The other day Doug pointed out a beautiful dragonfly lying in the driveway. Gracie bent down to look closer and said “Oooo pretty!” Then a moment later she realized it wasn’t flying away and asked, “Daddy, what’s wrong with him?” Doug replied, “He’s died.” Gracie gave a sad “Awww” and continued observing the dragonfly “God made.” A few minutes later I could hear her yelling in distress. “No! NO! Stop it, ants— stop it!” I came over and asked what was wrong. She stared in horror and cried in despair: “The ants are chewing on him!” I asked her: “Does that make you angry?” “YES! They have to stop that!” and though she was unable to articulate more, I think I know what Gracie was dealing with. This beautiful creation of God had first been consumed by death and now was being consumed by ants. She was in a sense angry and rebelling against the consuming power of death and the feelings of futility we struggle with when we stare it in the face.
In truth, the question of death is one every human mind has to answer. The certainty of death begs so many questions about life, our meaning and what happens once death consumes us. Are we just going to be consumed by ants and worms in the ground? Doesn’t your soul rebel and cry out against that very thought? The naturalist or atheist tries to pretend this doesn’t matter. They say: This is just reality— deal with it— you are just your physical body. You have no soul. You live, you die. The end. Except, I still see naturalists and atheists I know railing against death, angry at its power, never at peace with its inevitability, even trying to use science and medicine to battle against it.
On the other hand, the pantheistic approach tries to embrace death with the great “Circle of life” philosophy. It sounds so romantic when you watch the Lion King. Young Simba struggles with the question of how it can be fair to eat the antelope. His father, Mufassa wisely says: But we die and are absorbed into the earth, we grow into the grasslands that the antelope eat. Ahhh, the beautiful circle of life! But even those who “embrace” that answer still rail against this philosophy when seen to its fruition: You live, you die, you become fertilizer. The circle of life seems a lot less romantic when you draw out its implications. How can anyone rest knowing that you and your loved ones are nothing more than worm food and fertilizer? We may stuff down our rebellion against that truth, but in reality we cry out that this can’t be the answer. There is something in us that can’t actually accept that we are simply destined to be consumed by death.
I recently lost a loved one. He was like a father to me, and was the father of one of my best child hood friends. He was given a cancer diagnosis and after nearly 16 years of battling, it finally consumed him. When my friend and I were together hugging and crying after he passed, she said something I found very revealing: “One thing is good. At least now that cancer is dead and it can’t hurt him or anyone anymore.” What was my friend saying in this moment? She was wishing death to death. Cancer had been a consuming death for her father, but she was essentially cheering now, because it was dead—Death to death! This really got me thinking about the soul’s ache to see an end to death. If death were dead then we could live forever. We might try to deny it, but we spend a lot of time trying to “live forever.” We take our vitamins, do our exercises and eat right. Some of us use Rogaine to stem the tide of hair loss or coloring to hide the grey. We slather on age-defying creams or get surgical nips and tucks. Yet, we can’t seem to stop the on-going decay, and we find our souls disappointed with what seems to be the inevitable sting of death.
Why is this a struggle for us? I would suggest that it is because something in us seems to know we were made for eternity. As C.S. Lewis once said— you are not just a body and have a soul… you ARE a soul and you have a body. Though your body may be finite in this world, you are an eternal being. I would suggest that we innately know this, and that is why deep within comes the cry against death— even from those who would deny “god.” That very cry of the human heart is why I find the only person that can give a satisfying answer to the question of death is Jesus. Without Jesus we are mere bodies consumed by death. But, with Jesus that is all transformed— because it is Jesus who conquers death! He is “death to death”- which means He is our life! Those who know and accept Christ may have physical bodies that fade away and rot, but their souls experience the opposite! They continue to grow, flourish, love and LIVE forever…. The resurrection of Christ proved that death is dead and it has no power over us! It is Jesus who stands victorious over the consuming rot of sin and death to offer us life.
Maybe the resurrection of Jesus seems completely unfathomable to you. Perhaps even as a professing Christian this is something you struggle with believing. Jesus rose from the dead and conquered death— how could anyone believe something so unbelievable?? Dead people stay dead. I would submit that the veracity of the claim rests in the claim itself— the very fact that it is so unfathomable! Yet, Jesus’ followers testified to his resurrection without flinching! In fact they submitted themselves to execution rather than recant their profession of seeing Him resurrected, and calling him “My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28) That is evidence worth pondering.
