|Study 4: God and Death
The Nature of Man | The Soul | The Spirit | Death Is Unconsciousness | The Resurrection | The Judgment | The Place of Reward: Heaven or Earth? | Responsibility To God | Hell | Digressions (Purgatory, Ghosts And Reincarnation, With What Nature Are We Raised?, The "Rapture") | Questions
4.3 The Spirit Of Man
There is an unfortunate confusion in many people's minds between the soul and the spirit. This is aggravated by the fact that in some languages and Bible translations, the English words 'soul' and 'spirit' have only one equivalent. The 'soul' fundamentally referring to all the constituents of a person can sometimes refer to the spirit as well. However, normally there is a difference in meaning between 'soul' and 'spirit' as used in the Bible; soul and spirit can be 'divided asunder' (Heb. 4:12).
The Hebrew and Greek words for 'spirit' ('Ruach' and 'Pneuma' respectively) are also translated in the following ways:
We have studied the idea of 'spirit' in Study 2.1. God uses His spirit to preserve the natural creation, including man. The spirit of God which is within man is therefore the life force within him. "The body without the spirit is dead" (James 2:26). "God breathed into (Adam's nostrils) the breath (spirit) of life; and man became a living soul (creature [Gen. 2:7])". Job speaks of "the spirit of God" as being "in my nostrils" (Job 27:3 cp. Isa. 2:22). The spirit of life within us is therefore given to us at birth, and remains as long as our body is alive. When God's spirit is withdrawn from anything, it immediately perishes - the spirit is the life force. If God "gather unto Himself His spirit and His breath; all flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust. If now thou hast understanding, hear this" (Job 34:14-16). The last sentence again hints that man finds this exposure of his real nature very hard to come to terms with.
When God takes away His spirit from us at death, not only does our body die, but our entire consciousness ceases. David's appreciation of this led him to trust in God rather than in creatures as weak as man. Psalm 146:3-5 is a tough counter to the claims of humanism: "Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath (spirit) goeth forth, he returneth to his earth (the dust from which we are made); in that very day his thoughts perish. Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help".
At death, "the dust (shall) return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it" (Ecc. 12:7). We have shown earlier that God is present everywhere through His spirit. In this sense "God is Spirit" (John 4:24). When we die we 'breathe our last' in the sense that God's spirit within us departs from us. That spirit is absorbed into God's spirit which is all around us; so at death "the spirit shall return unto God".
Because God's spirit sustains all of creation, this same process of death occurs to animals. Men and animals have the same spirit, or life force, within them. "That which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one (i.e. the same) breath (spirit); so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast" (Ecc. 3:19). The writer goes on to say that there is no discernible difference between where the spirit of men and animals goes (Ecc. 3:21). This description of men and animals having the same spirit and dying the same death, appears to allude back to the description of how both men and animals, who both had the spirit of life from God (Gen. 2:7; 7:15), were destroyed with the same death at the flood: "All flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man: all in whose nostrils was the breath (spirit) of life...died...every living substance was destroyed" (Gen. 7:21-23). Note in passing how Ps. 90:5 likens death to the flood. The record in Genesis 7 clearly shows that in fundamental terms, man is in the same category as "all flesh...every living substance". This is due to his having the same spirit of life within him as they do.