Grappling with the Grim Reaper
by Alan Allegra 6/16/2014 / Salvation
When the photographer took the headshot that heads my column, he asked the tenor of my articles. Were they light, serious, heavy, amusing? He wanted to reflect their emotional quality. I forced a smile to show my writing often contains a soupcon of whimsy to keep from being too ponderous. Today's subject will stretch those boundaries a bit.
Lately, I attended three different funerals (not counting the various summer insects I've had to terminate this season). First was the final commencement ceremony and commemorative events for the seminary I graduated from many years ago.
One week later brought the memorial service for a pastor whose ministry and personal struggles shaped my spiritual life in unusual and gratifying ways.
Now I've heard about the death of my best friend from high school. I don't know the details, except that it happened last year. I attended this service in my imagination.
As you can imagine, death has been on my mind, and I don't just mean the expiration of my aging brain cells. Odd as it sounds in our delicate western culture, contemplating death is not a bad practice; in fact, it can be the most life-affirming exercise imaginable.
The Bible defines death as separation. Physically, it is separation of the soul-spirit from the body. "And the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:7). When he died, "Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit'" (Luke 23:46). Spiritually, death is the eternal separation of a person from God: "They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might" (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
Wise King Solomon pondered life from the standpoint of having every imaginable pleasure. He recorded his musings in the book of Ecclesiastes. One surprising statement reads, "It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart" (Ecclesiastes 7:2). When we come out of our protective emotional shells and think about it, this statement is true, because death is unavoidable.
Recent events caused me to consider the state of my own life. I thought about the late nights, early mornings, and sacrifices that went into theological studies; the friends I made in seminary and their current ministries; the admixture of joys and abuse I experienced during times of ministry; the effect we have on the lives of others; the consequences of our actions, both wise and foolish; and, most importantly, the lot of those who die without the salvation offered by God through Jesus Christ. The impressions borne of these developments were amplified by their proximity to my entrance into the seventh decade of life.
The deluge of negative conclusions brought on by these gloomy and unsavory meditations was dammed up by the promise of God for His children: "Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 'He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Revelation 21:3 - 4). There is great comfort in the words of the apostle Paul: "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).
We put the thought of death at arm's length and pretend it will never happen but, as Solomon discovered, living out loud by accumulating fame, power, money, sex, intoxication, prestige, accomplishments, and every heart's desires, will not drown out the knock of death outside the door. Jesus warned, "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:36).
Attending a funeral is an unpleasant but healthy reminder that it is important to secure your eternal future by receiving the salvation offered by Christ.