Sooner or later we will all face it personally, unless Christ returns during our natural lifetime. From the moment of our birth, and even before, we are dying - sort of. We are headed toward the grave and the termination of our bodily life here. That is because we are born in sin, and the wages of sin is death. The older we get, particularly as we approach the upper age limits of life of the body in this time in history, the more we may become conscious of the swift approach of the night of death - referred to in John 9:4 by Jesus as the "night . . . when no man can work." Age, and illnesses, and aches and pains have a marvelous way of focusing one's attention on that truth at times.
If you are still reading this, and haven't been totally "creeped out" by the topic, I have good news for you. While your death may be a source of sorrow and difficulty for those around you, your family, friends, and loved ones, it is not for you, personally. You might be somewhat apprehensive about its approach, but once you pass through it, it will not trouble you at all - and yes, you will be conscious and aware on the other side of that great door of death.
You see, you have already died, if you have been baptized. Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. The spooky part is behind you. Well, the really spooky part. Since you have died with Christ already, death of your body is linked, too, to His death. Death cannot hold your body for long, for you will rise with Christ, body and soul reunited.
Our faith teaches us that death is no longer a terror, because it is not the end, and we, believers, look forward to everlasting life. We do that because that is the promise of God. Your soul has already passed through death and been raised with Christ. On that last great day, the day of the resurrection of all flesh, your body will be raised from death and joined with your soul once again for everlasting life. That life will be without end (obviously) and, according to the Word of God, beyond death (I know, redundant), beyond all sorrow, beyond sickness, and with no sin to trouble you. I can imagine the first three, for I have known sickness personally, and I am acquainted with sorrow, and I have seen death happen. No sin, however, is hard to imagine. The absence of sickness, sorrow, and dying is a symptomatic view of the absence of sin, but not the whole picture.
Sin has colored everything I know, and pretty much everything I can see or imagine. That is why, for example, my prayers tend to be largely about me - my feelings, my needs, my fears, my sins, and so forth, even as I pray for you. Try as I might, I find my mind coming back to me. I would imagine everyone has that problem to some degree or another. It is the problem of sin. Luther said that sin makes us "curvatus in se", "turned in on ourselves". It caused Adam and Eve to turn their eyes away from God and toward themselves as the devil promised them that a bite of that fruit would make them "like God". Anyhow, that peculiar and yet oh-so-human perspective is why I cannot clearly picture what being entirely free of sin and its baleful influences will be like. I just know that it will be really good.
Back to the topic this month, death. Death comes in two forms: eternal death (death in and for eternity), and death of the body, also known as temporal death or death in time. Death of the body is what everyone generally refers to as "death", and it is the preceding cause of a funeral and burial. It is theologically defined as the separation of body and soul. How it happens varies from person to person. Some people even debate whether the body can continue to function for a time, now and then, without the soul being present. Only God knows for sure, but I will proceed under the definition offered and allow for God correcting me later if I overstated that case. The Bible says that the body dies and the spirit returns to God, Ecclesiastes 12:7. This kind of death happens to everybody eventually, until Christ returns.
Death of the soul also happens to everyone, eventually. It happens in one of two situations, baptism or damnation - eternal destruction in hell. Neither death appears to involve the cessation of the soul - nor of the consciousness of the individual.
In baptism, the soul is buried with Christ by Baptism into death and raised again to new and eternal life with Him. Romans 6:4. It happens instantaneously, so, as far as any have reported, there is no consciousness of any sensation of it, aside from the water being applied, at least in this world. I was baptized as an infant, and have no memory of any sensation of dying, and no adult that I have baptized has reported any awareness of a sensation of death or rising to new life either. I know it happens only because God tells us in His Word that it happens
The second death, as Revelation refers to it, is eternal destruction, which is damnation in the final judgment of God. In this death, which is the death of the soul experienced by all unbelievers, the soul goes to hell, to eternal torment, without loss of awareness, but without "life" which is somehow connected to having a living relationship with God. Greater detail is difficult since the Bible doesn't give us details, beyond fire, torment, "weeping and gnashing of teeth", where "the worm never dies and the fire never goes out". The soul apparently gets to take the body with it in the final judgment, since all rise from the grave on that last, great day. How long the body endures in the torments of hell is not specifically mentioned (except that the worm never dies), but it sounds like it will endure for a time, if not forever.
Christians only have one death to look forward to - death of the body. They have already been through the only "death" of the soul that they will experience. The process of physically dying may be difficult, no one has come back to tell us about it, and those few who have returned (like Lazarus, Jairus' daughter, et al.) have left no lasting record of their experience, if they remembered the experience of death upon returning to life at all. It might be that it is like falling asleep: you know you did it, but the moment is beyond recalling when you awaken.
