Do dead people praise God? The Psalmist says that they don’t. Read for yourself the last two verses from Psalm 115:
The dead do not praise the LORD,
Nor do any who go down into silence;
But as for us, we will bless the LORD
From this time forth and forever.
Praise the LORD!
For those of us grew up in evangelical churches that teach about saints praising God in the afterlife, this text can come across as quite a jolt. Can it really be true that departed saints no longer praise God?
To be sure, skeptics take these lines to indicate that the Psalmist has no eschatology. They would say that this text is clear evidence that Old Testament saints had no notion of heaven or of the resurrection of the dead at the end of the age. OT saints simply believed that when a person dies, that’s it. When your heart stops beating and you stop breathing, that’s the end of you. All that remains is the decay of your mortal coil.
I think, however, that such a reading distorts this Psalm. There are hints and pointers in the Psalms and other OT texts that are suggestive of an afterlife (Psalms 17:15; 49; 73; Ezekiel 37:12-13; Daniel 12:2-3). But perhaps even more important than that is the fact that the skeptical reading entirely misses the point of the Psalmist. The Psalmist is not contrasting life with afterlife. He is contrasting live bodies with dead ones, and he is viewing the matter from the perspective of one resides in the present fallen world.
The Psalmist is saying that as long as he has breath in his lungs, he will praise the Lord publicly. When the breath goes out of his lungs, his public praise in this fallen world ceases, and at least one living testimony to the greatness of God is silenced.
The challenge to readers is this. Would the world’s worship decibel be diminished at all if you weren’t here? Is your life so marked by unbroken worship of the living Christ that your testimony would be missed if you were to die? Do you praise God in a way that would enable you to pray as the Psalmist prays: “Lord let me live so that the volume of your praise might not be diminished in this fallen world!”
The Psalmist’s assumption is that embodied life means continual worship of Almighty God. Can we say the same about our lives?