Death and Dying
Today people are so afraid and terrified of death that they refuse to talk about it or even think about it. To them, as it was for Job of the Old Testament, death is the king of terror’s. We often play language games to try to soften it by changing the word from death, to expiring or passing. The atheist expires, the Christian passes.
No matter how you look at it death is a gateway, either into a new state of being, or non-being. These are the only two possibilities. For the believer it is a gateway into a new state of being, which allows them to live in a state of hope. To the atheist or the materialist it is a gateway into non-being. It is simply nonexistence as a living conscious being. It is a return to the dust of the earth. However, we know from science that nothing just stops existing. Matter cannot be destroyed, it can only change. The big question is, does consciousness go on? The materialist says no, for to him there can be no consciousness apart from the physical brain. But if we asked the question what is consciousness, we come up with the answer that consciousness, in the end, is information and information can exist without the brain. What about radio and television waves? You could say they are information and once formed they will continue forever.
Dying is not death, it is the process by which we enter our new state of being or existence. There is usually some pain associated with this process of dying as with birth. In fact, we begin to die the day we begin to live. Life and death seem to travel together on our journey through this life. It sometimes appears on the surface that death is the goal of life, but then for the Christian there is Jesus.
When it comes to the pain that is often associated with dying, the good news is that Gods grace has given us medication to lessen the physical pain. There should be no severe pain in the dying process for most. Unbelievers may say that man created the medication. No, God made it, man discovered it and developed it. However, if for some reason we must experience a painful death, fear not. The Holy Spirit will help you to endure it and as you endure it, look past it to the joy that is before you, even as our Lord did.
In our culture aging and death is looked upon as a disease that medical science is supposed to cure, or as an enemy that is trying to kill us and must be destroyed. This struggle against aging and death comes from mans rebellion against nature and the God of nature. Humanity seems to be in rebellion against all the limits of God including death. Man will not accept death for he views it as the ultimate limit placed on man by God. Therefore, as in the story of the fall, he is still trying to storm the gates of heaven to seize eternal life. Yet at the gate, he stills finds the angel with the flaming sword, saying you cannot enter. All this comes from man’s rebellion and his refusal to except his own mortality and his fallen state. Once a person excepts that this is a fallen world and that Christ is the way out, death simply becomes the way out. A way out into a better existence, a way out that we need not fear. It simply becomes the next step towards eternity.
For the Christian, death is like departing on a journey from one place to another with a stop in between. Let me explain, the Christian faith teaches that we reside in the body, but we are more than a body. There is the inner man of the heart. Both the apostles, Paul and Peter, refer to our body as a tent that we dwell in. The apostle John also speaks of Jesus, as dwelling among us in the tabernacle or tent.
2 Corinthians 5:1-5
“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
2 Peter 1:13-15
“I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.”
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (literally in the Greek; tabernacle or tented among us), and we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
The problem with understanding death begins with a miss-understanding of the nature of man. Man is body, soul and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23) and death is the separation of the spirit and soul of man from his body. It is the Spirit that gives life and when the spirit departs, the body dies. When the spirit departs it goes back to the God that gave it, or does it?
In the book of Ecclesiastes, the writer said, “I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust, all return. Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” (Ecclésiastes 3:18-22)
I don’t believe, that Solomon was saying that he did not believe that the spirit of man continues after death. He was simply saying there was no evidence. He was not certain. The Hebrews believed in an afterlife but it was vague and fuzzy. Of course, the human mind thinks in pictures and to grasp something of the afterlife, which is based on our present experience, we must use a picture of a places, made up of other places or parts of places, that we have seen. That afterlife place for the Hebrews was given the name of Sheol, or literally the place of the unseen. It was in Hebrew thinking a dark and foreboding place. This idea corresponds to Hades in the New Testament, which appears to be a waiting place for the final judgment and yet it does seem to foreshadow the eternal state of a person, i.e. they have a knowledge of their final destiny.
However, in the New Testament it is still a fuzzy and vague place. The most we know about it is seen in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). This vagueness is probably due to the fact that it is only viewed as a temporary stop on the way to eternity. One thing about the place of the unseen does change in the New Testament. In the New the righteous are in a state of bliss while the evil are in a place of torment. This separation could have grown out of the belief that the righteous can never be separated from God and if God is with them somehow they cannot be in a place of evil or darkness (Rom 8:28-39).
The next step into eternity will be the great wakeup call of the trumpet of God and the voice of the archangel announcing the end of time and the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. At that time all of the dead in Hades will be resurrected with new immortal bodies. Those who are still alive at his coming will be transformed and given new spiritual bodies. Then all men will stand before the great white throne and be judged by what they did in their former bodies.
The resurrection and the judgment of God, mark God’s final word on sin and death. Both are destroyed in the eternal lake of fire, which is a symbol of finality.
“Listen, I tell you a mystery. We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:51-57).