Monday, June 17, 2013

Death and Our Grounds for Hope

Death is not good.

As I have contemplated Grandma's death and sought to process all of the related emotions during these last four weeks, this fact has come before me in greater clarity than ever before.

I fully acknowledge that the Christian has no need to fear death-- praise be to our Savior for that! We may even anticipate death as that moment when our constant battle with sin is forever at an end and we finally realize the presence of Christ in a way that we never will in this life.

But that doesn't make death good.

This awful sundering-- of body from soul, of mother, mother-in-law, sister, grandmother, great-grandmother, and friend from everyone who has known and loved her-- it is not good.

We recognize that God is both good and sovereign, that He uses the deaths of loved ones for His purposes, and that the timing of each of those deaths is according to His perfect will, but we also stand firm on the fact that death was not part of God's original good creation.

As I stood in the cemetery that Saturday, looking at the cloth-wrapped parcel that contained all that was left of Grandma's natural body, there was something deep inside me that recoiled.

No!  This should not be!

This is wrong!  Something is broken!

Broken is a word which indeed describes the world in which we live.  "For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now."  (Romans 8:22)  Certainly, death and decay is part of the corruption under which the creation groans. 

But just as surely as Romans 8 diagnoses the condition of this world, it also gives us a taste of the glorious hope that God gives us: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us."

One way in which God's sovereignty is mercifully displayed to us is the way in which He puts people and influences in our lives at key times to give us exactly the encouragement or insight that we need.  Right now, I'm grateful for the juxtaposition of this time of sorrow with our church's sermon series on Revelation and R.C. Sproul Jr.'s Believing God series.  As I've taken these things in, I've been reminded of three reasons for comfort and hope in the midst of grief.  

Firstly, we can have hope because death cannot hold the believer, for it could not hold Christ.  Those who belong to Him are now found in him, and "if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his."  (Romans 6:5)  "Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive."  (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)

The finality that one feels by the side of a grave is only an illusion.  Body and soul shall be reunited.  All those whom God has chosen shall be forever united with the Savior who died that we might live.

Secondly, we who are left behind can have hope because even the hard things in this life are bestowed on us  by the gracious hand of our wise heavenly Father.  When we are forced to stare death in the face, we are not called to square our shoulders and hold our breath until it's all over.  Instead, we are called to believe God's promise that these things are for our good.  Every hardship and loss is a tool being used by God to display His glory and accomplish His purposes-- and, as Dr. Sproul Jr. says, "He is heaven-bent on making you more like Jesus."  When we know that the trials of our lives are working toward this purpose, we can meet them not only without despair but with joy.

These two reasons alone are enough to give us great comfort.  We have the glorious assurance that everything we experience is a gift from God for our good and that at the end of it all, we shall be resurrected to enjoy the presence of our Lord for all eternity.

This fully meets the need of each individual heart and soul, but something more is needed.  What of the groaning of the whole creation?  What of this broken, corrupt world where death is a way of life?  What of the yearning in our hearts that cries out, This ought not to be!

But God answers, It shall not always be so!

"Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death."  (1 Corinthians 15:24-26)  Death is not a necessary part of life to be accepted; it is an enemy-- one which will one day be subjected under the feet of Jesus.

"We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 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 Corinthians 15:51-55)

"He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."  (Revelation 21:3-4) 

Our King comes, and when He does, there will be nothing lacking, no spot or blemish, in the kingdom He establishes.  Here indeed is sure grounds for our hope!  The hymnwriter expresses it well:

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on his way.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
Alleluia! Alleluia!

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