I’m in Idaho for the 20th Anniversary of Eagle Christian Church in the Boise area. My wife and I slipped over to my hometown yesterday to visit the graves of my parents. I had not been there for over twelve years.
The cemetery is beautiful, overlooking the Boise River valley, and peaceful, away from the noise of streets and businesses. The cemetery has expanded since I was last there, so we had a little trouble finding the gravestone. In so doing, we walked through this newer section, and I was amazed to see many stones with names of people I had grown up with. Many classmates from high school are in the ground. Parents of friends. Church members from my home church. One Sunday School teacher. Two teachers from public school who had taught me. Memories well up as I remember the dead.
The author of Ecclesiastes writes these sobering words:
9:5 The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no more reward, and even the memory of them is lost. 6 Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished; never again will they have any share in all that happens under the sun.
He is not trying to be cruel or disrespectful to the dead. He is commenting on human life in his blunt, sometimes clumsy manner. We have often taken the phrases of these verses out of context, especially, “the dead know nothing.” In context, he is talking about us the living, not revealing something about existence after death. The living know that death is coming. Those who have died know nothing of eventual death in this sense, for they have already experienced it. No one escapes. Not everyone’s body will end up in a peaceful graveyard, but everyone will die. We all know this. Walking among the dead is a stark reminder to me. I, too, will die.
A great fear of death that Ecclesiastes addresses is that we will be forgotten. This is why we dedicate land for burial and put up memorial stones. Each stone indicates the story of a life, some well lived and some wasted, most somewhere in between. We do not want to be forgotten.
Jesus spoke of existence after death as being in the “bosom of Abraham.” Not forgotten but embraced. Not rejected but cherished. God will not abandon us at death, but embrace us and cherish us.
I really don’t know what life after death will be like, but I am not afraid. Maybe a little. But walking among the dead helps. They are not forgotten.
Nebraska Christian College