“The Problem of Death”

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

(John 11:25)

There is a story about the Buddha encountering a woman whose infant son had tragically died. She continued to carry her baby’s lifeless body around with her because she could not bear to let him go. She went to the Buddha seeking consolation concerning the problem of her grief. The Buddha said, “Go to every household in the village and ask each family whether or not they have lost someone to death. When you have done this, return to me.” The woman did this and returned to the Buddha. The Buddha asked, “Did you encounter anyone who has not suffered the pain of death?” The woman answered, “No” and finally gave her baby’s corpse up for burial.

Compare that to the story of Jesus encountering the death of Lazarus in John chapter 11. In John 11, Jesus hears of his friend’s sickness in Bethany but deliberately waits two days to travel there saying, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (v.4) Jesus knew his friend had died but described his death only as a temporary “sleep” from which He could awaken him (v.11). His purpose in resurrecting Lazarus was to cause faith in His disciples (v.15).

Jesus arrived at Bethany to find a common funeral scene, grieving family members and a sealed tomb. Jesus wept (v.35). He wept knowing Lazarus was already dead and knowing He would bring him back to life in moments. He wept because knowing the end of the story doesn't mean you can't cry at the sad parts. And death is the worst part of the story. Jesus had had enough. Death, the enemy of God’s creation, had claimed yet another victim. He commanded the stone be taken away and commanded Lazarus to “come out” of the tomb and the prison of death (v.43) and he did!

Compare the story of the Buddha with the story of Jesus in John 11. The difference is titanic! One says to accept suffering and death as facts of life and to make our peace with them. Jesus, disgusted with death, says that He is the resurrection and the life and that we can overcome death through Him.

Death is an unnatural, evil thing. God created us in His image to live, not to die. Death was the result of the twisting of God’s good creation caused by sin (Gen. 3-5). Death is not a release, it is a prison, an enemy, a tyrant. The Psalmist says, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints" (Psa. 116:15)  because in death, the separation between God and His redeemed has finally ended.

But that's not the end of the story. Sin is what gives death its stinging power. Jesus, the great conqueror of death, took away that power (1 Cor. 15:54-57). Because of Jesus' sacrificial death and resurrection, death is no longer what it used to be. He lifted the curse from Genesis 3 by taking it upon Himself so we could live (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 3:18). But now, being raised from the dead, Jesus says to suffering Christians, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Rev. 1:17-18) His resurrection power lives within all those who follow Him by faith (Eph. 1:19-20).

Jesus helps us fit our pain of loss into a story that makes sense and has a happy ending. Eventually, God will make all things right in the last act of the play when He sends His Son back to remove all evil and eradicate death once and for all! (1 Cor. 15:26; Rev. 20:14)