RPM, Volume 13, Number 2, January 9 to January 15, 2011


By Scott Schuleit

The looming specter of death haunts our culture, and indeed, the world. The ways people deal with it are diverse and varied. Some strive to deny its reality, as if death were an illusion. Some confront it in a superficial manner, mocking it, expressing their fearlessness, scoffing at their own mortality. Others get used to death, accepting the forthcoming reality of it, even to the point of glamorizing such a thing, reveling in it. Still others, in an attempt to pull the fangs out of such a hideous creature, resort to jokes. Most, in my opinion, prefer not to think about it, pushing the prospect out of their minds. For the escapist, it's quite a formidable enemy to run from because the signs of death and decay in this fallen world are all around us, reminding us of our finitude.

As a people, we are not only frightened, but also fascinated by it. Death is good business. Death sells, or more specifically, violence sells. Art and music, movies, books and television programs often engage in details and situations surrounding death in a graphic, perverse and mindless manner. The topic itself is not inherently evil, but emerges as good or bad depending on the motivations behind it and manner in which it is expressed. There's a good kind of interest in the subject and a bad kind. For example, the good kind of fascination can, in part, provoke considerations regarding mortality and eternity, while the bad kind can seek to simply excite the flesh.

With regards to the unhealthy kind of fascination, in a very real way, the unregenerate man loves death, hence, part of their fascination. If they hate God Who is life, then, naturally, or by nature, they will love death. This deadness, rooted at the deepest level within the unregenerate individual—for they are dead in their transgressions and sins (Eph. 2:1-3)—yearns after more deadness, the evidence of which can be seen by their rigorous pursuit of sin, which propagates it. Their souls are alive, but with regard to the things of God, are actually dead, and as a result, not only do they desire deadness, but also strive to incite others to engage in sinful actions as well. (See 1 Pet. 4:3-5) So at one level, the unregenerate man loves death, but at another level, fears it, producing a kind of conflict within him.

To offer a specific example, consider the epidemic of sexual immorality in our culture. The negative repercussions, spiritual and physical, for engaging in this kind of behavior are severe and manifold, including the possibility of acquiring aids. In response to the various warnings and realities surrounding perverse behavior, rather than abstaining from sex outside of marriage, our culture is becoming increasingly sexually immoral. Why such irrationality? It is, in part, because those who are unregenerate are slaves to sin. They love death, and deep down, many of them, secretly, would simply like to die, thinking death will bring about an end to suffering, yet in opposition to this, many of these same people also fear it. It's quite strange. This curious conflict that resides in the unregenerate soul can be applied, in general, to that community as a whole, and it can be applied, in part, to the Christian community.

How should Christians view death? For Christians there should be a different kind of conflict, a far better one. Phil. 1:21-24 states: "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake." Paul here expresses joy and excitement at the possibility of dying for it would mean going home to be with the Lord. He also recognizes that to stay on in the flesh would mean fruitful labor. What a wondrous conflict he had. There was joy at each possibility, but his greater desire was to go home and be with the Lord. Despite this deeper desire, the Apostle Paul lived on for some time longer because the Lord had some more work for him to do during his brief pilgrimage on earth.

Is this how we view death? I'm sure some in the church feel the joy of this wondrous conflict, but I'm also convinced many do not. I've noticed an obsessive emphasis on trying to look young in our culture, and I think this attitude has, to some degree, infiltrated the church. Not that it's wrong to try and look good, but it's the attitude behind it, the motivations of the heart. The secular attitude behind this desire suggests that we only have one life before we fade forever, therefore make the most of it, live it up, fulfill your every desire, pamper your flesh. Many in our culture are (and it's sad to watch) obsessively striving to stay young that they might grasp a kind of worldly immortality. The utopian ideal of an unending youthfulness within a material and worldly context is, in part, the modern mans view of heaven. It's one among many worldly counterfeits to various biblical realities.

It is true that the Bible calls death an enemy, using personification in describing this abstract, non-sentient aspect of reality. It is an enemy whose defeat has already been procured by Christ's life, death, and resurrection from the dead. God Has chosen not to eradicate this foe as of yet, but He will do so. The destiny of death is death. Its fate is sealed! It will be the last enemy to be destroyed. While we still live in this fallen world, death is a reality, but the Christian should not fear it nor should they become obsessed with the idea of death and the prospect of it. Let us remember that there is coming a time (as 1 Cor. 15:54 declares) when death will be swallowed up in victory.

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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