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"Look Death in the Eye"

The inspiration for this month’s article wasn’t particularly difficult to find. Sometimes the circumstances of life can give you clear instruction on which direction to go, as if to say, “turn this way stupid!” Sadly, I have had to attend three funerals in the past two weeks. It started me thinking about how awkward, strange and utterly uncomfortable the subject of death is. In observing the families of the departed I witnessed two very different emotional responses.

When a family is confident that the deceased belongs to the Lord, there is joy, knowing that their loved one is truly in the presence of the Lord. Yes, there is a sense of sadness and mourning, for the family left behind will miss them. But that can’t overwhelm the sense of hope that comes with knowing their loved one is with the Lord.

The second situation is rather awkward and often brings despairing sorrow. Those who remain behind try to ease their minds in any way possible. After the loved one has passed, they surround themselves with company who will tell them “all is well,” even though they are not quite sure this is true. They may employ a pastor or “spiritual person” to officiate who will try to offer them hope. However, misguided “good intentions” combined with ill-informed knowledge of the deceased may leave the one officiating looking rather foolish for offering assurances that are, for all intents and purposes, unfounded.

Truly death is an enemy, the final enemy that Christ will ultimately vanquish (1 Cor 15:26). Yet, in this life we are left with death’s unsettling presence.

I remember as a child attending various funerals and always thinking, “I hope I never have to lay in a box like that and wear that awful makeup!” Yes, children tend to think in brutally honest terms and often voice those thoughts with little sense of where and when such divulgence is appropriate. Nonetheless, my childish, immature thoughts as a child highlighted a truth. There is sense in which our culture tries to mask the effects of death. In the dozens of funerals I attended as a child, I never saw most of those people look nearly as adorned in life as they did while lying in their caskets. Sometimes I found the deceased completely unrecognizable. We do indeed put a mask on death and try to hide the fact that death is ugly. We try to make up for the fact that we’re looking at an empty home. The place where the soul once resided, now lies vacant. The body will soon decay and return to the dust from whence it came.

For those who die in Christ, there is the hope of the resurrection unto life. But for who die without trust in Christ, the family is left with the grievous realization that this is the end. Their loved one has lived their life to themselves, never truly acknowledging God. Make no mistake; every human being knows there is a God. In Romans 1, beginning in verse 18 Paul says that people:

“... suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

Down deep in their heart of hearts, they know this is the time of reckoning. The years that their loved one suppressed this inconvenient truth has now caught up with them. Of course, unless God changes a person’s heart, no one will repent. But each person is still responsible for his own rebellion against God. To add insult to injury, in verse 21 Paul says that, even though sinful human beings know there is a God, “they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him.” Fallen human beings would rather wallow in their misery and despair than repent and thank the One who sustains their very life.

However, for the believer, death is truly bittersweet. Yes, the sting and pain of death is real. This is why we mourn. We must taste death in this life because “the wages of sin is death.” Yet, the sweetness is the blessed joy that the deceased is now free from this sinful existence. We know that this not the end of the line. John the Revelator speaks of what our joyful existence will be like in the age to come in Revelation 21:1-5:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Yes, we will indeed dwell with our Lord. And He will dwell with us. Imagine for a moment what it will be like to have no more tears! I guess that would be a good time to sell my stock in Kleenex. But just think – all that we suffered, the pain of our toil – it will all be gone in a twinkling of an eye. Truly, on that day, when we join together in worship of our risen Lord, we will be able to sing with the Apostle Paul his words from 1 Corinthians 15: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin. Since the condemnation of our sin has been lifted from us we will be able to look death straight in the eye and say, “What’s the big fuss about? You don’t look so tough to me!”

- Jordan McGehee