Death is scary, or at least the thought and the process of death are scary. It goes against the grain of humanity; the grain of humanity after all is the indestructible life of God in Jesus Christ for us (Deus incarnandus), as He is the imago Dei, the εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ, the image of God whose image humanity simpliciter has been both created and recreated in (i.e. the resurrection). To be ripped asunder from that life, His life necessarily creates an existential anxiety and response within human beings who live in that state of separation on a day to day basis. But even for those of us who have acknowledged our election in God in Christ, even for those who have actively said yes to God from the Yes and Amen of God for us in Jesus Christ, we still live in these fallen frail bodies that cry out from the futility that has been inflicted upon them. Even though we know that our lives are grounded in Christ’s life, in His resurrected humanity (cf. Rom. 6; Col. 3; etc.) we still live in bodies that are subject to biological death, aging, sickness, disease, and a host of other unnatural things (if we understand that the natural mode for what it means to be human is determined by Christ’s humanity rather than the fallen humanity we continue to inhabit). And so when we are confronted with our mortality it is scary; it is something that humans as a rule don’t dwell upon from day to day, instead we live as if we might never die (or at least that’s how people tacitly seem to function day to day).
But we are going to die, and are dying every day; the reality of death is inescapable. When I was diagnosed with incurable statistically terminal cancer back in 2009 I was scared! I can remember before that though, for most of my life, I had this inexplicable fear of death (and I have been a Christian from a very young age); it was an oppressive fear I would sometimes get when faced with the thought that I could get cancer or something, and then I did! When that happened, the diagnosis, I went into a deep shock.
One of my particular plagues is that I am a deep thinker, and at points my mind can grab onto an idea and run it deeper than it should, or even really can. This was part of my problem from years past, ever before I was diagnosed with cancer; I would take the concept of my personal mortality, and its reality, and try to make some sense out of it at an existential and subjective level, at a felt level. But my mind, obviously, could never make sense of it; it was like entering into a dark abyss and trying to navigate a course through it. The moment I would finally hit the wall, and admit it, this is where heavy fear would come in; it meant I was up against a reality that I could not control, and my ‘flesh’ could not handle that. But it wasn’t just that, it was the thought of trying to conceive of life apart from what I’ve always known life to be, with full extension into space and time in my embodied physical concrete state. I think this reality is the one that scared me the most about death (and when I think about it it still is scary). It simply is not natural for a human being to die, as such it becomes a totally inscrutable thing to try and conceive of and make sense of; it truly is a labyrinth that humans have not been equipped to grasp or navigate through, it truly is a privatio or privation of what makes sense (which is what humanity has been created for; i.e. life with God).
This particular deep fear of mine, and I would imagine this is not my fear alone, was given some perspective as I walked through the valley of shadow of death with my cancer. Did the ‘fear of death’ completely go away? Absolutely not! I have no desire to die or go through the process of death. But what did happen is that that Lord showed up in some very real and tangible ways; in ways that let me and my family know that the armies of heaven were standing with us, and that the Lord of Hosts Himself was ever present. Not in some sort of abstract ‘up there’ kind of way, but in a concrete way that made clear that death was no match for Him! The reality that He is “the resurrection and the life” and that though I may “die, yet I shall live” became very real.
As I started this post out with, the ground and reality of our lives is the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. There is no separate humanity from His, but we find our humanity as we participate from His for us. We look solely to Him as the source of eternal life that springs up from our navels as living waters which cannot be quenched. This is my hope, and I am glad that I have found it in Jesus Christ! We need this hope in our world today! People are dying all around us, even if they try to live and act like they aren’t; they are. They need the hope of Jesus Christ, and the hope of His resurrection life as the ground and basis of their lives. He alone can enter into the abyss of death, put it to death, and rise again in a glorified body, and has! If we are going to have hope and a way through such darkness we need to be in a participatory relationship with Him by the Holy Spirit. If this is the reality we live in and from, ‘in Christ,’ then all hope is ours and the fear of death can no longer hold us captive; we can live truly free in and from the freedom of God’s indestructible Triune life which is indeed graciously for us in Jesus Christ.
25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? ~John 11.25-26
14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. ~Hebrews 2.14-15
4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: ~Romans 6.4-5
3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. ~Colossians 3.3-4
For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. ~II Corinthians 5.1