When I posted this article on back on the 6th, I had not yet seen the final version that would be in print. But I received a copy of the Mosaic Bible last week, and naturally, I went straight to my page. 😉 It seems that some pretty significant editing took place. I have no complaint, but I honestly like my version a little bit better. 😉 Just in case visitors to The Long War should see find the article in the Mosaic Bible, I thought I might show the areas of my original writing which did not make the cut. There were also a few words and phrases (even a sentence or two at the end) which were added in, I think mostly to smooth the places where material was removed. I have crossed out the words that did not survive to print, like this.
This is an article that I wrote about a year or so ago for a new Bible that is just coming out. It is called the Holy Bible: Mosaic. I didn’t think of this title until just now, so it won’t appear under this title in the Bible.
What do you think of death? Do you think of it very much at all?
It seems that most people in America and other parts of the West respond to the reality and inevitability of death by turning up the volume and ignoring it. Whistling past the graveyard, they try to convince themselves that death is not a certainty – or at least they try to numb themselves to its presence for today. Yet an ancient word of wisdom tells us that “you are going to die, and you should think about it while there is still time (Eccl. 7:2).”
Only a century and a half ago, in a sermon called “Remember Death,” C.H. Spurgeon preached these words to his congregation: “Man is unwilling to consider the subject of death. The shroud, the mattock, and the grave, he labors to keep continually out of sight. He would live here always if he could; and since he cannot, he at least will put away every emblem of death as far as possible from his sight. Perhaps there is no subject so important, which is so little thought of.”
Yes, we will avoid the thought of death, if we can. But we cannot live for very long in this world without being rudely reminded of the reality of it. So what will we make of it?
Those who have a naturalistic worldview simply see death as the end of a person’s existence. Of course, it only takes a moment’s reflection to see that this makes life pretty empty and ultimately pointless. In reaction to this hopelessness, many existential thinkers have tried to claim that death actually serves us by providing us with the motivation to live with all the gusto we can, for as long as we can. In the end, however, they have to admit that death is the final triumph of meaninglessness.
In recent years, Hollywood and other centers of pop culture have tried to shed a more pleasant light on death. For example, one movie has personified death as a charming and somewhat misunderstood entity who simply has a job to do. Sometimes, in ordinary conversation, we hear people light-heartedly using phrases like “the sweet release of death.” In the political realm – which seems increasingly difficult to distinguish from entertainment culture – death and the process of dying has been the subject of much serious discussion, and even legislation. In fact, as has happened so many times throughout human history, our culture is beginning to show the signs of a sick fascination with death.
But just as surely as death cannot be avoided or ignored, it can never be tamed or befriended or made beautiful. Nor will it be appeased, if we worship it. No, death is a terrible enemy. It is sad and ugly, and we are right to hate it. And still, it comes. Our plight, then, seems rather hopeless.
Yet there is good news. The Scriptures would encourage us with the fact that God has also seen death as we do – a dreadful, terrifying enemy. For the Son of God Himself came to live here in our dark world, under the very same cloud of death that terrorizes us. Here He loved, here He served, and here He died. And always, His every move was stalked by the one who longed to enclose Him in the icy clutches of the grave.
Satan, that great enemy of our race, was the deceiver whose craftiness played a central role in our initial downfall into sin and death (Gen. 3). From then on, the power of death was in his hands. But thanks be to God, our Lord Jesus Christ has wrested it from him! By His own death, Jesus has freed us from the power of the Devil and the fear of death (Heb. 2:14-15). Now, our Lord is the One who holds both life and death in His hands (Rom. 14:9; Rev. 1:18)!
Praise the Lord! At His resurrection, Jesus’ victory was total. And He shares the triumphant power of His resurrection life with those of us who are His by faith. But although His victory is already totally secured, we live in a time when we have not yet experienced its final consummation. We look forward to that day when “death is swallowed up in victory (I Cor. 15:54).” And in the meanwhile, we find that Christians actually have good reason to see death in a better light. For us, “living is for Christ, and dying is even better (Phil. 1:21).” For us, death is now only the dark doorway into the eternal light of face-to-face communion with the author of life, who has defeated death for us.