First Congregational Church of Stanton, MI

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The Open Door

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From the Desk of Pastor Jamey:

The Shadowy Valley

     According to the introduction narrative on the old television show, outer space is the final frontier to be explored. You may recall hearing, “Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship, Enterprise.” In a 2015 article for Evolution News, Howard Glicksman contemplates the medical meaning of death in a little article entitled, “Death: The Final Frontier.” Though I entirely reject the wild speculations that drive macro-evolution theory, I think Glicksman is closer to the truth than Star Trek. Even for space travelers, death is the final frontier. As Christian thinkers, we must ask ourselves, “What is the biblical view of death?”

     One doesn’t have to look far to find a pop-culture trend for viewing death as something basically good, or as “perfectly natural,” “something to be embraced,” and “nothing to be afraid of.” After all, death is natural and inevitable, no? The famous playwright and poet, Oscar Wilde, writes, “Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one's head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no to-morrow. To forget time, to forget life, to be at peace” (The Canterville Ghost). And, in an age of reality TV and legalized assisted suicide (5 states so far), just wait. How long before there is a weekly program that glamorizes humanity’s final exit?  “Pop some corn and gather the children. I wonder who’ll die tonight on national television?”

     Ironically, death anxiety still plagues most people despite all the efforts at minimizing, glamorizing, or make-peace-with-inevitability propaganda. As with all matters of life (and death!), I want FCC to grow in her ability to think Christianly. The world’s perspective is broken and always will be. We must shun popular thinking and strive for the mind of Christ. And, although the culture gets some things right from time to time, without a unifying world-view it remains a rudderless, anchorless vessel adrift on the sea of ideas, being blown to and fro by every wind of teaching. Paul, the apostle, says such thinking is infantile (Ephesians 4:14).  Christian thinkers, on the other hand, strive to bring their minds into conformity with biblical teaching, for that is the only way to become “built up in our faith” (Colossians 2:1).

     On the matter of dying, the Bible in no way teaches that death is something over which to wax nostalgic. On the heels of this Easter season, we are inspired by the biblical teaching of the resurrection. In churches around the world, 1 Corinthians 15 was used as a text for Easter services. Resurrection is critical to our faith, and the hope of eternal life is a key part of Jesus’ teaching. In 15:58 Paul tells us the truth about death when he says, “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Enemy?

     To understand death as an enemy, one must return to death’s beginning. In Genesis, at the very start of things, mankind did not die. There was no “inevitability” with which Adam and Eve needed to make their peace. Death was unheard of. All that mattered was each new day, in which to glorify God and enjoy him. It wasn’t until that failed encounter with the snake that the first act of disobedience brought consequences. The most tragic of the consequences was death. God had warned the couple, but they gave in to temptation. From that moment, death has been our enemy. Today, culture says, “death is a part of life.” I’d like to correct that just a bit: “Death is a part of life now.” It’s only “normal” insomuch as we look at our history post-Eden. But in God’s perfect design—first in the garden and then in the new kingdom—death is anything but “normal.” It has no place whatsoever! In the meantime, death is an awful punishment (“The wages of sin is death,” Romans 6:23), and it is literally our mortal enemy. No wonder the human heart still struggles with anxiety about dying.

    Is it OK for Christians to have anxiety about death? Absolutely! Who wouldn’t be uneasy over a punishing battle with our last enemy? It’s a fight we are guaranteed to lose, and it has been known to be slow and agonizing for many. However, there’s no need to fear what comes after death—those promises are only glorious goodness, not evil. In the end, death will lose completely. Until then, death is the valley of shadows (Psalm 23), and there’s nothing beautiful about it. Our only comfort is knowing God will walk through it with us.