Vol: 41 Issue: 20 Sunday, February 20, 2005
It was some long-forgotten humorist who first coined the phrase, “The only two things that are certain in this life are death and taxes.”
That quote is often wrongly attributed to Will Rogers, but what Rogers actually said was, “there’s one advantage about death; it doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets …”
There are ways to avoid taxes, tax deferments, tax shelters, tax accountants, tax cheats; there is no way to avoid death.
Everybody — and every living thing — dies eventually. We were not created to die, but the sentence of death was passed on all living things when the first sin was committed by our first parents, Adam and Eve.
The Scriptures have much to say on the subject, but the subject is not exactly the sort of thing people like to dwell on, and consequently, we don’t.
For most people, death signifies the end of life, and God has built aversion to death into our genetic makeup as a kind of self-preservation mechanism for the survival of the species — whatever species that is.
Walk through the woods, and if you see any small animals about, they are usually fleeing your presence. They don’t know your intentions, but they do fear death, so their default position is that you represent a threat to life and are to be avoided at all costs.
Mankind is the highest order of beings to be created under the ultimate sentence of death, and, as a general rule, fears death as much as any squirrel or rabbit scurrying through the woods to avoid predators, animal or human.
To the lower animals, death doesn’t merely signify the end of life, it is the end of life, and animals know it instinctively. Mankind also fears death, and does all that is possible to avoid it, but in the main, it is due to a different instinctive knowledge.
Men know that death is NOT the end of life, but rather, the end of life as we know it. This knowledge is also instinctive; the appeal of atheism is that it espouses a view that death is final and absolute, and without final judgment.
Atheism is NOT the default view of death, it must be taught. The Bible says that the knowledge that death is NOT the end is instinctively ingrained in us.
“For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:29)
We are created with an instinctive knowledge of God; God Himself has provided the details of His existence, but the basic knowledge of God is something we are all born with.
Ironically, one of the world’s premiere atheists, Vladimir Ilyanovich Lenin, the father of the Communist Russian Revolution, once staked out the philosophical position that it is impossible for the human mind to conceive of something that does not exist.
As an example, Lenin postulated that it is impossible for the human mind to concentrate and come up with a new prime color. There are only a finite number of possibilities, and no feat of imagination can come up with a new one that isn’t a combination of those which already exist.
Similarly, Lenin theorized, the knowledge of God is not something that could have been dreamed up in the mind of man. We can imagine pink elephants, because pink exists, and elephants exist. We have a frame of reference for both.
But knowledge of a Supreme Being Who exists outside of space and time, a Being Who always was, always will be, One with no beginning and no end, One Who possesses all knowledge and Who is everywhere at all times — for this concept we humans have no frame of reference.
We couldn’t have dreamed up God, suggests Lenin, because our minds are limited to thinking in terms of three dimensions, those of space, time and matter. God exists outside of all three, yet a child believes in God until he is taught differently.
The fear of death is rooted, for man, in that instinctive knowledge of God’s existence. For everyone except the atheist/humanist, death is the time of reckoning, since man also instinctively recognizes sin AS sin.
Nobody needs to be taught that sin exists — nobody truly believes themselves to be without sin, despite high-sounding philosophical arguments to the contrary.
To deny the existence of sin is to deny the necessity for police, courts, prisons and a social order. Animals are incapable of sin, therefore, the concept of ‘punishment’ is pragmatic, rather than instinctive.
One can ‘punish’ a misbehaving pet, but it isn’t actually ‘punishment’ it is behavior modification by the imposition of unpleasant sanctions.
An animal has no instinctive knowledge of right or wrong, only cause and effect.
Scripture says that the ‘wages of sin is death’ and reminds us that ‘all have sinned’ and therefore, all of us die.
The Scriptures also explain what we already know by instinct; that human death is not the end of life, but rather, by definition and practice, a separation. It separates body and spirit, it separates us from loved ones, and loved ones from us.
Some false teachers say that death is a sleep, but according to Scripture, it is a journey. Genesis 25:8, 35:18, and Numbers 27:13 speak of the dead as souls being ‘gathered to their fathers’. David, mourning the loss of his son, lamented, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” (2nd Samuel 12:23)
The book of Job, chronologically believed to predate Moses, relates Job’s confidence that;
“And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for MYSELF, and MINE eyes shall behold, and NOT ANOTHER; though my reins be consumed within me.” (Job 19:26-27)
For those left behind, death appears to be the end of life, but, although the body sleeps, the Bible teaches that death is the departure of the spirit into another realm of consciousness.
“Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord . . We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” (2nd Corinthians 5:8)
Peter testified that at death, he would ‘put off’ his physical body; “Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me.” (2nd Peter 1:14)
Jesus told the thief from the Cross, “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
And the Apostle John’s vision in Revelation depicts dead saints in heaven prior to the Resurrection, as well as during the Tribulation on earth.
