It Is Appointed Once to Die
It is said that two things are inevitable in life: death and taxes. I don't want to discuss the second of these, but I do have a few words to say about the first one. Many people find death hard to talk about, but it does need to be discussed, for it affects us all. Each of us comes to grips with it through the death of family members, friends, and eventually ourselves. The Scriptures tell us, "It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). Because of this fact, it is important for each of us to think about, talk about, and prepare for death, as well as to consider ways in which we might minister to those who are grieving because of the death of a loved one.
Death entered the world because of sin. If Adam had not sinned, there would be no death. But death entered with the transgression in the Garden. The Scriptures tell us that death has two forms, physical and spiritual. When they ate the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve did not immediately experience physical death; that happened much later. They did, however, immediately experience spiritual death. Evidence of this death can be seen in the shame they felt at their nakedness, their hiding from God, and their blaming of others when confronted by God. Since then, death has been a constant in the world (with a few notable exceptions), and it will remain so until Christ comes again.
Knowing about death, however, is far different from dealing with its effects in our lives or the lives of those around us. Ours is a society that does its best to postpone, deny, and otherwise ignore death, so death is not a common subject of conversation. Yet we must speak of it, for it will come to us all.
Death, remember, is not natural. Death and sin are tied together, and when we deal with one then we must deal with the other. In the Scriptures, death comes from many causes – from natural causes, from accidents, from judgment, from warfare, from sinful actions, and even from suicide. In all cases, there is impurity associated with death. Thus, in the Old Testament, all procedures that pertain to the handling of the dead require purification from uncleanness before a return to worship is possible (Numbers 19:11-22).
In the New Testament, Christ raises the dead and shows the power of God over death. Christ's raising of the physically dead becomes a sign of the power that he has over spiritual death as well. The climax of this power comes with His own death and resurrection. By it he deals with the spiritual roots of death by undergoing death himself to pay the price for our sins. Further, his resurrection from the dead anticipates our own future physical resurrection at his coming (1 Corinthians 15:20-23; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). The flow of the biblical testimony is one of increasing light. It moves from the types and shadows of Old Testament sacrifices for sin and rites of purification to the power of Christ over sin and death. Christ is the perfect sacrifice for sin and the ultimate purification from uncleanness. By his resurrection, he assures us of our own resurrection at his coming.
Precious in the Sight of the Lord is the Death of His Saints
The Bible tells us that there is a time to die (Ecclesiastics 3:2). Even though we may not care to think about that time, it will come to each of us. While the Bible has much to say about death and the dead, it has comparatively little to say about the dying person. One notable exception is Genesis 47-49, where Jacob makes extensive preparations for his death. His-preparations include:
An acceptance and understanding of his death (Genesis 47:29; Genesis 49:29a).
A statement to others of his burial wishes (Genesis 47:29-31a; Genesis 49:29-32).
Worship of God (Genesis 47:31b; cf. Hebrews 11:21).
Blessings imparted to his sons (Genesis 48:1-49:28).
A statement of his confidence about the future (Genesis 49:29a, 33).
A death with dignity (Genesis 49:33).
Another notable example is provided by Jesus, who prepared his disciples and himself for his death, and who made arrangements for his mother's care even as he hung on the cross (Matthew 16:21; Matthew 26:36-42; John 19:26, 27).
From this we learn that it is certainly appropriate to make some preparations for our death before we die. The preparations made for our own death can make things easier for our loved ones, who must make decisions quickly and perhaps under great stress after we have died. This can be done through preplanning your funeral and making provisions for disposing of your estate with a will. (It is amazing how many people have not prepared a will.)
Another often-overlooked but important aspect of these preparations is speaking about death with your family at appropriate times and occasions. Funerals may provide such an opportunity. The death of a pet may provide an excellent opportunity to speak about death to children. Death should be discussed from a biblical point of view and you should include a personal statement of faith in Christ, your hope for life after death in the presence of the Lord, and your hope of the resurrection at the return of Christ.
That you May not Grieve, as Those Who Have No Hope
When a loved one dies, grief and sorrow come to those who remain. This grief and sorrow is not improper for the Christian (Genesis 50:1). Death is a sorrowful occurrence that changes many things in our life. It often tears apart relationships that have taken a lifetime to build. It can take significant people from our lives and leave us with a deep sense of loss.
However, while grief is normal, despair is not. Despair is grief that has no bottom. It can be a well into which the grieving sinks. Despair is grief without the hope of the future life. Paul, in I Thessalonians 4, speaks about the return of the Lord and the resurrection and glorification of the saints, so that the Thessalonians will not "grieve, as do the rest who have no hope" (v. 13).
Christ wept at the death of Lazarus. He then remedied that grief by restoring Lazarus to life, but he told Martha that the ultimate cure for grief is found in belief in him as "the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25). Those who believe in him shall have spiritual life ("shall live") even when they experience physical death. He told her that "everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:26). In this belief we can rest confidently. Paul likewise tells us that our faith in Christ can break the power and remove the sting of death, for death is "swallowed up" in the victory of the resurrection, when the "mortal must put on immortality" and the "perishable must put on the imperishable" (1 Corinthians 15:51-57).
Jay Adams, in his article "Grief as a Counseling Opportunity" (in The Big Umbrella, published by Presbyterian and Reformed, 1972, pp. 65-94), points out the three stages of grief.
The first stage is that of shock, which includes the initial response to the news of a death. This is a brief period of time that may last from several minutes to a few hours.
The second stage is that of disorganization, which may last from seven to ten days and involves emotional and even physical distress, as well as guilt for unresolved relationships with the deceased. This is usually a negative period.
The third stage, that of reorganization, is an indefinite period of time during which decisions are made concerning the future and life without the deceased begins to get organized.
There is a tremendous opportunity for us to help one another in times of grief. Certainly we realize that our ultimate comfort comes from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-7) through the ministry of the Holy Spirit – the Comforter. We should certainly pray continually for the comforting ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the grieving. Yet family and friends often need to take some part in comforting those who are grieving. Each of the three stages of grief offers opportunities to minister.
The stage of shock is a brief and very intense period for many. Often little can be done during this time other than to assure the grieving that we arc with them and praying for them.
During the period of disorganization, the grieving may appreciate having someone around so they are not alone. Many times this physical presence is vital. Also, we can be good listeners, so that the grieving has a chance to verbalize their feelings. We must be willing to commit the time necessary to help the grieving. Further, we should encourage them to make only those decisions that are necessary and to put off making major decisions until a later time.
Few realize that the final stage, that at reorganization, can last a long time, from several months to several years. So many friends fail to maintain their contact, with the grieving person during this period. Just because the worst may be over, don't assume that they can handle things now. If they allow us, we should be willing to help them with any major decisions that they need to make. We should help them to set biblical objectives for their life and discuss biblical solutions to their problems. They must realize that God still has a purpose for them.
Finally, we should remember that there are certain aspects of grief that we will never fully get over. Some say that time is a great healer, but the greatest healing occurs where there is faith in Christ and assurance of eternal life with him in heaven (John 14:1-3).
This brief article has only touched the surface of this matter that is so important in our lives. There is much more that can be said. Much has been written on these topics by both Christian and non-Christian authors. Those interested in these topics should consult their pastor, church library, Christian bookstore, or local Christian counselling centre for some titles.