Of Truth & Death

Today’s blog will differ in writing style from previous blogs.  I divert to address a reality we all must eventually face.  As such, the topic is of tremendous importance.

Over the last couple weeks I have been faced with the reality of death:

1) With Samuel’s father (I wrote recently of his murder here in Uganda).

2) Just this past week my 86-year old grandmother, Beulah Wise, died.

3) In a Facebook chat recently with a childhood friend of mine, he shared his experience of the death of his close and intimate friend.  The death had a deep and dramatic impact on my childhood friend, even resulting in depression, numerous gravesite visits, hospitalization, a break-down, counseling and medication.

4) The subject of death indirectly arose in the last couple weeks with a 30-something year-old young man (who admitted he has left Christianity for further enlightenment and spirituality).  He stayed with us for about two weeks at the house where we resided here in Jinja during the month of May.  I deeply desired to hear more of his thoughts and how he constructed his beliefs.

5) The reality of death came up in my quiet time yesterday and then again, today during our pastor’s sermon at church this morning.

Additionally, most of my friends and family know that I worked in Hospice care for 15 years, surrounded by stories and the reality of death.  That reality of death and watching how different people responded to it has intrigued me and caused me to reflect on what happens after death.

From my childhood, up until I was in my 30’s I was taught from the Bible that death is a “sleep.”  This meant, as I was told on numerous occasions with Biblical references and as I understood it, the person was not consciously aware of their surroundings when they are dead.  Then, later when Jesus returned, there would be a resurrection of the saints.  That belief was similar to what Jehovah Witnesses believe about death.  I recognize Biblical elements in that belief, but also am aware of some of the inadequacies of those beliefs.

One fact I remember about my grandmother was her continual longing to depart to “be with Christ” – something the apostle Paul referenced in the book of Philippians, chapter 1.  She vocalized to me a number of times the fact that she could not understand why my grandfather died first and why the Lord kept her here as long as He had.  She also communicated on numerous occasions that she was “ready to go.”  She had a confidence about her death and did not fear it – similar to the apostles.

This I admired, since by contrast, as I matured, I feared death.  I was not confident in the final decision Jesus would make about my life.  I was not assured of salvation.

It is not the purpose of this blog to analyze or attempt to argue about my beliefs.  My desire in this blog is to think reasonably and Biblically in forming an understanding of death (not just what people think about it) and present what I understand here in this blog.  I am more confident about some of my views about death now because my beliefs are rooted in certain Biblical truths, but I certainly do not claim to have “total truth” about death.

For any topic, especially one as serious as death, one must seek truth – not what one desires to believe, or wants to believe, or what other people believe, or the popular opinion of the time.  But rather what is real, not fiction or myth.

One of the positives of death is that it causes us to question life, destiny and purpose.  I would hope that questioning would cause us to discover truth in life.

Truth by definition is “that which is in accordance with reality or fact; not fiction; genuine; actual; proven; reliable; trusted.”

The first truth I am confident of is that Jesus is the life.  If there is anyone I am going to “bank on” or “invest in,” “follow,” or “bet on” (pick your metaphor) for life, it is Jesus.  Other religions and religious leaders fail miserably in making the promises that are recorded about Jesus.  He performed many miracles that resulted in improving life and at least two miracles where he resurrected dead people.  No other religious leader behaved like He did, loved like He did, nor made claims like He did, backing up those claims with “many infallible proofs.”  One of His closest followers even claimed Jesus said He was the Truth and the Life.  He not only alleviated suffering, but He set an example of how to persevere in life through suffering.  He is called a “man of sorrows” and “acquainted with grief.”  When I suffer, He understands, and to a limited extent I experience what He experienced.  He claimed to be God and He allowed people to worship Him.   He is controversial.  Many people have written of Jesus, perhaps more than any other religious leader.  At least 500 people personally witnessed Him after His resurrection.   Controversy and religious conflict and failure does not shake my confidence in Jesus.  When He says to Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life” I think these statements are such critically important statements that they deserve attention and research.  Speaking of Mary, Jesus respected and esteemed women and other cultures, which was very controversial to do in His day.  If people argue against Jesus, they usually do so by striking at the people who wrote about Him or the people who follow Him.  While there may currently be no archeological discoveries which point to a real life Jesus, I am reminded that one of the criticisms of the Biblical Pontius Pilate was the same – no archeological proof of Pilate’s existence, until a coin was discovered in 1961 with his name on it.  My desire is to follow the One who made a claim of conquering death.  That is Jesus.  Finally, one of the primary reasons I am convinced Jesus is real is because He has revealed Himself to me and my family personally.  You be the judge as to whether you think the changes have been for good.

