Thoughts on Death and Suffering


What is it with all this death and suffering in our world?  Has science not yet eradicated the inimitable Grim Reaper? In the age of nuclear medicine and MRI’s, we seem to be capable of better identifying the diseases which cause our suffering, but we still can’t seem to eliminate the pains. And as for death, well the funeral business hasn’t died.

Suffering, dying, and death are part of this created life. Since the Fall (in Genesis 3), humankind has been placed under a curse so heavy that it causes many to curse God (ask Job’s wife, Job 2:9).  But for those who are in Christ, the burden of death has been lifted (even if the process of it still lingers in place). Jesus took on flesh and blood so that He might taste death for His followers. He swallowed death’s poison, draining death’s cup. Then, He showed it had no power, as He triumphantly rose from the tomb. Thus, Christ delivered us who had once lived under the power and fear of death.

The writer of Hebrews says it this way:

“Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Christians are free from the slavery of death. That being the case, why does death still wreak havoc over our emotions?  Why does it still haunt us and threaten us? We fear dying, and we still fear having our loved ones die. Why? Two reasons come to mind.

First, we are ultimately weak in the flesh. Though we build ourselves up pretentiously with great strength, we are always brought uncomfortably low in the face of death. Death shatters our illusions of strength. We see very big, strong, and tough men weep under the burden of death. Death shows no pity, no remorse—just raw power to shut down hopes and dreams and plans.  Death is an uncommonly powerful foe. This fact is not lost on the evil one who intends to wield the power of death to keep our weakness out front. He hopes to keep us forever weak by reminding us of death’s strength.

God, too, uses death to expose our weakness, but He does not seek to trap us in the bondage of despair. He shows us His strength through Christ and the Resurrection.  God knows our frames that we are but dust. He knows our weakness. He does not seek to exploit it as Satan does. Instead, He seeks to expose it to show us the full-on power of the gospel of our Lord which culminates in His defeat of death through the Resurrection and ascension to the throne of Heaven.  God has a place for death to display the perfection of His great power toward all who believe. The gospel is the power of God (Romans 1).

So, second, we fear death because we forget God’s perfect power.  His power is on display through Christ’s victory over death.  The perfection of His power is on display through our faith, as we suffer through the consequences of death.  Nowhere in Scripture does God minimize the power of death. There is no greater foe. Death is the last enemy of God to be eradicated.

We must deal with death.  The only way to deal with it faithfully is to believe the Christ who reigns victoriously over it.  Notice, the key is not to believe “in” the Christ (that’s the way we normally hear it phrased). The key is to believe Him. He claims to have rendered death powerless.  Believe that He has taken away its power.

In believing that Christ has taken away death’s power, we have reason to trust Him with every death. Every death is now redeemed.  There is a redemptive order to all things (1 Corinthians 15:22-28).  God promises that He works all things together for the good of those who love Him, those called according to His purposes. Surely, such redemptive promises can be trusted because they are secured by the One who has overcome death.

Our response to death, then, is two-fold. First, we believe Christ has actually defeated it and taken away its power. Second, we believe that God is wise in His ordering of life and death events. In Isaiah 28, the prophet warns Judah of the judgment which is to come upon them. He implores the people to trust the wisdom of God.  Just as the farmer knows that “dill is beaten out with a rod, and cumin with a club,” so, too, God knows the best way to bring forth the grain harvest for His people through their suffering. There is a proper order to the events of harvest. We can trust the farmer to know how to bring out the grain. We can trust God to know how to bring forth the grain of victory through suffering and death. Christ is God’s proof.

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