O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? – 1 Corinthians 15:55
Having, at times, gone years without a funeral, to have two deaths within as many months – and very unexpected deaths at that – has been more than a little disconcerting. Not that any of us have lost sight of the bigger picture (and what death for the believer ultimately implies), but still…what a surprise.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 15 the apostle Paul addresses the topic of death and the resurrection in greater detail than we find anywhere else in the scriptures. There Paul argues not only in defense of the reality of Christ's resurrection but also in regards to the implications of Christ's resurrection for everyone else. Death is the great enemy of life but the end of human death is in sight. "For as in Adam all (people) die, so also in Christ shall all (people) be made alive" (verse 22).
And so, as Paul brings his brief treatise on death and the resurrection to an end he quotes from Hosea regarding death's sting.
Having been involved in many scores of deaths and funerals, I can say that the difference between the death of a strong believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and the death of an unbeliever (or even a nominal Christian) is very evident. The strong believer's death is viewed by the living within the context of that believer's life. And whereas every aspect of the believer's life was characterized by words like trust, hope and confidence, so their death is viewed the same way. Death's "sting" is not the same when a believer dies as when an unbeliever dies. No question about it…no question at all.
But as much as the sting of death has been removed, as I have said for years, "the stench of death remains." Death still stinks: both physically and philosophically. As I have stood over the bodies of the deceased, I have been struck with the fact of what little remains. Sure, there is a body. And someday, in a way that cannot be comprehended, that body will be resurrected (if anyone can tell me how the sea can "give up" the dead (Revelation 20:13), I'm listening!). But until that time, it is simply a lifeless shell. And the shell no longer moves, no longer sees, no longer listens, no longer smiles, or talks, or gives a high five. The Bible compares the dead to one who is asleep (1 Corinthians 11:30), but the two are not the same. And it really stinks to never be able to interact with these people again…at least not in this life. My Dad (age 90) has been saying for years, "Growing old really stinks," but that is nothing compared to what comes next.
So it has seemed to me that we Christians are in a state of constant conflict over death. We're honest about it (it stinks), yet hopeful about the future (which is bright). We don't look forward to death and dying, yet deep down believe that death and dying are necessary steps to reaching an even better future than what we have had to this point in time. It is an interesting conflict, but we're honest about it. And thoughts on "the sting and stench of death" somewhat summarize that conflict.
Until then let us not lose our hope in Christ.