This is a very good and important question. Does the soul of a departed person go to sleep? Let’s read Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 which says, “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.”

“The living know that they shall die.” As we get older, the reality of death hits us. When we were younger, most of us did not think much of death. Young ones often have the idea that death happens to others, not me! It doesn’t take too long to realize that death will, indeed, take us one day! God’s Word tells us in Hebrews 9:27, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” These words are pretty emphatic…we will die, and we will die only once. Of course, this rule of death could be drastically changed if the Lord should return soon. 1 Corinthians 15:51 tells us, “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” So, if the Lord should return to rapture His church and we are still living, we will not go through that dying process.

“The dead know not anything.” How are we to understand these words? If you notice in verse 6, Solomon is writing from the perspective of all “that is done under the sun.” In fact, he uses that expression “under the sun” 29 times in this book. He is writing from the viewpoint of what man sees in a natural sense. What do we see when someone passes away? We see a lifeless body that does not know anything. This body cannot smile, cry, eat, converse, feel pain or pleasure…or anything else “under the sun.”

Let’s look at a couple of verses that speak to us from an eternal perspective of the state of consciousness we have after we die. 2 Corinthians 5:8, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” This shows that at death, believers are “absent from the body.” Our soul and spirit are awake and aware of being in the presence of the Lord.

As far as what happens to the unbeliever after his death, we read in Luke 16:23-24, “And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” In the related story of Lazarus and the rich man, we see the rich man wide awake, in a state of torment, and begging for just one drop of water.

I trust we can see that it is the natural body that is being spoken of in Ecclesiastes 9:5. There is no such thing as “soul sleep.” At death, the soul and spirit are awake and aware of their circumstances, whether it is one of joy or one of torment. (243.7)