I received word that a childhood friend passed away recently. She wasn’t a best friend, but she was part of a circle of families close to my own. Hearing the news, more than a few memories were stirred—summertime at the public pool in Danville, Illinois, where I grew up; riding together like a gang through the neighborhoods on our mag-wheeled Huffy bikes; jumping dirt hills on KX-80s; trick-or-treating as our favorite Star Wars characters; Friday nights at the roller rink; all of these were wafted to remembrance.
I suppose my first reaction was to wonder what Death was doing by reaching out to such a young woman. But then I rose from my chair, heard my knees crack, and remembered my own age. Naturally, I humbly withdrew my reaction to Death’s dealings. Perhaps my departed friend wasn’t as young as I preferred her to be, and as it would go, what did that mean for me?
It means I’ve arrived at the edge of a shadowy land where, both chronologically and biologically, Death is making more rounds among the citizenry.
I could say I don’t want to think about it, but that would be foolish. I’m not going to live forever, that is, there’s no gate strong enough, no lock steely enough, no wall sturdy enough to keep Death out when its carriage arrives at my door. As it was with my childhood friend, no matter what I think is right or fair with regard to Death’s dealings, the exchange will be made, and I will go. To believe differently is to live by lies.
Of course, it’s just as inappropriate for me to dwell on these things as it is to ignore them. To dwell on Death would be to live in fear. To live in fear is to be cursed with finding Death and its dread hiding behind everything. It would be to epitomize an insightful line from Don Quixote, the one that goes something like, “Fear is sharp-sighted. It can see things underground, and even more in the skies.”
Besides, I’m a Christian. Living in fear is not what Christians do. And why? Because even though I said I won’t live forever, the truth is, I will. Yes, Death will arrive. I don’t know when, where, or how, but it will. When it does come, I will go. Still, Death won’t own me in that exchange. I have another Master to whom the fateful carriage will transport me. By the power of the Holy Spirit in faith, I can live and breathe and move within each day apart from a strict attachment to this world knowing that even though “in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). That awareness from Saint Paul is nothing less than a faithful interpretation of Christ’s promise to Martha in John 11:25-26:
“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.”
Death had come for Martha’s brother, Lazarus. It sounds like it came in a dreadful way—through illness. Jesus didn’t debate the fact of Death or its means. Instead, He comforted Martha with a better fact—a Gospel-fact—not only that Death wasn’t the end-all, but that the One who was stronger than Death was now on the scene. With Him, Death is defenseless. With Him, the bright-beaming rays of eternal life on hope’s horizon are visible. From that vantage, Death and its fear are neutralized by the Christian confidence of faith. Faith in Jesus is the antidote for fear.
Re-reading what I just wrote, I wonder if there’s more to consider when it comes to how the world around us views Death and its fear. I sometimes wonder if too many people have things somewhat out of order. What I mean is that perhaps people have lost sight of the seriousness of Death’s finality and what comes after it because they’re too distracted by the concern for the ways it might arrive—COVID-19, a school shooting, cancer, or whatever. Again, Death is coming for everyone. What happens beyond that moment is the more crucial concern. Still, so many have traded the momentousness of Death’s eternal irrevocability for the temporary nature of its occurrence. They’re afraid of dying, not necessarily the specter of Death itself.
It would seem this misplaced concern has given birth to a sharp-sighted and irrational fear strong enough to prevent people from actually living. They see danger in everything, and as a result, they’re afraid to visit family and friends, they’re afraid to return to work, they need this and that preventative measure in place before feeling safe enough to do just about anything. I read just this morning that the State of Oregon is considering establishing a permanent indoor mask mandate.
Perhaps worst of all, this fear is still keeping some Christians distant from Christ and the gifts He gives in worship.
But remember, with Jesus—and being strengthened by the Gospel means He provides—Death and its fear is counteracted. Christians don’t have to be afraid of COVID-19 or any future variants. They don’t have to live in fear of a school shooter. Certainly, Christians are mindful, using their reason and senses attuned by God’s Word to watch, discern, serve, protect, and defend against Death’s means. Indeed, we are mindful of Death. And we should be. Compared to the world around us, we know and understand its dirty dealings the best.
But we don’t dwell on them.
By faith, we have been grafted into the One who defeated Death (John 15:5). We have the One who has given us the promise that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
With promises like these in hand, when we feel the creeping nudge of fear’s tendrils, we can know to run to, not away from, Jesus. It’s only with Him that we’ll receive what’s necessary for facing off with Death and its fear. It’s only with Jesus that we’ll have what we need for living in Christian confidence, come what may.