I have a confession to make. I bristle and chafe when I hear people, especially Christians, avoid talking about death. We tiptoe around it like we’re trying to avoid waking a slumbering giant. It’s an odd dance, and completely unnecessary.
Here’s what it sounds like:
“Grandma passed away last night.”
“Your great uncle Stanley went home to be with Jesus.”
“The celebration of life service after Ethel’s home-going will be next Friday morning at 10.”
On their own, each one of these three examples (especially the last two) are technically true. But I don’t think they’re particularly helpful. In all three of these examples, a person died, but each time we couldn’t bring ourselves to admit it.
To be clear, euphemisms for death are common - they’re even biblical and quite useful for lending depth and clarity to what we believe:
And I get it…I really do. We live in a culture of death. It is all over the place: abortion, war, violence. The entertainment industry is especially saturated with death. Surely there’s no harm in trying to avoid it, in trying to dull the sting a little bit, in taking our minds off of it for even one moment, especially when someone is hurting and grieving, right?
I’m not so sure.
Death avoidance limits our ability to comfort someone who is mourning.
This can be a frustratingly stunning revelation, because what we’re trying to do when we use a euphemism for death is to actually help someone feel better. What we usually accomplish is exactly the opposite.
I believe at the heart of this issue is that we want someone to feel better because we want them to stop mourning. We want to help them to move on and get over it. And so we try to dull the blow that death deals.
“Your loved one is in a better place now.”
If they believed in Jesus Christ as their Savior, this is absolutely true. And yet it’s never really the case that we’re trying to convince the person mourning (or ourselves) that their loved one has stopped suffering. We know this already. It’s all over the place in Scripture. We’re trying to make the person feel better because mourning makes us uncomfortable.
But the reality of the situation is that we should be mourning death. It’s entirely appropriate. We should be saddened when a loved one dies. Why? Because death is not natural. It’s not part of the ebb and flow of some cosmic life cycle.(1) Even though the church joyfully celebrates the fact that Jesus Christ defeated death with his own death and resurrection, death remains an unwelcome herald, preaching to us that sin has very real consequences.
This has been the case ever since the Garden of Eden. God commanded Adam, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die,” (Gen. 2:16-17 ESV). Ever since then, death has been the just punishment and the inconvenient evidence for our sin.
From the moment we are conceived, we are dying. Our fellowship with God has been severed (spiritual death), and our bodies and the world around us are betraying us, conspiring against us to bring us to death through injury, illness, or anything else that is readily at hand (physical death).
When someone we love and care for is mourning, it’s another reminder of this reality. And while the desire to “cheer up" and to make one feel better might be well-intentioned, what is really needed here is sympathy. One of the marks of a Christian who has been impacted by the Gospel is an ability to “weep with those who weep,” (Rom. 12:15 ESV). We are confident with our standing before God that we don’t have to feign happiness all the time. Sadness is appropriate and lament is a frequently used mode of expression in the Bible. The type of comfort that sympathy provides acknowledges to those who mourn that they are not broken. Their sorrow is a normal response to the tragedy of death. Death is not “normal”. Grief over death is.
Death avoidance limits the comfort of the resurrection
Christ’s resurrection is the anchor for our faith. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins,” (1 Cor. 15:17 ESV). St. Paul goes on to write that the Gospel truth of Christ’s resurrection is also historical reality: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
But here’s where the promise and comfort are simultaneously applied. “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Christ’s resurrection is both an integral part of your redemption as well as a tremendous seal and glimpse into your eternity. You, too, will be raised! And in that resurrection at the end of time, you will get your body back free from sin, free from pain, free from suffering and illness, and free from death.
If there is no death, there can be no resurrection. There is no hope for eternity. There is no comfort in an eternal healing if there’s nothing to be healed from.
Eternity is not some ethereal, abstract, spiritual existence. Eternity is flesh and blood physicality. It is sight and smell and sound and taste and touch. For those who have been washed in the blood of Christ and reconciled to the Father by his death and resurrection, it is an existence without the taint of sin or the curse of death.
Death hurts. It “stings” as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15. But there is a truth that is greater than death. Death is not final. It is not the end. It does not win.
We don’t need to ignore it. We don’t need to avoid it. We don’t need to pretend it doesn’t exist or try to dull its effects. Jesus has taken care of death for us. He has killed it.
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who not have hope.” (1 These. 4:13 ESV)
Talk about death - to your kids, in your churches, wherever. Grieve. Mourn. Weep. Acknowledge it as reality, but acknowledge it as a reality that has been overcome by an eternal reality because of a real Savior.
(1) For more on this, read my friend Pastor Luke Berntson’s article “What Will Happen When You Die” over at Servant’s Pen.
This is the personal blog of Pastor Jason Gudim.