A friend of mine learned on Thanksgiving Day that he has terminal cancer. I visited him in the hospital that afternoon, and he was devastated. Doctors had discovered an inoperable tumor during surgery, and they simply stitched him back up. He now has all the pain and none of the benefit from that surgical procedure, which was extremely invasive. He was not much improved when I saw him again a couple of days later—after I had been to a memorial service for another friend's father.
So I've been thinking a lot recently about the frailty and the shortness of our human existence—and how sad death is, even for the Christian.
Of course, Christians understand that death is a consequence of sin, and death's sorrow ought to be a universal reminder of how evil sin is. The fruits of humanity's rebellion against God are invariably bitter, tragic, painful, and ugly—and death is the culmination of it all: sin's wages. We all know the pain of loss from death, or we will at some time in our lives. It is simply impossible to live a long life in a sin-cursed world without being assaulted with the sorrow and tragedy of human loss. Even Jesus felt that pain, and He wept at the death of His friend Lazarus (John 11:35).
Have you ever wondered why He was weeping? It could not be just grief over the loss of Lazarus, because He was about to bring Lazarus back to life. Yet it's clear from Scripture that His tears signified real sorrow.
So what was He mourning about?
Surely He was grieving over the effects of sin on people He loved. He was sorrowing over the ravages of evil on His creation. He was thus identifying with those whom He loved, even in their anguish. "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities" (Hebrews 4:15). He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. He is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And at Lazarus's grave He felt the full weight of anguish over the sinfulness of the human condition. He was deeply and sincerely moved by it.
Death is a horrible enemy. Scripture says in 1 Corinthians 15:26 that death is "The last enemy that shall be destroyed." And when you sit with someone who is dying slowly, you come face to face with the fact that death is a formidable, tyrannical, universal foe. The searing pain and sadness of death seem almost unbearable at times. If we thought about it in merely human, earthly terms, we might be tempted to become chronically melancholy and despondent.
But Scripture gives us both hope and a reason to rejoice, even in the midst of the gloom of death. Remember: it was in this very same context that Jesus made one of His most glorious promises about His victory over death and hell. He told Lazarus's devastated sister Martha: "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die" (John 11:25-26). He meant, of course, that believers can never die spiritually, and that even their physical death is only a temporary condition.
But that promise, glorious as it is, does not erase death's temporal sorrows. It did not even keep Jesus Himself from weeping. The short verse that records His sorrow over Lazarus's death comes just ten verses after He made that promise. We who cling to that promise likewise still have profound sorrows, but thankfully, our sorrow is not a hopeless sorrow (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Pondering the universality of death and the inevitability of it, I have to wonder what certain Emergent leaders could possibly be thinking when they systematically try to downplay the hope of heaven and urge Christians to be more concerned with earthly matters.
Indeed, "if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable" (1 Corinthians 15:19).
HT: Team Pyro