If you have ever had someone very close to you die, then you know how lacerating the pain of death and separation can be. A relationship of love and warmth, of laughter and familiarity, in the blink of an eye, becomes an aching void—and not all voids can be re-filled, even with the passage of time. The pain of loss can be a tyrant. But the Christian, though not immune to sadness and the harsh realities of life, is not called to despair and wither away in grief. Even in the matter of death, which all of us need to consider, God offers wisdom, comfort, and hope. So, according to the Word of God, how should Christians understand and relate to this unsettling universal reality?
Death Is Not Good
In the beginning, after having created the world and everything in it, God declared His work, His creation, to be good, even “very good”(Gen. 1:31). Contrary to this, through the disobedience of Adam, the head of humanity, both sin and death began its very bad reign over the created world (Rom. 5:12). Death stained this age with darkness and sadness where there was once beautiful light and joy. Humanity was created to enjoy communion with God, a communion of richness, fullness, and reciprocal, self-giving love. But sin disrupted this heavenly possibility, bringing instead an alienation that can only be remedied by redemptive love. It’s no wonder that the apostle Paul calls death “the last enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26).
The Prospect Of Death Can Give Us Wisdom For Life
Unless we are alive when the Lord arrives to close the age, we can expect to die. Our bodies will return to the dust, and our spirits will return to God who gave them (Eccl. 12:7). The author of the letter to the Hebrews said it best, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). But according to Scripture, this shouldn’t lead to despair or a paralysis of the will. Though our days are swifter than the Olympic track champion Usain Bolt, our brevity of life and impending death can teach us many things. For example, from our limited nature and perspective, we know that we shouldn’t be presumptuous with our life plans. Instead, as believers who understand that all things rest in the hand of God, we ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15).
By numbering our days, recognizing how short our time really is, we can increasingly cherish the good gifts that God gives to us today, such as life, family, daily bread, and our local church. The godly contemplation of our earthly exit also helps us to re-evaluate our ultimate loves and hopes, whether they are turned toward empty things that cannot profit or deliver, or whether they are fixed upon Christ and His promises.
Death Does Not Have The Last Word
Today it seems popular to believe that a human person is exhaustively physical. This physicalist point of view rejects the traditional concept of the soul, especially a soul that survives the death of the body. Instead, individuals enter into something like one big silence at their death. If there is any talk of immortality here, it is only an immortality of remembrance, a remembrance of their personality, works, and legacy. The believer, however, trusts in God’s very real promises of eternal life. The Son of God became incarnate in the fullness of time to seek and to save the lost.
His obedience and atoning cross-work has purchased for all who trust in Him an imperishable inheritance in the new creation. And let me hasten to add that His resurrection is infinitely significant not only for our salvation but also for our understanding of death. For it is not only the case that once the believer dies he or she will go to be with the Lord in paradise, as glorious as that is, but there also awaits an even greater reality, the resurrection of the body, a resurrection begun with Christ’s, who is the firstborn from the dead (Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 5:8; John 5:28-29; Col. 1:18).
When Jesus returns to judge the world and usher in the new heavens and earth, He will also “transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). Jesus makes clear the significance of His person and work while talking to Martha, the sister of Lazarus: “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” (John 11:25-26).
Now we can understand our death through the light of Christ’s resurrection, where victory, life, and rest are the end result. Instead of fearfully anticipating one great silence when we die, we can look forward to being present with the Lord in paradise. And in God’s perfect timing, we can further anticipate inhabiting a new creation in resurrection bodies, bodies that are imperishable and glorious (1 Cor. 15:42-43).
Instead of living as if this life is ultimate, is the only place we can find meaning, is the highest thing one can live for, we can live freely for God and others knowing that we have life and immortality through the gospel (2 Tim. 2:10). Instead of being devoured by hopelessness at the loss of a brother or sister in Christ, whether that be a biological family member or friend, we can have hope that we will rise together with them on the last day to be with the Lord forever (1 Thess. 4:13-18). In truth, His death and resurrection defang the sting of death. The answer to the reality of pain and death is found in Christ alone. The good news of the resurrection of the Son of God is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path as we interpret, navigate, and confront both life and death (Ps. 119:105).
And in the same way that a little bit of leaven makes bread rise, a little bit of sin left unchecked will grow.
Episode 156 | Dr. Michael Horton interviews Barbara Duguid on counseling, depression, and addiction.