Must Death Have the Last Word?

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan have not only shaken the world, they’ve shaken a lot of people’s faith.  “How could a good and loving God allow such a thing to happen?” they ask.  It’s the oldest question in the theology book, and if there were an easy answer it would have been answered a long time ago. 

Some people answer it by saying there isn’t a good and loving God, and the devastation in Japan is evidence.  Some say God is good but not very powerful, and therefore not able to prevent such things.  Others say God is powerful but not very good, and therefore not interested in preventing them.  Christian theology, for the most part, has simply acknowledged the tension: God is all-loving; God is all-powerful; terrible things happen.

Maybe it would help to look at that word terrible.  We think it’s terrible that so many people died in this recent tragedy, but the truth is that everything in this world is finite.  Nothing lasts forever, and especially not something as frail and vulnerable as human beings.  So, it’s not a question of whether we are going to die, but only when and how

You could make a long list of all the possible whens and hows, but with the possible exception of dying in your sleep in extreme old age, none of the options is all that attractive.  And yet this is precisely the point at which we start shaking our fists at the sky.  “Why, God!  Why did  this person have to die at [choose one from Column A] from [choose one from Column B] ?”  The when and how often seem irreconcilable with the notion of a good and loving God.

But suppose a good and loving God is spending his time on that other question, not the when  or how but the whether.  And suppose it’s not the question of whether we will die that he is working on, but the question of whether or not death will have the last word.  The answer to that question is the gospel itself, and the answer is a resounding “NO!”

Maybe you could keep that in mind next time you read the obituaries, when you see all those people smiling up at you from the newspaper and read all those stories about when and how they died.  Maybe you could cling to the truth that  this is not the end of their story, nor will death have the last word.

3 thoughts on “Must Death Have the Last Word?

  1. Death of loved ones is not a stranger to me, having lost both parents, my two brothers, and two very dear husbands of 28 and 20 year marriages. I am very grateful to have had these in my life for as long as I did — it has been much richer and more joyful because of each of them. David Burhans (UR Chaplain for 30 years) often spoke a very real truth: “Life is not lost by dying, but by living unaware!” Remembering that reminds me to love and to try to show Christ’s love for us in the way I live my life each day as it comes. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is still a dream, but we do have TODAY. I learned that a hard way at 48, and at almost 82 I find it a remarkably useful idea!

  2. To me, the mistake most of us make is thinking this world we live in is the end-all — that it’s our home and the only place where we belong. It’s normal, I guess, for us to come to think of it as such, but what if heaven is our true home? What if when we die we simply return to the one place we truly know and love — a place where all our loved ones will eventually be reunited?

    It may be that life is a kind of sojourn — or perhaps in the mythical sense a sort of hero’s journey. The hero receives a call. For whatever reason, he or she must leave his ordinary world (heaven) and venture into the unknown (earth), deal with and survive challenges and face and defeat metaphorical dragons. Eventually the hero will return to his ordinary world (heaven), having grown and learned from the experience.

    If heaven is eternal, and I believe it is, earth is at best a temporary stop along the way.

  3. Death does not have the last word as far as I am concerned. I am experiencing the death of a very close friend at this time, and I miss her terribly. She was the daughter I never had. However, on Easter Sunday during the Worship Service I had the most beautiful gift given me by God. Several times during the service I kept seeing Susan’s face smiling and laughing. This made all the difference in the world of how I will view death in the future.

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