Recently, a friend from church was sharing about her episode with anaphylaxis shock. She was home alone with her infant when suddenly and without warning, her body started reacting to what, is unknown. She couldn’t make it to the phone to call her husband or mother-in-law and barely made it to the computer to type a message out. She was going in and out of consciousness and wondered if this was it, was she going to die. But instead of the cheery easiness with which we Christians tend to treat death, there was an easiness about it. Almost a fear, more like dread.
Now this is a strong believer and someone who has had to trust God through some rough stuff. I know there is nothing she would want more than to be in the sweet arms of Jesus. She is not alone. I recall when my son and I were robbed at gunpoint and flashes of losing my life were before me and conjured up that same kind of dread. Or times when experiencing turbulence in airplanes and the mind flashing to a scenario of the plane crashing.
We talked about how these reactions seem contradictory to almost giddy like treatment of death as being a transition from one stage to the other, as if it’s something we should look forward to. I mean, Paul did say, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” I would speculate that a good number of Christians experience this kind of apprehension and guilt for thinking it. Are we weak and unfaithful Christians for being apprehensive about death?
No because there is something else to consider: death is a wretched result of the Fall. Death does to us what God did not intend for our bodies to do, be ripped apart. Death reminds us, or should remind us, what tragedy occurred through one man’s disobedience that plunged God’s creation into cosmic devastation.
Why then do we minimize this tragedy?
As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been reading through this fabulous book by Michael D. Williams, professor at Covenant Theological Seminary. Far as the Curse is Found: a Covenant Story of Redemption is a wonderful biblical theology on God’s redemptive action as the basis of the whole Bible story. In his final chapter on the Eschaton, hear what he says;
What happens in death? The vital functions of the bodily organism cease. The heart and lungs no longer move blood and oxygen; the nervous system ceases to transmit impulses to and from the brain; and the body begins to decompose.
But these bodily events often do not enter into the believer’s description of death. People often think of death as the separation of the soul from the body, usually with the further idea that the soul is the real person. Thus death is no more than the shedding of the nonessential physical shell of the body. The real person now lives as a soul. Since the body is not really the person, its loss means that the person merely undergoes a transformation from one form of life to another: Indeed, I’ve heard Christians speak of death as an aspect of life.
While I affirm the preresurrection survival of the soul with the Lord, I find this casual talk about death as though it were akin to moving out of one’s parents’ house to go to college, most disconcerting and flatly unbiblical. The question of body and soul is a most vexing one from a biblical perspective, but one thing is clear: Scripture envisions human beings as psychosomatic unities, not merely souls stuck in bodies for a time. Genesis 2 affirms that ‘the Lord formed the man from the dust of the ground [adamah]’ (Gen. 2:7). Hence God names him Adam. The very name the Lord gives him securely anchors mankind in God’s creation.
To put it mildly, death is evil. Death is an assault on God’s creation. I believe this is the reason when faced with the prospect of death we instinctively know this is not how it’s supposed to be. That doesn’t mean we deter from putting our lives on the line, and many do. It just means that it’s quite reasonable for experiencing the uneasiness of it.
This further demonstrates the significance of the resurrection, both Christ’s as the first fruits of what his people will experience in the Eschaton, the unification of body and soul as it was intended to be, everything perfect in the midst of Christ. That is why Paul calls death an enemy and the last one to be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26).
Yes, Christ gained victory over death and promises those who believe in him eternal life. And while we can anticipate the joy of heaven, it is only when heaven meets earth and everything as it is intended to be occurs that we can truly rejoice. In the meantime, we have this promise in the midst of realities of the Fall. And it’s ok to experience that tension.