Our Truest Opponent

Peace of mind and heart arrives when we accept what is:

having been born into this strange life we must accept, 

the wasted gamble of our days 

and take some satisfaction in

the pleasure of leaving it all behind

So wrote poet Charles Bukowski. Another artist penned, “life seems so long and death so complete, and the grave an impossible potion to cheat.”

Both poets contemplate the reality that stands before every human: death. Life is given to each of us as a gift, which creates a certain blindness to its impermanence. We don’t like to realize and admit that life can be taken at any moment. From time to time, tragedies will hit us like slaps in the face, awakening our eyes to the truth of our humanness — our time on earth does not last forever. But soon, the pain fades, and life’s routines divert our hearts away from our looming tombstones. 

So, with the truth of our end in mind, what can we do to fight against hopelessness? Is life truly made up of “the wasted gamble of our days?” Since death is uncertain and uncheatable, we need hope. See, the biggest thing we’re scared about losing is something that’s mostly out of our hands. The Bible offers us a renewed vision of life, death, and what comes after: eternity. 

1. How did death enter God’s good world? 

Life, beauty, and goodness sing off the first pages of the Bible. The perfect Garden described in Genesis 1-2 does not include space for death. Yet, Genesis in part functions to give an explanation for why the current human experience has become so different — suffering, pain, and death. The answer lies in a choice. 

God’s co-rulers decide not to experience goodness and flourishing, and instead want to define good and bad on their own terms. They look at the “Tree of Experiencing Good and Bad,” and they disobey. They eat the fruit. They suffer the consequences — trailblazing a path to their graves. The Apostle Paul explains it this way, “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin” (Romans 5:12).

So death is a consequence of sin. Because of Adam and Eve’s rebellion, they experience bad. They trade experiencing life and communion through following Yahweh’s commands for banishment and death by sinning. This is certainly not God’s design for his vice-regents. From that point on, death served as a heart-wrenching reminder that the curse is still active, that God still hasn’t completely fixed this world.

2. Life’s short, unpredictable, and scary, and that’s okay 

With honesty, the Bible describes that the human experience can be awful. What happens here can puzzle us to the bone — a world where “the race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11). The book of Ecclesiastes wrestles with the shortness of life and the certainty of death. Should these realities cause us to quit in despair? What kind of response does Ecclesiastes suggest in light of the unknowns about our temporality? The answer might be surprising. 

Ecclesiastes 5:18 – Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.

Ecclesiastes 8:15 – And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 9:9Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.

Do you notice the language that’s used? It’s “joy.” Somehow, it’s possible to face the harsh realities of life, looking them square in the face, and live a life enjoying what’s given. Joy comes from knowing that everything is provided by God, and should be recognized as such. Once we view our lives through the lens of God’s care and provision, and trust that he’s good, we can truly enjoy life. Simple joys are to be experienced and cherished even if they might be short-lived.   

Even though our daily experience can be tough, and death is coming, life should still be enjoyed. Ecclesiastes begs us to let go, and realize that life is a gift to be enjoyed. Since life isn’t earned, it can’t be lost. Moreover, if God has the power and wisdom to give life (Genesis 2:7, Job 33:4), he has the power and wisdom to take it away. These facts drip from our minds into our hearts producing a open-handed, life-loving, reality-facing trust in God. 

3. Death isn’t really the end 

The story of the Bible depicts humanity as fallen from communion with God. However, God does not leave humanity in despair. Streaking through the Bible is a theme of hope: Yahweh will not abandon his people to their enemies. This theme pinnacles when Jesus takes on death so that he could be the giver of life.

From the Garden, we learn that our real enemy is not simply mortal death, but death from communion. Made for fellowship with God, we suffer a much more terrifying death apart from God — eternal separation. But because of Jesus, all who unite to his story, and believe in him will never experience that final death (John 11:26). Ultimately, death’s muscles are deflated when the world of paradise (lost from Genesis 1-2) is reenvisioned in the New Heavens and Earth. Faith in the God of restoration guarantees us eternal, unending, unlosable life. Our truest opponent is defeated. 

The Maker of all, in a young virgin’s womb, 

the Word, now a baby, cries. 

In humility robed, in the form a slave, 

the Lord of life come to die.

The Judge of mankind, now placed on a trial, 

the guilt of His people now His.  

The righteous one bears these thorns for a crown, 

that sinners found in Him might live. 

Mighty Savior! Death could not hold Him, no grave could keep. 

Hallelujah! He reigns forever, the risen King!

(“No Grave Could Keep” © 2014 Matt Damico)

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