Death has a way of making life seem short, and fragile and precious. It invades the comfortable rhythm of our commonplace days with a shocking finality! How can a friend, a spouse, a mother, be here one day in all her happy idiosyncrasies and gone the next?
Death does not come in a predictable way. While the aging languish in hopes of release from their bodies, others younger are taken in a moment in their prime. Some suffer long. For others the transition is abrupt– with or without pain. But death inevitably comes to everyone, ever since Adam was put out of the Garden and prevented from eating of the tree of life. (Rom..5:14).
So I find myself with Moses’ prayer on my heart: “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Ps.90:12 I can’t help but think about the implications of death and the possibilities of dying. This reality is foisted upon us every time someone near us disappears. The temptation is to be fearful, or at least try to enact some preventative measures! This is valid if we are not confident of an internal, eternal Life being ours, guaranteeing we’ll outlive the grave. But sometimes still, we as believers fall into a mindset that death is the worst thing that could happen, the end of everything, like a plague to be avoided at all cost, a ‘work of the Devil’ to be reviled, resisted, and resented. I wonder if this is valid?
Considering how our bodies are in fact destined for dust, corrupted by sin, and not fit for eternity (Rom.8:21) why would we want to hang onto them forever? Is a long life all it’s cracked up to be? Really? Or is this thinking borrowed from a point of view whose hope is based in this lifetime? To paraphrase Paul: “If our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.” (I Cor. 15:19) My husband regularly challenges my thinking in this way. We work hard to preserve our bodies. We pedal hard and fast, lift our weights and get our sleep. We eat our veggies too, and our chocolate. But there’s got to be a point of balance between essential stewardship which enables us to do the ‘good works prepared beforehand for us to do’ Eph.2:10, and a dogged self-preservationism that turns our bodies into idols of a sort and sees death as the big bad monster come to rob us of our dominions!
There was a reason God banished Adam from the garden. Living forever in an ‘as is’ state, in a sin-infested world with a sin-bent nature is no picnic. What if it were to go on forever? No, the banishment was a mercy. The world had ceased to be ‘user-friendly’. The garden had been infiltrated. Now Adam was destined to die physically, to toil, to groan and to hope for a salvation he could not yet see, that would only be fully realized after death. What if there were no death? What if we were stuck in time ‘as is’? Death is our enemy and yet… even it serves God’s purposes…
Consider this thought composed in verse:
“Death is the final blessing
Of this life.
The darkened glass
Become a sheet of smoke
In front of perfect Love.
He will hold out His arms
And we will run
Into their shelter
Safely home at last.”
–Elizabeth Rooney, “Death” 5/11/86
in Gift Wrapped, Brigham Farm Publ.,p81
How can somebody call death a blessing, when Biblically it is called our enemy (I Cor.15:26)?! After all, God is the God of the living. He has given us life. He has designed us to love life, to fight for life, to live life to the fullest… and yet, because He is God, He is able to use all things for our good. Just as nothing can separate us from His love– not life, not death, not demons or disaster, so nothing can foil His purposes. Everything must serve Him–even death, even pain, even …(you fill in the blank) …. The Cross is the consummate example of this: “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23) Satan thought he was winning the day but God was calling the shots, orchestrating everything, winning the war!
Christ is the head of all principalities and powers. He has soundly whipped them and gathered the spoils. (Col.2:15) He is risen from the dead, accomplishing His reason for coming to earth–“that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” (Heb.2:14,15) Death’s back is broken. It has become the believer’s entrance into Glory!
I just want to be where You are
In Your dwelling place forever
Take me to the place where You are,
I just want to be with You
Have we considered that death is the door to this place? These mortal bodies cannot stand in His presence. “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” I Cor:15:50 Our bodies must put on immortality. While it’s true that we are already new creations in Christ Jesus in one sense, our DNA has not been changed. Neither will it be till Christ returns and the trumpet sounds and both living and dead in Christ will rise, changed in the twinkling of an eye, given real live immortal bodies to house our already immortal souls. Then Christ Himself will put to death our last enemy, Death. I Cor.15:26 And we will reign with Him! Till then death is with us, yes, an enemy, but an enemy restrained by God Almighty and constrained to do his bidding.
There is no need to fear it, shun it or curse it. Yes, it is real. It will claim our physical bodies, sooner for some, later for others, (short of Christ’s coming first!) But it cannot touch the eternal, immaterial part of a believer. Christ’s life is ours. Though our outer shell is flaking, our inner man is alive and well, growing stronger by the day! Our ‘light affliction’, even when it seems horrendously heavy, is but a blip in the eternal framework and is said to be actually working for us an ‘eternal weight of glory’. (II Cor.4:16-18)
Our troubles, our losses, our crosses are doing for our souls what weight-lifting does for the athlete. They’re making our inner man tawny and brawny in anticipation of the great unveiling of the sons of God (Rom.8:19) when we will see Jesus as He is in all His glory and find ourselves transformed into His likeness I Jn.3:2. Somehow, all this trouble in these bodies—the physical pain, the mental anguish, and ultimately even death is preparing us for this outcome.
And in the meantime, there is this residing Spirit of God, this unfathomable love of God that wraps us ’round and helps us in our weakness to yet please Him. (II Cor.5:9) And by His power we live out this life we’ve been given for His glory and His Kingdom’s sake till the dinnerbell rings and we are summoned Home. This the perspective I want to keep, till death do us all reunite.
May I commend to you a reading (here) of I Corinthians 15? There’s so much there about the redemption of our bodies and of the new ones yet to come!
“So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written,
Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is thy sting?
O grave, where is thy victory?
The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” I Cor.15:54-58
“Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!” Number 23:10
“Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.” Rev.20:6
But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. I Cor.15:23-26
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. II Cor.4:17,18
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. I Jn.3:2
One thought on “Where is thy sting?”
Strong theme these days….many of the thoughts and verses you wrote have been coursing through my mind as well this week….Death is such a poignant and powerful reminder of what it really is all about. Thanks for writing…..I have a few friends I would like to include in your regular blog posts…how do I do that?