the answers we so desperately need. We must look at the very beginning of life to understand it.
Religion, philosophy and science acknowledge that physical life had a beginning. Some believe that life evolved over millennia. But the Bible reveals a God who boldly claims that He is the Creator of all life and that He created human life for a tremendous purpose. Through His Word, God gives us His answers to life's most important questions.
Why human beings differ from animals
Much of humanity is familiar with the account in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. Genesis simply means "beginning" or "origin." In Genesis God reveals the origin of the forms of life we find on planet earth.
Notice what God says about human life in Genesis 1:26: "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth" (emphasis added throughout). God intended that other forms of life be subject to man as part of an extraordinary higher purpose for man.
Only mankind was created in God's very image— a designation that applies to no other part of His creation. Human beings are unique among God's physical creation in their godlike abilities to make decisions, plan and create. Far beyond providing us with animal-like instinct, God created within us intellect, self-awareness, the capacity to learn, reason, communicate and produce.
Human brains are physically quite similar to some animal brains, yet people have vastly higher abilities. The Bible reveals that the difference between the human mind and the animal brain is the spiritual essence God included in the makeup of human beings: "For what man knows the things of a man except [by] the spirit of the man which is in him?" (1 Corinthians 2:11; see also Job 32:8; Zechariah 12:1).
Something is still missing in human beings
Paul refers to the "spirit of the man" as that which makes people intellectually superior to animals. It separates us from other physical creatures, allowing us to know"the things of a man," to think and understand on a much higher plane.
We were created to possess certain intellectual capacities similar to those of the Creator Himself (Genesis 1:26), enabling us to develop skills in mathematics and science, invent written languages, build great civilizations, learn from the past and plan for the future.
When God breathed the "breath of life" into the first man Adam (Genesis 2:7), He gave him more than physical existence. God imparted to Adam that spiritual and intellectual essence that gives mankind the remarkable capacities of the human mind.
But the apostle Paul reveals that something important is still lacking: "So also no one comprehends what is truly God's except [ by ] the Spirit of God" (1 Corinthians 2:11, New Revised Standard Version). Here Paul is speaking of another Spirit, the Spirit of God.
He continues, "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God" (verse 12, NRSV). Spiritual understanding that surpasses our normal human intellect comes only through the extra help, influence and power of God's Holy Spirit.
"Those who are unspiritual," Paul adds, "do not receive the gifts of God's Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (verse 14, NRSV). We will see that this spiritual link with God is vital in coming to know and experience the purpose of life.
Human life created for a higher purpose
Compared with plant and animal life, human beings are created by God with a spiritual dimension for a much higher purpose. Several scriptures reveal that the reason for human life is preparation for an infinitely higher level of existence, which includes immortal spirit life.
God created us with the intent that we accept His gift of salvation through Jesus Christ and live forever: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
Jesus stated in prayer to God the Father regarding Himself, "You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him" (John 17:2). God promises to give "eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality" (Romans 2:6-7). We have the "hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began" (Titus 1:2). Again, this is part of the very reason for human life—that we may ultimately receive eternal life.
God is the Creator and sustainer of life. He created human life on a level different from that of plants and animals to fulfill a far greater purpose. Our lives consist of relationships, goals and experiences that at times are enjoyable, at times difficult. But the ultimate purpose of our lives greatly exceeds merely meeting the needs and fulfilling the pleasures of our daily circumstances.
(To learn more about the incredible purpose of human life, the ultimate reason for why you exist, be sure to read the booklet What Is Your Destiny? )
Now that we have briefly considered the meaning of life, we will examine the part death plays in fulfilling the purpose of human life. Why do we die? What happens when we die? What is the hope that lies beyond death?