Is there any subject scarier than death?
I don’t mean the death that’s played up in the movies or sugar-coated in story books. I mean death in real life. Am I the only one who struggles with a fear of death? I don’t think so. Of course, it doesn’t help that we live in a culture which, in a sick twist of irony, delights in force-feeding us death daily in headlines and sound bytes, but is too afraid to talk intimately and honestly about the subject. It’s too vulnerable. It’s too painful.
Yet as a Christian, I’ve had to ask myself: is this really a godly way to engage with the idea of mortality? Hide from it? Pretend it doesn’t exist? Mask it with makeup and graphics? My answer is simple: no. So what is the Christian response to it? I believe we should embrace a unique tension—hate death yet be unafraid of it. Even more, contemplate death, but ultimately rest in hope.
The instinctual and absolutely appropriate response to death should be hatred—not of people, but death itself. Decay and corruption are not natural, nor are they good. The Bible makes it clear, death is a cursed result of sin. We can still believe the truth that God is in control and that he is using everything for our good while simultaneously despising death (Rom. 8:28).
That’s a model we get from Jesus. If you remember in John 11, Jesus’ friend Lazarus had just died. And in a striking display of grief, Jesus shows up angry (“deeply moved”) and sad. Even though he knows he will soon raise Lazarus from the grave, Jesus mourns. As Michael Horton comments, “The Lord of Life . . . now found himself overtaken by grief. More than grief, in fact—anger. And why not? There he stood face-to-face with ‘the last enemy’ he would defeat in his crusade against Satan. And ‘he wept.’”
For the Christian, death is no friend. It is an enemy to the end.
Yet, although death is a fierce enemy, we should not fear it. Why? Because it’s a defeated enemy. A crushed enemy. An eternally powerless enemy. The apostle Paul certainly clung to this truth. He hearkened back to the Old Testament with a sense of unwavering confidence when he wrote: “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” (1 Cor. 15:54).
Christians need not, must not, fear death, because it has been ultimately conquered. The king of life, Jesus Christ, tasted death and then was resurrected, winning permanent victory over death. In that work, he secured death’s final end, an end that’s coming soon. Truly, a day is coming where death will cease to exist. What precious comfort!
So we can still hate death and grieve for those cut down by its sting, but we should face it as we would a tame beast. It is evil on a leash—temporarily active but finally doomed. Because of Jesus, life is victorious.
That means death has no power over us. In that case, instead of ignoring it, we are set free to actually contemplate it. The Bible frequently displays this example. That’s not because Christians are obsessively morbid. It’s because we’re people who recognize that since time is short, we can use death as a motivation to maximize our lives for God’s glory. Keeping a keen eye on mortality allows us to embrace living intentionally and taking every opportunity we’re given for greater godliness. Death is inescapable, but Christians should use it as a consistent mark for godly living.
This idea is shocking to the world. It persistently pushes us to dwell on youth, to mask death’s approach with cosmetics and pills and surgery—to live quite literally like death does not exist. And when we encounter it, when it inevitably slices into our real lives, we’re to keep quiet, isolate ourselves, and hide its horrors in the closet.
Christianity offers a more compelling way: let death fuel life. Use it as a holy motivation.
Don’t just be unafraid of death, though. Embrace hope. The last glorious truth is that our stories do not end with death. Happiness will win the day. God promises that. So we ought to embrace hope with everything we’ve got. Boundless hope. Crazy hope. Hope that seeps into our lives and affects every nook and cranny. Hope in the midst of terrorism. Hope in the midst of violence. Hope in the midst of sickness. Hope in the midst of pain. Hope in the midst of grief. Hope spilling everywhere, flooding and flowing all over our lives. Soak your heart in hope. Jesus wins. And that means, so do his people.
So hate death, yes. But do not fear it. Never fear it. Instead, consider how it motivates precious and intentional gospel-centered living. And embrace hope with open arms, fully and outrageously. Remember that everlasting happiness ends the day.
N.D. Wilson says it beautifully, like only he can: “To [God’s] eyes, you never leave the stage. You do not cease to exist. [Death] is a chapter ending, an act, not the play itself. Look to Him. Walk toward Him. The cocoon is a death, but not a final death. The coffin can be a tragedy, but not for long.
There will be butterflies.”
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