It is natural and human to be filled with deep sorrow when our loved ones die. The physical separation is usually agonizing. Often, it seems unthinkable as we see one’s father, mother, sibling, or friend lying in the wooden casket, and being lowered into mother earth, knowing that in reality we cannot see them anymore in this mortal body. The emotion is often high and is expressed with mourning, weeping and heartbreak when we face the reality of never again being able to embrace our loved one as we used to do. Death is an enemy we love to avoid but it is a monster we cannot wish away. The thought of it freaks out the strong minded. No matter how careful we live our lives, either we eat healthy, exercise, and maintain all forms of discipline to live a hundred years on earth, the imminence of death remains real. Life is a paradox, our body which used to be very strong traversing from one end of the world to the other would soon cave in to weakness. Most of the organs of the body would begin to experience the usual and expected changes which come with aging. The legs would ache and no longer be able to carry the body, the eyes would become deem and the ears dull to hear clearly.
The admonitions of King Solomon are key in directing human thought process not to place too much reliance on our failing mortal body. The King said, “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, “I have no pleasure in them” (Eccl 12: 1). The days are coming, according to King Solomon and we see them as we advanced in age; when the organs of the body can no longer cope with the stress of this world. He said, “In the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men bow down; when the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look through the windows grow dim; when the doors are shut in the streets, and the sound of grinding is low; when one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of music are brought low. Also they are afraid of height and of terrors in the way; when the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper is a burden, and desire fails. Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the well. Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it. (Eccl 12: 3-7). When the rest who are living and see the deceased one being lowered into dust, King Solomon’s saying, “Vanity of vanities, All is vanity”, will become a reality again.
I was very close to my mother, being the first of her seven children. We all adored her because she lavished love on us. She was married for about fourteen years without any sign of pregnancy. When the Lord Jesus Christ opened the door, the blessings of children were so overwhelming that at the number seven, she knew it was time to brace up to take good care of these bundles of blessings that the Lord had given her. I was particularly loved and cherished by her because she referred to me as “Adesina”, the one who came and opened the door for blessings. For the past twelve years that I was in the United States, and except when I travelled to Nigeria to visit with her, we spoke at least twice a week, thanks to telephone technology. Her common greetings to me and to any of her children were usually prayers. If anything, I miss these weekly prayers because they encouraged me in my daily journeys. But the cold hands of death finally cut off this beautiful relationship of sixty-one years. One of the days in the recent times, I recall in my discussions with my mother, she was desirous of vacating her mortal body. She said, we should let her go and I was shocked and wondered where and why Mom wanted to go. The fact was that the old woman was tired of body pains that come with old age. And much as I hated to hear that from her, it was a reality that would certainly be one day; and that was December 31, 2017, just before the dawn of the new year. When everyone was saying happy New Year 2018, my beloved mother was being welcomed to another world of no pain.
What does death mean? Death is a word that no one wants to hear except those that have been pushed to the brinks of life either by unpleasant situations which they could no longer handle, or those who somehow have descended to the lowest ebb of life faculty. The very word “death” strikes fear in the hearts of people. Humanity knows that death will come but they dread the day it would be. The interesting thing about death is that it is a leveler who cares less about the status, the achievement and the wealth of anyone. In death, the proud is humbled because all the essence of your pride is gone wth the wind and the rich is as helpless as the poor when death shows up. The modern sophistications, technological achievement, and immense progress in the field of science have not been able to conquer death. Paradoxically, death expects humanity to fear no other but him. Sickness, accident, and other life calamities bring pains but cannot kill until death comes. That is why many sick people spend years in suffering on sick bed but do not die. But another who had no sign of sickness may run into death. The signal here is that you don’t have to be sick or involved in accident before you die. The significant lesson of death is that when it comes, you cannot tell the story of how it feels, only those who are alive and left by the dead would pass through the devastating experience of unexplainable loss.
There are several questions we do not have answer to about life after death. This makes it the more painful when the loved one is taken away. I lived with my Mom for over sixty-one years on earth. Will she continue to be my mother when I also transition to the beyond where she is? With her love showered all around me while she was here, I wish I would have the same thing in heaven. The same questions for husbands and wives who enjoy their relationship while on earth, will such relationship continue? Going by the scripture, some of these relationships end on earth. In answer to a question about marriage after death, Jesus said: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Mat. 22:30). Angelic beings do not have troubles or pain, including relationship issues. It is also clear that human relationship on earth will not continue in heaven because everyone will be judged individually in heaven by whatever they did in their body while on earth here. What X did on earth cannot impact the life of Y in heaven. As Paul said “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” 1 Corinth. 5:10. Ezekiel said, “The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself” (Ezek. 18:20)
An encouraging side of the possible scene in heaven is that we will recognize one another going by the parable told by our Lord Jesus Christ in Luke 16:19-31, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” Though Lazarus recognized the rich man, he could not help him. The time to do good to those who deserve and those who do not deserve it was over at death. The manner of living and the interactions between the beings in heaven remain a mystery to us. This is why some people are concerned about understanding the mystery of life after life.
What is the lesson about the imminence of death? Death teaches us the importance of taking our relationships on earth seriously and honestly living together in love and helping one another to enjoy the brief moments we have on earth. Children should obey and honor their parents. Parents should do whatever possible to give a good legacy to their children and put them in position to live fruitful and purposeful lives. I kept telling my Mom while she was alive that she should ask for anything she wanted, and it would be done for her enjoyment while she lived. I wished I gave her more than she got from me while she was physically here. We are grateful to God that she lived a purposeful life. How is our relationship as husband and wife? Workers and co-workers? Neighbors? When death comes, these relationships are over. What we do for one another while alive will be remembered in eternity. “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psa. 90:12)
However, as professors of Christian faith we know and we believe that death is not our end. We know that death is an open door to eternity with God. By faith, we accept that, though our understanding is limited, we stand by the admonitions of John to us: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Paul talked of what should matter to us while our beloved one dies, he said, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep [dead], that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thess. 4:13-14). Resurrection is the blow that the Lord Jesus Christ dealt on death to nullify its impact on humanity. Paul highlighted the importance of resurrection to the Christian faith. “But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor. 15:14-22)
As Christians, we grieve but not like people without hope. Our hope is hinged on this fact that Jesus resurrected and we shall also resurrect. Resurrection makes the difference for the believers. We have the assurance that all those who die in the Lord Jesus Christ would see one another again at the resurrection. This is our hope and joy, which takes care of the grieve in our hearts. This is why I can say with all assurance to my Mom, it is good night and not good bye.
Michael Jolayemi is an author and Bible teacher. He has written two books on social issues: “Saving America: The war we can’t ignore”; and “Sheltered through the storm: the travails and ultimate triumph of the Church.” His next book is about the Sin issue and will be out by God’s grace this year.