Whether death is a good thing or a bad thing depends on the answer to one more question, namely: For whom?
In the case of my wife, death meant several very positive things. First and foremost was her entry into the presence of her Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Then too it meant the cessation of years of physical suffering from encephalitis (1962 ff), epilepsy (1971 ff), and more recently extremely painful osteo-arthritis, which in her final months had increased to the point where she needed several doses daily of prescribed pain-killing tablets. It also meant that she was set free from other problems associated with being a shut-in for five years and now an 80-year-old needing nursing care.
Merle’s favourite Bible portion was Psalm 103:2–3 (NIV): “Praise the Lord O my soul and forget not all His benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.” Over the years, she had often prayed for healing. God had always answered, but in His purposes—not totally. Merle now knew that God was waiting to fulfil this promise to her when she entered Heaven. She had reached the stage, both in her life and in her thinking, where she was ready to go. So for Merle, death brought considerable benefit and could be called a good thing.
Can death also be a bad thing? Assuredly, “Yes”. On the day Merle died, she and I had had our midday dinner together, then we had watched some tennis on the TV in the afternoon, and had just finished our evening meal when Merle asked for the wheelchair to go back to the bedroom. This was the last thing she said. A few minutes later, apparently without any pain, she had passed away.
At this point perhaps I should add that, many years ago, I wrote a book entitled Death in the Family: What to Do.1 I have also written tracts and articles for Christian publications referring to the biblical worldview of death as an “enemy” overcome by Christ, and the commensurate comfort to believers there from.
However, I can now say that, for someone who had not intimately witnessed death before, nothing prepared me for the realization that the person who a few moments previously had been a living, loving, sharing, interacting wife, mother and grandmother, was now a lifeless corpse. From this point of view, death is a terrible, terrible thing. No wonder Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:35), even though Jesus knew He was about to bring Lazarus back to life.
This tells me three things about the holiness and love of God.
When I wrote to family and friends to tell them of Merle’s death, I said, “Merle has preceded us all to heaven.” We who know Christ as Saviour and Lord shall all meet again when we see Jesus face to face. Children and grandchildren who know Christ will meet Merle again, even as I will meet my father and mother again.
But how awful must be the prospect for those who die without Christ …