Thoughts on Death

manna“He wakens me morning by morning.” Isa. 50:4.

Birdie died! Now, I realize that most of you do not know who Birdie is, so I will introduce him to you. Birdie is – I mean was – the little white parakeet that graced the living room of our home with pleasant songs, chirps and other birdie sounds that added to the cheerfulness of our environment.

He was a dear little soul, always happy to see us in the morning, or whenever we came into the room. He especially loved to sing while I did the dishes, or worked about in the kitchen. I suppose the variety of sounds stirred his little heart with musical notes from his own repertoire. Then I would talk to him and commend his special concert for my benefit, and we would have a happy time together.

birdieBut last week Birdie died. It happened so suddenly and unexpectedly. After our Wednesday evening prayer meeting, my daughter, Karen, and I were going through our getting-ready-for-bed routine, which for Karen included nurturing Birdie with a few “happy songs,” as she called them (always spiritual, of course). This put me to sleep as I was sitting in my favorite chair with my computer in my lap, so I didn’t hear Birdie ring the little bell on the side of his cage. Karen had already gone into her room, but came to her door to see what Birdie wanted. He never rang his little bell unless he had a special need and wanted to signal us.

Birdie rang his bell again. “What’s wrong, Birdie?” Karen asked, waking me up. “Mother, Birdie just fell over into the bottom of his cage. I wonder what is wrong with him.” By this time, I was concerned, too, so I joined Karen at the cage and peered in. Sure enough, Birdie was at the bottom of the cage breathing heavily. I decided not to try to pick him up, because he was never finger trained, and I knew it would cause him to be more stressed. As we talked to him he seemed more relaxed and tried to fluff his feathers and walk around.

In the next fifteen to twenty minutes, Karen and I took turns looking in on Birdie, hoping and praying that he would feel better soon. I have seen birds do that before. But Birdie didn’t.

Finally, I went to the cage and saw Birdie sitting on the back side facing the wall. He seemed very tired. I called to him, and he turned around and struggled to walk over to the side of the cage nearest to me, chirping softly. I put my finger through the bars just above his head to see if I could touch him.

Then he did a most unusual thing. Birdie had never let us touch him without moving away, and sometimes nipping us just a little if we came too close. But this time he seemed to need to be near me. He spread his wings until he could brace himself on the sides of the cage nearest the corner, then pushed upward with all his strength until his head touched my finger.

Sensing his need for comfort, I reached in with my other hand and began to pet his head and neck gently. He seemed to relax. And then, all of a sudden, I realized that Birdie wasn’t breathing any more. He had died in those last few moments of connection with me. I will never forget the sweet pathos of that experience, when my little bird reached out to touch me as his life ebbed away. Fortunately, I have the satisfaction of believing that he could feel my love as he fell asleep.

Have you ever wondered if our pets, or at least the ones we have loved and bonded with the most, would be recreated in the new earth? Many people have speculated about this, and because it is not revealed in Scripture, we cannot take a stand upon it here. However, death in all its ugliness is a powerful factor in our lives, one that we have to live with every day. And we deal with it in a variety of ways.

tombstoneBecause of its ever-present reality, I would like to take a second look at the subject of death, this time through the viewpoint of the perpetrator of death – the devil, himself.

The first time we see the subject mentioned in the Scriptures is found in Genesis 2:16, 17:

“And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’”

Now up to that time, no one in the universe had ever seen death. Without sin, there is no death, and sin had not yet arisen in the created beings, except for Lucifer and his fallen angels. And although they had been ousted from their places in heaven, they had not died as a result of their rebellion. So, when Lucifer, now called Satan, tempted Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit, he said something that perhaps he half-believed himself: “You will not surely die…. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” Gen. 2:16, 17.

Perhaps Satan even imagined that he, himself, had entered into such a sphere, knowing both good and evil, and although he would have much preferred to run his new kingdom of rebellion from the blissful environment of heaven, he was bound to the territory of earth and its inhabitants. Therefore, he began to indoctrinate them from the beginning with his outright lies and half-truths, and the imaginations of his own evil mind.

Take this first one, for example. In Satan’s daydream world, he cannot conceive of his own death, although God has specifically predicted it. We read about it in Isa. 14:11-20: “All your pomp has been brought down to the grave;..maggots are spread out beneath you and worms cover you…. You are covered with the slain, with those pierced by the sword, those who descend to the stones of the pit. Like a corpse trampled underfoot, you will not join them in burial.”

His eventual complete annihilation is described in Ezekiel 28:18, 19: “By your many sins and dishonest trade you desecrated your sanctuaries. So I made a fire come out from you and it consumed you, and I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. All the nations who knew you are appalled at you; you have come to a horrible end and will be no more.”

flameBut a mind that is alive and active cannot comprehend death, or the complete cessation of thinking and existing. So mankind is susceptible to the devil’s daydreams of consciousness after death, even though that is not what the Bible teaches. Instead of extinction in the fires of hell at the end of time, Satan imagines himself to be presiding forever over poor lost souls who are being tortured eternally by an angry God for the sins they committed in the few years of their earthly existence. Actually, this is a daydream of the evil one to keep himself alive. The Bible teaches the complete extinction of Satan and his followers, for God’s presence is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29) which destroys the wicked at His coming. See 2 Pet. 3:7-14. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Eze. 18:4. Jesus said that both soul and body will be destroyed in hell (Matt. 10:28). Only the righteous can live in the presence of God!

