What Does the Bible Say About Death?
Death…now that’s a great topic for an icebreaker. If you want to make other folks really uncomfortable, just bring up this topic. So why are we talking about death anyway? In a youth-zine, no less? Do you even worry about death? A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota reveals that death is a common concern for young people, with fifteen percent of all youth surveyed confirming they believed they would die young. www.foxnews.com/story/0.2933.529364.00.html This generation is experienced enough to know that death is not kind, and death does not respect whether you’re young or old, rich, or poor. The current youth culture seems to think about the eternal much more than previous generations. This generation is asking questions like; what will matter when we’re all dead and gone? For that reason, death is a timely topic to discuss.
What does the Bible say about death? As one who has faced the sorrowful journey of death more than I would wish, my question has more to do with what the Bible doesn’t say about death than what it does. For instance, why do we have to die at all? The Bible says that it is appointed to every human to die at some time (see Hebrews 9:27). Appointed, like I have a blind date with something that scares the liver out of me—a personal meeting with something I want no part of whatsoever! And the Bible also tells us that death is the result of sin, when rebellion entered the human race (see Romans 5:12). I guess the Bible tells us why we have to die; it’s just not the answers I’d like to have.
There are other questions about death that the Bible doesn’t really say much about, like, why do good people suffer, struggle, and die prematurely? Oh, wait a minute … the Bible says something about the rain falling on the just and the unjust (see Matthew 5:44-46). I guess that kind of helps me understand that life on earth will not seem fair to us, and from our perspective, things may not make sense. I faced that question in a very personal way at the age of twenty-seven, when one of my dearest friends from high school was killed in a tragic plane crash. I had lots of questions—and still do. In the end, you just come to grips with not knowing all the whys, and you find peace in that reality. I think the following statement made by Reverend T.F. Tenney (at the funeral of Reverend Billy Cole) eloquently gives us a way to wrap our minds around such struggles:
I have no answers to all your questions, because God knows that, a lot of times, it’s easier for us to live with the questions than with the answers. And when we can’t track God, we trust God. He just doesn’t come down and explain himself; He just comes down and says trust Me.
I must confess to you, that for everything we fail to understand about death, the Bible clarifies so many questions about death and what comes after. First of all, the Bible describes death on a number of levels. In its most basic sense, death is separation from God and His creation. The very first death took place in the Garden of Eden; the spiritual death of Adam and Eve (see Genesis 2:17) occurred as a result of their disobedience, and God ceased to walk and talk with them each evening. That same spiritual death continues today as our sin creates a wall of separation between our holy God and us (see Isaiah 59:2). Ironically, it was spiritual death that also resulted in physical death. Because sin had entered the earth, God did not want us to live in this realm eternally. At that point, human life on earth, as we knew it, became more like a “dressing room” for our truly eternal existence. Physical death ended life on earth, but the spirit would live on forever, in heaven or in hell (see I Corinthians 15:51-56; Revelation 20:10-15; Revelation 21:8). From that perspective, physical death is really not the end; rather, it is the beginning.
I would also propose something that might sound a little shocking—spiritual death doesn’t have to be the end either. While we’re all thoroughly disgusted with Adam and Eve for what they “did to us” in the garden, I’m not so convinced that I hate them for it. Yes, I get that there is so much garbage we would not have to deal with had sin not entered the picture. But the element of free choice probably means that each of us (even you, holier-than-thou-reader) would have ended up in the same boat as them. So rather than focusing on what didn’t happen, I choose to meditate on the goodness of God’s grace in spite of our rebellion. If sin had never entered the garden, could I truly have known the depths of God’s love for me? If spiritual death had not come to all of humanity, would abundant life in Jesus Christ feel as abundant? For that matter, would I even be talking about Jesus today, as there wouldn’t be a need for His ultimate sacrifice? Coming to grips with my own spiritual death isn’t very pleasant. Death is always ugly, always painful. But I am convinced that when lost love is regained, it is so much sweeter, because we can more fully appreciate it. That’s how I feel about my spirituality—I once was lost, but now I’m found. I once faced spiritual death, but now I live in the freedom of the Holy Spirit. And even though physical death may always be bewildering or frightening to me, I know in my heart that, really, it’s just the beginning of my story. For at the resurrection, my God will wipe away every tear from my eye, and heaven will be the existence that God always intended for me (see Isaiah 25:8; Revelation 7:17; Revelation 21:4). It will be the moment when I hear the most important words of my life: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). That will also be the moment when death—both physical and spiritual—will no longer exist, because there will never again be separation from our beloved Savior.