The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Death

Lament For A Son: The Demonic Awfulness Of Death

This is part of a sub-series of posts under a larger, loosely-united series entitled A Theological View of Suffering.


I have been writing some reflections on Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Lament For A SonOne of many elements of the book that I appreciated was Wolterstorff’s emphasis on the “demonic awfulness” of death (p. 54).

All too often, I think that Christians can lapse into a very naturalistic worldview where we say things like, “death is just a natural part of life.” We say this to help bring perspective to our circumstances, and in the sense that, yes, all humans die, this statement is true.

But it is decidedly untrue in the sense that death is not a part of God’s plan; it is not a feature of life as God envisioned it and is, thus, wholly unnatural. Death became a reality as a result of sin (this is, in fact, precisely what God warned Adam and Eve about). Paul describes death as the “last enemy to be defeated” and in John’s Revelation, Jesus is depicted in magnificent glory as the Living One who was dead but is now alive, and who holds the keys to Death and Hades: through His resurrection, Jesus has cracked open the tomb of Death and declared His mastery over this ancient enemy, and the Day will come when it will be no more.



From a Christian perspective, we can realize that Death does not have the last say because of the victory of Jesus and that the sting of death is minimized in the face of this reality, but Death is still an enemy. It is not something to be civilized or sanitized with platitudes about it being a “natural part of life”.

Referring to sentiments similar to this, Wolterstorff says:

“I find this pious attitude deaf to the message of the Christian gospel. Death is here understood as a normal instrument of God’s dealings with us. “You have lived out the years I’ve planned for you, I’ll just shake the mountain a bit. All of you there, I’ll send some starlings into the engine of your plane. And as for you there, a stroke while running will do nicely.”

The Bible speaks instead of God’s overcoming death. Paul calls it the last great enemy to be overcome. God is appalled by death. My pain over my son’s death is shared by his pain over my son’s death. And, yes, I share in his pain over his son’s death.” (67)

But, although death is awful, Jesus tells His disciples, startlingly, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” From the perspective of a society that champions youth, achievement, and happiness, and where people put on a smile and declare that things are “fine” while they are dying inside, this seems like a bizarre statement from Jesus. Why would He say such a thing?

“Who then are the mourners? The mourners are those who have caught a glimpse of God’s new day, who ache with all their being for that day’s coming, and who break out into tears when confronted with its absence. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm of peace there is no one blind and who ache whenever they see someone unseeing. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one hungry and who ache whenever they see someone starving. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one falsely accused and who ache whenever they see someone imprisoned unjustly. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one who fails to see God and who ache whenever they see someone unbelieving. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one who suffers oppression and who ache whenever they see someone beat down. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one without dignity and who ache whenever they see someone treated with indignity. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm of peace there is neither death nor tears and who ache whenever they see someone crying tears over death. The mourners are aching visionaries.

Such people Jesus blesses; he hails them, he praises them, he salutes them. And he gives them the promise that the new day for whose absence they ache will come. They will be comforted.

The Stoics of antiquity said: Be calm. Disengage yourself. Neither laugh nor weep. Jesus says: Be open to the wounds of the world. Mourn humanity’s mourning, weep over humanity’s weeping, be in agony over humanity’s agony. But do so in the good cheer that a day of peace is coming.” (84-86)

Death is awful. It is an enemy, and it should drive us to mourn. But as Christians, we mourn with the knowledge that the days of death are numbered, and the Day will come when mourning will be no more.

Scripture Reflections 1: “And He Died.”

So as I mentioned before, this year I am doing my Daily Bible Reading out of the ESV Single Column Journaling Bible. This means that I am constantly writing notes and questions in the margin.

I thought it might be worthwhile to share some of my reflections here on The Doc File (my online “journal”), and that occasionally someone might find them to be interesting or helpful. So we’ll see how it goes, but here is the first installment.

If you start at the beginning of the Old Testament, by Genesis 5 you’ve already witnessed a lot of important stuff happen. God has created everything and stamped his image on mankind (Chapters 1-2). He watches in heartbreak as man rejects that image and brings sin into the good creation (Chapter 3). In Chapter 4, sin, already a part of the world, is brought to new depths as Cain kills his brother. And we have some other indications of the progression of sin later in the chapter with the character of Lamech.

