Why do we Have to Die? – Part 2

All Saints Day is coming up on November 1.  This is a day where we remember those who have died in the faith.  It is a day we remember that in life and death, we belong to Christ.  This is the second of a two-part series.  You can find part 1 here.
Jewish tombs on the Mount of Olives.
Jewish tombs on the Mount of Olives.

I believe God created us because God wanted to share creation with us and because we bring God joy.  One of the greatest pains of human experience is the death of a loved one. So if God loves us so much, why do we have to die?

In John 12:24, Jesus tells his disciples:

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. (NRSV)

Here, Jesus is explaining why he has to die. I think this was pretty hard for the disciples to hear. After all, wouldn’t it be better if Jesus would just stay living? The only thing they knew was Jesus being with them – how could it possibly be better for him to die and leave them?

Jesus told the disciples he would not orphan them[1], and that the Holy Spirit would come after he left the earth[2]. On this side of Easter, we know that because Jesus died and was resurrected, we have certain hope that the same will be true for us. If Jesus had just lived out his life or ascended to heaven without dying first, how would we know these things to be true? It was hard for the disciples to believe, but Jesus’ death would result in something even better than they could imagine.

Paul wrote something similar to the Corinthians[3]:

35-38 Some skeptic is sure to ask, “Show me how resurrection works. Give me a diagram; draw me a picture. What does this ‘resurrection body’ look like?” If you look at this question closely, you realize how absurd it is. There are no diagrams for this kind of thing. We do have a parallel experience in gardening. You plant a “dead” seed; soon there is a flourishing plant. There is no visual likeness between seed and plant. You could never guess what a tomato would look like by looking at a tomato seed. What we plant in the soil and what grows out of it don’t look anything alike. The dead body that we bury in the ground and the resurrection body that comes from it will be dramatically different.

39-41 You will notice that the variety of bodies is stunning. Just as there are different kinds of seeds, there are different kinds of bodies—humans, animals, birds, fish—each unprecedented in its form. You get a hint at the diversity of resurrection glory by looking at the diversity of bodies not only on earth but in the skies—sun, moon, stars—all these varieties of beauty and brightness. And we’re only looking at pre-resurrection “seeds”—who can imagine what the resurrection “plants” will be like!

42-44 This image of planting a dead seed and raising a live plant is a mere sketch at best, but perhaps it will help in approaching the mystery of the resurrection body—but only if you keep in mind that when we’re raised, we’re raised for good, alive forever! The corpse that’s planted is no beauty, but when it’s raised, it’s glorious. Put in the ground weak, it comes up powerful. The seed sown is natural; the seed grown is supernatural—same seed, same body, but what a difference from when it goes down in physical mortality to when it is raised up in spiritual immortality!

The Corinthians were worried about what would happen with their body after they die. Paul says they don’t need to worry about that; there is something more important they should be thinking about. We can’t even comprehend what our post-resurrection bodies will look like just like we couldn’t know what a tomato plant will look like when we plant a seed.

You may be thinking, “Well that’s great, Paul, but why do I need or even want to have a resurrection body?”

In the life we live right now, there are good and bad things. That’s not how God created the world to be. All people sin. That’s where Paul says that we are planted in weakness and without beauty. But God is perfect and created a perfect world. When God created humanity in God’s image, we were without sin. As long as we are living in this world and in these bodies, we can’t ever be glorious. But when we are in heaven, we will live in God’s glory and power.

God wants us back. God never intended for us to stay here. That is why Jesus took on human flesh[4] and dwelled among us, and why Jesus said he was preparing a place for us[5]. At some point, we are done living in this world and its time to be back with God. This is the hope in which we have been saved[6].

But death represents the unknown – and as humans, we do not like what we don’t know. Do you remember what it was like before you were born? Life probably seemed good. We were warm, we didn’t have any problems or responsibilities. Someone took care of everything we needed. But eventually we needed to be born – and if we could have thought about it at the time, it probably would have scared us. We would have had many questions:

  • Would it hurt to be born?
  • Would someone still take care of me and love me?
  • What will it be like?
  • How can it be better than where I am right now?

But life turned out to be great! Think of all of the things you are able to do, the friends and family that you have, and being able to see and experience God’s world. In the same way, someday we’ll need to leave this life and go on to be with God. We don’t know when or how or what it will be like. But we do know that we will be with God.

Have you ever been far away from someone you love – maybe you’ve moved away or you’ve sent a child off to college?  Did you call them on the phone? Was that the same as being with them and talking face to face?  How did you feel when they (or you) came home?

God gave us life because God is love and wants to share this love and the joy of Creation. But eventually, God wants us back. While we can know God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit while we are living, it’s not the same as being with God and talking face to face.

We don’t know when we’ll die. But just like there was the right time for us to be born, there is a right time for us to die. I didn’t choose when I would be born, and I also won’t choose when I die. That is for God to decide.

Would we be happier in heaven? We would. But that’s not our choice. God didn’t just create Adam and Eve and let the world spin on its own. God knew about each one of us before the first day of creation[7]. God has a plan for each one of us[8].  God has given each of us people to love and things to do while we live our life. Part of our love for God is living the life God gave us. But God’s promise is that when this life is done, we get to be with God forever.

Does that mean there shouldn’t be any anger or grief with death? No. Jesus wept when Lazarus died.[9] The loss and pain in death of a loved one is very real. Even while we are comforted by Jesus’ resurrection and his promises that he will not leave us orphaned in this life and has prepared a place for us – our separation today from those we love is painful and the grief can feel overwhelming.

Sunday is All Saints Day. It is a day we remember loved ones who have died. It is a day that we hold sacred the delicate relationship between grief and joy. It is a day when we offer the gift of presence to one another as we remember.

In life and in death we belong to God. Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, we trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel, whom alone we worship and serve. With believers in every time and place, we rejoice that nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.   Amen. – excerpts from A Brief Statement of Faith

[1] John 14:18

[2] John 14:28

[3] 1 Corinthians 15:35-44, The Message

[4] John 1:14

[5] John 13:2-3

[6] Romans 8:24

[7] Psalm 139:16

[8] Ephesians 2:10

[9] John 11:35

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