CHRISTIANS AND DEATH

Have you ever thought about your death; what it will be like when you die? Not so much the circumstances of death, which we can’t possibly predict—maybe you die in your sleep or, hopefully not, in a terrible auto accident—but rather the experience at the moment when you are said to be no longer alive.

I find myself pondering this every once in a while, even though that may seem a little morbid to you. Part of me struggles with the reality that, to die, means I have to leave the relationship and comfort of those I dearly love. How I will miss them so and, additionally, how my death will affect them and cause them pain and suffering at losing me.

On the other hand, I like to imagine what it will be like to pass from this life into eternal life. To “wake up” to the presence of the Lord and see His beautiful face. I’m not sure about the waking up part. I’m pretty convinced that our spirit doesn’t go to sleep but somehow transitions from the reality of this life to an existence in glory. And that excites me! Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word he shall never see death.” [Jn 8:51] Death here I understand to mean to be separated eternally from God. The Bible also talks a great deal about those who are “asleep” [1 Thess 4:13-18 and Daniel 12:2 for instance] and who will rise to meet Him at His coming. I understand this to mean the physical bodies of those who are believers are asleep so to speak, whereas the spirits of those who have died are already in heaven as seen when Jesus says to the thief on the cross that he (the thief) will be with Him (Jesus) today in paradise [Lk 23:43]. There is a concept that some believe called “soul sleep.” This belief says the soul will sleep between the time we physically die to when our bodies are later raised from the dead. Dr. R.C. Sproul considers this “a departure from orthodox Christianity,” which teaches that, at death, “the believer’s soul goes immediately to be with Christ to enjoy…a personal existence while awaiting the final resurrection of the body.” This rings true for me. Why would God work on us all our mortal lives to know Him well and love Him in close relationship, then allow us to lie suspended in the grave for an extended period of time?

What about fear at the thought of death? Clearly, most people talk in a way that shows they fear death and try in every possible way to deny its certainty. Jokes about death are quite commonplace. But, as Christians, should we fear death? I would say “no,” for death means we transition from the rehearsal, which is life on this earth, to the actual play. The “play,” the reality for which we were made in the first place: to live and worship in the presence of our God and Savior for all eternity! So death should be a joyful and longed-for event, a natural stage for the evolution for a believer, from being in the process of sanctification to ultimately being glorified with Him. I’ve always loved Paul’s words in Philippians 1:21-24, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Sounds like someone looking forward with eagerness to his impending death while working hard in this life while he has the opportunity.

I guess for me, I’m glad that this life isn’t all there is; that something much better awaits us in glory. As our pastor is fond of saying: “For the unbeliever, this life is as good as it gets; for the believer, it’s the worst that it ever gets.” I surely want to make the best use of the time that I’m given here on this earth, but I’m clear that an eternity spent with my Lord far surpasses my present reality. And death is the portal through which we must pass to get to that glorious place when we get to see the face of the One who loves us and died for us so that we can know Him. Praise be to God!

Lee Pierce

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