In the first century CE, the apostle Paul walked to the precipice of death and dared to ask:
Death, where is your sting?
Grave, where is your victory?
Over the years, I have been a part of some tragic passings. My best friend committed suicide when I was fourteen. My father’s best friend was murdered when I was fifteen. The same year, my cousin died in a kayak accident. Just last year, I did a funeral for a Vietnam War veteran who just never recovered from the war and descended into all the vices this world has to offer.
As one of the “presiding clergy” (doesn’t that just sound official?) at my grandfather’s funeral, I took a few moments to reflect on the nature of death.
One of the questions that kept coming up was simply, “Why does death have such power over so many?”
Think about it.
People go to all kinds of absurd ends to avoid death. They have plastic surgery so they don’t look like they’re older. They take every kind of medication and endure all sorts of bizarre treatments to prolong their life and forestall the coming of death.
I think we fear death because it is unnatural. We know, at the core of our being, that we were not created for death. After Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, YAHWEH said to Adam:
…By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.” [Genesis 3:19, ESV]
At our core, we human beings know that we are tied to the earth and will return to it. We fear that transition because it is a persistent, undeniable reminder that we are created and not in control of our own existence. We fear death because it reminds us that we violated God’s trust.
Perhaps this is the at the core of the power of the new life in Christ. When Jesus told Nicodemus that the hope of believing on the Son meant a hope of eternal life, he was explaining that part of eternal life is the removal of the fear of death. Through Jesus, death is not avoided. We will still die; but we will experience a return to the original life (before the Fall) and will be fully restored to God. Death loses its sting and power because it becomes the opening of life as it should be rather than the ending of the life as it is.