How to Live the Bible — How The Bible Helps Us Face Death
This is the fifty-third lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
Mel Lawrenz is the author of Life After Grief
It is understandable why we might avoid talking about or facing death. The subject raises questions, fears, and anxiety. Yet we all know that death is part of life. It is one of the great inevitabilities of all of our lives, unless Christ returns before we die. So it is not surprising that God’s Word speaks into this reality. Living the Bible, in other words, includes facing the end of life in this world.
One of the major blessings of knowing and living the Bible is that we are warned about the most difficult parts of life before we get there. The vastness of biblical revelation, written over many hundreds of years by dozens of prophets and apostles and their associates in a variety of cultures, is that we get an emerging understanding of that absolute reality: death.
Among the many helpful biblical passages that help us to understand and deal with the harsh reality of death is Romans 8, which includes:
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently (Romans 8:18-25).
The book of Romans has many passages that give us the big picture of who God is, who we are, what life is, what it could be, and the major struggles of life. Here in Romans 8 the Apostle Paul tells us that life includes “suffering,” “frustration,” “bondage,” “decay,” “pain,” and “groaning.” Sooner or later we all come to experience these things. It is good that the Bible warns us ahead of time.
This is one of the great benefits of a biblical world view: we should not be surprised. When wars break out, we are not surprised. When political leaders are plunged into scandal, we are not surprised. When we are strongly tempted and when we sin, we are not surprised. When we get sick, we are not surprised. When a natural catastrophe hits, we are not surprised. And when a loved one dies—as much as we feel that “this should not be” or “this cannot be”—we know, deep in our hearts, that death is part of life. We should not be surprised.
And long before we ourselves get some dire medical diagnosis or hit our heads falling off a ladder and end up in an intensive care unit or creep up toward the average lifespan, we must say to ourselves: we are not surprised.
Does the Bible teach that death is part of a great cycle of life? Not exactly. The fundamental lesson of Genesis 3 is that suffering and death are consequences of sin. It is not the way things were meant to be. So we do not need to do mental gymnastics to show that death is not ugly or painful or difficult. It is. When Jesus went to the tomb of his friend Lazarus, he had a strong reaction. The text (John 11:35) says “Jesus wept.” The word “wept” however does not mean gentle crying. It includes a sense of anguish and even indignation. Jesus showed the same reaction that comes to us when we face death: this hurts; this is ugly; this should not be. But it is true. Everyone dies. The question is: how does God help us at this inevitable crossing? We may know ahead of time if we have a terminal illness, but then again, we don’t know if today we will be in a fatal auto accident on the highway.
When Jesus brought Lazarus back from death Jesus was sending a message that the power of God is greater than death. This was a signal that God knows how painful death can be, but that death does not have to have the final word.
And so we get this too, in Romans 8: “we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” Death is inevitable (unless Christ returns first); but death does not have the final word.
(to be continued)
Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, including How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.
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May 21, 2019