We must have the right view of death, or we will fail at life until we die. This is the sad and grim truth that no human can escape. Ignoring death, minimizing it, or glorifying it are all useless in producing a well lived life. And, when grim predictions of possible virus death totals come from the White House itself, we can be left reeling or running to our escape mechanisms. Yet, a right theology of death can lead to a life supercharged with hope and joy and faith even in the face of death.
The Scriptures make it very clear that the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). When Adam represented mankind in disobeying the God of all life, he knowingly entered a covenant with death—a covenant that he passed down as an inheritance to all of his children (Gen. 2:17, 1 Cor. 15:21). Whether those deaths come unexpectedly by way of a sudden pandemic or eventually in the decline of old age, they come certainly and without fail. Yet, contrary to the popular adage, death is not “a part of life”—if we mean by it that life ends in death out of existential necessity. Death is actually a punishment; it concludes life, but it is not existential to it.
And this is really good news, when we know the Bible’s storyline. When Jesus took on the punishment of death, he was absorbing in himself that curse that came because of Adam’s sin, and the poisonous fruit of that sin that is produced in every life. When he rose again, God was declaring that the new household of Christ could offer both payment for sin and a new birth of eternal life. God now offers to every human the opportunity to switch “households”—from Adam with his inheritance of death, to Jesus with his inheritance of eternal life. For those in Jesus’ household, their bodies will still experience physical death, because our bodies came from Adam, and face the inevitable end of his bloodline. But our spirits will endure, and Jesus will grant us new bodies that are as invulnerable as he is (Phil 1:23, 1 Cor 15:42-45).
When this is our theology of death, we have the glorious privilege of staring death in the face without fear. We also have the calling to invite others to come into the household of Christ, confessing their sins and receiving his promise of life. Death, for the Christian, becomes simply falling asleep (John 1:11, 1 Thess. 4:14, 1 Cor. 15:20). Going to sleep might be a harder process for some than for others, but in the end, “going to sleep” is not something we should fear, since the moment we close our eyes in death, we open them in the Spirit and are with our Lord. In this pandemic moment, the fear of death is gripping the globe (Heb. 2:15). The members of Christ’s household of life must exhibit and offer the freedom from this fear as representatives of our Risen Savior.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26