Dealing with death

Death is something we usually don’t want to think about until we are forced to. This blog was half written already but today has been one of those days, hearing about the sad news of the death of Iain D.Campbell. I had another of those days just before Christmas when my own father died. I was confronted with death. It’s been (and no doubt will continue to be) difficult. I’m only just starting to walk this road so I’m not pretending to know everything and please don’t think I’ve got it all covered. Rather, I was asked to share that a number of Bible verses have really helped. One bible verse in particular has really given much realism and comfort over the past few weeks. 1 Corinthians 15:26 reads:

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

I’ve learnt 3 things over the past weeks – all found in this verse…

1) Death hurts

I’m not sure what I expected. But it hurt. Lots. As Christians we sometimes don’t really grasp this. When Dad died, I had a number of well meaning texts/cards saying things like, “All things work together for our good” or “he’s in a better place”. Now, I don’t doubt that either of those statements are true but it feels like so often we downplay how sad and un-natural death is. It doesn’t matter what you believe. Death hurts.

Paul says it’s an enemy. Those of you reading this who’ve lost a close friend or family member will know this is true. You’ll know how death cuts cross our hopes and dreams. You’ll know, how it, like an enemy, takes away those closest to us. You’ll know how even with the hope of heaven its still a horrible thing to walk through. Our whole experience of death screams to use that it is an enemy. It hurts.

It’s not just Paul, Jesus himself is hurt by death. When His friend Lazarus died and Jesus saw Lazarus’ sister Mary crying, he didn’t say, “Don’t worry Mary, he’s in a better place” (or even, “don’t worry Mary, I’m about to raise him from the dead”). No, rather we see that Jesus “groaned in the spirit and was troubled” and that He wept (John 11:33,35).

The Bible is clear that Death hurts. This may sound silly, but that really comforted me. In my many tears, in my many questions why, in the hurt of loss, in the emptiness left behind. So often we give the impression that it’s ok. That it’s not too hard. And even that we shouldn’t be sad. The Bible liberates from that thought because it’s clear that death hurts. It tells me that I do not need to mourn as those who have no hope, but it does not tell me not to mourn.

2) We’re all going to die

Death is going to come to us all. You think your father is invincible when you’re growing up. When you’re a little older, you understand they’re not invincible but you still think that they’ll always be around. Sadly, that is not the case and Paul says that’s because death is the last enemy. There is no last great adventure with death like Dumbledore says. Rather it is the last enemy. If it’s the last enemy to be destroyed at the end of time, it means that we’ve all got to be prepared to die because it will only be destroyed then.

This is why, even though we say Jesus has defeated death, people still die. This is why, even though death is dead, it feels so powerful. This is why, even though death’s sting will one day be gone, it’s still so painful now. Death will be here until the end of time.

This shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus was really open that we will die. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25). In Hebrews we read that it is appointed for all men to die. Each and every one of you reading this is destined to die. It may be a morbid thought but it’s something though we need to face up to. Each of us. We need to remember that we are mortal. To put it bluntly – we will all die.

We can try and prolong life. We can make sure we eat the right things. We can make sure we do regular exercise. We can make sure we’d don’t smoke. We can do any manner of things to help us live longer. None of that is wrong but we must also face up to the fact that we will all die and that we need to be ready to die and come face to face with God.

3) The only hope in death is found in Jesus Christ

I can remember the time I went home, knowing that it would be the last time I would see Dad alive. One dear friend from work came up to me and said, “Good luck for the next few days”. I know they meant well but it was all they had. There was no hope, just good luck. I’m not mocking that, I too tried to find hope in family and friends but I could only find hope in death in Jesus Christ – the one who has already defeated and one day will destroy death. That’s what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15.

He looks back first of all to show how Jesus’ resurrection ensures death’s defeat and now he looks forward to the end of time as we know it to when Jesus returns. It is then, and only then, that death will be destroyed. Have a look at the latter verses of chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians. Paul, talking about the second coming, says it is then, when we have our immortal bodies that we can sing, “O death where is your victory, o death where is your sting”. It is only then that death will be destroyed.

Death will simply cease to exist. The message of this vivid scene is a simple one: there will be no more death. In Paul’s words, “Death has been swallowed up in victory”. The way is cleared for the triumphant visions of Revelation chapters 21-22.

Revelation 21:1-4:

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2 Then I, John,[a] saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

What a difference. Instead of “good luck”. Jesus shouts triumphantly, “Behold, I make all things new”. The gospel talks about tears being wiped away, and lions lying with lambs, and death being nonexistent. It declares there will be no mourning, or crying, or pain, and the former things will pass away.

The Christian does not have the luxury of despair because death is not the end. As Paul says, to be with Christ is gain. What could be better than being in his presence? What could be better than seeing his glory? And though we are saddened at those who have gone to be with Christ, that they are not with us. We know that they are well and it is us who struggle.

Iain D.Campbell wrote in an article for the Free Church magazine in 2015:

One theologian puts it like this ‘God will not rest from his redemptive work until he has once and for all presided over the funeral of sin and death’. That is the hope to which I cling: that the last enemy will be destroyed, and life will have the final word. Until then we will continue walking through this vale of tears – [looking forward to the day it will be no more].

He was right. One day death and all that is mortal will be swallowed up by life. For him (and Dad) that’s become a reality.