Q: “I know the Bible doesn’t contradict itself, but can you please explain why it says in Ecclesiastes 9:5 that the dead know not anything, but Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord?”
A: It is important to define death. Death points to the inability to interact with your present environment. So if something is not able to interact with life in a particular surrounding, then it is considered dead. Some type of breath is also required in order to interact with a particular setting. Inhaling breath is taking in the life that is available, but exhaling is a way of interacting with the environment. A good example of this is that without taking air in, we can’t speak (exhale).
Spirit points to breath or air. The type of environment we interact with also will determine the quality of our existence. For example there is the spirit of the world, Satan, which means we are partaking of his various systems and experiencing a certain lifestyle, and there is the natural spirit which means we need the air of the materialistic world as a means to interact and identify with a way of life. Finally there is the Spirit of God and without God’s Spirit residing and moving in us, there is no way we can interact with the unseen God as far as prayer, service, and worship (1 Corinthians 2:10-14).
There are also three types of death: 1) physical death, 2) death to the self-life, and 3) spiritual death. To understand which death is being referred to you have to read above and below Ecclesiastes 9:5. You will see death in this text has to do with evil people. Therefore, it is speaking of both a physical death and spiritual death. The reason we know this is because the memory of these individuals will be completely forgotten after they die. Evil people in death will not know anything of the physical world because they no longer have a physical body to interact with it, and even though they will realize too late there is a God, they will know nothing of Him because they cannot interact with Him. Remember if you cannot interact with something, you are considered dead to it. In spite of the sick joke that one won’t be alone in hell, wicked people will die in their sins and as a result taste the complete utter isolation and torment of hell because there will be no spirit in the lost soul to interact with anything.
To interact with your environment you also have to have some history, but for the wicked, their name will be blotted out of the book of life as if they never were. The Bible tells us that any memory that the saint has of such individuals will also be wiped away with their tears (Revelation 21:4).
In 2 Corinthians 5:8, the Apostle Paul’s statement is in relationship to those who are saved. Believers will shed their body at physical death. Since they are sealed by the Holy Spirit they will be ushered into the presence of the Lord to live with Him forever.
We each need to keep in mind that we are preparing for eternity by the type of life we live here on earth. Those who live for the world and according to the flesh will not be prepared, or comfortable, to be with God for eternity and those who live for God will have absolutely no part in hell.