We live like we’re immortal – as if our lives and influence will never end. Or we pretend that it is so. And yet we recognize somewhere deep in our hearts the folly of such a perspective. After all, we have attended funerals and have been robbed by the death of family or friends. Knowing (painfully) the limits of our frail human bodies, we rage and resist our inevitable demise in different ways. We live for pleasure (which God describes as a living death), we torture our bodies with diet and exercise to eke a few more years out of them (maybe), or perhaps live with reckless abandon shaking our fist at the inevitable. Some thoughtfully search out explanations offered by philosophy and religion.
Thinking about death is uncomfortable. There are so many unanswered questions, so much uncertainty. Then it strikes. As you watch death mercilessly crush the life out of a person you love, loss slaps you in the face. You can no longer laugh, talk, share, enjoy, ask forgiveness, seek help, or experience life with the one who has gone. Your very identity can be changed. In my case, it was my lifelong companion, friend , and husband. He defined me in so many ways. I can go nowhere in my little corner the world without keenly experiencing the knife cuts of mortality. Even the hardware store is not a safe refuge from memories of shared projects, joys and laughter. If you ever see someone weeping their way through the grocery aisles, or on a walking path, it may be that they are experiencing the cruel side-effects of mortality. I have lost my parents and now my beloved husband, and there is no doubt that death is the implement of extreme hatred that we must ignore on some level to survive. If we focused on it constantly our lives would be a fearful torment. Seeking significance in the face of imminent erasure from this world is perhaps the driving force for a variety of responses, ranging from frantic efforts for achievement so we can secure a legacy, to the anesthetizing addictions that temporarily dull the hopeless abandonment to the inevitable. Most of us are somewhere in between those extremes. Perhaps there is a cause, a relationship, a job, that brings us meaning. We pursue relevance. But death levels the playing field and limits our influence. Perhaps some extend their impact by a few years and their name is remembered for a while, but that seems to be the best we can hope for. To quote Switchfoot “this skin and bones is a rental – and no one makes it out alive.”
Death has been described as the “King of Terrors”. Rightfully so – it is the antithesis of all we cherish. We see the pain and anguish it inflicts indiscriminately. Then there is the dread of the afterward. The unknown is a horror – so we might develop the strangely comforting rationalization that maybe we just cease to be. That idea takes the bite out of a frightening prospect of a disembodied existence “somewhere”, but it flies in the face of our intuition. We sense somehow that we have a purpose, a destiny, a divine spark. We have to be taught or persuaded out of that intuition. We sense a destiny. Even in my days as an atheist, I was always looking for ‘a home where I belong.’ I felt one with the universe, but not ready to return to the dust. Differing ‘solutions” to a finite existence have been offered, but none of the proponents can speak from a place of experience with eternality – except Jesus.
Losing my lifelong friend, my love and my anchor, has brought me face to face with my beliefs and doubts about the realities of our destiny. I have revisited those Scriptures that comfort the grieving, and in doing so I have found even more reason to expect a good future after this mortality succumbs to immortality. I wondered if it were just wishful thinking, but to believe that I would have to view Jesus as a liar. He came to this earth armed with unfathomable love and a working knowledge of the forces of the entire universe. Understanding the full impact of death’s power as well as its cause, He defied and defeated Death at the ultimate cost to Himself. For me!! And for you!! Were it not for Him, terror would reign relentlessly for any thinking person.
It is a fitting consideration at a time of year when we celebrate that very triumph of the One Who chose death for Himself so He could impart life to those who had been enslaved to death unwillingly. Familiarity with the story can lessen our appreciation of the magnitude of the universe-transforming event we celebrate at Easter. If we could only glimpse for a second what my dear husband is experiencing right now we would shed all our skepticism, repent of our complacency and weep for our shallow love for the Savior. Religion would become abhorrent unless it catapulted us into an intimate personal relationship with the God Whose love is deeper and thankfully stronger than the hatred of the death-wielder – the liar, the deceiver, our mortal enemy. Jesus is stronger than death and worthy of not only our implicit trust, but our grateful adoration!! Because of Him immortality – not death – has the last word.