June 10, 2020

A Grieving Christian Reflects on Death

Over the past couple of months, I’ve experienced more deaths in my life than ever before. Two of my cousins and two people I looked up to for years have died. In addition to this, two loved ones had miscarriages. The grief brought on by these deaths came with a reminder of my own mortality. It made me reflect on my understanding and feelings around death and how that affects how I live.

As human beings, we can be very dismissive of death. Death as a topic of discussion is taboo — especially the discussion of our own demise. Many consider the pondering of death to be morbid. To a certain extent, I understand this. Like most things, if overdone, reflecting on one’s own mortality and death can indeed be a bad thing.

I believe, however, that it’s important for us to be aware that our time on earth is limited and to think of its implications. This is not so that we can live in fear, but so that we can live in wisdom and freedom. “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom,” wrote Moses (Psalm 90:12, ESV).

As Christians, we cannot fully embrace the message of the gospel without acknowledging that we are finite beings. This is because the hope that comes with the resurrection of Jesus Christ does not exist in isolation from the death that is a fruit of our sin. It is because of our consequent demise that we need a Savior (1 Corinthians 15:56, 57). Therefore we should not ignore or dismiss death. To ignore death is to ignore our need of the Savior. “He [Jesus] suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His,” wrote Ellen G. White (The Desire of Ages, p. 25).

Many of us cling to life and live in fear of death as though there is no promise of life after death if we believe in Christ (John 3:16). I am by no means encouraging people to pursue death. We are to live life as abundantly as God intended (John 10:10). What I am saying is that because of Christ, we ought not to fear death.

Many of us have made ourselves the protagonist of our life’s story and have failed to factor in that life is so much bigger than us. This has made us feel that our contributions to the world are too valuable for us to die now, or that because we still have so much to achieve, death is far from us. As a result, even when we see people around us die at varying stages of their lives, we’re still able to mentally detach ourselves from the concept of death because the protagonist doesn’t die, right?

When we take center stage in our lives, it makes sense for death to be scary, because it marks the end. But when we make God the center of our existence, when He is the Protagonist of our story, the limitations of our mortality aren't fear inducing. Instead, they are a reminder of God’s love, grace, and mercy in giving us access to eternal life through Jesus Christ.

This perception of death then reframes how we live the life we have now. Each moment is about the Protagonist. Each breath is a gift from Him. Each day is another day closer to being with Him in eternity to come (2 Timothy 1:9, 10). This also changes how much weight we put on death. When we grieve the death of a loved one, we can also hold on to the hope of seeing them again (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). And when faced with our own demise, we will understand that it is not where our journey ends (John 11:25).

A time will come when death will be no more (Revelation 21:4), but until then, we get to hold on to the truths that come with Christ's victory over it. What a blessing.

The original version of this commentary was posted on the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division Adventist Echo.