The meaning of death depends in part on what, if anything, you believe comes after it. On that matter Judaism offers answers ranging from nothing, to immortality of the soul, to bodily resurrection. The meaning of death also depends on how it influences life. Almost 2000 years ago, Rabbi Eliezer, one of the sages who appears in the Haggadah, taught that you should repent the day before you die. “Do you know when you will die?” he asked his students. “That being the case, repent today, lest you die tomorrow.”* The reality of death endows life with an urgency to live life to the fullest and to become our best selves.
God has created us in the image of the divine (Genesis 1:26). Yet, fashioned as we are out of the ground (adamah), ultimately we return to the earth. To be human is to be mortal; death, the great leveler, claims us all.
Christians view death through the lens of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In his teaching and healing, Jesus disturbed the power class, for whom his commitment to God’s reign rather than Rome’s was threatening. As Jesus becomes aware of the danger to his life, he seeks to know God’s will. The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke depict this struggle as the so-called “agony in the Garden”[of Gethsemane] in which Jesus prays through the night, finally saying, “Not my will but yours be done.” Shortly after, Jesus is arrested, questioned by authorities and ultimately crucified, the torturous mode of execution the Roman Empire used to enforce its rule. The story, however, does not end with his ignominious death on the cross, but in Jesus re-created, as it were, appearing to his disciples, and mandating them to carry on his mission.
Even Jesus, “God with us,” is not spared death. But death is not the final word for Jesus—nor is it for us. The love of God is stronger than death.
God created us in His image and breathed His spirit [Ruh] unto us (15:29). Life on earth is mortal and every living being will taste death. God created people and blessed their intellect and free will to test them in this life. The Qur’an says: “He who has created death as well as life, so that He might put you to a test [and thus show] which of you is best in conduct, and [make you realize that] He alone is almighty, truly forgiving” (67:2). The Qur’an makes it clear that people will live on earth for a while and then will die. From there they will be brought forth on Resurrection Day (7:25). Death in Islam is an end only to earthly life. The human spirit or soul does not die, but waits for resurrection on the day of judgment. Muslims believe in life after death, including heaven and hell.