“’Now I will arise,’ says the LORD. ‘Now will I be exalted; now will I be lifted up…. The people will be burned as if to lime; like cut thornbushes they will be set ablaze….’ The sinners in Zion are terrified; trembling grips the godless: ‘Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?’ He who walks righteously and speaks what is right,..who stops his ears against plots of murder and shuts his eyes against contemplating evil––this is the man who will dwell on the heights, whose refuge will be the mountain heights, whose refuge will be the mountain fortress. His bread will be supplied, and water will not fail him Your eyes will see the king in His beauty and view a land that stretches afar.” Isa. 33:10-17.

soldiercannonPerhaps you remember seeing the short educational film years ago about a Union soldier who was to be executed by hanging, and the place of execution was a bridge which spanned a sizable river. Soon after the opening scenes, the final shot rang out, and you watched the body drop into the river. But the soldier did not die. He found himself in the current, being carried along downstream. He swam under the water as long as possible, until the sounds of the crowd died away. Then, with renewed hope and vigor, he swam on and on, finally recognizing the signs that he was nearing familiar territory.

At last, he climbed out on the bank of his own homeland. With the scene of his southern mansion in the background, and his wife and children running to meet him with arms outstretched, you were suddenly jerked back into reality, as the countdown began: “five, four, three, two – ONE! And as the shot rang out, the body dropped limply in the hangman’s noose, and the film was over.

I will never forget the impact that film made upon me, for it emphasized the fact that we have a tendency to fashion our lives after our own ideas of what we want life to be. In the Union soldier’s last moments, he imagined his escape from certain death. Likewise, Satan has changed the truths of God into the paradigms of his own desires and imaginations, and has perpetrated these deceptions upon the human race. Unfortunately, the majority of people have been accepting his ideas since the beginning of time, for they seem more palatable than the plain, simple truths of God.

For example, in pagan societies, the people worshipped the things of nature, because there seemed to be everlasting life and predictability in the sun, moon and stars, and the yearly seasonal cycles. It was a way Satan could perpetuate his original lie, “You shall not surely die.” No wonder God calls out to His people to look to Him for life!

“’Should you not fear (respect) me?’ declares the LORD. ‘Should you not tremble in my presence? I made the sand a boundary for the sea, an everlasting barrier it cannot cross. The waves may roll, but they cannot cross it. But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts; they have turned away. They do not say to themselves, ‘Let us fear the LORD our God, who gives autumn and spring rains in season, who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest.’ Your wrongdoings have kept these away; your sins have deprived you of good.” Jer. 5:22-25.

pizzaTexts like these sound sad to me, for it expresses the longing of God to protect us, to nourish us, to bring us good. And He is still like that, if we will just listen to Him and follow His leading in our lives instead of our own ways of thinking. Have you ever known anyone who has needed to lose weight in order to preserve their health, and they focused entirely on changing from regular sodas to diet pop, but ignored the deleterious effects of pizza, big whoppers, and French fries?

That is just a small example of how easy it is for the human mind to desire to “have our cake and eat it, too,” as the saying goes. It is a dream world from which we must eventually awaken, and take stock of our real condition, and our options for meaningful change, if we wish to regain our health.

It is like that in the spiritual world, as well. We can go for years, knowing that something in our lives is hurting ourselves, our families, or others around us. But we put off confronting the issues because it is hard, unpleasant, uncomfortable to attempt to change old habits of thinking and behavior. It is easier to blame our circumstances, our background, or the people around us for our difficulties than it is to admit that our inner life needs a facelift.

But if it does, the sooner we honestly take stock of our need for help, the sooner we can find new life and healing in Jesus, for He is always there, ready to help us in every situation. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,” He says, “and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matt. 11:28-30.

birdieYes, Birdie died. His little soul is asleep. He knows nothing about the falling rain and the wind that is blowing around his little earthly bed in our back yard near the woods. He no longer hears the chirping of his feathered friends in the trees above him. He was made of dust, and to dust he will return. I do not know whether the spark of life that Jesus gave him for a few short years will ever be returned to him in the earth made new. But I do know that because I have accepted Jesus as my Savior and am choosing to stay connected to Him each day, I have eternal life even now, for He is the source of life and He is my Friend.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16.

I trust that each of you who reads this little paper will rejoice in this wonderful privilege, as well, for Jesus loves each one with a love beyond our comprehension. The love we have for our little pets, our families, and our friends is but a drop in the ocean of God’s love for us. He longs to have us turn away from the illusions of the world with its diversions, its busyness, its demands, and sometimes its emptiness, to find our peace and rest in Him. And someday soon, we will actually, really truly, literally see Him coming in the clouds of heaven to take us home. Won’t that be a great day?

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.’” John 11:25, 26.

“The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Ecc. 12:7.

“Those who are considered worthy of taking part…in the resurrection from the dead…can no longer die…. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection…. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive.” Lu. 20:35-38.

Abraham believed in “the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” Rom. 4:17.

“Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1 Cor. 13:12.

“Our personal identity is preserved in the resurrection, though not the same particles of matter or material substance as went into the grave. The wondrous works of God are a mystery to man. The spirit, the character of man, is returned to God, there to be preserved. In the resurrection, every man will have his own character…. The same form will come forth, but it will be free from disease and every defect. It lives again bearing the same individuality of features, so that friend will recognize friend…. God shall give the righteous dead a body that will please Him.” 6 BC 1093.

“There the redeemed shall know, even as they are known. The loves and sympathies which God Himself has planted in the soul shall there find their truest and sweetest exercise. The pure communion with holy beings, the harmonious social life with the blessed angels and the faithful ones of all ages who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, the sacred ties that bind together the whole family in heaven and earth (Eph. 3:15)––these help to constitute the happiness of the redeemed.” GC 677.

“For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when He comes, those who belong to Him…. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” 1 Cor. 15:22-26.

“We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed––in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet…. Then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory…. Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’” 1 Cor. 15:51-57.

To all our friends who receive this paper, we hope you find it to be of value in helping you to connect with others who are hoping for the soon coming of our Lord, and who are looking forward with anticipation to that event.