Kingdom Principle: The denial of death is to miss the joy of life
|Isaiah 50:4-9a||Psalm 31:9-16||Philippians 2:5-11||Luke 22:14-23:56|
Are you ready (to die)? Do you have a bucket list? How does the fear of death confront you? Have you confronted the face of death; in your life or in the life of others? Until we are confronted by death – we leave it locked up in the closet – but when it confronts us we must decide to live in denial or to deny it power. Paul confronted death every day… (1 Cor. 15:31)
If we fear death – regardless of it being our own or another’s – we are held captive and miss the joy of life. It is even more unfortunate that pain has become our indicator that death is real. This pain may be physical or emotional. The physical pain is often seen as in suffering through health related issues and for far too many people this pain has come to indicate that death is near. (The converse meaning of this is that if I am not having health related pain – that death must be far away. This is the one of greatest fallacies in the denial of death – see below.) The emotional pain is suffered in the relationships that are severed in death. This emotional pain is real and the rejection of this pain can actually push death off for quite some time – meaning that when people have a will to live based on relationships – whether that is based in a positive relationship or the emotional fear of what comes after death, it can actually fend off death. The emotional fear can and is often much stronger than the physical pain. It is because of this thinking we come to accept that suffering and death are coupled by design. I reject the idea that suffering and death must remain coupled at all. Death has been conquered by Christ, but suffering will remain. (2 Tim. 1:8-12) When we link suffering and death we often progress to the denial of death, and in this denial it comes to control us as Ernest Becker wrote in “Denial of Death”. This brain cramping read presses the reader to overcome the fear and denial of death and to embrace that our culture presses one to live immortally. This idea is cleaned up and presented to you and me (by the church and others) in the statements of “Leave a legacy” and conversely “He who dies with the most toys still dies” in both statement – the person is called to live beyond themselves. We are trained to think how we might live beyond our life in this world, while this may not seem like a bad thing – it is never intended to be a pursuit in itself. As humans we live our entire lives in the awareness of death and therefore seek to deny it is power over us. (This is as opposed to other animals on the plant – which do not fear death, rather follow instincts and have no identity beyond what humanity gives to them.) However noble these statements are, any time you begin to attempt to live beyond your life (which is to be but a mist then vanishes – James 4:14) we are falling short of the call to live in Christ. As in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” From this stance – death is complete in me, I have no reason to leave a legacy or fear death. The only legacy I am called to live is the legacy of Christ in me. And it is only in Christ that the sting and pain of death has completely been removed. (1 Cor. 15:55-57) When death has been conquered, life begins. (John 5:24)
Either you have already died – in Christ – and if so – the fear of death has been overcome – or you have not died- and the fear of death remains before you… What then can we say for the multitude that have accepted Christ as Savior yet remain in denial of death? It is not faith which they lack it is Joy! They are denied the joy of life in this world, for it is trampled in the fear of death. I can make this softer or more gentle – but that will only reinforce the acceptance of denying death.
If there is no power in death – then there is no fear in suffering and facing the enemy who threatens death as the end. Our enemy – Satan – seeks to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10); yet Jesus is offering us the keys to the kingdom (Matt16:19) and himself holds the keys to death and Hades. (Rev. 1:18) (Satan has been relegated to the earth and his domain is in the realm of Hades the place of the dead)…. This underworld – has no power over those who have conquered death in Christ.
What does this all have to do with you and me this week – This week leads us into the Passion Week. The Passion Week is the final week of Christ’s life before his death. How is it that Jesus can walk to the cross? He confronted death long before he got to this point. In fact – he confronted and overcame death, long before he was born. (2 Tim. 1:8-12) YES – before Jesus was born in the flesh he had already denied himself, rather than denying death. This must be our journey. For in the denial of death we actually give ourselves over to the power of death to control our lives. We must confront death head- on, we must stare it in the eyes and say “You have no power over me – I will not fear you or any pain you can produce.” This is only possible when we have already died – and become a servant of the Sovereign LORD. In this we know that if God is for us – who can stand against us? – beyond that not even death can separate us from God’s love. (Romans 8:31-39)
To actually come to grips with this is to embrace our temporal life on this planet – to embrace that we are “food for worms” yet the most powerful life force can flow through us to “raise the dead”. This is the paradox this life. Dead Poet’s Society captures this trap well, as Becker states it this way – “What does it mean to be a self-conscious animal? The idea is ludicrous, if it is not monstrous. It means to know that one is food for worms.” But my favorite capture of this concept is uncovered in the life of C.S. Lewis as in “Shadowlands”.
Overcoming the denial of death – is not as simple as “choosing life” as Moses puts it – (Deut 30:19) Yes – we must choose life, but we also must chose to embrace that life is found in Christ and that we must die both to ourselves and to our fear of death to participate in this life.
Here are some common errors in thinking regarding our tendency to live in denial of death. We tend to focus on the first – but our focus really needs to be on the later.
1. Death is Permanent Vs. Life is Eternal
When death is permanent and is represented as the end, rather than the transfer into total freedom – we are caught in denial. Remember Eternal life begins in knowing Jesus (John 17:3), so let us not glorify death. Further death is not permanent if you believe in the resurrection, both of Jesus and in His power – our very own resurrection.
2. Suffering precedes death Vs. Suffering promotes life
If health issues – especially painful ones are indicators that death is near, beware you have taken a bite of a poison apple which veils your eyes to deny death. Suffering is not design to lead to death, rather by God’s leading suffering leads to life and victory over death. When Moses died – he did not suffer, (Deut. 34:7)and neither are we cursed to die a painful death. C.S. Lewis says – “Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Even in Stephen’s painful stoning – we read that he simply fell asleep after praying for their forgiveness. (Acts 7:54-60)
3. The Body& Soul must die Vs. The Spirit must be born
There may be truth in all the statements above, but it where we place our focus and anchor our lives is what makes a difference. Jesus brought Nicodemus down the road and so must we come to understand – what does it mean to be born again. (John 3:5-8) This point is very similar to #1 however many in the church have ignored the power and need of the spirit to be born. We have focused on the negative aspects of the body and soul in contrast to the power of the spirit. (Romans 8:6, 13)
If this concept is depressing or dreary – you or probably living in denial of death.