Tuesday, January 29, 2008

No Friend of Mine

Death sucks, big time! I'm really getting tired of saying goodbye to people I love and admire. That old TV program, "Touched By an Angel," always portrayed the angel of death as a handsome nice guy smartly dressed in a white suit. He was just an angel, like all the other angels, but had apparently drawn the short straw and gotten the dirty job. He would show up at just the right time and gently lead people away to Heaven. Their passing was almost always calm, quiet, and peaceful.

How I wish it were always so. Death is no friend of mine. Death is not pretty. It's usually not peaceful either. Death is an enemy that will one day be conquered and sent to the pit, right along with the Antichrist, the False Prophet, the Devil, and all the demons, not to mention those people who have rejected God's gracious offer of salvation through His Son, Yeshua, the Christ. At the end of the Book of Revelation, in 20:14 we read, "And death and Hades were thrown into the Lake of Fire [i.e. Hell]." A few verses later in 21:4 it says, "And He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." The Scriptures tell us that the last enemy to be conquered by Christ will be death itself. I look forward to that day.

This week we have been hit with two more deaths. On Sunday morning, just as Sunday School was starting I got a phone call from one of the Portland Police Bureau sergeants where I serve as a chaplain informing me that one of our finest officers, a 17-year veteran of the bureau, had been killed on his way to work. His pickup started acting up on the I-5 freeway and he pulled over onto the shoulder to pop the hood and see what was happening. A moment later he was struck by a semi and killed instantly. He left a wife and several kids, all of them devastated. The whole police department is in shock over this. He was one of the most beloved and admired officers we have. Even the bad guys liked him. Like I said, I hate death!

Then yesterday morning, just as I was getting ready to leave the house to come to work, I got a phone call from a dear wife saying that her husband had died a little while earlier. Flor and Tateyana are from Uzbekistan. Flor accepted Christ 14 years ago while still working as a translator for the Soviet KGB. The story of their leaving Uzbekistan and coming to America is filled with miracles for which they give God all the credit. However, Flor was diagnosed not long ago with an inoperable liver tumor. Physically he has been getting steadily weaker, but his positive attitude and his childlike faith in the Lord have been amazing. He died at 3:05 AM yesterday. Oh, did I happen to mention that I hate death?

Death makes me angry. It was not part of God's plan. It should not even exist but it does. It was not created or invented like other things. It sprang forth spontaneously as the natural consequence of sin and disobedience and rebellion. It is the antithesis of life, just as darkness is the absence of light. Darkness cannot overpower light. When light is dimmed or extinguished the darkness always rushes in to fill the void, but while the light is strong, the darkness must hide. As long as the lights are on in the room, darkness is forced to wait outside. As long as the sun is visible in the sky, night has to slink and skulk around the fringes of the earth until the sun goes to sleep. Only then does the night find the courage to appear.

I think death works the same way. Death is not stronger than life. In and of itself death is weak. Life trumps death every time. But when the light of life goes out, death rushes in like a flood. In the twinkling of an eye the soul separates itself from the body and those who belong to the Lord go immediately to be with Him. "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, " the Word says. Only then does death take over the shell that's been left.

But that bit of philosophy mixed with theology is little comfort when we have to hold the hand of someone we love as they slip from our grasp into eternity like I did with my Mom and Dad not long ago. I know where they are and I know that I will see them again. But I still hate the death that took them. Christ ripped the stinger out of the beast so that it can't really hurt us anymore, but I still hate the look, the smell, the feel of death, and believe me, I've seen it plenty of times. There is nothing pretty about death. It is ugly and mean and I resent it, in all it's forms, all it's disguises. On that day when death is finally swallowed up in victory and cast into Hell, my voice will be one of many millions raised to praise the One who holds the power and is worthy to receive all honor, glory, and adoration.

Crazy to see the day when death goes down in flames,

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