Just the word gives my soul a dead shiver of inverted light, black shimmering on dark. And deep down inside, it does for you too. It is the one reason that a fire burns at my core, bright-hot and fierce, when I think of Jesus, His one mission and intention midst the myriad of wonders that streamed off Him and trailed behind Him like miraculous rain in ever dry desert lands…Jesus and the absolute single minded attack He made on the last great enemy death…a death-match with death, and Jesus won, but He won in the least expected way ever. He laid down His life, and trusted that the Father would do what He retained the right to do…whatever He says He will do, and He told Jesus ahead of time that He would raise Him up…
…or rather behind time. Because this transaction happened before time, before space…before there was anything but Them and perfect relationship in mutual trust and sacrifice…that is when Jesus the Lamb was slain…that was when the “moment” (can there be moments before there is time?) of total trust occurred.
Death knew nothing about this. Nothing…and nothing about resurrection.
Think about that. I can never think of death without thinking of the fact that Jesus forced His life down its throat and crammed Himself into its maw…and now death runs tharn like a dog with a foxtail stuck in its nose…
Anyway, the singleminded determination of Jesus, the glint in His eye as He took dead aim at death and then dove to the bottom of bottom, and started walking back up. Throwing doors open and inviting whosoever will to follow to freedom forever. And then, before He left, He turned and looked at the last enemy who was shocked, defeated and sitting stunned that One was simply walking out of its grasp and there wasn’t a damned thing it could do about it, and said “I’ll be back”.
I hold onto that. I have requested a front row seat, for me and my loved ones…front and center at the edge of that arena where at last Jesus puts that monster under His feet once and for all…and exacts complete and utter justice for every last tear, every scintilla of agony, every drop of despair…and I am going to scream in exultation until I cannot scream any more and then scream with my inner ever scream of horror become my screaming victory-chant.
That is the view that They have imparted to me.
But there are many other views, many other thoughts, much speculation about what death is and isn’t, and what lays beyond its gaping maw…and that is the subject of the devotional below.
In 1952 philosopher Mortimer Adler co-edited a fifty-five volume series for Encyclopedia Britannica titled The Great Books of the Western World. Overseeing a staff of ninety, the editors created a diverse index of topics containing selections from many of the finest thinkers in the history of Western Civilization.
Upon completion, Adler was asked why the work included more pages under the subject of God than any other topic. He replied matter-of-factly that it was because more consequences for life and action follow from the affirmation or denial of God than from any other basic question.
What we do with the subject of God is a far-reaching choice, defining life, informing death, shaping everything. The one who lives as though there is no God lives quite differently than the one who lives confidently that there is a God. It is a subject of consequence because it reaches everything and everyone; whether mindfully or indifferently, a decision is always made.
Through avenues of every emotion known to humankind, the Psalms make the astounding claim that God not only exists, but that God is present and can be found. In victory and defeat, illness and poverty, health and prosperity, the psalmist maintains that it is God who gives all of life meaning, that God alone answers the deepest and darkest questions of life whether in the depths or from the highest vantage.
Calling to the multitudes, crossing lines of status and allegiance, the psalmist pleads for care regarding a subject that concerns all. Like Adler, the psalmist makes it clear that what is being communicated is of consequence. “Listen, all who live in this world, both low and high, rich and poor together… I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp.”(1)
This riddle the psalmist wants to bring to the attention of all is a riddle forever before humankind. It is a riddle to which all must diligently attend but many wholeheartedly ignore. Fittingly, the Hebrew word for “riddle” has also been translated “dark saying” or “difficult question.”
The psalmist continues, “When we look at the wise, they die; fool and dolt perish together and leave their wealth to others. Their graves are their homes for ever, their dwelling-places to all generations, though they named lands their own. Mortals cannot abide in their pomp; they are like the animals that perish.”
It is easy to go about life as if we know what we are doing. The psalmist stops us to ask, what is the point of it all? Some accumulate wealth, others remain in poverty, some live well and others live wickedly, but all are destined for the grave. The one who claims there is no God in life, so claims emptiness in death. But then is life also empty? Again the psalmist admits it is all a dark riddle: What is the point of it all?
Solving the riddles of life and death, like religion and politics at a social gathering, means, for many, changing the subject. As Woody Allen once quipped, “It’s not that I am afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
But that our lives are fleeting could awaken a sense of urgency, a sense of inquiry. That life is fleeting, though inarguably full of meaning, is indeed either a peculiar contradiction or a hint that creation is being made new, both now and in what is coming.
This is not to say that death, for the Christian, is not a mystery. We know that death is the last great door through which we must walk, the mark of a broken world. Yet we know also that through death God has declared the end of that broken hold on our lives, that the one who loses his life will save it, and that by Christ’s death the Spirit works Christ’s life in us even now.
As C.S. Lewis once said of the Christian, “Of all men, we hope most of death; yet nothing will reconcile us to…its ‘unnaturalness.’ We know that we were not made for it; we know how it crept into our destiny as an intruder; and we know Who has defeated it.”
In the riddle of life and death, the psalmist expounds this certainty of God’s action. “But God will ransom my soul from the power of the grave, for he will receive me.”
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.