Where do we go at death?
Each of us is a triune being, consisting of body, soul & spirit (compare 1Thes 5:23). It may seem strange, but each element of our being is dealt with differently at death and, the destinations are also different (see Note1, “Reunion of Body and Soul”).
Our BODY is buried and eventually returns to dust. This is just a visible reality of life. It is frequently rehearsed by a priest or minister as the undertaker lowers a casket into the ground and they drop soil into the grave, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” (from the 1662 version of the Book of Common Prayer). Each time we visit a funeral, we are reminded that our existence in this body is limited to a few short years.
The SPIRIT (of life) returns to God who gave it. In the Bible, the words “spirit” and “wind” (or “breath”) are often used interchangeably. (If you read the original languages, you will understand that they generally are just different translations of the same original word.) Jesus used the two words in John 3:8 to describe the event of being born of the Spirit. When the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples (in Acts 2), they described the event as including a sound of a “rushing mighty wind.”
In Ezekiel 37:9, it was the spirit/breath/wind that brought the dry bones back to life. At the creation (Gen 2:7), God breathed life into Adam and he became a living soul. See John 5:21 to understand that all life is given from God the Father (or the Son). So, when He chooses, He can withdraw His spirit (breath) and we die (physically).
We have no real control over when or how we die, where our body will be buried, or the return of the Spirit to God. Our family determines where and how our body is “put to rest.” Someone might say that we can control the time and manner of our death – we we can kill ourselves. But I am not so sure that is absolutely true. It appears from Scripture (See Note2, What is the #1 cause of death?) that God can keep people alive even if they try to die.
In the larger scope of things, God chooses when we stop breathing the breath of life. And, since He gave the spirit of life, He can reclaim it at any time. In Ecclesiastes 12:7 (see Note3, How to study the book of Ecclesiastes), Solomon wrote a profound truth, “the dust [body] returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit [of life] returns to God who gave it.”
In summary, the Judgment of Actions states that since all have sinned, then we will all die a physical death. At death, the body is buried and returns to dust. And the spirit of life returns to God the Father who gave it. That just leaves us with the soul’s destination:
Where does the SOUL go at death?
The question of where our soul goes when we die must be answered if we are to have peace in this life. The Judgment of ACTIONS is involved but, I believe that the soul’s eternal destination is determined in a separate judgment the Judgment at Death.
Note1, Reunion of Body and Soul. There are many references in the Bible to Resurrection. Although some near-death experiences may differ, TRUE resurrection is the point where a person’s soul is reunited with their body. The process varies for different groups, so we will deal with it more completely in a future article.
Note2, What is the #1 cause of death? An interesting thought was revealed to me a few years ago… We do not die of heart attack, stroke, or cancer – we die because God withdraws His spirit, or breath of life (Rev 9:6).
Note3, How to study Ecclesiastes. See our article here about how to study the book and see this article about how to use context to understand the Bible better.
Continue to the next article, “The Judgment at Death.”