It feels funny to say that I have a favorite book about death.
I do, though. It’s The Last Enemy by Michael Wittmer. It’s an important book on a topic that we neglect to our detriment.
We Will Die
I live in a young community. It’s easy for us — even for those of us who aren’t young — to forget that we will die.
Wittmer writes, “You are going to die. Take a moment to let that sink in. You are going to die. One morning the sun will rise and you won’t see it. Birds will greet the dawn and you won’t hear them. Friends and family will gather to celebrate your life, and after you’re buried they’ll return to the church for ham and scalloped potatoes. Soon your job and favorite chair and spot on the team will be filled by someone else…You are going to die. What a crushing, desperate thought. But unless you swallow hard and embrace it, you are not prepared to live.”
Death seems like an unwelcome surprise. It should be unwelcome, but it shouldn’t be a surprise. We’re better off when we remember the inevitability of death.
Since we’re all going to die, a good part of the Christian life must be preparing to die. We need to talk about it often. We need to sing songs that anticipate that day and help to prepare us. We often live as if death isn’t our reality. Life is short, and the inevitability of death and the reality of eternity should change how we live today.
Death Is an Enemy
“If death was no big deal, then there would be no reason to be a Christian,” Wittmer writes. “Sin and death are the one-two punch that Jesus came to knock out.”
I worry sometimes that we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves. We seem hesitant to grieve when someone dies. We’ve lost our ability to lament, to grieve as those who have hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Death is a big deal. It’s the last enemy to be defeated (1 Corinthians 15:26). Even though Jesus has defeated death, we’re still waiting for the day when death will be no more.
Don’t live as if that day has already come. Mourn — as those who have hope, of course, but still mourn. Rediscover lament. There is a day we will no longer have to lament death, but that day has not yet come.
Recover the Resurrection
If I examined most Christian funerals to see what Christians believe, I’d conclude that we get a lot of comfort from how well the person lived and from the intermediate state (being absent from the body and present with the Lord). It seems we get almost no comfort from the reality of the resurrection.
I hear a lot of stories about the person who’s died. I like these stories, but I sometimes feel uncomfortable. The greatest thing about any of us is the grace we’ve received. Our hope isn’t how well the person lived but how well their Savior died. When we leave no room for grace, we leave no room for a Savior.
It’s right to receive comfort from the intermediate state, but not at the expense of the resurrection. The resurrection stands at the heart of the Christian faith, and yet I rarely hear it mentioned when we need it most.
The resurrection stands at the heart of the Christian faith, and yet I rarely hear it mentioned when we need it most.
Wittmer quotes a poll that showed that less than half of Christians believe their bodies will live again. “Have we really conquered death if our souls must live forever without our bodies?” he asks.
We need a renewed emphasis on our future resurrection, not as a fine point of theology, but as the hope that helps us when we face our last enemy. Until we understand the resurrection, we won’t be prepared for our own death or the death of others.
Live for the Hope of Glory
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” exclaims Peter. “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials…” (1 Peter 1:3-6)
Our future resurrection isn’t just an abstraction. It’s a living hope that allows us to rejoice, even in the middle of trials.
One day we will die. We do well if we live our entire lives in light of this reality, learning how to lament death, but clinging to the hope of the resurrection, living every moment in light of the living hope that can’t be taken away.
“Death is the destiny of every person,” writes Wittmer, “and those who take that truth to heart are finally ready to live.”