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Death - Judeo-Christian View

In Judaism and Christianity death is an enemy and is related to sin. It is the outgrowth of human rebellion. Because of Adam's and Eve's rejection of God's command, people have been appointed to die. Early Old Testament writings indicate that the body decayed and the soul ceased to be (Pss. 6:5; 88:10-12). Later, in the writings of the prophets, there was hope of resurrection (Isa. 26:19; Dan. 12:12). In the New Testament resurrection is not just a hope; it is a reality attested by the reality of Jesus' resurrection (John 5:28-29; 1 Cor. 15:1-32). In the New Testament death is contrasted to life so that time and eternity have different dimensions. In life there is conflict; in eternity there is harmony. In life there is strife; in eternity there is peace. In life and eternity there are other contrasting qualities such as work versus rest, search versus discovery, suffering versus wholeness, faith versus doubt, yearning versus fulfillment, and imperfection and brokenness versus wholeness. In eternity there is no separation, and knowledge is complete.


These qualities are to be attained at the resurrection, which is to occur at the establishment of the new order. Souls are to sleep until it occurs. The Scriptures are, however, not clear as to when this new order is to be established. Jesus' promise to the thief ("today you will be with me in paradise") suggests an immediate transition. Paul seems to have held a similar view, although in his description of the return of Christ he notes that the dead will be raised to life at the sound of the last trumpet. Paul believed that the return of Christ was imminent. In the teaching of both Jesus and Paul there is a retention of the unity of the body, soul, and spirit, although the resurrection body has different dimensions from the one occupied in time. The early church fathers held to the resurrection view of death, although Origen accepted the Platonic view. Tertullian was the first to propose a purgatory, in which prejudgment was to occur before the doomsday judgment. Augustine supported this view, which in time became the doctrine of the church. Interestingly enough, the doctrine is in accord with the Greek Platonic view instead of the apocalyptic view of Jesus and Paul. It was made the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church by the Council of Trent. The Protestant view as set forth by Luther and Calvin denied the existence of purgatory and affirmed the reality of the resurrection. Protestant doctrinal positions are either vague or do not speak to the whereabouts of the soul from death until the resurrection, at which time the destiny of every soul to life or death will be decreed. Dying. Every person comes to the knowledge that death is final and inevitable. When this realization occurs, whether in the process of meditating on one's life, when faced with imminent death, or when a loved one dies, there is the development of what is known as death anxiety. Death anxiety is separate and distinct from general anxiety. It occurs when it is impossible to discern the meaning of death.

There is extensive literature on this subject. The data are at times confusing because studies relating religiosity to death anxiety report conflicting results. Most of the reports do show a correlation between Christian faith and a reduction of death anxiety. The primary instruments used to determine the role of religion in reducing or increasing death anxiety are religiosity scales; that is, the stronger the faith of the person, the less the anxiety. Christians who are very religious, as evidenced by frequent church attendance and being born again, have less death anxiety. A critical study, however, reveals that spirituality, not religiosity, is a primary factor in reducing death anxiety. The terminally ill, mentally ill, and aged do not have more death anxiety than those who are not ill or aged, although one author reported less anxiety in highly religious, terminally ill persons. Those who are likely to have high levels are uninvolved with life with no well-defined purpose in life and those who are highly motivated to achievement.

Muslims and Jews tend to have less death anxiety if they have a strong faith and practice it. Death anxiety can progress to a despair of death, one of the existential predicaments that human beings must face. Despair of death occurs if a person cannot discern meaning when he or she examines his or her life and then contemplates his or her certain death. Such despair can be a moment or a way of life.


K.C. Brownstone K.C. Brownstone is an independent scholar who believes that critical thinking and spiritual reasoning should not be mutually exclusive. She received theological education from Dallas Theological Seminary and Asbury Theological Seminary. Personal subjects of interest are psychology and counseling.


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