Death is something of a taboo subject in our culture. In one sense it only proves that it is the true problem we all face, but that we are helpless to do anything about. Therefore, one of the ways we cope with death is to pretend it is not there. Many (maybe all to some extent) people live their lives with the false notion in the back of their minds that they will be the one who will cheat death. However, in Christ there is hope. Christ is the one who defeated the sin that enslaves us and the death that awaits us.
As a pastor I have preached around 12 funerals and have attended more than I can count. In January I preached the funeral of my grandmother who thankfully was in Christ by faith. Yesterday, I learned of the death of another precious saint. In my limited pastoral experience I have often found Christians ill equipped to cope with death. I believe this is due to the taboo nature of the subject mentioned above. The Christian response to death is complex because death is difficult.
I have noticed three primary responses to death:
- Often death is trivialized by clinging to hollow hope. Those who do this think that if they can tell themselves enough trite cliché things (i.e. “everything will be alright” or “she will always be with us”), like a drug it will numb them through the mourning period. (The problem is often these statements are made devoid of Christ which makes them baseless. Some of the common grieving statements would be true if they were grounded in Christ. However, many popular statements are nothing more than New Age mysticism.)
- Then there is the school of the stiff upper lip. This is a type of Stoic Cynicism that says of death; “it’s going to happen to us all sometime.” Their attitude is suck it up and deal with it.
- Last, is sheer despondency. They can’t say anything of death because of hopeless resignation. There is nothing but tears and regret.
However, for the Christian, the response to death should be none of the above. The shortest verse in the Bible is also one of the most significant ones. John 11:35 says; “Jesus wept.” The context in which Jesus wept was the funeral of His friend Lazarus. Within a matter of minutes Jesus would resurrect Lazarus’ four-day-dead decaying body to life, but He still wept in the face of death. Why? Because death is not the way it is supposed to be! As Jesus looks the death of His friend in the eye, He is looking through that moment to His own impending bloody death on the cross by which He would defeat sin and death (Rom. 8:2). The resurrection of Christ is proof positive that He was victorious over sin and death. God’s Word tells us that Christ’s resurrection was the firstfruits (1 Cor. 15:20), and for those who are in Him, they too will be raised to everlasting life, victorious over death!
Christ’s victory gives those who have been joined to Him by repentance and faith hope (Col. 1:27). Therefore, the Christian shouldn’t trivialize death, for death is no trivial matter. The Christian shouldn’t respond to death with a stoic attitude; Christ certainly didn’t (Jn. 11:35). The Christian also shouldn’t respond to death in despondency, because we have hope in Christ. The Apostle Paul gave the Christian response to death when he wrote; “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” (1 Thess. 4:13) He doesn’t instruct the church to not grieve, but rather says don’t grieve as those who have no hope. So, we are to grieve with hope. John Piper, writing on this subject, said the biblical phrase “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” gives expression to the Christian’s emotion in facing the death of a brother or sister in Christ. Piper concluded with this statement: “Therefore, when a Christian dies, don’t begrudge the tears. And don’t belittle the joy in the lover’s eye.”
Lastly, this truth should give us gospel urgency! There is no hope in death apart from Christ. We must be committed to telling others the Good News of Christ in hope that they will respond in repentance and faith.
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” –Psalm 116:15