If the title may sound a bit confusing, there is a good reason. Often confusion is a consequence of death leaving us with more questions than answers. I have lived it and seen it frequently in others—even the most prepared and informed of others. Death is what it is—an enemy will all shall face.
And that part I do understand on one level. Death is a consequence of sin—the fall of man along with the brokenness of the world. This is how the Bible frames it in the creation narrative (Genesis 3:17-19). Since that fallen moment it has become part of the corrupted earth—an accepted but hardly welcomed part of life. Scripture plainly states that it is coming for everyone (Hebrews 9:27). When it comes it brings separation, heartbreak, and mourning—especially when unexpected. Death is part of Satan’s arsenal. It plays a major role in his desire to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10). The wonderful heavenly news however, is that death does not have the final say. God has countered death with life. The empty tomb does not just provide the optics for this, but also the guarantee. Death will ultimately and completely be eradicated by Christ (1 Corinthians 15:26). This promise; this reality provides us hope and confidence that death does not have the final victory (1 Corinthians 15:54-56)—that in Christ Jesus it will not “sting” us in its forever form. Perhaps with a most mature understanding of this theology, we could even reach a point in which we consider death differently as it brings us one step closer to being with God (as the apostle Paul discussed in Philippians 1:21-23). Certainly, knowing all of this should lead to an embracing of the apostle John’s urging of remaining faithful unto death (Revelation 2:10). Yes, I do understand how the Bible presents death—the cause, the consequences, the remedy, the theology. From a “head” perspective I get it. It is just with the “heart” I struggle.
I struggle when children die; when young mothers are taken away from their children; when fathers leave far too soon; when murder invades lives and brings destruction far beyond just the act itself; when families are devastated by death. It all seems so unfair; so unjust; so uncalled for. I cry out—how long—to God (I am not the first: Psalm 13; Habakkuk 1:2; Revelation 6:10); how long until Jesus returns; completely defeats death; eliminating all injustice along with the pain that accompanies it?
These are the yearnings and questions of my heart and at times, they override the understanding in my head. So, I understand death, but then again, I do not. Unfortunately, this is the tension in which I will continue to live because I will continue to live—until death comes for me—in this broken-down world. Of course, Jesus understands that, having entered this brokenness with me (Hebrews 4:14-16). So all I can do on those occasions when no theology will sooth my pain is to cling to him; trust; not give up; and double down on the hope found in him. What other choice do I have? What other approach makes any sense? How else can I handle it? If I allow death to defeat me now, it will surely defeat me then.
I think perhaps all of this is what Paul had in mind as he wrote in 1 Corinthians 15: 58 to conclude some of his thoughts on this topic:
So, my dear brothers and sisters, stand strong. Don’t let anything change you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord. You know that your work in the Lord is never wasted. (ERV)
“Never wasted”—above all I do not want the enemy to come only to realize that my life was wasted. This makes death all the more tragic. My head and my heart will likely continue to be in tension over death, but I want both to belong to Jesus even as I deal with the pain and the questions.
Lord come quickly.