On Death and Dying
Vol: 21 Issue: 15 Wednesday, March 15, 2017
I hate death. Not so much in the usual sense — few people I can think of would say they are particularly fond of the idea. Those who know their eternal destiny might be a bit more introspective about it, but not all.
My hatred for death is personal; as if death were an individual with whom I have had too many fist fights and not once ever landed a solid punch.
I fight death, I curse death, and death ducks every time I throw a punch, then steps back and mocks me. Man, I hate death!
Yesterday, I walked down to the beach to watch the sunset. It is especially beautiful to watch the sun seemingly sink into the ocean on the horizon.
The Carolina sky takes on the most gorgeous pastel colors I’ve ever seen; the clouds look like they were painted against an impossibly blue background with colors I’ve never seen duplicated anywhere else.
As I walked down the boardwalk, I noticed a small crowd of people standing in a circle. Lying on the ground was my friend, B. Y. Nobody knows what B. Y.’s real name is, although he’s been a local character around here for as long as anybody can remember.
He hailed from somewhere near Biloxi, Mississippi, and he once mentioned that he wished he could take a trip back home to see his mom. I offered to spring for his bus ticket, but he confided he wouldn’t know what to say.
He hadn’t seen his family in almost twenty years.
B. Y. was a hopeless drunk, seldom had a job, usually existed by sleeping on somebody’s back porch, but we all made sure he was fed and had a couple of bucks in his pocket.
I’ve always had an affinity for guys like B. Y. — they serve as a constant reminder that, “But for the grace of God, there go I.” Guys like B. Y. serve to remind me of how much God has blessed me, and how much I owe my fellow man who, for reasons known only to God, is not as blessed as I.
B. Y. and I used to talk about life, death, and his relationship with the Lord. I had witnessed to him previously, and B. Y. always assured me that he knew was saved and knew his eternal destiny.
I asked him once how he reconciled his life with his faith, and he shrugged, saying, “That’s the way God made me. I’ll ask Him about it one day.”
It was only yesterday morning that B. Y. stopped by my house to see if I had any odd jobs for him to do. I was in the middle of writing yesterday’s OL at the time, so I only had time to share a cup of coffee with him before sending him on his way.
As I walked up, it was obvious to me at first glance that B. Y. was dead. He had collapsed on the boardwalk, and I suppose that those who passed by him initially thought he had passed out drunk.
(It wouldn’t have been the first time. I’ve helped him off the boardwalk in that condition and over to the more comfortable (and safer) sand of the beach myself, several times.)
Not this time. The paramedics told me that he had probably been dead for forty-five minutes before anybody thought to check on him. They suspect he died of a drug overdose. He was forty-six years old.
I am going to miss B. Y.
I sat on the seawall, not twenty feet from where B. Y.’s body lay, and through the tears, I watched the sunset that I came to see, and had me a little talk with God about poor B. Y.
I prayed that B. Y. was telling me the truth, and that, even as his wasted body lay dead in the middle of the boardwalk, his spirit was in the presence of the Lord.
I prayed and meditated about Romans 10:13 and its unequivocal promise, “For whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved,” and prayed that B. Y. indeed had, at some point in his life, made that call.
I’ve given considerable thought to death, how much I hate it, and the reasons why. The first reason, of course, is pure selfishness.
For all his faults, B. Y. was always respectful of me, went out of his way whenever he could to do me a service, and once leapt to my defense when somebody dismissed me a ‘Bible thumper’.
We had nothing in common, but he was my friend, nevertheless. I liked him.
Death has claimed another friend, and, selfishly, I will miss him.
I hate death because it causes so much pain to those left behind. And I hate death because death eliminates second chances. B. Y. won’t get to make that trip to Biloxi to see his mother. He won’t get another chance to hug her.
She won’t get the chance to see her boy, and, whatever the cause of their estrangement, there will never be another chance to make things right.
Worst of all, if B. Y. hadn’t trusted his eternity to Jesus and was just politely brushing me off, then he won’t get a second chance to decide where he will spend it.
With the recent death of my best friend, Wylie, still an open wound in my heart, and now, with B. Y.’s death taking place right before my eyes, I decided to take another look at what the Bible says happens when we die.
I’ve heard it argued that when a person dies, they remain in the grave, physically dead and spiritually asleep until the Rapture.
Following that argument, there is no sense of time, since eternity is a dimension independent of time, so, although one might be in the grave for thousands of years, from the perspective of its occupant, no time actually elapses at all.
The Apostle Paul wrote,
“We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” (2nd Corinthians 5:8)
That verse is used as often to argue against ‘soul sleep’ as it is used to defend it.
If there is no sense of elapsed time, then the loss of physical consciousness at death and the awakening of our spiritual consciousness at some point in eternity future is one unbroken chain of events. Or so the argument goes. And there is Scripture that appears to support it.
Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 9:10 that,
“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”
The Psalmist wrote:
“For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?” (Psalms 6:5)
Even in context, these verses tend to argue in favor of the idea of ‘soul sleep’ — that once we die, we stay dead until our resurrection at the last day.
The Bible is a record of unfolding revelation — the prophets didn’t know everything — they knew only what God revealed to them. Much of Old Testament prophecy made little sense to the prophet himself.
The prophet Daniel was given the outline of Israel’s entire future history, condensed into a period of only 490 years — the prophecy of the ’70 Weeks’.
By Daniel’s reckoning, then, Daniel’s 70th week, the time we call the Tribulation Period, should have been concluded seven years after Jesus was crucified. But the mystery of the Church wasn’t revealed to Daniel — he talks all the way around it, but he himself never sees it.
