Last month, as my aunt crossed from life to the eternal destiny which awaited her, death unwelcomely inserted itself into my family's life. Death has a way of doing that. It barges right in, uninvited, disrupting life. It rudely divides families, and leaves those who remain behind mourning, sorrowful, and diminished from who they were prior to the loss. It never comes at a desirable time, because honestly, there is no desirable time to face the enemy known as death; that final consequence due to all of us for sin.
And yet there are some (nay many!) in the church today (not to mention the world!) who seek solace in making death something less than our enemy. “Celebrations of Life” for the deceased in lieu of proper funeral services are requested even of reformed pastors by reformed parishioners in reformed churches. Faithful saints of God seek to conceal their sadness, put on a happy face, and focus solely on the positive:
“They’re in a better place”, they say.
“They’re better off”, you hear.
“They’re finally free from their constant pain”, it is alleged.
“It’s a normal part of life”, some muse.
All the while you’re left wondering about the certainty of such statements, and even so, what place there is to mourn. It is as though our Bibles are missing some verses in Ecclesiastes. No, not in chapter 3 verse 2, that there is a time to die; we are all palpably aware of that truth. Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 are the conspicuously absent verses in our day-to-day biblical theology.
It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
We can understand the world not wanting to grieve, because they mourn as ones who have no hope (1 Thes. 4:13). Such a casting off of the pain of death makes sense in the world’s position—but the church? Why are we being tempted to buy into the lie that death isn’t all that bad? Why are we avoiding the house of mourning and instead rushing to the house of feasting, laughter, and mirth?
Perhaps we are beginning to preach the world’s answer to the question “what must I do to be saved?” to ourselves. Not “believe in the Lord Jesus”. Not “persevere to the end” in Christ. But, just believe. Just persevere…in life. One simply has to live, then die, and seemingly everyone is universally transported to "a better place." Effectively, all one has to do to be saved is...well...die.
We have essentially taken that which is heinous; that which is abnormal to God's original design and creation; that which has intruded upon all he has made "very good" and sullied this sphere of life and blessing; and we have made that intruder something it is not. Of this enemy, this invader we are to hate, this usurper God opposes and will one day finally place under his feet once and for all; we are saying:
"You're not so bad".
In fact, "you're kind of helpful".
Maybe you're even "a bit of a friend".
No, Church! All one has to do is sit by the bedside of a beloved, dear one and watch them take their final breath, to know–to know in your bones–that this is not good. That death is not what God declares to be "blessed". Death is the enemy—and we do well to remember that truth.
Instead of seeking to sanitize death like the world does, may we continue to proclaim to ourselves and our loved ones the only answer to the enemy of death: “He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:25-26). "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live" (John 11:25). And “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:54-55).
But until that day: “Come, Lord Jesus.”