The second truth I am confident of is that the Bible is God’s inspired word given through men.  The last (New Testament) writers of the Bible make fantastic claims about Jesus.  At least two or three of those writers were radical skeptics who remained committed to Jesus to the end of their lives.  The Bible is unique to other religious books – it has unity in diversity.  It respects people from all walks of life (thereby better reflecting the diversity in creation than any other religious book that I am aware of).  The Bible contains an amazing message.  It elevates God first, and then elevates man by stating in the beginning, man is created in the image of God.  Man fails.  God, not man, makes a way back for man.  Consider also that books of the Bible were written by people from all walks of life – shepherds, a farmer, priests, kings, a physician, fishermen, and others over a long period of time (about 1500 years), some well educated, others un-educated.  Although very hard on its skeptics, the Bible does invite and elevate those skeptics at times when they turn in favor of its God and its teachings.  It holds no single person as the ultimate, perfect person and sole source for truth other than the person of Jesus, who claimed to be God.  We see in its pages, numerous successes and failures of its followers – simply stated, we see life at its best and worst.  We see fantastic grace and mercy extended to humans in all sorts of situations and it addresses a vast array of topics.  We have warnings.  We have judgments.  We have truth.  We see fulfilled prophecies – hundreds of them.  It is written literally, historically, figuratively, poetically and dramatically.  The Bible is more resilient than any other literary work.  Over hundreds of years it has not lost its message, keeping words the same.  Men and women have died for what they believed about it.  Lives have been radically changed.  It has gone into the world like no other book in the world.  It has been translated into almost all the languages in the world.  Its message is living, breathing and sharper than any sword, convicting and changing many failures and even successes.  The Bible helps provide rational, reasonable and logical answers to critical questions of life – origin, purpose, destiny and morality.

Thus the reason for my blog.  The following is not an exhaustive explanation of death in the Bible.  It is very limited, but addresses key concepts important to my understanding of death.  Since Bible writers under the inspiration of God make claims that Jesus is the Life, has overcome death and is resurrected, I can trust the Bible to tell me what happens after death:

1)      My body perishes (1 Cor 15:53).  This is quite obvious and we do not need the Bible to tell us this fact.  However, in discussing the subject of death, we find that at least two Bible writers (Paul and Peter) claim that the body (both refer to the body metaphorically as a “tent”) is “put off” (see 1 Cor 5:1-9; 2 Peter 1:14-15) when we die.

2)      But we have a “house (contrasted with a temporary tent) not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” – something more solid, more permanent (1 Cor 5:1).  Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for us (John 14:3).

3)      The Bible reconciles both the future bodily resurrection (1 Cor 15) with the move of the believer (some call it a believer’s spirit, some call it a believer’s soul) into the presence of Jesus.  Jesus, after all, will return with ten thousands of His saints (Jude 1:14).  Soul is defined for purposes here as one’s “mind (thoughts), will and emotions.”

4)      After death, the saints will be with Jesus, Paul states in 1 Thes 5:10 that, “whether we wake (live physically) or sleep (die), we should live together with Him.”  That is, whether living physically or dead, we’re with Jesus.  Paul also equates being absent from the body to being present with the Lord in 2 Cor 5:8.  Paul also states in Phil 1:23 that he would rather “depart to be with Jesus.”  Jesus states, “that where I am, you may be also” (John 14:3).  Peter describes it this way, that shortly he will “put off his tent” implying like Paul that he too will move to a permanent, eternal house not made with hands (2 Pet 1:14).

5)      Those who are not believers and followers of Jesus will not be with Jesus.  Jesus and His followers were very clear about this.  After one of the most well known verses in the Bible (John 3:16) where John describes the love of God through Jesus and offers hope of not perishing by accepting Jesus, John then writes the following “He who believes in (Jesus) is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” (John 3:18-20).  The Bible and Jesus have much to say about this.

Whether you agree or not, I encourage you to seek Truth.  Truth provides the solid foundation for our beliefs.  Jesus illustrated His teachings this way, 24“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
26“But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”
(Matt 7:24 – 27)

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