Not to be morbid or anything, but lately I've been doing a lot of thinking about death. When one thinks of someone dying, it normally brings to mind an ending, a finish to our life here. It brings to mind sadness, black clothes, a funeral.
But, as Christians, is that really how we should think of death?
You always hear pastors say at funerals that "they're in a better place," "we have a living hope," you know...the cliche phrases that at the time don't seem to help at all. But, between reading Randy Alcorn's Heaven, John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and Ecc. 7:1, I've become convinced that death really is not a sad thing at all.
That is, unless you're unsaved. Then it's sad and scary. But for now, I'm only dealing with those who are saved.
In Heaven, Alcorn portrays Heaven as such a real and such an amazing and enjoyable place, that it made me really, really want to go there and see it for myself! So often, I think we visualize Heaven as a palace in the clouds with gold streets and angels on harps singing perpetual hymns. Boring, right? Who wants to live in a golden city? Give me a green rolling countryside with a cabin, a stream and some horses!
Alcorn argues that God would not have created earth as a physical place full of beautiful physical things, tell us that Heaven is going to be even more beautiful than anything we can ever imagine (1 Cor. 2:9), and then make it a boring disembodied spirit world. The most beautiful, dark, cool wooded forest with a roaring waterfall in the background will be even more real and more beautiful there. Everything we do and enjoy here (that is God-honoring of course) will be there in an even better and more "real" way. The same people, the same wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ will be there fellowshipping and worshiping God! Forever! (try to wrap your brain around "forever" or "eternity." Ouch)
After reading Heaven, I was starting to get really excited about going there one day. Like really, really excited! But I was still thinking about it as something new that will begin after we die.
Then, our pastor made a statement and I read Pilgrim's Progress...and my view changed. Our pastor said that "our eternal life starts the moment we are born." John Bunyan describes death as crossing a river. In fact, he never even calls it death. It's only ever spoken of as Christian crossing the river into the Celestial City. I thought, "What a neat, neat (Biblical) way to think of it!"
In Pilgrim's Progress, Christian and Hopeful come to the River, and as they stand there looking at it, they see that there is no bridge over it. The only way to get to the Celestial City is to go right through the River. Afraid of the depth, they ask the angels how deep it is, and they reply, "you shall find it deeper or shallower, as you believe in the King of the Place.”
So, they bite the bullet, and down into the river they go. It is a rough crossing. Christian begins to despair, thinking that the waters are going to go over his head and drown him. Hopeful encourages him with Isaiah 43:2 "When thou passest throgh the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee."
They make it over the river, and as they clamber out on the other bank and head towards the city, they are received by the Shining Ones (angels). Listen to how Bunyan describes their entrance:
"Now I saw in my dream that these two men went in at the gate; and lo, as they entered, they were transfigured, and they had raiment put on that shone like gold. There were also that met them with harps and crowns, and gave them to them—the harps to praise withal, and the crowns in token of honour.
"Then I heard in my dream that all the bells in the city rang again for joy, and that it was said unto them, “ENTER YE INTO THE JOY OF YOUR LORD.” I also heard the men themselves, that they sang with a loud voice, saying, “BLESSING, AND HONOUR, AND GLORY, AND POWER, BE UNTO HIM THAT SITTETH UPON THE THRONE, AND UNTO THE LAMB, FOR EVER AND EVER” (Rev 5:13).
"Now just as the gates were opened to let in the men, I looked in after them, and, behold, the City shone like the sun; the streets also were paved with gold, and in them walked many men, with crowns on their heads, palms in their hands, and golden harps to sing praises withal. There were also of them that had wings, and they answered one another without intermission, saying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord” (Rev 4:8). And after that, they shut up the gates; which, when I had seen, I wished myself among them."
I was wrong all along. Death isn't an ending at all. It is merely one more obstacle to overcome on our way to paradise. A river to cross and then you go right on living...but living in perfection. Depending on your level of faith and trust in Christ, it may be a more or less difficult obstacle to overcome, but once you're over it, then that's it! It's behind you and now starts something better than anything you've ever, ever known or imagined.
I told my mom today, "You know, if I died, it really wouldn't be sad at all." And as sad as it may seem to the person/people left behind, it will only be a few short years and then you're back together again...forever! It's just like the other person moved away for a few years and you're going to move there soon. And the place where you're moving is PERFECT and BEAUTIFUL!!
So, it's really no wonder that the Bible says "A good name is better than precious ointment, And the day of death than the day of one's birth." (Ecc. 7:1) The day of our birth merely starts our earthly life, but the day of our death starts the day of the best, best part of our life!!
Everything we do here is in preparation for that life. And everything that we do here will have an effect in that life...just like it does here. "If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames." (1 Cor 3:12-15)
Do you want to merely escape the flames by the skin of your teeth....have your works all burn up and you escape? Or would you rather be doing works now that will survive the fire and bring a reward?
God has just made it SO real to me that, for the believer, death is not something bad at all. I could see being jealous of the person who already gets to be in Heaven! Death is not something to be afraid of or sad about, it is a cause for rejoicing!!