"But the dead know not any thing...": afterlife question I'm really struggling with


I’ve been struggling with Catholic ideas on Mary…which I traced back to my problem with the communion of saints… which in turn I followed back to my instinctive belief that dead people are just dead or awaiting (don’t ask me how, I seem to be very out of step with a lot of things which I never realised were important as foundations until they effected everything).

I want to know how other people interpret this passage:

Ecclesiastes 9, 9:5
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.

Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest

I’ve searched and searched the forum for this and couldn’t find it so I hope someone can help me out…to me it says that when we die we have no knowledge or awareness of anything, we are dead, it’ s something that can really elp me out with the related problems I have as I’ve mentioned above too.

fingers crossed…



Before Christ, there was only death, not eternal life.


It’s not just those 2 passages that can be difficult in Ecclesiastes - it’s kind of the whole book! Perhaps because it’s centered on worldly activities. The author/“Preacher” is trying to understand what lasting purpose they serve. Of course, worldly activities, done for just worldly reasons, have no eternal significance. No wonder he’s puzzled. :slight_smile:

Here is some commentary on the verses you mention. Perhaps it will help.


The George Haydock Bible, haydock1859.tripod.com is also a good commentary source. Unfortunately, the OT is not yet complete on line and Ecclesiastes is one of the books not yet available. Perhaps someone on the forum who has the Geo Haydock can provide the commentary it gives.



1 Peter 3:19 tells us that between the Cross and the Resurrection, Jesus went to preach to “the souls in prison.” I take this to mean “Abraham’s Bosom,” where the souls of the Old Testatment saints awaited redemption. After Jesus opened heaven to humanity, the communion of saints began.


May God the Father bless you and the Holy Spirit guide you in your search for Jesus the Son. With that said, I am curious about what you wrote; “my instinctive belief that dead people are just dead or awaiting”. Are you relying on your instinct to lead you to truth? I don’t mean to sound demeaning or confrontational. With the questions you provided it is clear you, and all of us are trying to learn more about what no man can fully explain, the mystery of God Himself.

As for the quotations about the dead in the old testament; there were big differences of opinion in Judiasm with one group believing in no afterlife and another which believed in life after death. So be careful lifting out a verse, or just inspired words, without studying the context or the background, the author and the intended audience.

As for the Communion of Saints, do you believe in an afterlife, and if so do you believe that those who qualify for that are alive or dead? Have you ever asked anyone to help you or to pray for you? If so and if those in heaven are still alive in heaven, are they aware of us and our problems? If you are sure they are not aware and could care less, then don’t waste your time with the Saints. If you don’t know that, then you have nothing to loose.

About 5 years ago a grandson was born to us who was missing almost half of his brain. We sought prayers from everyone we knew and I especially remember the prayerful concern of my parents about “that little guy”. As my parents each grew closer to death, a couple of years apart, I asked each of them to remember Ryan when they met God, and beg Him to help “that little guy”. They both left this life over two years ago, and both promised me they would ask God to help Ryan.

Long story short, Ryan is doing extremely well; has his difficulties, (but then who doesn’t), and is a happy and special child looking forward to much more of life. To this day in my deepest prayer I continue to ask my parents to gather the family there with them and remind Jesus about Ryan’s needs, and I remind Him as well.

As for Mary, think of it this way, if you met someone real special to whom you wanted to comit your whole life to, would you tell that person you don’t want anything to do with their family, especially their mother. Mary is the mother of God, and must not be cast aside after her job was done. Jesus loved her very much, and even asHe was dying on the cross saw to it she was looked after. Should we love her any less than Jesus did?

I hope this helps. Let us know if you have related questions.

In His Love


Right. It can be very misleading to try and apply Old Testament scripture to the current situation of those who have died. Our revelation exceeds their revelation on the matter.


You gotta remember that Solomon was a Jew and they had no concept of an afterlife like we do…

If you look at the New Testament you see that Jesus taught something different.

Fort instance:

Matthew 22:29 And Jesus answering, said to them: You err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they shall neither marry nor be married; but shall be as the angels of God in heaven.

31 And concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken by God, saying to you: 32 I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. 33 And the multitudes hearing it, were in admiration at his doctrine.

Mark 12:24 And Jesus answering, saith to them: Do ye not therefore err, because you know not the scriptures, nor the power of God? 25 For when they shall rise again from the dead, they shall neither marry, nor be married, but are as the angels in heaven.

26 And as concerning the dead that they rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spoke to him, saying: I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You therefore do greatly err.

Luke 20:34 And Jesus said to them: The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: 35 But they that shall be accounted worthy of that world, and of the resurrection from the dead, shall neither be married, nor take wives.

36 Neither can they die any more: for they are equal to the angels, and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection. 37 Now that the dead rise again, Moses also shewed, at the bush, when he called the Lord, The God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; 38 For he is not the God of the dead, but of the living: for all live to him.


I had to smile when i read that as I don’t really have an answer, I know what I feel but I try not to have answers when I’m asking a question, or else you can’t be open to any kind of truth.