The Bible defines three different forms of death. The physical death with which we are all too familiar, in which the spirit separates from the body; spiritual death, which is the separation from God as a consequence of sin, and the ‘second death’ — the final, eternal separation from God and from life in the Lake of Fire.
Hebrews 9:27 explains in a sentence, the difference between the instinctive fear of death embedded in lower animals, and the fear of death as experienced by human beings.
“And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” The appeal of atheism to the atheist is found in part ‘b’ of that verse, “after this, the judgment.”
The instinctive recognition of sin brings with it the instinctive fear of judgment. It is the fear of judgment that forms the basis for all religion.
Religion is, by definition, man’s effort to make himself acceptable to God, thereby avoiding the judgment he instinctively understands he so richly deserves.
But religion is never completely satisfying, because we also instinctively know that man cannot make himself acceptable to God, since, apart from the self-deluded, we know we can’t even make ourselves acceptable to other humans.
Christianity is God’s way of making man acceptable to Himself.
Lincoln once observed, ‘you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.’
Some people can see through the outward veneer of false righteousness some of the time, God can see through it all the time, since He knows what we know about ourselves — and we know what we are REALLY like when nobody else is looking.
That is why God sent us a Savior in Jesus Christ. Jesus took the form of sinful man, lived the sinless life God’s perfection demands of each of us, and then, being guiltless, He assumed the punishment for sin for us all at the Cross.
Think of sin as debt and righteousness as the only acceptable currency available to discharge it. One cannot make a mortgage payment without the use of a currency acceptable to the mortgage holder.
As unrighteous sinners, we spent all our currency with our first sin and we became spiritual paupers, unable to discharge our debt.
“Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” Romans 4:4-5)
Jesus, by His life, kept His currency intact, and is able to pay off our ‘mortgage’ for us. When we come to Him and ask, He reaches into His pocket and pays it off for us.
Our sin debt is paid, and the wages of sin are wiped clean. We pass from spiritual death into eternal life.
For that reason, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1)
Another way to say the same thing is there is ‘no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who TRUST not after the flesh, but after the Spirit’ — since salvation is a consequence of trust, our faith that He will keep His Word to us, despite our own shortcomings.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
Everybody who has a regular job lives according to that principle. We go to work because we expect to be paid at the end of the week. Our paycheck doesn’t come til Friday, but we show up for work on Monday.
Payday is the SUBSTANCE of things hoped for on Monday, the fact we show up is evidence of that which won’t be seen until Friday.
We can borrow against that unseen paycheck, before we’ve earned it, because, although it has not even been written yet, it has SUBSTANCE. Ask your banker.
All those who have placed their trust in Christ can count on ‘payday’, since He has already performed the necessary work.
All those who trust in themselves can also expect ‘payday’, but since the wages of sin is death, they can count on receiving their full check.
Payday comes at the point of physical death. Death is not the end, it is the beginning. Jesus used the analogy of being ‘born again’ to describe the process. It is also illustrative of what awaits us on the other side.
A baby in the womb is pretty contented to be there. It is warm, and safe, and it is all they know. Birth takes place, not when the baby claws its way out, but, rather, when it is EXPELLED involuntarily, kicking and screaming, into a terrifying world of bright lights, loud noises, and pain.
But, once having experienced life on the outside, the darkness and confinement of the womb is seen for what it is, and it would be an act of insanity to want to return to such an existence, regardless of how comfortable it seemed when it was all we knew. Even pain is preferable to a return to the darkness of the womb.
The passage from physical death to eternal life is an unbroken stream of consciousness, just as is the passage from the womb to the world.
That passage is, from this perspective, as unpleasant as being expelled from the womb is at the time of its occurrence. But, as noted, once having experienced physical life outside, who would long to return to the womb?
For those who know what awaits them, death can be a comfort, although the transistion process is no less frightening than the transition from womb to delivery room.
Death is much worse for those left behind than it is for those who have trusted Jesus and will pass into His loving arms as they leave behind their tabernacle of flesh.
The pain of separation is unbearable, and the prospect of having to continue in this life after they have gone on ahead can be unthinkable — yet it is unavoidable.
There is little comfort, apart from the certain knowledge that separation is only temporary, since we will all one day make the same journey.
Scriptures tell us that, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” (Romans 4:7-8)
Trust Jesus. His Word is true. Death is not the end. It is the beginning. For the believer, it is the beginning of life as wondrous and different as the passage from the womb.
The rest of us remain trapped inside this comparatively dark and seemingly safe place, unaware of what awaits us, and uncertain of what our loved one will experience.
“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.” (1st Thessalonians 4:13)
“. . .then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)
And know He will keep His promise. “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:37)
Have courage! Trust Jesus.
“And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Phillipians 4:7)