Monday, May 29, 2017

No Fear in Death - by Christ's Death and Resurrection

Recently I read an article by a medical doctor who spoke transparently about his own fear of death. He developed a crippling anxiety which resulted in physical symptoms of various kinds. Eventually he was diagnosed with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) - associated entirely with his fear of death.

Death comes to all of us. So what do we do about fearing the inevitable? Christianity’s answer comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:14-15). We look to Christ to deliver us from the fear of death that makes slaves of us all.

In my last two posts, I wrote about why we fear death, and suggested five underlying fears. Last time I listed the first two of those five, and tried to suggest the impact Jesus’ own death and resurrection has upon them. This time I’ll mention two more:

3. We fear death because we fear separation from loved ones forever.

A little over 10 years ago my wife almost died. A “simple, outpatient surgery” went horribly wrong, and she spent a week in the hospital in agonizing pain as the doctors tried to figure out exactly what had happened.

The seventh night I slept on a roll-out beside her bed, and very early in the morning her vitals starting dropping. By 6 that morning I was standing outside her room with two doctors I had never met. One of them told me Dionne had to have emergency surgery immediately or she would die.

Overwhelmed and sleep-deprived, I said, is it possible to get another opinion? The other surgeon said, “Sure. Here’s my opinion: she’ll die if we don’t get her into surgery now.” So I signed consent forms, and within a short time they were wheeling her away. I stood by her gurney for a moment, and prayed over her. We both said I love you. And goodbye. We were both crying (though mainly me, I guess), and we both thought this was it.

But in a strange sort of way, we both felt God’s peace. As awful as that moment was (and as grateful as I am that she is still here), we both knew we were in the hands of our good God and that we would be together again in heaven. Jesus promised, "I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2-3). The Greek word is plural for a reason. We, friends and family who know Christ, we’ll be together again.

Ten centuries before Jesus’ Incarnation, King David fasted and prayed that his baby would be healed. After the child died, he was comforted by the truth that "I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23).

If I had thought on that terrible morning that I might never ever see my wife’s sweet face again, it would have been crushing. The thought of never being with the ones we love – who would not fear that?

But in Christ death is an interruption but not an end to the relationships we cherish in this life. Maybe part of the reason that Jesus spent so much time (40 days) with so many people (over 500) after the resurrection before returning to heaven was to demonstrate how our connections survive death.

When Paul spoke of Christ’s return, he promised that we will be reunited with those who have already died in Christ, and so we will always be with the Lord (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

4. We fear death because we fear the end of earthly joys and pleasures.

What if you believed that the happiest experiences of your life would be forever gone when you die? No more sunsets, no more rock climbing, no more fried chicken or chocolate ice cream; no more holding hands with the one you love; no more reading great books, no more music, quilting, or camping. No more puppies or giraffes or humming birds. No more redwood forests or baseball games. No more practical jokes with your grandkids. No more setting and achieving goals or learning new things.

Who would not fear the end of these things?

Our Christian faith teaches that life after death is in two stages. Stage one: at death our spirits go immediately into the presence of Christ. Joy unspeakable and full of glory! But stage two is the resurrection – your spirit and body are brought together forever in a resurrection body, remade like Christ’s resurrection body.

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself (Philippians 3:20-21, my emphasis).

Creation itself will be remade by its Creator, as John reported. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God" (Revelation 21:1-3).

In his book Heaven, Randy Alcorn speaks of life on the New Earth, after God renews all things: The things we love are not merely the best this life has to offer – they are previews of the greater life to come.” (p. 161). ... Every joy on earth – including the joy of reunion – is an inkling, a whisper of a greater joy. The Grand Canyon, the Alps, the Amazon rain forests, the Serengeti Plain – these are rough sketches of the New Earth…Whenever we see beauty in water, wind, flower, deer, man, woman, or child, we catch a glimpse of heaven. Just like the Garden of Eden, the New Earth will be a place of sensory delight, breathtaking beauty, satisfying relationships, and personal joy. (p. 233) Heaven is not the end of joy and pleasure, but the beginning.  

Next time: the fear of punishment for our sins.