Few circumstances in life completely stop us in our tracks and make us reevaluate everything we believe. Facing death – whether or own or someone else’s – is one such circumstance. There is so much unknown in death. It is the one true final frontier.
In our twenties, few of us have faced death enough times to have really, seriously mulled over what happens when we die. Those of us with somewhat melancholy personalities may have considered it more than most, but even so, it’s easy to superficially acknowledge that, yes, death is an impending reality, but I know where I’m headed, so I’m fine. We don’t stop to think about the logistics of it all.
My grandfather passed away last week. He was almost ninety years old and had been battling cancer for a while, so his passing was expected. He believed in Jesus Christ, was a pastor for nearly six decades, and was ready to go to heaven. So when his funeral is held later this week – on a day that also happens to be my birthday – it will be a day of celebration, both of my birth and his life.
I have therefore been surprised at myself this week, how much his passing has affected me; how much I have been kept awake at night thinking about death. And life. And resurrection. And eternity.
As a Christian who believes that my sin separates me from God, but my faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection on my behalf makes me righteous before God, I know that I am going to be raised to eternal life in heaven when I die. But there are so many knowledge gaps in the process of being raised from death to life.
“But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain… What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body... I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” -1 Cor. 15
I say it again: There are so many knowledge gaps in the process of being raised from death to life! What happens at the moment of death? Will my spirit rise out of my physical body and go immediately to heaven? Is there a waiting period, where my soul rests in unconsciousness until the Last Day, when Jesus comes again?
What happens when I stand before the Throne of God? There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, but I will still have to give an account of my life; an accounting for the way I’ve lived. I may not face the White Throne judgement, but “we will all stand before the Judgment Seat of God… and each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:10).
That. Is. Terrifying.
Imagining that moment of standing before God and giving an account of my life? It terrifies me. And I know that God loves me unconditionally! But to stand in the presence of utter Holiness and Righteousness, of Omnipotence and Omniscience… it makes my heart quake to even begin to imagine that moment. Yes, my sins are covered by the sacrifice of Christ, but will there be a moment where I see the wrath of God before Jesus steps in as Mediator?
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. -Heb. 4:15-16
Perhaps this is a healthy fear. A reverence. A sense of awe and wonder and respect that we lose all too easily this side of heaven. There will be a reckoning for the way we’ve lived. Our deeds, good and bad, do not earn us heaven or keep us out (faith alone can do that), but we will answer for them before God, and be rewarded accordingly (Rev. 22:12).
As a child, I never understood why my mom used to always quote Matthew 25. It didn’t seem like a big deal to me to, at the end, hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But today I understand. That’s all I could ask for. That is my hope – to hear from my Lord, my King, my God, “Well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your master.”
“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” -Rev. 22:17