Today I intended to post the first of a three-part series I’m writing, but that’ll hold for a little while. A godly young man who attended the undergraduate school at my seminary passed away last night. I didn’t know him much at all, but this event has caused me to reflect much. It also seems nearly all in our circle here have been affected by his passing in some way. As I reflected on several events lately, last night’s being the most poignant, I felt sharing some of these Scripture-based reflections may be helpful to someone out there. So here are six truths to embrace in the face of death.
1. The Reality of our Fallen Condition
The reality of our fallen condition means the presence of our ancient enemy, Death. Sin came into the world through one man and death through that sin. We are repulsed by death. Our physical senses produce violent nauseating reactions to its unwelcome manifestations. We smell death and can’t help but cover our noses. We see death and come face-to-face with horror. We touch death and it is cold, icy, and foreboding. It grips our emotions, including those deep-seated feelings of grief, loneliness, despair, and fear. There is hatred, too. All humans hate death, because we know that it is an enemy that we cannot defeat in our own power. So it is no good to ignore the reality of our fallen condition in this death-smeared world. Ignorance of the truth is never the path to peace. And so we come to perceive our fallen condition in the face of death.
2. The Frailty of our Flesh
As young Americans, we’re often cocooned in the unstable security of our relative health. Then sickness or disease or death smash into our cocooned environs and rudely wake us from our slumber. We learn afresh that all flesh is grass, all life is vapor, all earthly health is temporal, and all breath is borrowed. In light of this, it would be good to embrace that he is God and we are not. He is the Creator and we are his creation. He is limitless and we are limited. Death reminds us of the frailty of our mortal flesh and the fleeting nature of our earthly existence. The Sovereign Lord could take away a gray-haired, wheelchair-bound senior in one minute and then a young man at the pinnacle of his intellectual vigor and physical strength the next. No one is immune to death when everyone is frail. The frailty of our finite bodies should drive us to humility and to child-like dependence. This is a truth we should embrace.
3. The Urgency of our Present Hour
Death reminds us that we should not waste our lives. It helps us recall the poignant truth, “Only one life ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” Urgency should be branded upon our consciences, particularly as we contemplate the present trajectory of those living but unbelieving persons who may be taken at any moment. This is why Scripture says things like “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” and “Today is the day of salvation” and “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!” (See Psalm 95; 2 Cor. 6:2; 5:20). For many, this is the evangelistic clarion call trumpeted from the Spirit of God to stop putting it off and to have that talk, make that phone call, share that book, arrange that meeting, take that risk, and speak that word, not later, but today. Today, while there is still time in this present dispensation for genuine repentance and trust in Jesus. Death should drive us to embrace the urgency of our present hour.
4. The Preciousness of our Loved Ones
There is hope for Christians after the loss of loved ones, but we are still human and we still miss them. There is a healthy place for channeling those feelings of heart-aching nostalgic endearment over a passed loved one into a present cherishing of those still with us.
As people pass away, we should be more intentional and mindful about valuing the loved ones still here. We saw this at Sandy Hook. As parents across the nation saw other children taken, they were driven to value their own children even more. Death strikes someone, and then we realize it could just as easily have been our roommate or our best friend or our brother or our parents. Brazen bitterness, petty squabbles, awkward insecurities, and longstanding neglect too often characterize our interaction with family and friends. But with the help of God’s Spirit revealing to us the preciousness of our loved ones in the midst of a poignant moment like death, those hindrances dissolve away next to the blaze of a superior relational paradigm.
Then those special moments we so often take for granted become precious. We appreciate just seeing our father, mother, friends, brothers, sisters, etc. We savor the joy of their touch, their conversation, and their unique quirks. We hug them like we mean it. We tell them old-fashioned, un-American things like, “I love you.” We feel blessed to pray with them and read Scripture and discover how God is shaping them to become more like Jesus. These are good and precious things. So “love one another with brotherly affection (Rom. 12:10).” Say to God “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight (Psalm 16:3).”
5. The Solidarity of our Communal Grief
Even as we cherish our loved ones and recognize the preciousness of their presence anew, we must realize that there are those who are grieving. As saints grieve death, other saints should bombard those grieving with appropriate yet relentless love and encouragement and presence. There is an edifying solidarity that occurs when Christians grieve together. All grief is not sin. It is a consequence of living in a fallen world. So the body of Christ is called to reach out to those in the pit of despair and be with them in this process. It has been rightly noted by many that Job’s friends were at their best when they were most silent. They just sat with him for days, being a comforting presence in the midst of overwhelming grief. Sometimes you just need to sit down and shut up. And when the time is right, after we’ve wept together, then we speak God’s truth in wise, appropriate, healing ways.
6. The Triumph of our Death-Defying Savior
After all the philosophy and religion and depravity I’ve encountered in my life, if it weren’t for this life-changing truth, I would probably go buck wild for a few years then shoot myself in the head. I’d have no hope. But Christ is alive. He has been raised from the dead. Death no longer has dominion over him or over any of those who are eternally joined to him through faith and repentance. So there is hope, hope beyond our grief and beyond our grave. One day all those in Christ will be raised and clothed with immortality, with the gift of imperishable bodies. We will be reunited to forever worship the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world. Our hope stands secure on the never-shifting Rock of Ages. Therefore, come what may, we do not grieve as those who have no hope, because of the triumph of our death-defying Savior. As death is a terror for those in the curse of sin, it is a glory for those in the grace of God.
This is why Paul could say absolutely radical things like, “To die is gain.” From where does that come? What happened to all that expected grief, loneliness, despair, and fear over the prospect of death? This is what happened: “Death was swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:55-56).” This is what we should embrace in the face of death. And the object of this embrace is not so much an abstract truth as it is a living Person. Jesus, the mortifier of death and the supplier of life, welcomes your embrace tonight.