Hope and Joy in the midst of Death

IMG_2167Death hurts.  It’s not easy, even when it’s expected.  Someone you love and have spent part or all of your life with is suddenly no longer here.  You still have them in your phone, their house with all of their furniture, clothing, and food is still there, but they are not.  It’s a tough thing to wrap a finite mind around and accept – and find hope and joy in the midst of.

My grandma died last night.  She was 89 years old, lived a very long life, but in the end suffered through some things that her body could no longer handle.  A piece of my childhood, upbringing, my life is just no longer existing on this earth.  She loved me and her entire family so deeply, and it’s a love that I will dearly miss. I stared at her dead body in my family’s living room for a long time last night, trying to force feed the concept that the structure in front of me had just days prior offered loving words and hugs.  Standing there looking at this, I couldn’t help but refer my heart and mind to the cross of Christ as I ponder life, death, and eternity.

Death is an inescapable part of life, and it’s rarely something we budget into our life’s schedule, or even talk about for that matter.  Think or speak of it or not, we all will one day come face to face with the very thing we tend to fear most.  Humanity is enslaved by the fear of death, doing EVERYTHING possible with our lives to deny, deny, deny the truth of mortality.  Even when a friend of ours loses someone, we will murmur a “my condolences and prayers” but still not allow the gravity of death to pierce our minds.  Why do we do this?  I think it’s to avoid the implications of facing it, what it demands from our lives, now.  I also think we don’t know how, and are fearful to approach it.

It must arrest my attention. It must rip me out of my subconscious belief that I’m invincible, where I push my own death completely out of my mind. In my period of mourning, I can not deny that I will one day die.  Through disease, an accident, or old age, I will leave this world and enter another. It must concern me of what happens in and after that transition.  Once I can swallow that pill, I can move on to, “So I’m going to die.  Now what?”

It’s scary at first glance… but exciting at second.

When looking to God’s word, death is both displayed as something Christ had to conquer on the cross so that the evil of my depravity and sin could be forgiven, but it’s also presented to us as something that is “gain.”  I don’t need to be convinced of the wickedness of death, but how is this thing something that benefits those of us who call Jesus “King” and “Savior?”

Paul says in Philippians that if he dies, he is glad and he rejoices, and even goes on to tell his readers (2:18) that they should rejoice with him!!  EXCUSE ME are you on drugs bro?? A verse earlier, he tells them why he rejoices at the possibility of dying – “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (1:23).  Here we have the partakers of sorrow on both ends (the dying and the griever) comforted and even invited to celebrate in earthly death as it is the conduit to “be with Christ,” which he says that in comparison to being here, it’s “far better.”

This is the reason other scriptures taunt death, saying “where is your victory, where is your sting” (1 Cor 15:55).  This is why historically recorded martyrs JOYFULLY threw themselves at the stake.  If we truly believe that God is as beautiful, and magnificent, and glorious as He says He is, we can’t wait to get to heaven and be with Him!  I can stare the grim reaper in the eye and laugh, knowing that he can’t take A THING from me except this petty life – which is standing in between me and being with the lover of my soul.  Death does not have the final word.  Death may want to defeat us, but little does it know that for those of us chosen by Him, we invite it for the joy that awaits us on the other side.  Death fears us when we look upon it as a blessing that leads us to true life.  What Mr. Mayhem thinks he takes, he actually is only replacing with something that is incalculably greater.

This is the hope in death.  We can not lose.

In one moment, a life of declaring “Christ alone is more than enough for me” is put to the test.  You enter the afterlife with NOTHING you gained on earth, except the most valuable treasure you could never deserve or earn on your own – entrance granted into forever fellowship, presence, and worship of beautiful, glorious God.  When I stop denying what denial will not prevent or postpone, I am freed from the slavery of fear of death.  I can be EXCITED for the earth/heaven transition for me and the people I love.  I am able to have hope because the person that I love no longer suffers pain, but much more than that, they are in paradise with the lover of their and my soul. My grandma’s life was submitted to Christ, so this commissioning is a great thing, and even a thing to celebrate.  Had she not, this would be a time much more sorrowful than it already is.

For the grieving: there is hope and joy. Much like being happy for someone you love when they get married or get a job promotion, we can have joy for our loved ones that loved Christ knowing that they are in the place we all long to be.  But don’t miss or waste the mourning process.  Let it pierce you.  Let it bring you to your knees and stir your thoughts to ponder eternity.  Let it correct the direction of your life if it is not honoring God.  Death and loss are meaningless if they don’t bring us to the cross.

For the dying: there is hope and joy.  My own body is quickly fading.  I’m one day closer to my death than I was yesterday.  Death is only the gateway, and the best is yet to come.  There will be no more sin in us.  We will be relieved of the pain of this world.  We will finally be able to cure our homesickness for God.  We will be with Christ.

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  …having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is, very much, better.”  – Paul

Mike Arnold


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