The opposite of Life

I’m quite interested in the subject of “what does death really mean?”

The more I study it the more I discover that Biblically, most scholars agree that death is the opposite to life. This is especially evident when talking about the kind of life a faithful person has, opposed to the faithless.

The Apostle Paul, John and James are all quite clear, the opposite of life, God given (eternal) life, is “no life”. This “no life” begins with a purposeless life on earth, and spirals downhill until ultimately it ends.


The opposite of eternal life with God is not eternal life without God. The opposite is no life. That seems to me to suggest that “eternal life in hell” is just.. well.. bogus.

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21 Replies to “The opposite of Life”

  1. There’s work to do here. Not intellectual work, but obedience work. Not an obedience of credulity but a faithful obedience. I really commend to you the study of psalms. Like Psalm 63: כִּי טוֹב חַסְדְּךָ מֵחַיִּים
    for it is Good (same phrase as in Genesis) thy loving kindness (mercy even reproof in covenant) over life. If God’s chesed is good even over life, then life is meant to be known perhaps differently than the traditional teaching suggests.

    It is through the psalms that Jesus knew his calling. (I derive this thesis from the epistle to the Hebrews.)

    Perhaps you don’t know Hebrew. It is good to learn it.

  2. Geoff, teachings about afterlife punishment for the wicked are huge in pagan literature and philosophy, but the Hebrews taught none of it – only punishment here and now, or by death. Paul taught that the wages of sin is death.

    I think you’re absolutely right about eternal life and its opposite. Our life is by God’s grace, through life-giving fellowship with him.

    Meanwhile, the atheist gets exactly what he’s expecting – nothing.

    It’s called conditional immortality and I find it superior to both eternal punishment and universalism – which are both forms of predestinationism.

  3. “The opposite of eternal life with God is not eternal life without God. The opposite is no life. That seems to me to suggest that ‘eternal life in hell’ is just.. well.. bogus.”

    The first thing that comes to mind is that there is nothing “without God” – hell is not the eternal absence of God (a metaphysical impossibility), but rather the absence of his blessing and kindness. The second thing that comes to my puny little mind is who talks about “eternal life in hell”? I’ve never heard that phraseology. Maybe, eternal death in hell (the second death) would be much better. So, if we see hell as the eternal and actualized curse of God, then folks in hell are existing (living in that sense) in the torment of that curse, which will be perfected at the resurrection. Anyway… there’re my two cents. 🙂

  4. John, I agree.

    Tim, I think the point I was trying to make is that if the kind of “life” we get from God is an eternal existence, the opposite of it is not any form of eternal existence. Calling it “eternal death” is just semantics, it does not change that “you exist”.
    It seems to me to be:
    Life with God –> purpose.
    Life without God –> purposelessness.
    Faith in God – eternal existence under the rule of God.
    No faith in God – no existence with or without God.

    The thing is, can it be proper to call the opposite of “eternal life”, “eternal non-life”? Or, the opposite of “eternal existence”, “eternal non existence”? (same thing phrased differently).

    I think it is. If it is, then any form of eternal existence apart from faith in God is impossible.

  5. Geoff, very good. Thanks for elaborating. It seems that you are equivocating life and existence. These are easily distinguished. If by eternal life we mean eternal existence that is blessed by God, then by eternal death we would mean eternal existence that is cursed by God. This seems to me to be the proper opposite (biblically speaking). Faith is not required for the second sort of eternal existence, but is for the first.

  6. Hi Tim,

    I agree that the opposite of blessed is cursed, at least in english. However, the Hebrew concept of “blessed is” is not the same as the english modern understanding.

    We do not mean “an eternal existence blessed by God” – we only mean “an eternal existence through faith in God”.
    To be “blessed” is to be “in the appropriate place” – both the sinner and the sinless can be “blessed” (look it up, it changes how we understand the Psalms). In the appropriate place is the one who is faithful – they have eternal life, and in the appropriate place is the one who has no faith – no life.

    I had thought it was fairly obvious. Either that or there was some biblical reason that life and non life are not opposites.

    1. Geoff,

      John 10:10 states that Christ came to give life more abundantly, implying that there can be degrees of life. Can there be degrees of death? Isn’t that a bit odd-sounding, that someone could be more dead than another person?

      Presumably, if X is the opposite of Y, and X can be described in terms of degrees, Y should be able to, as well. I can’t come up with any counter-example off-hand. The opposite of cold is warmth, and there are degrees of both. The opposite of light is darkness, and there are degrees of both. The opposite of “on” is “off”, but there aren’t degrees of either.

      Is there a mistake in my argument? Are there not degrees of life, are there not degrees of death, or is it possible for the opposite of a word to not have degrees if the original does?

      1. I think the only flaw in the argument would be in that “life” has degrees.

        I think, for the sake of this discussion we could define “life” as being alive. It should not be confused with the concept of “living” (as, living your life).
        In Genesis 2, the man was formed from the ground and “life” was breathed into him – this not to be understood as some mystical force, but “life”.

