Many years ago, when I was growing up in West Virginia, a handsome young man from a neighboring family was engaged to a lovely young lady. They had the wedding plans completed and knew how they were going to start their lives together.
The night before the wedding his buddies threw him a bachelor party. It included consuming some alcoholic beverages. He left the party and drove home. Along the way, he wrecked his vehicle…and was killed. Needless to say, his family was devastated. It took his fiancé years to recover and move on with her life.
In situations like this, people often ask, “How could God do this?” God is powerful enough to create the universe so he could certainly stop someone from being killed in a wreck. But was this God’s fault? Did God tell him to drink and drive?
No, he didn’t.
This brings us to another question. How should we respond to death, especially when it comes too soon in someone’s life?
Let’s start by looking at how God views death. In Matthew 22, Jesus is in Jerusalem for Passover. It’s just a few days before his death and resurrection. The different religious groups keep coming to him with questions they think are difficult to answer. They want Jesus to say something wrong so they can either turn the crowds against him or get the Romans to arrest him. Jesus, however, answers the questions is ways they can’t dispute. After Jesus handles the chief priests and the Pharisees, the Sadducees take a crack at him.
Matthew 22:23-33 tells us, “23 That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 24 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26 The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27 Finally, the woman died. 28 Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”
29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
33 When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.”
Notice how Jesus described Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in his response. He didn’t say they are dead. They’re alive, even though their bodies died centuries before Jesus was born. God doesn’t view the physical death of our bodies as the end of life.
Why, then, do we even die?
Genesis 1 tells us God created the heavens and the earth we call home. After this was finished, he created the first man, Adam. Then at the beginning of Genesis 2, he placed Adam in the Garden of Eden. There were two important tree trees in the middle of this garden – the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:16-17 says, “ And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Even though he had this stern warning, Adam and his wife, Eve, disobeyed God and ate from the tree.
Because of their behavior, Genesis 3:23-24 states, “23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”
God did this before they had an opportunity to eat from the tree of life. He didn’t want them to live forever in a world that was now cursed by sin. Death was both a punishment for disobeying God and also a blessing.
Even though it’s been thousands of years since these events took place, their actions affect us. Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” Since the world we live in is cursed by sin and we too are sinners, one day our friends and family members will gather to celebrate our lives and mourn our deaths. Unfortunately, nowhere does the Bible say our death will come after we’ve lived a long and fruitful life. Death can come at any age.
Physical death is the separation of the body from the soul. The body dies but the soul doesn’t. According to the Apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Corinth, the soul is better off when it leaves the body because then it gets to be with Jesus. He writes in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 – “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.
4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.
7 For we live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
There’s an untruth many Christians believe about death. They say long life is a blessing from God and a short lifespan is a curse. This isn’t true. God’s not concerned if we die young because those who have salvation in Jesus go to be with him when their soul leaves their body. Life in the presence of Jesus is much better than life here on earth.
This concept doesn’t only apply to those who lived after Jesus died on the cross and resurrected. It’s always been this way with God. In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah writes in Isaiah 57:1-3,
“The righteous perish,
and no one takes it to heart;
the devout are taken away,
and no one understands
that the righteous are taken away
to be spared from evil.
2 Those who walk uprightly
enter into peace;
they find rest as they lie in death.
I know that many of us have lost friends and family members to death way too soon. Their lives were cut short and we wonder what might have been had they lived a long, fruitful life. Some of you still carry the pain of losing them. The truth is that, before we know it, our limited days will come to an end and we will join them in the grave.
But, for anyone who knows Jesus as their Savior and lives as his disciple, that’s not the end. It’s just the beginning.