I will admit early on in my walk with the Lord I found it was easy to accept Jesus’ death on the cross for my sin, but I had real trouble with the resurrection. It was something I set aside for a long time because I just had trouble believing the claim. It was the teaching of C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity that helped me run the logical arguments to accept this truth claim. It began with first hearing Lewis’ argument about Jesus’ claims to be God. So many people say they “like” Jesus and he was a “good teacher.” He sounds so palatable with that description. But Lewis reminds us that Jesus could not just have been a great teacher that we look to for wisdom and good living, because the very foundation of Jesus’ teaching is that he WAS God!
In John 10:30-34 Jesus said: “I and the Father are one.” Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him… [When Jesus asked why they would stone him they answered:] “…because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
In John 14:6-9 Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me…. Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”
Jesus claims to be the “I AM” and the Jews know he is calling himself God in direct reference to Exodus 3:14. He claims to be “one with the Father” and that anyone who has seen him has seen the Father— meaning, he and God are one in the same. These are some pretty bold claims! As Lewis argues, a person who really examines the claims of Jesus can only draw one of these conclusions:
We have three choices to classify Jesus: Lunatic, liar, or God in the flesh.
Those who call him “lunatic” or “liar” kill him and all his claims, invalidating all his teachings. Those who call him “God in the flesh” call him “My Lord and My God” and crown Him Lord of all.
That is the basis of Lewis’ argument which allowed me to take the next logical steps myself. I decided that the life, love, sacrifices and teaching of Jesus were too radically unique to be the ranting of a lunatic or the manipulations of a liar. I accepted that He was God in the flesh. I then realized the hypocrisy in my own thinking when I noticed that I had no trouble believing that God created the world and everything in it. If he is God of infinite supernatural power then why COULDN’T he make himself man, die for our sins and RISE from the dead victorious over sin and death? IF he is God, he most certainly could. IF he was truly a God of love, then he most certainly would! And if he most certainly would, then that means my life is of ultimate value to the King and maker of the universe.
I realized the place where I was stuck was because some of my thinking was still very “deist.” It was so much more palatable to imagine a God who created the world and then sat back requiring nothing of me. But the God of the Bible is not that kind of God. This is a God who comes in close… too close for comfort in some ways… So close that he lived and died among us— lived and died for us to set us free. He lived the life I should have lived and died the death I should have died. A God who comes in close like that demands an answer from your heart. He beckons: “Crown me as King of your life, or kill me in your heart, but don’t just call me a nice guy.”
Maybe it all seems too “unreal” to you, but consider again the alternative… you are just fertilizer? Where is there peace or victory in that? I would ask you to consider a different ending… or should I say— a new beginning? Consider Christ. If you are a believer and you are struggling with the pain of death or the doubts of your faith about who Jesus is, or what will happen with us “in the next life” ponder God’s promises. If you are on the fence or are not a believer… ponder these questions I posed today. But overall I would suggest to you this:
In Corinthians Paul says: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. O death where is your victory? O death where is your sting? … Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
God promises victory over death. You are not going to just end up as fertilizer. You are an eternal soul, and the life you live now should not be in vain because DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in VICTORY! Jesus’ victory is all consuming. His victory even digests death itself. It will be broken down to be a part of victory. Ultimately Jesus’ consuming victory will pull out everything good— even from what may seem awful— and as promised in Romans 8:28 God will “work all things to the good for those who love him and are called according to his purposes.” Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega— He is the beginning of life and the end of death.
Jesus says: “Don’t be afraid! I am the Alpha and the Omega, and the Living one. I was dead, but look— I am alive forever and ever, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Rev 1:17-18)
When Jesus says he has the keys of death and Hades it means only he can unlock us from the chains of sin and the prison cell of death to provide the escape. If we are honest in our quiet moments what we truly want is an escape from death and a way out of our short comings and faults— our sin. Here is the wonderful truth— For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16) God loved us so much that he wanted to create an escape for us! So he sent Jesus to die on the cross and rise again—- so that when we put our faith and trust in him we will not be abandoned to rot in the chains of sin and the prison of death, but instead escape to freedom and everlasting life! Death has power no more! Rejoice and cheer, “Death to death!” Death is dead forevermore!
Jesus said: My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28)
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord! (1 Corinthians 15:57)
A Special “Thank you!” to Patty Houser whose seminar Confessions of a Christ-less Culture helped me to form and articulate these thoughts.
C.S. Lewis: Mere Christianity
Timothy Keller: King’s Cross- The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus