Victory over the Sting of Death
I was pulled out of my sleep by the ringing phone. I looked at the clock and wondered if this was "the call." Like many people, a call in the middle of the night causes the mind to race through the list of possible problems. Since we have no children, the health of my elderly parents was on the top of my list. Every off-hour call makes we wonder if this is going to be the call bearing the bad news.
Over the years we have had more than our fair share of phone calls in the middle of the night. Most of these calls were made by people who had been drinking and dialed the wrong number. Although the carelessness of these people really aggravated me, I was always relieved that these calls did not concern my parents.
Although today’s call was not in the middle of the night, it was early in the morning. As I recognized my mother’s voice my heart began to race. Her voice, however, was calm and nonchalant, so I figured it must not be a serious concern. She then said that dad was sick and was taken to the hospital.
My dad "doesn’t do sickness." He is one of those fortunate people who seldom ever gets sick. He can even do crazy things like walk barefoot in the snow and not get sick. So, the fact he was sick enough to go to the hospital meant it was something serious. After a large number of tests, a bone marrow biopsy revealed he had Acute Myelomonocytic Leukemia. Over 85% of his bone marrow was cancerous. Acute Myelomonocytic Leukemia, we were told, appears suddenly and progresses very quickly. Four weeks later my father was dead.
The death of a loved one is always difficult and this is especially true when the family has had a close and loving relationship. Since our family was very close, the passing of our father created quite a vacuum. He was a great father and friend and we miss his friendship tremendously.
Although it hurt having dad die, I learned much from this experience. I’ve learned that the death of the believer is truly different from the death of the unbeliever. I saw that the sorrow we experience is different from the bitter sorrow of those who "have no hope" (1 Thes. 4:13).
Intellectually, of course, I knew that the passing of a believer was supposed to be different from that of an unbeliever. I knew we didn’t "lose" a believer when he died, but were only temporarily separated from him. This was a head-knowledge, however, not a heart-knowledge. I had never personally experienced this blessed hope.
When dad died, we didn’t experience the bitter sorrow and anguish often associated with death. We cried, of course, but there wasn’t the desperation or hopelessness. There was actually a peace amidst our tears. There was a special comfort and quietness flowing with our tears. I found it amazing. It was difficult, of course, not being able to be with our father, but it wasn’t a bitter departure.
I have seen tears of futility and desperation. I have observed the passing of unbelievers and seen the hopelessness that it causes. I have seen the gut-wrenching anguish and agony of family members grieving for a loved one who has died.
1 Cor. 15:55 says "O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?" Our family can now testify that this verse is true. The sting of death has truly been removed from the believer. Death doesn’t need to have power and control over us.
Death is a tormentor of both the surviving and the dying. It can be a dreadful experience for the surviving family members, and it can be a terrifying experience for the person dying. Watching an unbeliever die can leave you with haunting memories.
In the movie Peter Pan, Captain Hook and Peter Pan discussed how death was the "last great adventure." For most people, however, death is not an adventure, but a terror. There are three main reasons why death is so terrifying to most people: 1) They are afraid of having their sins judged by an Almighty Holy God, 2) They are afraid of the unknown, and 3) They are afraid of the intense pain and suffering sometimes associated with death.
God has placed a moral conscience in the heart of every person. This conscience does not tell a person how to get saved, but it tells him that there are some basic rights and wrongs. It lets him know when he has done wrong, and it produces a feeling of guilt when a violation has occurred. Everyone inherently knows that there is a basic moral code that needs to be followed, and they also know when they have violated this code.
God has also placed a knowledge of Himself and of eternal life in the heart of every person. This is why you can go anywhere in the world (even into the remotest jungle) and find a religion that includes God and eternal life. People know inherently that when they die they will pass into eternity and stand before their Creator. They know they will have to give an account of their actions to God Almighty. They find the prospect of being "weighed in the scales and found wanting" a terrifying thought.
