I'm specifically talking about the following passages (courtesy of this very insightful answer):

  • Psalm 6:5 "For there is no mention of You in death; In Sheol, who will praise You?"

  • Psalm 88:10-12 "Will You perform wonders for the dead? Or will the departed spirits rise and praise You? Selah 11 Will Your graciousness be declared in the grave, Your faithfulness in Abaddon? 12 Will Your wonders be made known in the darkness? And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?"

  • Psalm 115:17 "It is not the dead who praise the LORD, nor any of those descending into the silence of death."

  • Psalm 146:4 "His spirit departs, and he returns to the earth. On that very day, his thoughts perish."

Quoting the aforementioned answer:

Do these scriptures make it seem as though the dead are capable of speaking, thinking, or being aware? Death is said to be silent and as the darkness. It's called the land of forgetfulness. The dead cannot thank, cannot praise, cannot hope; all feats that require mental faculties to be accomplished. In Sheol, there is absolutely no declaration of God, or of His faithfulness/graciousness, or of anything He performs. When we die, our spirits depart to God who gave it, and we return to the dust from which we were taken; consequently, our thoughts perish altogether. And most of all, the dead know naught; they have no knowledge, wisdom, thinking, or work in the place where they are.

Question: How do those who believe that the dead are conscious explain these passages from Psalms that seem to suggest otherwise?

Related BH.SE questions:

Does Psalm 146:3-4 affirm that the dead are unconscious?

Does Ecclesiastes 9:10 affirm that the dead are unconscious?


1 Answer 1


When a sentence in the Old Testament ends with a question-mark, it needs to be borne in mind that the writer, in and of himself, might not have yet know the answer. He's writing a thought that troubled him. You have listed five such questions. Of course, some questions are rhetorical, such as God's list of questions to Job (chapters 38 to 42, which silenced Job and had him repenting in dust and ashes, vs. 6). A great example of what I mean is the writer of Ecclesiastes asking if, at death, the spirit of animals is any different to the spirit in man - does one go down and the other go up? (3:21) Yet by the end of his book he has got the answer to what happens to the spirit of man at physical death - it goes up to God and the person will have to account to God! (12:7)

I'm answering as one who believes that dead physical bodies rot in the grave, unconscious and totally unaware, but that the spirits of dead humans arise to return to God, for judgment (as that chapter in Ecclesiastes shows.)

So, how do I explain those Psalms you have selected? I have already flagged up the need to check whether those that are questions are stating a fact (rhetorically) or if the asker just does not know himself, at that stage. Then I would collate all the other Psalms that provide more information with which to arrive at a conclusion. For example:

Psalm 49:7-15: Speaks of the futility of humans hoping to redeem their bodies from the corruption of the grave, then adds - "Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them [etc] But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me." Said before knowing of Christ as Redeemer.

Psalm 73:24-26: Speaks of foolishly envying the wicked, then adds - "Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? There is none upon the earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever." Said before knowing of Christ as Redeemer.

Psalm 90:9-10: Speaks of human life being generally restricted to 70 or 80 years, then adds - "Yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off [in death] and we fly away." Said before knowing of Christ going to prepare a place in heaven for his people.

Psalm 116:15: Speaks of the need to pay one's vows to God, for, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." Put that together with Psalm 72:14.

Those are just a few. Don't forget that other writers, in other places of the Old Testament, also spoke of living after death. And don't forget that those who insist there is no awareness of any invisible part of a dead person will always interpret those Psalms as speaking of oblivion in the grave until God re-creates them in the resurrection. Well, they would, wouldn't they?

  • "I'm answering as one who believes that dead physical bodies rot in the grave, unconscious and totally unaware, but that the spirits of dead humans arise to return to God, for judgment (as that chapter in Ecclesiastes shows.)" Nowhere in the Bible does it say that dead physical bodies that rot in the grave are unconscious, but the spirit of the man is conscious. Also, does one need to be conscious of judgment in order to be judged? I could judge you right now and you would never know what the judgment was, but that doesn't mean I didn't judge you.
    – Rajesh
    Jan 11, 2022 at 17:48
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    @Rajesh Before you really get going with your disagreement with my answer, please remember that Comments are not for arguing with answerers. The Q has nothing to do with being conscious of judgment or not. It has to do with what selected Psalms say. I've simply pointed out that a different 'selection' of Psalms gives a fuller picture. Feel free to offer your own answer to the PO but kindly don't argue with those you disagree with. I will not respond to that.
    – Anne
    Jan 11, 2022 at 18:05
  • Wasn't intending on arguing, just pointing out a simple fact. Have a wonderful day. :)
    – Rajesh
    Jan 11, 2022 at 18:06
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    It’s not answer-worthy, but I’ve always seen this apparent dichotomy in thought over the status of souls as easy to resolve, IF we bear in mind that we are dealing with the interaction of our time-bound and eternal natures, with death being the doorway. From our observation point, a person lives their life, then thousands of years (say) pass, then they awake at the resurrection. For an observer in eternity, the entire course of history passes in a moment, at a single point. It doesn’t matter at what point in that ‘moment’ someone died, the next thing to happen is resurrection to eternity.
    – user56152
    Jan 12, 2022 at 0:53
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    Up-voted +1. Those who do not experience living union with the Son and with the Father, in One Holy Spirit, will not appreciate that that uinion cannot be broken, even by death and that it will continue, in spirit, after death in what Jesus calls 'Paradise'. The soul 'sleeps' the body becomes just bones : and the spirit is in rest and at peace in Christ.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 12, 2022 at 9:31

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