“Your horrors destroy me!” Psalm 88 is unrelentingly painful. The Psalmist feels tortured by God, isolated from friends, and on the brink of death. Expressions of despair are heard in other Psalms, but the last sentence consistently opens a window of hope. Not here. The last word of this Psalm is “darkness!” The paradox of this Psalm is that the honest words are thrust at God, implying an abiding relationship.
With a series of piercing questions, the Psalmist protests that his death will mean the end of that relationship: “For the dead will You work wonders? Will departed spirits rise to praise You? Will it be told in the grave of Your kindness? Or Your faithfulness in Avadon? Will it be known in the darkness of Your wonders? And Your justice in the land of oblivion?” Claims of a lack of relationship with God after death are repeatedly found in Psalms:
- 6:6- “In death there is no mention of You.”
- 30:10- “What gain is there in [the shedding of] my blood? In my going down to destruction? Will the dust acknowledge You? Will it proclaim your truth?”
- 115:17- “The dead do not praise God, nor do those who go down into the silence [of the grave].
Such lines may lead you to conclude that in the Bible dead is dead. And yet, there are other verses that suggest consciousness even after death:
- Job 26:5- “The shades tremble beneath the waters and their denizens”;
- Isaiah 14:9-10-“She’ol was astir to greet Your coming- rousing for You the shades of all earth’s chieftains, raising from the thrones all the kings of nations. All speak up and say to you, ‘So you have been stricken as we were; you have become like us!’”
- Jeremiah 31:15- “A cry is heard in Ramah- wailing, bitter weeping- [deceased] Rachel weeping for her children. She refuses to be comforted.”
What does the Bible believe about life after life? As you can see, there is no one answer. Biblical scholars will either choose to see the diversity of views as different times and places leading to varying views or seek a consistency by reading some lines figurativelys and others literally.
My first book dealt with this topic of Does the Soul Survive? A Jewish Journey to Belief in Afterlife, Past Lives, and Living with Purpose (2000, 2015). My second book dealt with the nature of depression, Healing from Despair: Choosing Wholeness in a Broken World (2008). Psalm 88 squarely deals with both topics in a dramatic way.
This learning is dedicated to Rochelle Ambersound