Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.
(This was originally posted on 10/12/11. The suicide of a young teen in my community this week brought it back to my mind and I felt led to rerun it.)
JD Yopp (pictured above) passed away on Monday night around 9:30pm. That may not mean much to you, but JD was my grandfather. We called him Pop. With only an eighth grade education, he taught me more about life than almost anyone else. He taught me about hard work, family, how to drive a tractor (and a stick shift), how to split wood, and how to die gracefully. This brings me to the topic for today's post: death. How do we deal with the death of a loved one?
Scripture has quite a lot to say about death, yet the most basic truth that it conveys about the topic is also one of the least known. If we are to come to terms with death we must understand first that death is the result of sin. Romans 6:23 says "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." And Romans 5:12 says, "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned." We are often told that death is a "natural" part of life. After all, every part of nature experiences death in some way or another. It's true that death is "natural" to the fallen nature we all experience, but that does not mean that it was "natural" before the Fall. Scripture teaches quite clearly that death came to humanity only after the Fall.* (A footnote for those who want to go deeper.)
But why does this matter? What difference does it make that death is the result of sin? Well, first of all, it helps us understand why the death of a loved one can be so hard for us to accept. We were not built to cope with death. We were not intended for death. Thus, we can expect death to be hard for us whether we are dying ourselves or mourning the loss of someone we loved. However there is good news. When God chose to do something about man's sin problem, He determined that He would undo not only the stain of sin but the effects of sin as well. This is why Jesus rose from the dead. Since death is the result of sin, by conquering death Jesus conquered the power of sin and the power of death in our lives (Hebrews 2:14-15 & I Corinthians 15:54-56). More than that, the Bible calls Jesus the firstfruits of the resurrection (I Corinthians 15:20-23). He was the first one to be resurrected to eternal life but He will not be the last. He opened a door that those who believe in Him will also walk through. That is why Scripture says that we should not mourn as those who have no hope (I Thessalonians 4:13). For Christians, death is leaving this world and going home. Christians are called to live as foreigners and exiles in this world (I Peter 2:11-12). We are supposed to be looking forward to the home that Jesus has been preparing for us ever since He rose from the dead (John 14:1-4).
That does not mean, however, that we do not mourn. Sometimes, Christians lose sight of that. We still mourn, but we do not mourn for the believer who has gone on to be with His Lord, we mourn for ourselves. We mourn the loss that we experience because that person is no longer around. But we mourn in hope. Hope that our believing loved ones are in a better place, hope that they will receive their full resurrection bodies like Jesus at His second coming, and hope that we will one day be reunited with them. And those believers who die, die in hope. Our great hope is to go be with Christ now (II Corinthians 5:8) and then to be resurrected physically like Him at His return (I Corinthians 15 especially verse 19). It is much harder to cope with the death of a loved one who rejected Christ. Then we truly mourn without hope. For Scripture teaches that it is appointed to man once to die and then to face the judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Those who die apart from Christ are also resurrected but not to eternal life (Revelation 20:13-15). They are resurrected to eternal judgment. It is a truly awful thing to consider their fate. The one hope in that situation is not for the deceased but for the living. We can only pray that their passing will serve as a warning to those who have yet to bow the knee to their Savior.
For further reading...
- Romans 6:1-14- Dead to sin but alive to God in Christ.
- I Corinthians 15- The resurrection chapter.
- I Thessalonians 4:13-18- The return of Jesus.
- I Samuel 2:6-7, Psalm 68:20, Psalm 118:18- God controls death.
*You might be thinking though, "How could we have life without death?" Well, this weekend my uncle, who is a pastor, commented to me that he thinks Enoch gives us a glimpse of what God's original plan for mankind may have been (Genesis 5:23-24). We wouldn't have died, we would have simply been taken to be with the Lord. I cannot be certain that is true, but I must say that it sounds good to me.