“This is the end–for me the beginning of life.”
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s last words before he was hanged in the Nazi concentration camp of Flossenbürg on April 9, 1945, just two weeks before the U.S. military came to liberate it.)
The Bible is full of dragons, serpents, and monsters. They represent the principalities, powers, and spiritual wickedness Paul talks about in Ephesians 6:
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power; 11 put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, 12 for our struggle is not against blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
There are malevolent forces at work in the universe that oppose God. They pull creation back towards death, chaos, hatred, and evil. Those forces were originally created by God and were good, but chose to rebel against the Source of perfect love. Because of them, there is sickness, disease, hatred, war, racism, and death. None of that was part of the original plan.
These evil forces are our enemies. They are our only enemies. No human being is the enemy. The evil forces are spiritual, so we can only fight them spiritually. Jesus very emphatically forbids us to kill or use violence under any circumstances. We fight evil the same way Jesus did – by praying and loving others. We overcome evil by the word of our testimony – i.e., our faithfulness to following the way of Jesus – and by the blood of the Lamb – i.e., expressions of other-oriented, unconditional, cruciform love. (Revelation 12:11)
God in Jesus defeated hatred with love, division with acceptance, and death by dying.
Although it often seems to me some other arrangement would have been preferable, the fact is that the only way to eternal life is through death. Jesus is recorded by John saying:
12:24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Jesus emphatically did NOT mean that we are to hate life and long for death. The “love” and “hate” of verse 25 is an idiom meaning in comparison to. Jesus also uses it when he says to hate our family members in Luke 14. Avoiding death at the cost of our core beliefs, our integrity, or what is best for others, is a mistake. The portal of death leads to eternal life.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. (Psalm 23:4)
A shadow has no substance. A shadow cannot in any way hurt you. A shadow cannot exist without light behind the object casting the shadow. Death is but a shadow. God is light, life, and love.
When I was a hospice chaplain, I was with many people as they died. Some would begin talking to people the rest of us couldn’t see – people who had died previously. It was as if they were in the room with us, but could see another room into which they would soon walk.
To be absent from our bodies is to be present with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8)
Our physical bodies are good. They are not garbage to be thrown away. At his appearing, Jesus will resurrect our physical bodies and our disembodied souls will reunite with them. Our new resurrection bodies will never grow tired, sick, or decrepit. The universe will be ours to explore. We’ll be reunited with loved ones. We’ll be in the loving presence of God forever.
Jesus made all this possible by allowing evil to kill him. He absorbed all evil into himself. He crushed the serpent’s head, and in the process was mortally wounded. Having lived in perfect harmony with God, he was the only human who did not deserve to die, yet he gave his life out of love for us. In doing so, he destroyed death, rose from the dead, and sowed eternal life.
There is nothing to fear in death. It has been tamed.
But death is still the enemy of life. It was never part of God’s good original plan. Followers of Jesus are anti-death. We eschew capital punishment. We work for justice and to relieve poverty and inequality because poverty and injustice kill people. We oppose war. Our hearts bleed for the innocent, be they Ukrainian, Russian, Palestinian, or Jewish. We embrace advancements in medical science, build hospitals, send out medical missionaries, promote community health, and support environmental justice.
We turn the other cheek. We actively love our enemies. We would rather be killed than kill. We respond to violence with forgiveness and peace. We take no revenge; we leave all judgement to God. Our one job is to love – love God, love others (all others), love ourselves, and love creation.