I once heard it explained using the analogy of a man on a mountaintop peering at another distant mountaintop, but unable to see the valley between.
Jesus Christ unlocked many mysteries for the Church, not the least of which was what happens when we die. Until Jesus defeated death at His resurrection, the general understanding was that man dies, and then awaits the resurrection of the dead.
The Book of Job, chronologically the oldest book in the Bible, spoke confidently of the resurrection of the dead even before the time of Abraham, saying,
“For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.” (Job 19:25-27)
But Jesus gave us additional revelation, a new ‘mystery’ for the Church, telling us exactly what happens when we die. There is no ‘soul sleep’ as the OT prophets supposed.
Jesus taught specifically and incontrovertibly that, when the moment of death comes, our conscious spirit lives on, AWAITING the resurrection of the dead, which is when our spirit is united with our new and improved physical bodies.
But we aren’t ‘sleeping’ while we wait. When Jesus taught, He often used parables to make His point. And He always prefaced it by telling His audience it was a parable; “learn the parable of the fig tree”; “learn the parable of the sower and the seed” and so on.
Other times, Jesus taught directly from Divine knowledge, revealing previously unknown truths about death, heaven and hell from His perspective as the Creator.
On one occasion, Jesus was teaching as God, rebuking the Pharisees, saying,
“The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.” (Luke 16:16)
Then He said, “There WAS a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores. . .”
So, we have two specific, living individuals in this story, a rich man, and a beggar named Lazarus.
“And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried.”
Lazarus died, but that wasn’t the end of it. He was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. The place called Abraham’s bosom was the waiting place of the righteous dead.
They couldn’t enter heaven, since the blood of animal sacrifices couldn’t completely wash away the stain of sin. At His Death, Jesus ‘descended into hell’ — Abraham’s Bosom — to free the righteous dead and take them to heaven.
This is basic Christian Bible doctrine — but it would be meaningless if Lazarus, Abraham, Moses, etc. remain unconscious in the grave.
Moreover, we have the testimony of the Creator Himself. Why tell the story if the story wasn’t true? It wasn’t a parable used to teach a lesson. The story WAS the lesson.
The rich man also died and was buried, but that isn’t the end of his story, either. The OTHER side of Abraham’s bosom was the waiting place for the unrighteous dead, what Jesus called ‘hell’.
“And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.”
Note that the rich man isn’t sleeping until Judgment Day, he is in hell, and “in torments.”
How do we know this isn’t referring to some period after the resurrection of the unrighteous dead before they stand before the Great White Throne?
Because, Scripture says, hell (and its contents) are then thrown into the ‘Lake of Fire’ [Revelation 20:14].
If there was nobody in hell, because they were all asleep until the resurrection, this would be something of a pointless exercise.
Moreover, Scripture speaks of where the beast and false prophet “are” (present tense) [Revelation 20:10] in the context of the Great White Throne Judgment, which takes place a thousand years AFTER they died. Tenses, whether past, present or future, are references to time.
Jesus Himself explained how hell was divided up until the time He conquered death and hell at the Cross;
“And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, BETWEEN US AND YOU THERE IS A GREAT GULF FIXED: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.” (Luke 16:19-31)
After Jesus claimed the inhabitants of Abraham’s Bosom, hell was given completely over to the unrighteous dead awaiting judgment.
So it is clear that the dead do not sleep until judgment day. The moment of physical death is the moment of spiritual awakening.
One is conscious of either being in the presence of the Lord, or one is conscious of the torments of hell. In either case, our spiritual consciousness, according to the Personal testimony of the Creator, remains unbroken.
This was, for most of human history, an unrevealed ‘mystery’ of God, until God chose to reveal it through Jesus Christ. Since then it has remained a central doctrine of Christianity — at death, one faces either heaven or hell.
At the Cross, Jesus told the repentant thief,
“Verily I say unto thee, TODAY shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Time is of no effect in eternity, but the Bible outlines history in chronological order, binding itself to time in order for it to be understandable to those of us who know no other existence outside of time.
Hence, those in Abraham’s Bosom had to wait (time) for Jesus to redeem them, although they themselves were already in eternity. Those in hell have to wait (time) until the Great White Throne Judgment.
The Great White Throne Judgment and the resurrection of the unrighteous dead takes place one thousand years (time) AFTER the defeat and deaths of the antichrist and false prophet, who the Lord says already ARE (time) in the Lake of Fire BEFORE (time) Satan is cast there.
Our spirits exist and have substance, and they are not only conscious after death, they are completely self-aware.
The rich man of Luke 16 remembered he had five brothers. He begged Abraham to send Lazarus to warn them ‘lest they also come into this place of torment.’
This story took place BEFORE (time again) Jesus had gone to the Cross.
At this moment, B. Y. is either in the presence of Jesus, or he is awaiting judgment in hell. My prayer is that B. Y. trusted Jesus and that one day I will see the man behind the bottle as Jesus saw him; imperfect, incorrigible, but by God’s grace, forgiven and therefore greatly loved of the Father.
Death is not the end of our existence, it isn’t even the end of our consciousness. But it is the end of our opportunity to choose to accept or reject the free gift of salvation procured for us by our Savior.
It is our duty to remember the rich man, and his plea for his five brothers. There is nothing we can do for them, but every day, we meet someone that still has a chance to make that choice. All of us know a B. Y. — and at any moment, our mortal enemy, death, could come calling for him. Then it is too late.
It places upon us, who know the truth, an awesome responsibility:
“When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.” (Ezekiel 33:8)
Featured Commentary: Rock of Ages ~Wendy Wippel