And then Chapter 5 recounts the generations following Adam. And genealogies aren’t usually all that interesting to us. These are somewhat novel because of the length of the lifespans recorded, but other than that we don’t think too much about them. But as I was reading this time, I was struck by three words which occurred over and over: “and he died.”

Generation after generation we read about different men—their names, how long they lived, their children—but their stories all end in the same abrupt way: “and he died” (Genesis 5.5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27). And all of this repetition has a real point: it hammers home the truth that, because of the sin in the Garden of Eden, death is now an inescapable part of the human experience. It was true for the men in Genesis 5, and it’s still true today, thousands of years later, despite all of our technological advances and our obsession with cheating and avoiding death.

And that is truly tragic news. Death is the enemy of all of us and it is a part of our existence because of the results of sin.

But in Genesis 5, there is a glimmer of good news as well. For one man, the story did not end with “and he died”:

“When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after he father Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.”

(Genesis 5.21-24)

 And it seems to me, that in Enoch, we have a foreshadowing of the Gospel: for those who have a relationship with God, death is overcome. Not in the way that it was for Enoch (I fully expect to die someday, unless Jesus returns before then), but still, in a True and Eternal sense, the power of death is nullified. It does not get the last say:

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

(1 Corinthians 15.26)

Twilight


For the second time in just five years, the St. Louis Cardinals find themselves mourning the loss of one of their own.

Josh Hancock, a 29 year-old right-handed reliever who was in his second year with the Cardinals, was killed instantly early Sunday morning when his SUV struck a stationary tow truck on Interstate 64. All of the details surrounding the wreck have yet to be sorted out, but Hancock’s untimely passing brings back memories of another Cardinals’ hurler who died too young.

Darryl Kile died unexpectedly during the night of June 21, 2002 due to a coronary disease. The death came as a shock to the baseball community because Kile was just 33 years old, and seemingly in the prime of life. He was married with three kids, a three-time All-Star, two years removed from a 20-win season, and making millions of dollars a year.

The idea that death is the great equalizer is not a new one; from Ecclesiastes to Shakespeare, it is a point that has been well-made many times over.

But maybe the point is never driven home quite as hard as it is when someone like Josh Hancock or Darryl Kile dies unexpectedly. It’s at these times that we are reminded that death comes for each of us, whether in the form of a car accident, or heart attack, or old age, and that neither wealth, nor fame, nor physical ability can save us from it.

During times like these I’m also reminded of the words of Jesus in John 9.4:

“We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work.”

Daylight is fading for each of us, and none of us knows for sure when night will fall on our lives. Make the most of the daylight.

Steve Irwin: 1962-2006

I was saddened to hear that Steve Irwin, famous worldwide as the “Crocodile Hunter”, died Monday morning when he was fatally stabbed in the chest by a stingray barb while snorkeling near the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia.

Irwin was famous for his commitment to conservationism and his passion for wildlife, and ever since he came onto the scene in the U.S. in the late 1990s, I liked him for the childlike enthusiasm he always displayed for animals, the unbelievable courage he had to get as close as possible to animals that most of us choose to stay away from, and his funny Australian accent.

Spending so much time around dangerous animals like crocodiles and poisonous snakes, Irwin avoided death on such a regular basis that he almost seemed to be impervious to it. Sure, hanging out with an angry crocodile would be a hazardous endeavor for you or me, but for the Croc Hunter, it never really seemed to posed a threat; he was always in control of the situation.

Or at least, that was the case until Monday, when I was reminded that, despite appearances, none of us is really in control of the situation we find ourselves in, and none of us can escape death forever. One of the realities of life is that it is ended by a physical death that comes for all of us, and can come at any time.

But fortunately, that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. The Bible teaches that for those who live for Christ, physical death is overcome by eternal spiritual life.

I am not impervious to death; it will claim me someday. But it will not be the end of my story.

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