This week, once again, I and many people I know felt the sting of death in particularly shocking ways. Many who read this column felt personally the death of a child, so precious and with many years seemingly ahead, and so loved and cherished by parents and grandparents who mean much to us. Nearly the same group was stunned by the sudden and unanticipated death of a vibrant disciple of Jesus who had been serving him for decades and was still vigorously having an impact for him.
“Death is a part of life” we are told. In one way that is true. We go to maternity wards and we go to funeral homes (although that is a strange term). The daily paper always has obituaries. My father, before his death, read them every morning to see whose name was there that he knew. One day four years ago his name was there. Just a part of life.
But let’s consider another view--a mind change. Death was not God’s original intention. He never wanted us to feel the pain of separation from family and dear friends. He never intended for a story to end with the rather hollow “RIP” we send via social media to one who has died. No, death is a part of an old fallen world, a result of human sin. It is a nasty opponent to be overcome. It is not an ultimate part of what God calls life (zoe), that is, life to the full.
That’s why Paul would write: “For he [Jesus] must reign until he puts all his enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be abolished is death” (1 Corinthians 15:25-26). And then, he would go on to say:
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)
If death feels bad to us, that is because it is an aberrant intrusion into God’s loving plan. But Paul makes it clear that through Jesus Christ, death will not have the last word. It will be so devoured by Jesus' resurrected life that we can do things to it that we must never do to a human enemy. We can mock it and ridicule it and celebrate its defeat. We can dance of the grave of death itself.
And this is why we want all those we love to be united with Christ. Death was never God’s will, but forever relationships certainly are.