Thanatopsis

Now that the holidays are over, the blog returns!

On 29 December, my grandfather (my father’s father) passed away after a lengthy hospital stay following surgery. I officiated at his graveside service (he refused to have a full funeral), and it was undoubtedly one of the harder things I’ve done in my life. The family has many long days ahead as we continue to mourn and deal with the process of sorting my grandfather’s belongings.

All of this has me thinking a bit about death. It seems to be the one universal constant: things are born, then they die. Our possessions slowly decay or are used up until they are no more. The cycle of seasons devotes a quarter of the year to the slow, inexorable decline and slumber of the environment itself, which will then lie dormant for another quarter year before returning fully to life once more. As I write this, I can look out my window to see bare trees standing upon dead grass — the savage beauty of winter.

But is death really all there is? Is our immutable fate truly the end? Can death really have the last say?

Well, no. I don’t think so. I believe in an afterlife (which, in my opinion, is a bit of a misnomer; we’re still alive, after all, and our bodies will be again as well). With the historic confessions of the Church, I, too, believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. For me, and for all Christians, death is more of a parting of ways, a segue into something different and better. One of my favorite authors is the grandfather of science fiction, Isaac Asimov, who once said, “Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.” Asimov was an avowed atheist, but he’s still right in this case. We love the living, we often forget about the dead, and we seem to worry about the transition a great deal.

The transition should be the least worrisome part to a Christian. As Paul writes in Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” And again elsewhere: “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8), something often paraphrased as “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” So if we live in this life, we serve Christ. If we die, we worship God “in-person,” if you will. There is nothing “on the other side” that should scare us, worry us, or give us pause. The abundant life we enjoy now comes to full fruition after our death.

Eventually, at the end of the age, the Bible tells us two things. The first is that we will inhabit a new creation, a place free from sorrows and pains and trials and heartaches. The new heaven and new earth (and new Jerusalem) is a land where God shall wipe away the tears from our eyes (Revelation 21). We’re also told repeatedly in Scripture that death will be defeated (Isaiah 28:14; 1 Corinthians 15:26; Revelation 20:14). Death is a defeated foe, and one day, the reaper will be reaped. The victory won on the cross will come to completion at the end of this age, and death and the grave will lose all power.

This should give us hope and remove from us the fear of death. God has already beaten it, and He passes on the victory to those who bear the name Christian.

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