For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? (Psalm 6:5 ESV)
God does not tell us much about eternity, either in or away from His presence. We can know being in His presence brings life and all of the peace and rest which comes with obedience and doing that for which people were created, and in Christ, re-created. We can also know those who exist outside of His presence, eternally absent from the source of life, are in agony and constant turmoil. These are simple and inadequate illustrations of the difference between heaven and hell. We know God will separate those who are His from those who continue willfully rebelling and sinning against Him.
God gives us clues about death, being separated from that which supports and maintains life. Death is the opposite of life. Death is non-life, removal from that which sustains life. In the physical world that which has life needs food, water and air. Remove any one of these three elements and life ceases, the organism dies and begins to decay. Sheol in the Hebrew is the equivalent of haides in the Greek, the grave, the pit, a place of no return, the place of the dead, the underworld. Both sheol and haides are considered hell by many. The place of the dead is not a place where those who die cease to exist but are conscious of who they are and their circumstances.
David declares that those who have died have no remembrance of God and will not give Him praise. They will not remember Him nor thank Him or confess His greatness. This does not mean there is no consciousness for those in the grave. David is thinking of burial, the covering of dirt, entombing of a dead body, where it will decay. Those who knew the dead person can no longer hear their words or see their actions because in death they neither speak nor act.
Jacob uses the word sheol to describe what has happened to his son, Joseph, upon hearing the report of his death from his brothers.
Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.(Genesis 37:34-35 ESV)
Those who have died are still under God’s control and government. Thus, the grave is an intermediate place between heaven and hell. Those who are wicked will eventually go to hell, away from God, the Giver of life, while those who are righteous will come into God’s eternal presence where they are sustained with life. Death and the grave bring mourning to those who remain alive. For those facing death there is tremendous fear of the unknown. They do not know what they are facing.
King Hezekiah echoed David’s words as he lay dying, then wrote his own Psalm after he was healed, reflecting upon what God had done for him. When his body is placed in the grave he believed he would no longer praise God.
For Sheol does not thank you; death does not praise you; those who go down to the pit do not hope for your faithfulness. the father makes known to the children your faithfulness” (Isaiah 38:18-19 ESV)
Jesus faced death. He saw beyond death. He spoke often about His own death but always continued speaking about His resurrection and what would happen because of His resurrection. During the last Passover week, Phillip and Andrew brought to Him a request by some Greek believers who wanted to see Jesus. Knowing His death would draw all men, Jews and Greeks, to Himself, He responded with a small parable. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:23-24 ESV). Many Christians believe this parable speaks directly to people. It does not. Jesus spoke about Himself. The grain of wheat is Jesus. Falling to the earth is His death. Bearing fruit is His resurrection. He must die to bring all to Himself. His fruit is the ingathering of all those who are His. They are in Him. He is their refuge.
But what of those who are not in Him? Death becomes eternal separation from God. There is a separation of those who hate God and continue in their rebellion against Him, and those who love God and obey His command to come to His Son. Hell becomes a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (see Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28). Those who hate life are sentenced to not have life. Death ends life.
Those who love Him will receive life. But only those who love Him more than they love their own life will receive life from God. “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:25-26 ESV). For those who are separated out for God, physical death is not the end but the beginning of true life.