This article may make you think I’m a morbid character; after all, death is not a popular topic. On the one hand, we glory and revel in it as long as it is confined to our video games, TV shows and movies. We embrace the idea in our entertainment because we know it is unavoidable; and our entertainment mediums give us a false sense of control over it. Yet, this same reality is something from which we are constantly running. We don’t want to have real conversations about it, nor do we want to delve into the reason it exists, how it affects us or what happens afterwards.
In fact, there is no end to the number of ways we try to extend our lives, make our later years more painless or eliminate the appearance of age. Most of us want nothing to do with the reality that one day our life here on earth will be over. Even those daring enough to entertain the notion of death from time to time will only halfheartedly ponder the fact that it is truly imminent for everyone.
This is in bold contrast with how Scripture handles life and death. The Psalmist says, “You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath” (Psalm 39:5). The majority of us are not very familiar with measurements used in biblical times, so an explanation of a handbreadth is in order. It literally means the breadth, or width, of your hand. This would be roughly three inches on average. That is what the psalmist says our life is like. And he’s right. It is a short, passing vapor. James 4:14 puts it this way, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
Obviously, these two verses are not exhaustive of the biblical teaching on life and death, but they are good examples of a consistent biblical theme: life is short. For all of us death is near, perhaps nearer than we like to think. Even for those of us blessed with a full earthly life, our lives are but a vapor in the larger picture of eternity.
It wouldn’t be entirely unfair to group the majority of the human race into two categories. There are those who seem to accept death as a natural process and roll with it. Then there are those who apparently find it strange, scary and altogether unnatural. Actually, neither of these views of death is biblical.
Consider what King Solomon said on the matter:
It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure. (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4)
Solomon explains that it is more profitable for our souls to be at funerals than weddings and happy feasts because at funerals we are faced with the reality that one day it will be our funeral. One day, we too will vanish from this earth, and this fact forces us to deal with God. We all should discard our foolish pursuit of earthly pleasure and deal more directly with God, our Creator.
Let’s look closer at the first general approach to death: those who accept that death is normal. (I can easily relate to this group because I’ve spent a good bit of time living with this assumption myself.) Since we know that death comes to all men, why then would we not see it as normal? Why does it disturb us when someone dies? Why are we wrought with remorse over the death of those close to us? Why does the death of those still in their youth sting us so deeply, even if we did not know them at all? Since we know that everyone dies eventually, why can’t we just accept it and move on with life?
It’s because death is not natural. As much as it pacifies us to think so, we know it is not. Genesis 3 explains that sin came into the world because of sin. We know from Romans 6:23 that “the wages of sin is death.” We also know that we are all going to pay this costly price. “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). We have all sinned, and therefore, we all die. But wait—if we die as a result of sin, does that not mean that without sin we would not die? That is it exactly!
God did not create us for death. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). God is the God of life. He is the only life-giver and is the Creator of all life. Jesus is not like the devil that is described as the thief. Jesus gives full life. The thief takes it away.
While it is true that death comes to us all because we all sin and rebel against God, it is not the desire that God has for us. God cannot tolerate this rebellious affront to His holy nature and must justly punish it. We are therefore subject to death and eternal damnation. God didn’t create us for this purpose but we have, in a sense, volunteered for it or asked for it. Death is not natural. It is the consequence of rebellion against a righteous God. There is nothing more unnatural than death. However, God has dealt with this rebellion, which leads us to the way the second group of people view death.
There are those whom the subject of death seems to absolutely petrify. They avoid all talk on the subject and simply would rather think about happy things. We discussed how Solomon, in his wisdom, said this is a flawed response to death. We know that death comes to all, yet we have determined that it is not natural. The pain and separation it causes are the result of our fallen state.
How does it help to understand this? It should produce within us a true fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7, 9:10). It is good to know our place in this universe. We are a rebellious people deserving of eternal punishment. Physical death is how we would transition from this temporary life into an eternal death apart from the grace of God.
But those last six words are vital! God did not simply say, “To hell with you all!” Instead, while we were still His enemies, He sent His Son to earth to die for us (Romans 5:8). We deserve unending punishment for our rebellion, and yet, God has laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). My sin deserves a death that never ends. But Jesus absorbed all of that. He died in my place for my sins. To believe that, repent of my sins and follow Jesus is to receive eternal life (John 3:16, 36). Because of the sacrifice of Jesus, I can die to my sins rather than for my sins (1 Peter 2:24). He has made me a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20), allowing me to echo with Paul that “to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Instead of fearing the grave, I can know that the ultimate pain of eternal separation from God is removed and the sin that broke my relationship with God is covered (1 Corinthians 15:57).
So where does this leave us? It leaves the one who does not believe in Jesus in a very bad place. Death for them brings even a worse death. It brings a death which is forever and is without relief (Luke 16:19-31). Those who reject the claims of Christ are under condemnation (John 3:18). Their sin separates them from God and because of it, they stand condemned already. They do not have the relationship with God for which they were created.
Yet, the words of Jesus are simple to understand. If we repent or agree with God about our sin (Mark 1:15), and quit making excuses trying to justify our wicked rebellion, we can be free. If we agree with God that we are sinners and place our trust in Jesus Christ, we will find salvation.
Those who believe Him are given the right to be called the children of God (John 1:12). Jesus died for our rebellion, in order to reconcile us to God (Romans 5:10). We must believe this or we stand condemned for eternity because of our rejection of Him (Hebrews 10:26-27).
Happily, Christians can embrace death as the time we will meet our Savior face-to-face. It truly is the gain of which Paul speaks. For us death means the cares of this life are no more, and we are in the presence of our Savior. But this does not mean we ignore the very real pain that exists in and around death. The death of our physical body is a reminder that while our souls have been redeemed, our bodies are still perishing, and creation is still groaning waiting for its redemption (Romans 8). We must face the reality that many we love and cherish are perishing without the hope of the eternity with Christ which we have. These things are real. They are still real even with Jesus as our Savior. To ignore them is to ignore the urgency of Jesus’ message of repentance. We must preach Christ to a dying world, because without Him there is no reconciliation to God. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. There will be none with the Father who did not come through Jesus (John 14:6).
Here are a few questions we all must answer. Where is your citizenship? Are you living as a slave to sin or a bondservant of Jesus Christ? Sure you ready to die? Have you valued Jesus above all else, taken up your cross and followed Him? How have you viewed this world around you? Do you see a world full of inconveniences for you which make you just want to die so you can be rid of the hassles? Or, do you see a lost world desperately in need of the Gospel? John Piper used some powerful words for the title of his book, “Don’t Waste Your Life.” Someday we will all die, and we are guaranteed no second chances.