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When a person is dead, they are not conscious of anything.
This is one of the reasonings that made me sit up and take notice of the JWs. My background is 20 years as a “born again, evangelical, happy-clappy” Christian. One of the things that I could not accept was that a loving God would create a place of torment for all eternity, simply because somebody did not accept His son. That is not loving. If any “punishment” for that was required then simple annihilation would be it (The thought of having no conscience or awareness for all eternity scares me more than burning for all eternity in a lake of fire. My mind just cannot comprehend having no awareness. It scares me to be honest).
If, as my previous religion stated, people either went to Hell or heaven immediately upon death, than how is Ecclesiastes 9:5 explained, which clearly shows that there is no awareness in death.
“For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing at all…” (NWT 2K13)
In fact I did prefer the wording of the 1984 NWT:
“For the living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all …” (NWT 1984)
Again, the only way to harmonize this is to conclude that anything going on in Hades (i.e. the rich man and Lazarus) or in the lake of fire, is symbolic and not literal. But let’s just admit that the casual reading gives that impression. But does it support the idea people have that when they die they go either to heaven or hell as a place of torment?
The answer to that is no. Why? For one reason, Judgment Day. Revelation describes a second resurrection where all the dead, both the righteous and the unrighteous who are in Hades come to life to be judged. So we know the righteous are in Hades as well, which is why it is understood to be man’s common grave. The good go to Hades too. Then there is the issue if people die who are bad and they go to Hell to be tormented, then why are they coming back on Judgment Day? And when they do, they do not return to Hades, they are thrown into the lake of fire, the “second death.” So even if Hades was a place of torment, nobody is going to be there permanentl. Instead, Hades itself is cast into the lake of fire, symbolizing its complete destruction. The common grave is of no purpose after everyone is symbolically emptied out of it.
At the same time, death can be understood as a bad thing in contrast to life. You may not be conscious while dead, but we understand if one asks not to leave my soul in the grave and that someone who is alive would consider the grave a place of horror and torment with respect to and comparison to being alive. So it could be said that the grave and ultimately Gehenna (the lake of fire) is a place of torment to someone who is alive who thinks about being there. It’s a horrible place and condition in contrast to being alive. That is, the condition os death itself is a place of torment in the mind of someone alive who might be facing going there. But the condition of death itself is not a place of consciousness. So I guess you could say it is a place of torment in the minds of the living who are aware they will die but the dead themselves know nothing. The concept of death is a horror to the living, even though we know once dead, we are unconscious. That’s as close as we will get to why the lake of fire is described as a place of eternal fire and torment, though it is a state of nonexistence.