  7. Curious ‘facts’ about bless. One is that the Hebrew word is the same as ‘knee’. Two that God can be blessed also. This is a turn of phrase in the Jewish blessings that is at first strange to Christians. Blessed art thou O Lord our God who creates the fruit of the vine, etc. The third is that Bless is sometimes translated curse. This is the usual pattern in Job chapters 1 and 2 (though I did not follow this pattern). (See Job 1:11, 2:5, 2:9). Job is a paradigm example of blessing. He dies sated. Satan is thrown out of court and a facile reading of Deuteronomy 28 in the preamble to the choice of life and death (Deuteronomy 30) is not permitted. Some comment here from my work on Job years ago.

  8. Geoff, it seems like you’ve built yourself a paradigm on narrow definitions of words with broad meanings. In the Bible blessing and cursing are very often set opposite each other. That’s not just some modern English analysis. (Lev 26 and Dt 28-30 come immediately to mind.) Blessing and cursing may not be *absolute* opposites in every way, but they are proper biblical opposites, and they tie nicely into eternal life and death (and temporal, too).

    There are different ways to have life and death (Eluros’s comment is interesting, too). Sinners apart from Christ are quite alive, but are dead. The dead Abraham still lives. Thus, I think your analysis of life and no-life is too simplistic. I think the view of blessed existence and cursed existence allows for far more nuance and better handles numerous texts of Scripture (specifically, as it doesn’t tend toward annihilationism).

  9. Bob and Tim,

    The english word “blessing” is a word with broad meaning, however there is more than one Hebrew word translated “Blessing” or “blessed”.
    There is “barak” – which is the word used in the passage in Deut, for example.
    Psalm 1:1 uses the word to translater ‘esher, which is that to which I refer. Sorry for not being quite so clear. I was not generally referring to “blessing” but to ‘esher – the opposite of which is not “curse”.

    1. Ah. Here I find it difficult to distinguish meaning so I revert to seeing shape.

      I don’t personally think of asheri as being blessed but rather happy. Different thought. Both words are very common in the psalms so in the interest of clarity and transparency, I have always distinguished them. I realize that traditional translations have not done so.

      So you raise an interesting point since this discussion considers opposites. The psalmist does not always sound ‘happy’. The poet like everyone is beset with all sorts of troubles of which many are self-inflicted.

      I would say the happiness wins since the psalms end with praise. The whole Bible is a comedy in this sense – it has a happy ending.

      brk – bless is a ‘frame’ in Job, occurring in the first two chapters and in chapter 42 (with one other mention in chapter 31, in Job’s delicate oath of innocence). asher gets only one mention in Job – compared to 25 in the psalms.

      I have just been browsing some essays by von Rad on the psalms and life – I don’t think he thinks the way I have come to think. But who can describe such to others? He is thinking in the sense I would have copied if I had read him with my teachers in the 50s. I.e. they may have read him, taken his word as an adequate description, and gone with that for teaching. They were not successful in my opinion. So how can we grasp the consensus – or better sense the grasp of the Most High and find words that will bring or stimulate life?

      I better stop – there’s no preview and the chink in the wall is small.

  10. Bob,

    I am lead to believe (by my old OT Prof from seminary, Bill Osborne), that ‘esher means “in the happinesses of” or, more contextually “in the appropriatenesses of..” “Appropriatnessess ” is not a very good word, because it is not clear, but it refers to a state of appropriateness not a “feeling of happiness” – although, happiness ultimately results from being in the state of appropriateness, should it be appropriate because of faith.
    Those who behave outside of faith (for example Cyrus whom “beats the babies against the rocks”) will also be in the “appropriateness”, but one expects happiness will not result.

    1. thanks Geoff – that’s an interesting inference from the usage pattern. I don’t think my Hebrew friends would impose that onto the word, but they have their modern Hebrew to deal with. I am at the investigation stage and may remain so for the rest of the life of this vessel. I do tend to conclusions based on such inference and my own experience, but I am cautious of private interpretations (or sometimes any interpretation that tends to remove difficulty from the text by explanation.)

      Other words in the field of happiness include the loud shouts of worship in the psalms, the gladness and joy, the place of the lilies, even the insistence of the tune ‘do not destroy’ for the most difficult imprecatory psalms. The kingdom is taken by violence.

  11. Bob,

    In this case the setting, for example Ps 1, is specific. It is setting out a bold claim.. “In the appropriate place (or appropriateness to be literal) is the one who walks the paths of the Lord…” and Ps2 it is the nation who follows. This claim is then tested out through the rest of the Psalms.

    I think this is the same claim made by Jesus in the beatitudes, but that _is_ a private interpretation – although I think it is a fair understanding.

    1. well I think your gloss is pretty dour for happy or blessed. The idea that it is being tested through the psalms is a good one. But put a little spring back in your steps.

    1. I can see I’ve cheered you up – yes it’s a good thing our feelings are not indicative of our state. Nonetheless I take asheri as a command and I understand it a successful mitsvah completed when happiness is mine and my dour face and serious demeanor makes another smile.
      Here’s my last two verses of psalm 39
      Hear my prayer יְהוָה
      and respond to my cry
      you will not be silent to my tears
      for a guest I am with you
      siting as were all my ancestors
      look at me
      and I will smile before I go
      and there is no me

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