I hate death. We tend to euphemize it with words like passed, departed or sleep. But while these may help lessen the emotional blow of its reality the truth is that death is a malevolent intruder that mocks both life and the Giver of life. The wise man understood this when he wrote,
Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind (Ecclesiastes 2:15-17).
Death rises to testify that life is absurd and God, if He exists, is either indifferent or impotent or perhaps both. No wonder the Apostle Paul calls it an enemy. The last enemy.
One of the inevitable realities of aging is increased experience with death. In years past I have wept over the deaths of two parents, a sibling and a granddaughter. In the past three weeks, I have wept over the death of a niece, an uncle and, just this morning, a nephew. By the incredible grace of God each of those family members died in faith. That is, they died trusting Jesus Christ as Lord. Though such faith does not negate death or render it less painful or traumatic, it does transform it so that all who share such faith can grieve differently at the graves of believing loved ones. Christians do indeed grieve and should not hesitate much less be embarrassed to do so. Jesus wept at the tomb of His friend, Lazarus and I am leery of anyone who thinks that it is more spiritual to celebrate than to cry at a funeral.
It is natural, it is right, it is Christian to grieve over death. But Christians grieve differently, not as those “who have no hope.” “For,” as Paul reminds us, “since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). Because God raised Jesus from the dead, we can be sure that all who are “in Christ” through faith will also be raised from the dead with Him. He is the firstfruits and we who His are the rest of the harvest (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). Paul beautifully explains this in 2 Corinthians 5:1-8.
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
Death immediately ushers the Christian into the very presence of our Savior where we will await with Him that great day of resurrection when our renewed spirits will be joined to our resurrected bodies making us fit for eternity with the God who redeemed us. It is this blessed hope that empowers every believer to look at death yes, as an enemy, but as an enemy that can no longer terrorize or mock. On that day, at the sound of a trumpet, “the dead will be raised imperishable and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:52-53). And when that happens, then believers will have the last laugh. Through the power of our risen Savior we will, with Him, stand in victory over death and will mock it, saying,
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)
That sure hope is what undergirds my grief over the death of an uncle who lived a long, productive life and the deaths of a niece and nephew who, from our vantage point, were struck down in the prime of life leaving behind grieving spouses, a motherless child and fatherless children. They died in faith and so, in the words of the Puritan pastor, John Owen, have left the land of the dying and entered the land of the living.
Death is indeed our enemy. The last enemy. But its defeat occurred in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So its destruction is guaranteed. Everyone who has this hope can find abiding comfort in the midst of profound sorrow.