“For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:21-23).
What does Christianity have to say about death? Does the Bible have anything to say that will help us in this, the most characteristic human factor of all, our mortality?
Generation after generation has had to deal with the implications of death’s certainty. In Greek mythology, the River Styx was a dreary, poisonous river that ran between the living and Hades. Whoever crossed had to pay Charon, a boatman who ferried people across.
It was a one-way ticket!
Just as the old spiritual declared:
“I have one more river to cross.
My brother, my sister, my father, my mother
They’ll all be waiting, but they can’t help me across.”
Here is the fear that lies beyond the murky river of Death. Is death a transition, or a final statement, a period or a comma?
Jesus suffered death in order to break its power. Now that is a statement! All humans who die succumbed to its power, but Jesus broke its power. “He himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14,15).
Jesus took on humanity’s greatest challenge – death – and overcame it. Jesus is the compass to guide us through what happens after death. As he said himself, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
This lends some perspective on death; dying physically is not the worst thing that can happen to us by a long shot. Jesus compared our death to a seed that is buried, yet results in life: “Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life’” (John 12:23-25).
So here is a biblical perspective on death: For a seed to become what it is designed to be, a living, growing plant, it must die. For a human being to become what he was designed to be, he too must die. When the seed dies, however, it bears much fruit; when a faithful Christian dies, his life also produces a great spiritual harvest of those who were influenced and inspired by him. The life that is lived for self fulfillment will come up empty; the life that is lived in service of something bigger than itself will be fulfilled.
Christians and non-Christians view death differently. Both fear it, and sorrow at it, but the Christian faces it with an element of hope.