Death — Friend or Foe?
I have lost both a friend and my father in the last month — one after a 15-year battle with Parkinson's Disease, the other after suffering cardio-vascular and pulmonary disease in recent years. For both of them, their physical difficulties were such that death brought them release from their agonizing struggles to keep going, relief from a life that held little purpose or enjoyment anymore. On both occasions the comment was made — both publicly and to me personally — that death is the enemy. And, in fact, there is a scripture to that effect: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (I Cor. 15:26).
When personally faced with these experiences we cannot help but take more notice of just what some of the scriptures say and ponder their meaning. Is death, in fact, an enemy? For whom? In both cases, death seemed to be a friend to the one who was suffering.
My own personal experience of death has made me consider the matter from a fresh perspective. Perhaps that is why the scripture says, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart” (Eccl. 7:2) . And we do take it to heart. Here is a person we knew and loved. Did we spend enough time with him? Did we make the most of our friendship/relationship? Did we argue too much? On and on it goes…
Death of a loved one also seems to enable us to focus on the good memories and qualities, when in life we may have stumbled over the day-to-day irritations. And as we realize we ourselves face the very same — at some unknown time — death of a loved one can be a “wake-up call”.
But is it our enemy? To watch a large percentage of the television ads, one would conclude that we put an inordinate amount of time, energy, and expense
into avoiding the inevitable. We are urged to buy potions, join gym clubs, diet, and artificially hide the evidence of aging. The world behaves as if death is in fact the enemy.
I grieve the loss of my dad. He imparted much wisdom in his many well-remembered sayings. I will miss hearing those, being reminded through just a few words of a better way of thinking or behaving. Does that make death the enemy? Is his death my enemy? I didn't want to see him go, but I didn't want to see him struggle any longer, either.
In another scripture, in Psalms, we read, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (116:15). Hardly sounds like death is the enemy. In fact, it seems God has some regard for their death — that it holds some significance. But, an enemy?
So, just what does that scripture in I Corinthians mean? I went back to the scripture and read a few of the preceding verses to get some context.
For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
It is not the end of our physical lives on earth being talked about here. It is another, the final pronouncement of death — the second death (Rev. 2:11) — following the failure to submit to God once a real opportunity is offered, that is the enemy. It is this death that will be destroyed. Once we become glorified, immortal spirit, such a threat will no longer exist. Death — the enemy — will be destroyed forever.
Is death painful? For the remaining loved ones, yes. Is it our enemy? Yes, and no.