I've been thinking about death lately. Morbid, I know. But, after being up in the tornado/disaster zone earlier this week, it has been on my mind. I was actually kind of numb when I was up there. I was going through the motions and was trying to accomplish the task before me. But, by Tuesday night, I was exhausted, angry, and feeling pretty overwhelmed. I was talking with my friend Jason on the phone, and we were sharing Katrina stories. He worked for months in New Orleans helping with the rebuilding. I am from there and went down there a lot to help out my family and others and absorbed a lot of the suffering. We were talking about how these things get to you and about how our capacity to handle this well is not as great as we would like it to be. We either avoid dealing with loss on this kind of scale, we harden our hearts, or it really tears us up. I've felt all of those emotions this week, especially after I got back. Too many memories, too much loss.
Death is coming for all of us. It is the one unavoidable thing in the human experience. We are all going to experience loss of loved ones and our own life. Whether we die suddenly in an earthquake, hurricane, tornado, or war, or whether we die slowly from cancer or old age, we are all going to experience the finality of death. The fear of death affects everything we do and it manifests itself in how much we fear loss, alienation, and rejection of any kind. We get defensive. We try to protect ourselves. We fear that we will lose things – stuff, health, vitality, relationships, money, love. This fear drives us to try and control our lives and to hold onto all that we can. But, all of this grasping is just a product of the Fall. We feel out of control so we try and regain our footing somehow. But, control is just an illusion. One day, death is coming for us and we know it and no matter what we do, we can't keep it from us or from the ones we love.
I've been thinking about this a lot. You can deal with the fear of death and the loss that we all experience in a couple of different ways. You can pretend like it isn't going to happen. Life is fun and bright and shiny all the time. Then, if something does happen, it is an aberration and you move on as quickly as you can. But, that approach doesn't square with reality. Or, you try and take control of things and ward it off through sheer will power. But, we've already talked about how futile that is. You could be morbid all the time and let the fear consume you. That is pretty miserable. A life focused on death is not much of a life, although it might be the most realistic of the options. Fortunately, there is another way. We can tell a better story.
For the Christian, death is not the end of our story. It is really just the beginning. It hurts so much because it was never supposed to happen. We weren't created to die. We were supposed to live forever with God and one another. Death entered the world because of sin – we thought we could carve out a better life for ourselves than the one that God provided and all that we ended up inheriting was the wind. What we grasped for turned to sand and it was accompanied by pain, loss, fear, shame, blame, and brokenness. In our fear of death, we admit that we were made for life – death is not where we are supposed to end up and we know this down deep. Fortunately, Christ our Lord has conquered death and now leads us in victory. Hebrews 2:14-15 says,
14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
Death and the one who holds the power of death, the devil, has been destroyed. We, who have been held in slavery all our lives by the fear of death, have been freed. We no longer have to fear death! We no longer have to try and hold onto our lives, our stuff, or anything in this world. We don't have to protect ourselves. We can give freely. Our security is in Christ. When pain and rejection comes, it is not final. It does not define us because we are rooted in Another.
We can tell a better story – one of hope, love, peace, and joy. Death has been swallowed up in victory through the death and resurrection of Jesus. When I feel that old fear start to come back, I remember that Christ has conquered death and fear and the grave. I am complete in Him. So, when I give of myself, I am telling the story of the resurrection, because I am not trying to hold onto things anymore. Because I know that God will make all things new and He will restore everything, I am free to give myself away. Because He is the Author of Life and the Resurrection is real, I can lay my life down freely, entrusting myself to Him. Death is not the end of the story.
Pain, disease, loss, destruction, and death happens in this world because of sin – creation is subject to frustration until the sons of God are revealed. It is groaning. Yet, we who have hoped in Christ get to taste of the Kingdom that is pouring into this world but has not yet fully materialized. Christ has come, is coming, and will come. He is coming to redeem and restore and to make all things new. That is the only way that I can face the destruction, pain, and death that I see around me and that I know is coming one day for my fleshly body. Until then, I can learn to live more and more each day by the reality of what Christ has done for us instead of what I see in this earth that has been ruined by the Fall, but is still beautiful and will one day be restored.
Praise God for resurrection and hope.