Times of bereavement can often be occasions when people turn to God, ask for the comfort of the Holy Spirit and look for truth on which to stand, as the pain of loss and separation are felt so acutely. Death is for us both an ever-present certainty and a great unknown. We can be sure that we will die. And at the same time we are unsure of what exactly this will entail.
One of the clearest Old Testament indications in a belief in life beyond death is given by David in Psalm 16. David declares that he has sought the Lord continually and this has given him the certainty of knowing that God is present with him at his right hand and so he will not be shaken (v8). He then goes on to describe that because of this he has gladness, joy and security (v9). This is good news! But he also goes on to describe how this assurance will continue after his life ends:
‘For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol;
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.’ (v10 NASB)
This passage became a key one for the early church as they proclaimed the implications of a resurrected Jesus to the world. In his monumental Pentecost sermon Peter claimed that it was impossible for death to keep Jesus in its grip. He then quoted this Psalm, saying that when David penned it he, ‘foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ’ (see Acts 2:24-32). Despite how the events of Good Friday might have appeared, God neither abandoned Jesus to Sheol (hell or death) nor allowed His body to decay in a tomb.
Paul, too, quotes Psalm 16:10. In his sermon in Acts 13:16-41 he links the resurrection of Jesus to forgiveness of sins and freedom for those who believe (vv35-39). Throughout his writings Paul repeatedly returns to the resurrection of Jesus as being crucial to our Christian faith and demonstrates that so much hinges on the tomb of Jesus being empty and Jesus being alive.
In his lengthy passage about the implications of the resurrection of Jesus, Paul writes that if God didn’t raise Jesus from the dead then our sins have not been dealt with and our faith is worthless (1 Corinthians 15:12-18). He goes on to describe how, in fact, the resurrection of Jesus shows that all things, including death, are now in subjection to God before culminating in the declaration that ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ (1 Corinthians 15:54,55). Now that Jesus is alive death itself is disempowered!
The insight of David in Psalm 16 is that life can and will continue beyond our physical death. For those who love God, this Psalm speaks of a hope that goes beyond the grave. Death is now not the end. Our final breath in this life is simply a doorway into an eternal future where we can enjoy ‘pleasures forevermore’ (v11).
This means that in the midst of our bereavement and loss it is possible to find that our hope in a risen Saviour and life beyond grave is once again strengthened and renewed.