For the unbeliever, the fear of being judged by an Almighty God is a valid fear. We are all sinners and our righteous God expects complete perfection. We have a significant sin problem and unless a person has a solution that legitimately resolves this problem, the person will be punished. Jonathan Edward’s sermon, Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God, gained worldwide recognition and is still talked about today. Edwards clearly pointed out that it would be a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God.
The believer in Jesus Christ has a legitimate solution to his sin problem. Jesus was punished in his place and as a result, he does not have to fear the wrath of a Righteous and Holy God. He will never have to face judgment for his sins. The believer has the peace and assurance of knowing that death brings eternal life, not eternal damnation.
Although the believer has peace concerning the sin problem, there are still the two other reasons why death can be terrifying. The fear of the unknown is a powerful fear and can be overwhelming. Extensive studies have shown that we would rather face a known adversary (even if it is fierce and dangerous) than face an unknown adversary. There is no way of preparing yourself or creating a defense when you don’t know what you are up against.
Death is the greatest unknown of all; nothing else even comes close. Although the Bible has given us a partial description of what lies beyond the vale of death, we have never personally seen or experienced it. None of our acquaintances have ever died and come back to tell us about it. It is very easy (even for a believer) to dread this dark vale and be apprehensive about dying.
The thing that compounds this fear is the fact we have to face it alone. It doesn’t matter how many friends you have or how many people are with you when you die, you must still pass though the vale of death by yourself. This can be very disconcerting. We are social creatures and we don’t like to face intense adversities by ourselves. This is even true for people who are "loners."
I like to travel and there have been a few times when I have gotten lost in the wrong parts of Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Chicago. You know you’re in trouble when all of the buildings are boarded up and the only cars you see are stripped out and sitting on blocks. As scary as this was, it would be even more terrifying if I were in the same situation in a bad part of Russia. Not knowing the language and culture would make things far more difficult and dangerous.
I’m sure this will sound crazy, but it would be a tremendous relief to me if my wife Janet were there with me. There probably wouldn’t be much she could do to help in this type of situation, but it would be a great comfort not to have to face this problem alone.
God promises to be with us as we face our most difficult times. He will even be with us when we enter the dark shadows of death and pass into eternity. The believer doesn’t die alone. God said, "I will never leave thee or forsake thee" (Heb. 13:5, Josh. 1:5). In my chapter, Fear, the Predator of our Peace, (especially the last couple pages) I talked about how we can either control fear or let it control us. We can either trust God’s promises and reap the rewards or we can ignore His promises and suffer the consequences. The choice is up to us.
The third thing that makes death so terrifying is the possibility of intense pain and suffering. I think most people would probably prefer to die painlessly in their sleep. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. Many great Christians have died very cruel and painful deaths.
As a Christian draws closer to a possible painful death, he often wonders how he will respond to the pain and agony. He wonders if he will be able to endure the pain. He wonders if he will ruin his Christian testimony and betray his Lord by the way he responds to his pain and misery.
As I mentioned before, God promises to be with us even in our darkest hour. He doesn’t promise to eliminate the pain and misery, but He promises to be there with us and help us get through the problem. It’s important to remember that God does not usually provide us this strength, courage, and grace until we actually need it. He normally provides it on an "as needed" basis.
It’s kind of like what happens when you ride a bus. A bus ticket is not usually purchased weeks in advance; you normally purchase it just before you get on. Therefore, don’t be discouraged if you don’t think you have the courage and strength to handle an upcoming problem. God will provide it when you need it; if you ask Him.
Two weeks before my dad died he became very apprehensive about the prospect of dying a painful death. Cancer is, of course, a dreaded disease and dad didn’t know what was in store for him. The only thing he knew was his body was not producing enough new blood cells. This lack of blood production meant his body was not getting the oxygen and nutrients it needed. He knew his vital organs would eventually start shutting down and he didn’t know how painful that would be.
