Death is scary.
Death is really, really scary. And it should be.
Think about it for five seconds. No, really, stop for five seconds and think about it. You can die at any given second for any reason. You have no control over it, no matter how hard you try. You exercise? Great. You eat healthy? Awesome. You have good genes? Wonderful. You make decent pay? Fantastic. None of it prevents you from dying at any moment. None of it at all. If we stop for five seconds to consider this, maybe we’d start taking life a little more seriously and not be content with conversations about what we’re doing this weekend or what we did last weekend. Maybe we’d try to get to the bottom of why the heck we exist in the first place.
Frankly, if death is the end, we don’t exist for any reason at all. We die, our friends die, our families die, our children eventually die, our grandchildren eventually die, our plants die, our pets die, Earth dies, eventually the universe dies. There’s no more life because everything that visibly exists dies.
So in conclusion, death should be terrifying. It should spring up a root of fear and anxiousness in our hearts. It should paralyze us to the point that we consider: “Is this really it? Is this really everything life adds up to? Death?”
I know for a lot of people that this fear of death is a reality. They often work themselves until they are dead tired because they want to fix the problems they see in the world. They often collapse at the end of the day with thoughts circling in their head about the mundanity and the utter depravity of our world. They are anxiously anticipating the next day because they know that it is only full of more hard things: difficult conversations with hurt friends; mourning over lost loved ones; broken relationships and friendships; cultures of violence and oppression; disease; war; political unrest; the list goes on and on and on. It’s exhausting and there are two real reasons we find ourselves in these cycles.
First, these thoughts are only acting as a distraction of the fear that underlies them: the fear of death. The fear that says if I stop doing all these things and give myself a second to think and consider the ultimate outcome of my actions, they will be meaningless, because every single thing dies anyway. So we work and work and work and work. So we distract and distract and distract and distract ourselves so the thoughts don’t have a second to be real. We don’t give ourselves a second to realize that indeed, as the great philosophical mind of Ecclesiastes writes, “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
Second, the working and working and working and working is all driven from a true thought that the world is not how it ought to be. This is quickly followed, however, by the false thought that we have the power to do anything about it. We think that we can fix all the world’s problems. If everyone would just get on the same page and work toward our view of how the world should work, the world would be okay. So we work toward this endlessly, exhaustingly. This self-savior-of-the-world thought, however, cannot be true because we cannot stop Death. Even in the face of all the atrocities we see on a seemingly daily basis, the ultimate way the world seems to be going wrong is Death, which is inevitable.
I’m going to get really, really up front for a second. You cured cancer? Awesome, that person with cancer will still eventually die. You ended war? Awesome, everyone involved will still eventually die. You stopped racism? Awesome, everyone of every race still eventually dies. You fixed global warming? Awesome, the Earth is still going to be burned up by the sun and still eventually dies. You fixed the issues with the church? Awesome, the pastors and congregation still die. I implore you consider the reasoning behind what I’m saying. I’m by no means saying that any of these causes are wrong or bad or shouldn’t be pursued – in fact I believe they all ought to be pursued. What I am saying, however, is that these things are meaningless IF death is the end and is ultimate.
Death acts as a zero if life is as formulaic as we like to make it. Here is the basic formula:
Death*(Cure + Success + End World Hunger + Good) = Death
Now, again, everything is meaningless if we just return to being dust that will eventually burn up in the heat of a dying sun. There is, however, a way all things are not meaningless, but you have to take death out of the equation. Something basically like this:
Cure + Success + End World Hunger + Good = ??
Note the question marks though. Even if we eradicated death from the equation, it still does not provide a very stable source of purpose and meaning. In fact, once you reach a Cure, Success, End World Hunger, or Good, there is nothing really left to live for or chase after and it almost seems as if this too becomes boring, mundane, and death-like. There has to be a circumstance where there is no death and something greater than the things this world has to offer or needs fixed. Otherwise, all of our efforts amount to absolutely nothing and our lives and all we do in them mean absolutely nothing as well.
That is where the concept of living forever comes into play. Let’s look at Life as if it acted like an infinity (because in this case it is eternal). Here is the equation we could look at:
Life*(Cure + Success + End World Hunger + Good) = Life
Life + Cure + Success + End World Hunger + Good = Life
If Life is infinite, then when multiplied by or added to other finite things that have finite endings, it still amounts to Life. It becomes the purpose and reason we live toward. But notice that means that we have a battle between the purposeless, valueless zero of Death and the purposeful, valuable infinity of Life. The sad fact of the matter is unless Death is completely taken from the equation, it is the outcome of the equation. Solve this as if Death = 0 and Life = infinity:
(Death*Life)*(Cure + Success + End World Hunger + Good) = Death
Unless somehow we can take Death out of the world, out of the equation, everything else in the equation amounts to absolutely nothing. It means absolutely nothing, no matter how hard we try to make it mean something because Death cancels it all out. It zeros it. It steals away its value.
Now, there are very few world views that seem to pause and contemplate a way out of this framework we are seemingly trapped in by Death. One such worldview is Christianity. I’ll openly admit, the Christian worldview is the most convincing rebuttal to the idea of a meaningless, valuable world and the canceling power of Death because it focuses on Life. In fact, the Christian worldview not only focuses on Life, it also promises the destruction of death.
This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Timothy 1:9-10)
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” (John 5:24-26)
There is a dichotomy going on here: death and life. It’s the same dichotomy that haunts us. It’s the same dichotomy that enslaves us to fear or frees us to live. Over and over again, we see that the gospel of Jesus overcomes the power of Death – and He lived it. Jesus, born and raised fully human like us, died and then lived again. Because of Him, no longer did Death hold the final say over Him. The craziest thing, however, is this means that if Jesus, who was fully human, overcame Death, we who are fully human can also overcome Death too.
The problem is, we can’t do it by our own power. Go back to those equations from earlier. I don’t think any one of us can say we know how to A) get rid of Death or B) add Life. The funny thing is, Jesus tells us the exact step-by-step way to do just that when He says,
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
“Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:47-51)
‘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 21:4)
Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! (Romans 5:14-17)
So what’s the conclusion we draw? That by Jesus Christ dying and coming back to life, we know it is possible to take Death out of the equation. However, as humans, we know it is not possible for us to overcome Death ourselves unless we live a perfect life and go unaffected by the universe which doesn’t operate as it ought to. But Jesus tells us that we can partake in His death and His resurrection. We can put our lives into His Life, which is eternal and overcame Death. We confess that we cannot defeat Death and that it has its grasp on our lives and we ask Jesus to take control of our lives. By doing just that, we free up everything in our lives: every good deed, every life, to actually matter. Rather than be fleeting, meaningless things that end in Death, they enter into an eternal Life that overcomes Death, just like Christ. It is in Christ that the zero of Death is taken away and the infinite, eternal Life is given to us. In Him we can leave behind the fear of Death and step into the fearlessness of eternal Life.