Fall is in full swing. The leaves are changing, the air is brisk, and here in Denver we have even had some snow! Everyone loves fall, don’t they? The changing of the seasons, the the colors, the pumpkin spice lattes. The pumpkin-flavored everything.
I was at church on Wednesday and was chatting with a woman from Ukraine who made the unique statement that she does not like fall. I was so surprised, I am pretty sure I have never heard someone say that, so I dug a little bit. “I just don’t like death. All of the trees and plants are dying. They turn nice colors but they are dying.” She continued, “In Ukraine we associate flowers with death because we put them on the graves and as soon as they start to droop and die, I have to get them away from me.”
Wow. I was quite intrigued by her thought process and I felt quite shallow that I have accepted the “changing of the leaves” without processing the reality of the reason that they are changing.
Now, we know that large trees are not fully dying – they drop their leaves and draw their resources inward to survive the winter. But it is quite morbid, in a sense, that we revel in the changing colors that are a consequence of death to the plants or individual leaves.
Have you ever considered God’s perspective on death? People regularly quote Paul saying that for him “to die is gain” (Phil 1.21) and that he would rather be “absent from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5.8). But what about God?
“Precious in the sight of the Lord
Is the death of His godly ones.”
– Ps 116.15
Precious. It is precious to Him when we draw our last breath and enter into His presence.
And conversely He takes no pleasure in the death and ensuing destruction of the wicked:
“Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?”
– Ez 33.11
God loves us so much that He gives us blessings in this life. He draws us to Himself, He gives faith, fullness of life and satisfies us here on the Earth. But His greatest gift is Himself. Eternity in relationship with Him, worshiping Him, loving Him and enjoying Him forever. And it is precious to Him when we leave this earth and enter into His presence.
That is why Paul could say:
“But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?’”
– 1 Cor 15.54-55
Death has no victory or sting over those who will leave Earth for the New Earth. Is it scary? Absolutely. Will it hurt? Perhaps. But God gives us grace for the moment. He gives us mercies for each day, and He will help His children to die well. Will those left behind be sad? Yes, they will miss the one who has gone on. But we have an expectation of glory (Col 1.27)!
I was talking with a friend last night whose mother is sick and awaiting a liver transplant. I asked him if the situation scared him, and he answered quickly and definitively, “No. If she passes on, she will go to be with God, and I will join her in no more than fifty years.”
When I moved overseas, with the expectation of only being gone for four years, it ripped my heart apart. I cried like a baby for the entirety of the first flight. And no one died! I was just leaving for a few years! But my friend has a solid and Biblical perspective. To die is gain. To go into eternity is to be in the presence of Christ, the Savior.
And God sees the death of His children as precious. When you approach death’s door, if you are abiding in Christ, your death and homecoming will be precious.
Let us live as such. Let us remember that to die is gain. Live this life to it’s fullness through the power of the Spirit and the freedom of grace. Let us honor God in everything – eating, sleeping, drinking, working, relationships. And then, when God calls us home, let us rejoice and consider our passing as precious and be expectant of our future glory: eternity with the all-satisfying, almighty, gracious, holy God who loves us and saved us from His own wrath.
But let us also live lives of urgency. Because there are many dying around us every day that have no hope. To them death is the doorway into an eternity of damnation and suffering. Torment and pain will be their existence forever, if they die without the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. This is why we can hate death. It is the punishment for sin (Rom 6.23). It is a judgment and consequence on our physical bodies for having sinned in any way throughout our lifetime. Though death can be a passage of hope for the believer, it is a passage of terror for those separated from God, and God forbid that we trivialize the expectation of judgment upon anyone.
There is no greater thing in life than to live a life of eternal significance, and to do so is to obey Jesus’ final command: Taking the Gospel to those who do not know it, and making disciples. Let us not revel in death, as it is terrible for so many, but let us not fear it either, as we have the hope of glory.