I started on this site the week after I asked a priest why they (Catholics) pray to Mary, and “isn’t that blasphemous”…please don’t anybody quote that cos it embarrasses me now. I’ve read ‘Mary: a catholic evangelical debate’, catholicism for dummies and this book on the nature of evil by JPII, but as much as I try to understand things I just don’t feel anything on an emotional level of understanding (hence why I said instictive)

I’ve never prayed to a saint, have never asked for intercession from anyone that is dead…though I have from living people. I suppose my view began as something closer to a Jewish way of looking at the afterlife… that people were dead until judgement… though I had many more holes as I lost my faith for years in my teens. I find the idea of the communion of saints kinda terrifying and whether or not i understand it academically is irrelevent as i don’t get it emotionally or feel it in any real sense.

sorry i rambled, i hope that made sense lol :slight_smile:



I have recently bought a book explaining about some of the main saints and started learning about st benedict ( i don’t know why I plucked him out of the hundreds lol) and I feel you can learn from them… sorry if I’m going off track but the subject effects lots of areas for me.



When I visited my old home a couple of months back, I visited my father’s grave. He died before I met my wife, but I wanted him to “meet” her since he didn’t get to before passing away.

Do you ever “talk” to family or friends who have passed on?

My father’s certainly not a saint, but I do have a connection with him despite his no longer being with us. My mother, married to him for nearly 50 years, claims she can feel him nudge her to get up in the mornings.

I think the dead are closer to us than we think sometimes, and while I can’t claim anything supernatural on that score, I know I am still emotionally connected to my dad. I proposed to my wife on the anniversary of his death as a result of that.

And if my father’s in heaven looking on, I certainly have no trouble believing the saints are.


Hi Teflon,
I don’t talk to family that are dead but I pray for them. I don’t know many chritians who are dead although one chritin that dies i prayed that God take care of him but I have never prayed or spoken to anybody but God before although I have ammended the rosary prayer and am trying to learn that but I altered it so that I don’t address Mary herself but the Son… and i don’t pray all the mysteries but that’s been covered in the assumption thread lol.




Hi S—

I understand—different people certainly deal with death in different ways. Why do you pray for your deceased family members? I do this as well—in my case I pray for them because I really want them to be with God and hope it’s God’s will that they will be.


I don’t know why I prayed for them, it just seemed the done thing. I prayed that they would be taken care of and that any pain would be gone and that they wouldn’t be afraid.


That’s wonderful—there are lots of online resources providing the lives of the saints; you could go to the Vatican’s site and start there.

When my wife and I were getting ready to join the Church, we purchased a copy of Butler’s Lives of the Saints and read it cover to cover (there are a LOT of saints—4 volumes). It was striking how many died for their faith. I think it was St Lawrence who was roasted on a red-hot grate and told his persecutors “Turn me over, brother, this side’s done.” There are many stories of how God helped them persevere in the face of the most grievous injuries.

My wife and I learned yesterday that we’ve got our first child on the way. She’s convinced the baby’s a boy, so we’ve elected to name him after St Alexander of Jerusalem, who was known to be possessed of so sweet a disposition that when the Romans sentenced him to be devoured by beasts for confessing his faith, the beasts refused to do so.


That was a very kind thing to do.

My father died of cancer, and he was a very lapsed Catholic (I was raised Episcopalian). During his illness, he drew some comfort from a priest who visited him in the hospital. He came home to die, and I was given morphine to give him in a little eyedropper to ease his pain. His last night, I stayed up all night, sleeping in my old bed, listening for his coughing, whereupon I would go in and give him a couple of drops of morphine. It was all I could do for him. I am profoundly grateful I was allowed to do this for him.

The next morning, it was clear he was passing away. I called the Catholic Church up the road and requested Last Rites for him. He was provided the sacrament, which for Catholics is very important. It was the last thing I could do for him, and it gave a lot of comfort to my Catholic uncles that he received the sacrament before he died. It gives me great comfort today that I had the presence of mind to request it. I like to think God nudged me in the right direction.

I think maybe He gave you a similar nudge.


First of all, knowing, loving, serving and understanding God is not an emotion or a feeling. You keep saying “I just don’t feel anything”, and I wonder what you expect to feel. Then connect that with the green part above, and it suggests to me you lost your way a few years back and are trying to re-establish, and even improve that relationship you once had. Remember, when you lost your way you were very young, and probably like most of us weren’t too concerned about death or dying or other stuff like being close to God. Now that you are older the Holy Spirit is speaking to you in a quiet way urging you to get back into relationship with God. You do that very much like you would with a human friend, you spend time with Him, in prayer, and equally importantly in studying His Son, Jesus, the Word of God who became man, suffered and died for us so that we could be with Him forever, and WOULD NOT FEAR DEATH. I strongly urge you to read the Gosples, especially the teachings of Jesus Himself. Get to know Him; fall in love with Him, and all the rest will be easy for you to understand. But you must be patient with feelings and emotions, which often let you down. Jesus will never let you down.

In His Love in the States



's not just those 2 passages that can be difficult in Ecclesiastes - it’s kind of the whole book! Perhaps because it’s centered on worldly activities. The author/“Preacher” is trying to understand what lasting purpose they serve. Of course, worldly activities, done for just worldly reasons, have no eternal significance. No wonder he’s puzzled. :slight_smile:

Ecclesiastes is a very difficult book!! I always remind myself, when reading it, that this is a man trying to figure out life, with no understanding about God…He is so focused on this life, because he doesn’t know about the promises of Christ.
I think this book is a good way to look into the mind of someone who has no faith to sustain them. They become so depressed & even bitter about life…But it is:( not written from the point of view of someone who is hoping for a life to come.No wonder it is sad!!


Solomon was an old man at the time he wrote this book. He is looking back with regret at all the mistakes he made, chasing after vain pursuits to find meaning in life. He finally comes to the conclusion that he should have been following God.


thank you very much for that, Mike.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.