Them That Sleep In The Dust
I was informed a short while ago that my 80-year-old uncle is not expected to live beyond today. He is my last uncle on my father’s side. The lives of my father’s five brothers have already ended; this uncle is married to my father’s one sister.
I remember a time when I was a kid that my father and my uncle took turns throwing objects into the air allowing me to shoot at them with a shotgun. If I recall correctly, it was a .410 (fitting, eh uncle?). I don’t think I was aiming very well, but I remember my uncle throwing an empty can, maybe a WD-40 can, into the air one last time and I smoked it. They congratulated me of course.
I remember the home of my aunt and uncle, and their long dirt driveway, tucked into the piney woods in East Texas. I haven’t been there in years, but I can see it right now clearly in my mind.
I was sitting here thinking earlier, about the different words that people use when a person’s life ends. He “passed” or “passed away”, many say. Someone may say: he “died.” Other sayings include - he’s “not with us anymore”, he “went home”, he “went to be with the Lord”, he “went to heaven”, he’s “in a better place”, he “breathed his last”, and many more ranging from crude to naïve.
There is something gripping about the Bible’s declaration that when someone dies, he “sleeps with his fathers”, or simply that “he sleeps.” Contrary to what some believe, I do not agree with the idea that when a person dies his body turns to dust and a conscious spirit part of him goes to heaven or hell. The whole person turns to dust, and the spirit (life giving breath of God) returns to God who gave it. It takes the physical substance of man and the breath of God to form a living, conscious soul. Man at his death goes back to the dust. Not part of him, but all of him. His life ends. He sleeps. His consciousness ceases.
“His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.”
The death state is an unconscious state that will last until the return of Christ. When Christ returns, the dead in Christ, those who sleep in Christ, will be raised to immortality. Those who are alive will be changed - they too will receive immortality. This is the hope of Christians. We do not hope for death, as some claim, we rightly dislike death. Death is not the savior. But Christ’s death and resurrection have taken the sting out of death for Christians, for we will not remain dead. The Gospel of the Kingdom is that we can be a part of his eternal Kingdom by submitting to him as Lord of our lives, and this is possible because he died and is risen.
Others sleep too. They will be resurrected and will be sentenced to eternal death. The first death is called sleep, perhaps because all will be awakened, but the lost will experience the second death from which there will be no awakening. They will perish for eternity.
God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
God is not looking for a specific prayer or a religious ritual from a lost sinner. The condition for eternal life is acknowledging our sinfulness, coming to an end of ourselves, turning from our sin-filled and self-ruled life and submitting to the rule of Christ over our lives. Forsaking sin to follow Christ is the only reasonable path forward for any of us. God is a merciful God. He will forgive us of our past, but not if we won’t come to the light and yield our will to his. He is not asking us to become a part of the religious establishments of the day, we are being called to surrender all to Christ. There is no greater gift that any of us can give to our family. No matter how much money a husband/father makes, he deprives his family when he does not follow Christ and does not insist on a Christ-ruled home. No matter how much a wife/mother does for her family, she is depriving her family if she does not follow Christ and support her husband as he insists on a Christ-ruled home.
Our lives are but a vapor, and then we sleep. What will you wake up to? Immortality? Or the judgment of eternal death?
“And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”