The last enemy
As the weeks have rolled on since Easter, with its glad remembrance of the Saviour’s triumph over death, ET’s editors have been forcibly reminded of the reality of that last great enemy. An unprecedented number of death notices have been e-mailed in to us and now appear as tributes and obituaries on pages 11 and 31 of this issue.
Death is hardly a welcome theme for a newspaper’s summer holiday edition, but address it we must. Its untimely appearance reminds us how death so often works – or to put it better, how God uses death to accomplish his purposes.
For use death he does. The Lord Jesus declares that he it is who has the keys of death and hades (Revelation 1:18). All things serve his pleasure.
Unexpected and unbidden
Death usually comes unexpectedly and, from our angle, always unbidden. The narrative of John 11, by emphasising the distress of Lazarus’ bereaved sisters and his friend Jesus Christ, reminds us that death is a phenomenon deeply hurtful and totally unnatural.
The agony of spirit we experience belies the evolutionist’s facile assertion that death is a natural by-product of existence. God did not create humankind to die. Death is the unavoidable spin-off of Adam’s sin – a rebellion pursued by his posterity (Romans 5:12).
But knowing this fact does not make it more palatable. We still crave answers and solutions as we come face to face with the seeming end.
That craving testifies that life is precious to us, as well as very fragile. Not for nothing does the Bible describe the passing of a person as being like the breaking of a golden bowl and the shattering of a pitcher at the fountain (Ecclesiastes 12:6).
We know only too well that we are not inconsequential over-developed lumps of slime. That conviction is an inwardly attested reality that even the most ardent atheist cannot escape.
The existentialists of this world bear witness to this innate knowledge by their philosophical outpourings about the dilemma of human existence. Why waste a moment on such speculation if a pointless evolutionary process drives everything?
Not the end
But death is not the end, because we were made in the image of God with immortal souls. We shall never die (Genesis 1:26-27). We shall live for ever – either in heaven or hell, depending on what we have done with the Lord Jesus Christ in this life. If we have believed in Christ as Lord and Saviour, we have the staggering and unfailing promise: ‘He who believes in me, even though he dies, he shall live’ (John 11:25).
This comforts believers concerning those who have died in Christ and gone before them. They are safe now, free from the vexations of this sinful world and beyond the reach of harm. ‘The righteous perishes, and no man takes it to heart; merciful men are taken away, while no one considers that the righteous is taken away from evil. He shall enter into peace; they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness’ (Isaiah 57:1-2).
So while we mourn the loss of loved ones – and that is natural (John 11:35) – we have no reason to mourn their new circumstances. For the instant they died they were taken by the angels into heaven – to ‘Abraham’s bosom’ (Luke 16:22) and ‘paradise’ (Luke 23:43). And there they are greatly ‘comforted’ (Luke 16:25).
Rather than burdening ourselves with too much sorrow, we pay them greater honour if we concentrate on the same upward calling and press towards the same glorious home – taking as many as we can with us through a Christ-like gospel witness.