Death & Dying

Every person alive has the same disease: mortality. Whether you live to be 97 or 14, one day your body will stop functioning and you'll die. It's not a prospect most people want to contemplate, but it's always on the horizon, hovering on the edges of the highway during our commute, coughed out of our lungs when we're sick, waiting somewhere in the night every time we get into bed and practice lack of consciousness.

We fear death, we hate death, we ignore death. Death means separation—either from our own bodies, or from people we know and love. We don't know what happens once our bodies are left behind, and that scares us. It also presents a deep mystery we both long to understand and cannot abide. Every couple of years a new crop of charlatans arrives to try to convince people they've been to heaven and back (or hell and back), but we aren't satisfied with hearsay, we want direct knowledge.

One thing we can know is that death is always violent. The birth of death was a violent act: Adam's teeth tearing the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was violent, Cain's murder of Abel was violent, the sacrifice of sheep was violent, and the death of Jesus Christ our Lord was violent. But the violence of death goes beyond the external reality; death is inherently violent, because it is opposed to the life-giving holiness of God Himself.

Surely not all death is violent, you'll say. Cancer that eats cells is violent; heart attacks are violent; the destructive elements of old age are violent; suffocation is violent; lethal injection is violent. Violence doesn't refer only to blood and guts, it implies anything that is at war against truth, righteousness, and perfection. This describes death in all its forms, not least of which is spiritual death, the death of separation from God through sin.

It is this form of death that makes us afraid of all the other kinds. As long as we're alive, we don't have to face the life to come, we can tell ourselves whatever foolishness we wish, confident while we draw breath in our own wisdom. If there is a judgement after death, we'd rather not know about it, so we make believe everyone goes to heaven, or that there is no afterlife, or that we were somehow good enough to achieve God's good graces on our own merits.

But turning a blind eye doesn't absolve us from guilt. In fact, it only increases our guilt, because even our ignorance is sin and rebellion. The only surety of heaven, the only hope we have of life after death is Jesus Christ, who was crucified, died and buried on our behalf, and who rose from the dead so that we might have resurrection through Him. Ony by faith in Jesus the Risen One can we be free of our fear of death.

It's not that death loses all its mystery and horror. Death is still death, even for Christians, the result of the fall and the consequence of our sin. But death for a Christian is also the final sanctification, the purifying of the soul before we are united spiritually and forever with God our Father. Death is at once a terrible and a wonderful thing: we forget about it or we worship it both at our own peril.

Jesus tells His followers to live in hope for the next life. This doesn't mean that we abandon the physical world around us, it simply means that we understand there is a life to come, a life even more real than this one, and that what we believe will affect our destination. Christ promises to resurrect our bodies on the last day: the Christian's future in heaven is not unconnected to this one, but it is better and more glorified having passed through the crucible of death.

It's only right that those who reject Christ should fear death. What awaits them is only emptiness and torment, and there is nothing good about those. We who have hope, however, need not live in dread of the end, knowing that it is really only the real beginning. If we really believe this and trust God's promises through His holy Word, the best way to deal with death is to accept it on our own behalf, and to tell a terrified world that there is no need of fear in Christ Jesus.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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