All humans will die. The mortality rate among human beings is 100%. I know, this is a wonderfully positive way to begin a post, isn’t it? Though we may not experience positive emotions when we consider death, it is a reality everyone will face at some point in the natural flow of life. Death hurts. Even for the Christian, death stings like Chick-fil-A lemonade in an open wound.
Someone I loved dearly died on Sunday, June 9. She wasn’t just any other person. She was a beautiful reminder of God’s amazing creativity and care. Her selfless care for others and her creativity reminded me of God’s attention to detail and intimate care for His children. Grandma Opal was a follower of Jesus and the family knows that. Even so, the fact that she is no longer with us hurts. We grieve but not as those who have no hope.
But we grieve.
Sometimes we Christians want to rush through or avoid emotions like sadness or anger. Protestant Christians particularly neglect the dark night of the soul. Thankfully, this trend has begun to change through the influence of Emotional Healthy Spirituality and other helpful ministries of mental health. It is okay to feel sad, hurt, or even angry toward God when we encounter death. We cannot allow those emotions to persist yet we must recognize them when we feel them. Failure to grieve well hurts people. As we grieve we must rely on what is true of God and our experience.
The Apostle Paul knew and experienced loss and pain. His writings have encouraged Christians for centuries. In 1 Corinthians 15, he addresses the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, which distinguishes the Christian faith from other world religions. The resurrection of Jesus is what makes the Christian faith a reality rather than a myth. His intention was to remind believers of the final victory over death which was made possible through Jesus’ work. Paul masterfully personified death and victory in this passage.
Paul quoted from Hosea 13:14 when he asked, “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (NKJV) The Hosea passage refers to judgment against God’s people and the eventual restoration that would come through the Messiah. Paul’s personification of Death powerfully resonated in the early Christian community. It continues to impact us today.
Followers of Jesus know that ultimate victory comes through the Messiah. This includes our victory over death. Eventually, there will be no more tears, sadness, or death. Yet we live in between two worlds. We live between the final advent of the Messiah and his ascension back to the Father. This is the eschatological reality of the now and not yet. It is in that reality that we continue to feel the awful sting of death.
When Paul asked his question about death he understood that reality. He knew that on earth people would continue to experience pain, grief, and loss. He experienced hardship himself. Death will eventually be obliterated but for the present time, it still stings.
We grieve but we do not grieve like those who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
We do not avoid the process of grief when we remind ourselves that death’s sting is not eternal. In fact, when we submit to the grief process we experience true and lasting healing for our souls. While we grieve we must anchor ourselves in the hope and expectation of final victory over death. The sting of death might not be eternal but it still remains a dreadful matter to consider.
The sting of death is present, even for Christians. It is present when you watch your loved one breathe her last breath. Death’s sting is present when you hear the news from the nurses that the heartbeat has stopped. That awful pain associated with watching a loved one die stings. Death’s sting reverberates through all humanity yet the melody of Gospel hope rises sweetly like the sound of hummingbirds on a spring morning.
Perhaps you also recognize death’s sting. I pray you have a source of hope when death intrudes in the life of someone you love. I pray your worldview includes the possibility of life beyond the grave. I challenge you to consider whether you believe this life is the only reality or whether there is another reality. I believe in life beyond the grave but that life is reserved exclusively for those who have a personal relationship with Jesus. (John 3:36)
Death stings but it doesn’t get the final word.