Life is filled with events. Some of those are expected and can be planned for while others come as a surprise and are either very difficult or impossible to prepare for. Birth in the family can be somewhat surprising even though we know it is near and usually know the sex of the child. Still, it has many surprise elements to it. Sicknesses, pains, accidents all happen in life and often come as a huge surprise. But there isn’t anything else in life that is like death. We all know it is coming to us and everyone around. Yet it isn’t something we like to think about or talk about.
Strangely, God’s view of death is very different from ours, most of the time. In Psalms 116:15 it says “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” But our view of death even of the Christian doesn’t normally run along that same line. Think of the time when Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha died. They sent word to Jesus when he became ill. But Jesus didn’t arrive back in Bethany until after he had been dead for four days. They spoke of Lazarus as one that Jesus loved. Every indication is that he was a godly man who died faithful to the Lord and prepared to spend eternity with God in heaven. Yet, when Jesus arrived at the home of Mary and Martha, they each came out to meet him. Martha was first and her charge immediately was, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” After Jesus assured her that Lazarus would be raised from the dead she went back to Mary and told her that the Master had come and was calling for her. When she went out to meet Jesus, she fell at his feet, weeping and declared, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” It seems obvious they had been talking about the topic from the moment Lazarus became sick and died. Jesus was so moved by the tears of Mary that he wept with her and groaned in his spirit.
Later in Acts 9, Luke tells the story of a disciple named Dorcas who died and since Peter was nearby visiting they sent word to him to come to them. When he arrived and went to the upper room where the body lay, he found several of her friends gathered around her, weeping and looking at the garments she had made while she was still alive.
Why is it the case that God looks at a Christian’s death and declares it to be precious in his sight while we look at the same death and feel broken, hurting and even that the Lord wasn’t there or the person wouldn’t have died? In that story of Lazarus death as Jesus and the family and friends went out to the place where they had laid the body it says that Jesus groaned in his spirit and the phrase in the original Greek text literally means, “He snorted like a horse.” It is the idea that he was angry or frustrated with what he was seeing in the death of his friend. He knew he was about to raise him from the dead. The agony and the frustration evidently had to do with all the hurt the family was going through in the loss of their brother.
God looks at the death of a Christian and sees deliverance and newness of life. In 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 Paul described a Christian dying and leaving the body behind to be clothed upon in heaven. He said we live in earnest longing for that home in heaven that God has prepared for us at home all along.
But we look at death from our standpoint and see the unknown. We face the fear of what lies ahead since we can only imagine that deliverance, the change that happens at death. We see funerals, lifeless bodies, a grave, and loneliness. God looks at the death of one of His children and sees a homecoming, a reunion, and celebration. Just about every Christian longs to have the heart of God with regard to the death of those they love. We would love to rejoice and know they are in far better shape now than ever before. We want to see them enjoying being with God and with the redeemed of the ages when they leave this world. But it is extremely difficult for us to get past our own sense of loss and feeling empty because we don’t have them with us anymore.
The closer we draw to God and the frailer the physical body becomes the easier it becomes to at least begin to take on the divine point of view. But it seems to me that it is always easier to see that side of things when thinking of yourself than when thinking of those you love dearly as family and friends.