Although I was never told what dad’s specific concerns were, I know that people in this type of situation often wonder, "If my organs are suffocating, will I feel like I’m suffocating too?" There is, of course, the more chilling thought, "If the muscles that make me breathe get weaker from the lack of oxygen, will I end up gasping for air in my final days?"
My mom listened patiently and helplessly as dad expressed his fears. She knew something was bothering him because this was the first time he had ever expressed these concerns. The next morning he got up and told my mom that everything was going to be all right. He made the simple comment, "Someone told me last night that ‘Jesus is sufficient.’ " He never mentioned his special encounter again and he never exhibited any more signs of fear or apprehension.
Since no one else was in the house besides my mom, you may be wondering who was this mysterious visitor? Your guess is as good as mine. I can only speculate. I will say this, though; dad was not given to exaggerations or to fabricating stories. The fact that he only mentioned it once (to reassure my mom) indicates to me that he wasn’t trying to sensationalize or draw attention to the encounter. Did God send a special messenger to reassure my dad in his time of need? I think He did. However, since I don’t have any proof to substantiate my speculation, I’ll let you draw your own conclusion.
A couple days before my dad died, he said, "Tell everyone that it is true; when you walk in the shadow of death, you really don’t have to be afraid." Dad exhibited an extraordinary amount of peace his last few days. His life was a testimony that Psalm 23:4 is true. His life showed that even when death is so close to you (a believer) that its shadow is touching you, there is no need to be afraid; God is with you. You may not see Him, but He is still there.
Death cannot encompass a believer with darkness; it can only cast a shadow on him. Think about it, there cannot be a shadow without a source of light. Therefore, the existence of the shadow actually proves the existence of the light. Death can only temporarily block the light; it cannot eliminate it. So, when death starts to darken your world, remember that the light it’s trying to block is still waiting for you.
Although God promises to be with the believer in their darkest hours, peace is not automatic. Peace only comes when the believer claims God’s promises. We must choose, by the act of our will, to put our trust in Him. If we don’t make this choice, we won’t be able to draw on God’s strength and we are opening ourselves up to be controlled by fear.
If you are an unbeliever and your sins have not been forgiven, you really do have a reason to be afraid and concerned. Death is a real threat and you must face it alone. I want to point out, howver, that I did not write this chapter to scare people into becoming a Christian. I wrote this chapter to show believers that fear does not need to have dominion over us.
If you are an unbeliever, please don’t become a Christian out of fear. Your motivation of becoming a Christian should be to reunite yourself with your Creator who loves you. Your motivation should be to find a solution to the sin problem that is separating you from God; to experience the life God intended you to have. If this is your desire, please read Section 9 (Understanding Salvation). You should also read chapters 8.03 to 8.08 in Section 8. If you would like to share this chapter about death with a friend, it can be found at BibleHelp.org/death.htm.
Did you know that 1 out of every 113 people
will die this year.
In Memory of Robert C. Bronson
1920 – 2001
Beloved Husband – Father - Grandfather No man could Love more No man could be more Loved By His Love He showed us how to live
By His Faith
He shows us how to die
(by Dan Bronson)
Several places in my book I’ve talked about the unique ways in which God answered prayers. I’ve talked about how people in need have prayed for a specific amount of money and then received that exact amount. In most of these cases the people sending the money were totally unaware of these needs. Mom and dad have been instrumental in many of these situations.
After dad’s death, I took over the finances for my mom and I discovered something spectacular. Mom and dad, of course, have been in retirement for a couple of decades and like many senior citizens their income was very limited. Yet, I have discovered they gave more to missions every year than most two-income working families.
I’m sure my mom would prefer that I didn’t tell others about their personal giving, but I feel it is necessary to let others know about it. I don’t bring this up to show how great my parents were, but to show the faithfulness of our awesome God. Although I think they gave more than they could realistically afford, God honored their sacrifices and provided for all of their needs. Our God is truly an Awesome God!
Other Chapters in this Section
Copyright © 1987 -2004 Michael Bronson | Site Design by Imagination 2 Reality