Anyhow, the process of dying is a difficult thing to experience for some, at least. I imagine, however, that having endured the pains leading up to death, what lies on the other side is a great relief. Sin no longer clouds one's vision or awareness. I cannot say what vision or awareness we will have, although I can imagine a lot of things - all of them probably woefully inadequate, because the Bible does not say. The closest I can get is Romans 8:18, For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. It is clearly going to be wonderful.
I am also confident that the consciousness and awareness that we will possess does exist, for in the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah are speaking with Christ about His coming death - who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem, Luke 9:31. How that all works, and what we will observe, and what we will be doing with that awareness is beyond my knowledge, and likely to surpass my imaginings, but it will be there - or, rather, we will be there!
You might be wondering why anyone would be concerned, or would pay any attention to this topic. Why am I taking space to write about it in the newsletter? Some would consider it a bit morbid. I am interested in this topic, and sharing it with you for a number of reasons. First, I have friends who are looking down that long, dark hallway we call death - they are facing it in the near future, or so it appears to me. I would hope to bring to their minds the things we know and help them consider the positive things of our faith as they consider dying. For them it is no abstract proposition, but a real and present reality.
Second, I am growing older too. My health is good, or at least relatively so, but I am older than my Father ever got to be, and it just seems that the better part of wisdom includes being prepared by remembering the realities that Scripture presents us with rather than allowing the fantasies of the world and my creative imagination to unsettle me or create any false expectations.
Third, the Christian faith is focused on the great reality of death. It holds out for us the hope of everlasting life and the utter destruction of the ancient evil of death. Contrary to what many who call themselves Christian say, the Christian faith is not about this life. It embraces this life. It also teaches us about this life and guides us in this life, but it is not really about this life. It is about salvation and resurrection and eternal life, which is to say it about death - both kinds - and God's answer to death which He freely gives to us, through Jesus Christ.
The history of our faith began with Adam and Eve, when they disregarded the Word of God and listened to the serpent in the garden. He denied the reality of death as a consequence of sin, and he provided Adam and Eve with a faulty perspective, placing them and their ambitions and desires first, before God and His will and His Word. He invited them to doubt God and withhold their trust from His promises, and when they did, sin and death followed.
Now, they lived as many centuries as the number of decades that the average man or woman today lives. They surely had a long time to wonder if death was really coming for them. On the other hand, they had the experience of perfection, and the Garden of Eden, followed by the fall into sin. We know that it changed not only the quality of their lives, but their own perception of it and of themselves and one another. Life changed for them on that day of disgrace, and when God promised them a Redeemer, a rescue, that rescue was not about this world and this life. It helped them live their lives, and colored their interpretation of the life they had to live in this now-corrupted world, but it was clearly not about this life in this world. It was about redemption and a second chance at the life God originally intended for them. It was about resurrection from the grave and eternal life.
The Bible doesn't tell us everything that Adam and Eve knew or understood, but the way Eve named Cain, confusing him with the promised One, tells us that they understood more than the simple words of Genesis 3:15 gives us to understand in our age. Job also reveals how much more they understood. He knew about the resurrection and the coming Redeemer with greater detail and precision (Job 19:25-27) than most unbelieving Biblical "scholars" give early man credit for, and Job was a very early man, probably living before or at the same time as Abraham. He must have learned it from Adam and Eve - or Noah and his kin, at least indirectly.
Job's confession also tells us that his faith was not so much about this world and this life, although it guided him and his behavior. His faith was strong in the midst of horrible suffering and tremendous personal tragedy. He hoped in God for something wonderful even though his life was not showing much wonderful stuff. He steadfastly refused to "curse God and die" as his loving wife encouraged him to do. He resisted the despair that his good friends assured him was all that he had left. He did all of that because his faith was not about, nor measured by, this life.
We have greater and clearer revelation, and yet our faith is really the same faith as theirs. It is not about life in this world. It informs our lives in this world, and guides us through them, but it is really about that grim reality which has haunted mankind since the very beginning, death. Well, it is about that, and God's answer, solution, cure, and resolution of the problem of death. We don't believe in Jesus for a good income, or for trouble-free lives. If we did, our faith has failed us. God never promised those things - not personal happiness throughout this life, nor Biblical principles of effective weight loss, nor power and glory here and now. Nope, God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.
And that is what it is all about!
Yours in the Lord,
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