Sympathy cards address the sadness death causes, but few acknowledge the rage. Yet that rage is real. It should be: death is the very opposite of God and all that he has created. We should hate it. Christ did. Within the bounds of the gospel, defiance against death can be holy, cleansing, and constructive.
I lost my 58-year-old dad to a brain tumor, and it made me mad. Death made a waste of his mind and body. My anger felt like a fire, choking me so that I couldn’t breathe until I made myself spit out a few angry tears.
But I found that with the gospel there were ways to control that fire so that it could purify my heart from rubble and ignite a zeal for Christ’s return. Here are five biblical ways I faced death—and continue daily to face death—with gospel defiance:
- Refuse to say “death is final”. People say this at funerals to try and wrap their heads around the magnitude of death, but the fact is that it simply is not true. Death, for a believer is only the next thing, not the last. Defy death by refusing to give it more credit than it deserves (John 12:24-25; 1 Cor 15:54-57).
- Insist that the body in the coffin is the person who died. Another thing people say at funerals is that the body in the coffin “isn’t really so-and-so”. So-and-so is with Jesus now, they say, and the grotesque, stony-gray spectacle in the coffin will now be discarded. But if we’re honest, this isn’t comforting at all. Thankfully, it isn’t true. The body in the coffin is still very much the person Christ loves—a broken person, severed from his soul, waiting silently, patiently, eagerly in the earth and together with the earth for Christ’s return. God won’t abandon him to the grave; neither should we think God is finished with his flesh (Ps 16:9-11; Job 19:25-27; Rom 8:11, 18-23, 29-30; 2 Cor 4:16-5:5).
- Shrug at the weakness of death in Christ’s hands. Jesus claims to “hold the keys of death and Hades”. Your loved one may well be in death’s strong bonds, but death itself is in the hands of Christ. Those bonds around us are his to unlock on the day he returns. We can be defiantly patient because we know who holds the keys (Heb 2:14-16; Rev 1:17-18).
- Fight despair by thinking in terms of sleep. The Bible is notorious for calling a spade a spade and dodging silly euphemisms. But when it comes to the death of a believer, the Bible casually calls it ‘sleep’. Why? Because the sting of death is that far gone. Death, for the believer, is theologically no more upsetting than crawling under the covers and going to sleep in the presence of Jesus until the very-near dawn of the morning of his return (Ps 90:14; 1 Cor 15:20; 1 Thess 4:13-18; 2 Pet 1:19).
- Thrust your hopes into the future. One of the best ways to defy death is to keep your attention fixed beyond it. Rather than wishing for the past, when your loved one was still alive with you, think more often of the future in which they will live again. In your past there is no hope, but in your future are resurrection and eternal life. Hasten Christ’s certain return by investing now in the life to come (1 Cor 15:58; Heb 11:39-12:2; 1 Pet 1:3-9; 2 Pet 3:8-13).
Death is far too terrifying an enemy for us to shake our fists in its face. But the gospel sets us firmly on the side of Jesus Christ, whose decisive victory over death allows us to face death with the defiance of victors. And defiance feels good. Gospel defiance puts to rest the bitterness, anger and despair that so often are death’s secondary victories, and produces refreshing faith, joy, hope, perseverance, and purpose.
Photo credit: Michelle Tribe