I knew my eyes were deceiving me but I wanted the deception to be true. I was standing before my father as he lay on a small raised platform, legs covered in a blanket. His chest was moving up and down, almost imperceptibly, as one breathes quietly when asleep. But there was no breathing. No motion. It was all in my mind. This was not the stillness of sleep, but of death
A week earlier I had learned that he was in the hospital. A few days after that I learned that this may be sickness unto death. And after hurrying to pack up our family, arrange our affairs, and get plane tickets, here I was with my father.
Our family has been scheduled to begin our home assignment in the U.S. in just a few months and we had for a long time been talking with our son about all the things we would do with Papa John, our 4 year old’s name for his grandfather. But none of that would come to pass. Building a snowman together. Celebrating Christmas. Going out for a bite to eat. Seeing how my Dad would respond to our now verbose four year old whom he had not seen in two years. But none of that was to be.
It is wrong. Death, that is. Some say that death is a natural part of life. In a sense, they are right. Everyone dies eventually. But that’s not the way that it is supposed to be. In the beginning, God created man for life. God’s intention was that we live forever in perfect relationship with Him and with each other. But we rebelled, bringing sin and death into the world.
On the one hand, death is God’s mercy upon people, limiting the numbers of years that we must endure sin, suffering, hardship, and misery. But on the other hand, death is a gross unnatural perversion of the natural order that God has created. Death is not a natural part of life but a freakish termination of a state that should continue on forever.
Death is disturbing, as it should be. If we feel indifferent in the face of death, then we have become numb and less human. Less than what God designed us to be. The Lord Jesus did not feel numb in the face of death. B.B. Warfield, as quoted by Carl Trueman, describes Jesus’ feelings as he stood outside of Lazurus’ tomb (John 11:1-44):
“Inextinguishable fury seizes him... It is death that is the object of his wrath, and behind death him who has the power of death, and whom he has come into the world to destroy. Tears of sympathy may fill his eyes, but this is incidental. His soul is held by rage: he advances to the tomb, in Calvin’s words again, ‘as a champion who prepares for conflict.’ The raising of Lazarus thus becomes, not an isolated marvel, but - as indeed it is presented throughout the whole narrative... a decisive instance and open symbol of Jesus’ conquest of death and hell. What John does for us in this particular statement is to uncover to us the heart of Jesus, as he wins for us our salvation. Not in cold unconcern, but in flaming wrath against the foe, Jesus smites in our behalf. He has not only saved us from the evils which oppress us; he has felt for and with us in our oppression, and under the impulse of these feelings has wrought our redemption.” (Carl Trueman, The Wages of Spin, Mentor/Christian Focus Publications, Ross-shire, 2004, p.123-4)
After the initial shock of death, we often come to a point of resignation and acceptance. But we need not completely accept the reality of death, because it is not permanent. To borrow a line from Sally Lloyd-Jones, someday God will make all the sad things come untrue.
Death need not be the final reality. At the last day, God will raise all people to life. For those who have trusted in Christ alone for salvation from sin and death, it will be life the way that God always intended it to be. God “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.” (Rev. 21:4) However, for those who have trusted in self, or in some other object to rescue them from the corruption of this world, and from God’s wrath against their rebellion... all the sad things will become more true than they ever imagined. I wish that were not the case. Because death is not the way it is supposed to be.