Death looms over us all.
It frightens some and elates other.
Drives us to noble works and dreadful deeds.
Perhaps no single force has worked so powerfully on man as his knowledge that he must surely die.
Kierkegaard called the knowledge of one’s own death the essential fact that distinguishes us from animals.
Yet, we spend our days thinking about everything but death.
Look at the billion dollar age-defying industry and you see what cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker might call symptoms of death denial.
Even our sermons are geared to the here and now: stable marriages, stout muscles, serene minds and safe investments.
Strange society, indeed: we strive to preserve the LEAST enduring part of our beings–the body. And we do this in spite of substantial words the Bible has to say about death.
Maybe you’ve never thought of death as a Christian doctrine. Or one that deserves much attention. But indeed, it is a doctrine and it does deserve healthy consideration.
Let me show you how and why.
Physical Death: The Lowdown
The Bible speaks of death in three ways: physical, spiritual and eternal.
For plants and animals, death is nothing more than the end of life. But for humans it’s more. It’s the separation of the soul from the body. It’s a passage of one kind of existence to another.
In ancient Israel, death was a natural end to life. So the goal of an Israelite was to live long and die in the presence of children and grandchildren.
And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. Genesis 35:18
But where did they believe the soul departed to? Ancient Hebrews regarded death as the soul’s entrance into Sheol–where the deceased were cut off from God and community.
In spite of this grim fate, Psalm 139:7-8 proclaims that God the redeemer is in both heaven and Sheol. In fact, he is able to bring a person out of Sheol:
The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. 1 Samuel 2:6
It’s only in Ecclesiastes do you find outright pessimism expressed in the face of death. And that book probably shows considerable non-Hebraic influence.
Spiritual Death: The Lowdown
Abel was the first human recorded in the Bible to die. Cain, his brother, murdered him. But the first mention of death in a physical AND spiritual sense occurred in Genesis 2:17:
But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.
In other words, death was a result of sin.
That’s why the New Testament sees death NOT as a personal event but a theological problem: sin introduced death and death involves separation from God.
This is spiritual death.
Romans 3:23 says it this way:
ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” They are spiritually cut off from God. But when we are born again–when Christ redeems us–we are raised from spiritual death and reunited spiritually with God.
Eternal Death: The Lowdown
Eternal death is the third version of biblical death. This is known as the second death–and it appears in Revelation 2:11:
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.
This is the everlasting separation from God in hell. It occurs after the final judgment.
In the meantime, the devil is the lord of death–the very god of this world that Christ conquered paradoxically by dying.
Death Defeated by Christ’s Resurrection
Paul saw death–all versions–as an enemy, an enemy conquered by Christ’s resurrection:
The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 1 Corinthians 15:26
In fact, the major point of New Testament passages like 1 Corinthians 5:7; 2 Corinthians 5:15; Philippians 2:8 and 1 Peter 3:18-19 is that Jesus did not remain dead but defeated the devil, took the power of death and ascended in victory.
How Christians Should View Death
So even though Christians still die physically, death can never separate us from Christ. We do not grieve like the rest of people who have no hope.
Instead, our mourning is enhanced by our anticipation of our own transition from this life to the next.
Phillip Yancey once said, “We need a renewed awareness of death” and “a faith, in the midst of our groaning, that death is not the last word, but the next to the last.”
A proper view of death–both the beautiful and the ugly–allows us to articulate to the godless the joy found in the hope we have secured in Christ’s own death and resurrection.
That is fundamental to the gospel.
Furthermore the paradox is that we can fully engage and enjoy our commission to subdue the earth when we realize that our half-baked, corrupt crafts will transform into eternal, incorruptible objects that glorify God in the future resurrection. A topic we will visit next in this series.
What About You?
Do you have a healthy respect for death? Are you living in the light that one day you will die? And how do you cope with that truth? Do you put your trust in Christ or this culture?
Drop me a line on Google+. I look forward to your thoughts. Brutal and all.
Image source: A Quick Perspective on Death