A Christian view of death and dying sounds very strange to the modern ear. This is especially true because Christianity has long seen death as true and right in one sense and evil and wrong in another. It is seen as not a part of God’s perfect will, but it is seen as a part of his decretive will.
God’s perfect will, or will of desire, is expressed in His commandments as contained in the Bible. It does not contain sin or the consequences of sin. God’s perfect will is what He would have, not what He would allow.
God’s decretive will contains those things which He does not desire in and of themselves, but those things which He allows. This will includes all things that actually happen (Ephesians 1: 11). God allows death in this sense, and He allows death for good reasons.
In Christianity, seen from God’s perfect will, death is an enemy to be destroyed, not an event to be accepted. Christ has “overcome death,” our enemy (Rom. 4:25; 1 Cor. 15:16-20; 1 Pet. 1:3-5). Death is wrong in the sense that death is not a part of God’s perfect will for the world. I know that intuitively.
Am I to adopt a worldview which would make death just an ordinary part of life? Should I just accept it as a part of the way the universe works?
No way! I want a worldview that accounts for the reality of death. I want it to be called evil, not just the absence of happiness that is a social construct of how people conceive that things should be. I want death to be wrong in some important sense. I need an absolute standard for right and wrong which calls death the enemy and triumphs over it (1 Cor. 15:25-28).
In Christianity, seen from the perspective of God’s will of decree, Christ’s resurrection guarantees the resurrection of those who place their faith in Him (Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor. 15:12-23; Phil. 3:20-21).
Christ’s death has changed the very nature of death for those who repent of their sins and place their trust in Him (Ps. 49:7; John 5:24; Phil. 1:21-23; 1 Thess. 5:9-10). Death is not a punishment for sin; it is a deliverance from sin. In death, Christ makes Christians into the kind of people they have longed to be: people who are perfect in what they think, speak, and do.
I will never forget about how this hope ‘played out’ in my life. My mother died in 2006. I struggled to explain what had happened to my three-year-old daughter. My mother had been very sick for some time, and I had taken the chance to read several books and pamphlets on how to talk to children about death.
Many of those booklets told me to tell my daughter that death was final so that she would not be confused. In this theory, Granny Jones was not “asleep” or “living in heaven,” but gone forever. That is what death is to the world: final.
When I stood over Mom’s casket with my daughter in my arms, I picked theology over psychology. I said something like this: “Granny is dead, but one day she will live again. When Christ comes back, your Grandmother will come back to life because she placed her faith in Christ before she died. She will have a new body that is perfect and joy in her heart.”
I tried to help my daughter understand that Christians will come back to life after they die. In this, we have hope.
This is death transformed in the mystery of God’s decretive will.