What God Thinks About Death

Whether it is a mass murder of children several states away, a friend of a friend, or a close relative, death is all around us. Death is often unexpected and tragic. We could have a natural tendency to ask: “Where is God in all of this?” “If he is so good, why doesn't he intervene?” “Does he even care?”

Origins of Life and Death

The Adam and Eve story has God breathing the “breath of life” into Adam (Gen 2:7). He was also free to eat, as much as he wanted, from all the trees in the garden, including the tree of life. He was told, however, not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or else he would die. (Gen 2:15-17)

One day, Adam's wife, Eve, was having a conversation with the serpent about God's withholding this privilege of knowledge from his people. She and Adam both ate, and…well you know the rest… (Genesis 3) God then banished them from the garden so that they could not eat from the tree of life and live forever in their broken condition. (Gen 3:22-24) The very next story is about their oldest son murdering the younger (Gen 4:1-16) and Genesis 5 repeats the refrain then he died… With Enoch and Elijah as exceptions, this pattern of life being swallowed up by death is repeated throughout the Old Testament, indeed throughout human history… (Rom 5:12-21)

It would be easy to wonder why God is so callous, so cold, so disinterested in our pain, suffering, grieving. To see what God thinks about death, we need to look to Jesus, the one who reveals God most fully. (cf., Jn 1:18; Col 1:15-20) With his being God in flesh (cf., Jn 1:1-2, 14), Jesus is the source, the author of life. (Acts 3:15-16; cf., Jn 1:4-5) Indeed, he is divine, eternal, uncreated life. (cf., Jn 14:6; 1 Jn 1:1-3)

Jesus and Lazarus

Jesus has a friend named Lazarus who becomes sick and dies. (Jn 11:1-16) Jesus goes to see him and when he arrives in Bethany, Lazarus' hometown, he learns that Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days. Lazarus' sister Martha says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn't have died…” Jesus explains that Lazarus will rise again, but she thinks he is talking about the resurrection in the distant future, on the “last day.” Jesus says: “I AM (ego eimi; Gk. Ἐγώ εἰμι) the resurrection and the life…” Martha is in the presence of the resurrection and the source of life. (Jn 11:17-27)

Martha tells her sister Mary that Jesus has arrived, and she gets up, runs to him, falls at his feet and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” Jesus is “angry in his spirit” and goes to the tomb where he weeps or (the Greek is stronger) bursts into tears. Some standing there note that Jesus must have really loved Lazarus to be so deeply moved; others wonder why Jesus could not have prevented the death in the first place. (Jn 11:28-37)

Jesus, foreshadowing his own resurrection from the dead, requests that those standing there remove the stone that covers the tomb. Martha tries to dissuade him, saying that Lazarus was starting to stink. Jesus is not deterred and calls Lazarus out of the tomb. Lazarus comes out as a live man wrapped in burial cloths. (Jn 11:38-44)

What God Thinks About Death

So what does God think about death? Jesus was angry in his spirit and burst into tears in the presence of death. (Jn 11:33-35) Death is God's enemy. (1 Cor 15:26) Death will be ultimately destroyed. (Rev 20:13-15) There will be a resurrection (1 Corinthians 15), a new creation (Is 65:17; Rev 21:1-8), and the reappearance of the tree of life. (Rev 22:1-3) That's what God thinks about death.

For those who are hurting right now, let me leave you with a Philip Yancey quote from Finding God in Unexpected Places:

We need a renewed awareness of death, yes. But we need far more. We need a faith, in the midst of our groaning, that death is not the last word, but the next to last. What is mortal will be swallowed up by life. One day all whispers of death will fall silent. (18)


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