Babies coming into this world and loved ones going out of this world! One brings great joy and the other great grief. When life comes into the world through the birthing process or seeps away through death we are suddenly forced to face an onslaught of intense emotion causing us to evaluate and reflect on our lives and priorities. It may seem strange to compare these two extremes in life but they share some similarities that are worth considering. And perhaps as a result, we as Christians may be able to embrace death as fully as we embrace life!
Besides the obvious outcome of either birth or death, what stands out to me in these two scenarios is the unique waiting that occurs before the actual event which is so different than all the other waiting we do in life. We wait in lines to pay for our purchases; we wait for appointments with doctors, dentists, oil changes, and the like; we wait in traffic; we wait for the school or work day to end; we wait for our next vacation or day off; and the list goes on. Waiting for most of these things produces little more than aggravation, but waiting for birth or death always results in a major life change!
Waiting for the birth of a child is long and can be filled with mixed feelings of anticipation and irritation. Even though we know the pregnancy will eventually end when baby is full term, we must still wait for labor to begin as each passing day seems longer than the last one. Once labor begins, our waiting continues because it can last hours or days, and as the name suggests, it is hard work. Outside of drugs which increase the rapidity of contractions but not the dilation necessary for baby to press through, nothing can be done to speed up natural labor. This can produce a helpless feeling to those who want to help but can only wait. I have sat through many labors with women and it is incredible how long the wait can be no matter how much we plead with God to bring it on! However, just when you think it will last forever, transition begins and the end is near. There is no mistaking this phase by looking into the eyes of the woman giving birth, watching her breathing and pained expressions, and listening to her words or cries. Even so, the waiting continues.
But… when the waiting is over a baby is born – life happens! We praise the Lord when new life emerges from the womb, when babies burst forth with their first cries, and when we gaze upon the miracle of life! People laugh, express amazement, shed tears of joy, and are filled with elation! The emotions can be overwhelming, the love instantaneous, and the desire to protect and nurture this new creation is as natural as breathing.
When death closes in on a loved one the waiting can be excruciating. Sometimes even when all hope for healing is gone and death appears imminent, a person may rally and live for days, weeks, or months before passing from this life to the next, and so the waiting continues. Just like the birthing process, a feeling of helplessness can encompass those who wait, especially if the person is suffering. Outside of drugs to make the person more comfortable (but can produce other complications), nothing can be done to speed up the natural process of death. Watching a person’s breathing, pained expressions, words, and cries will signal the end is coming. Even so, we must simply wait!
But… when the waiting is over a person dies – life happens! Remembering new life emerges as a result of death for those who believe in Jesus Christ causes us to give God praise. When a person takes their last breath and their heart stops beating, the atmosphere is charged with sadness, tears of sorrow, and desolation. Our emotions skyrocket as we experience the sting of death. BUT, we must remember those who die in the Lord are beholding something and Someone far more amazing than we can imagine! They are in heaven with Jesus! At the moment of our greatest grief our loved ones who have been catapulted into eternal life are reveling in the love of Jesus as they meet Him face to face. They are once and for all protected and nurtured as they could never have been on this side of heaven.
In birth and in death – life happens! We praise the Lord because both events are glorious when our hope is in Jesus! Though we may not like to think in these terms, the truth is that the moment a baby breathes their first breath they begin to die. And the moment a believer breathes their last breath on earth, they begin to live. This new life will never again end in death. This truth encourages us to embrace death when it is our time to transition!
However, no one said it would be easy! Sometimes the process of death feels like a vicious circle of emotions from which we cannot escape though we would if we could. Words cannot fully describe the depth of emotion exploding from deep within when death is near and it can actually feel as though the grief may sink us at times. But as Christians we have opportunity to deal with our sorrow and grief differently than those who are not in relationship with our Lord and Savior because there is great hope and joy in death as surely as there is great grief and sadness. We read in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.”
Death here is described as falling asleep in Jesus giving the revelation death does not annihilate those who believe He died and rose again. When we know and believe in His redemptive purposes and the forgiveness of sins we receive through His death and resurrection we know and believe we will enter a wonderful new life when we breathe our last on earth. Death is not the end of life but the beginning if we believe. But for those who do not believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior earthly death brings a most horrid entrance to life in hell. This reality must motivate us to refuse ignorance.
Though it is natural and healthy to grieve when death separates us from a loved one, Paul spoke these words to the Thessalonians to comfort and remind them not to grieve or sorrow excessively as others did who had no hope, and it is for us today as well. There is a proper way to grieve – in faith and hope knowing that God is bringing us with Him if we believe – Do we? These are not mere words of comfort but they are truths we must grab hold of and live in so that we bring this hope to others.
“Hope” is an amazing thing. Romans 5:5 says “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Knowing we cannot be disappointed in true hope should most definitely energize our spirits even more so as we realize it is because God’s love is lavished upon us daily by Holy Spirit. Can you see and feel this truth? HOPE DOES NOT DISAPPOINT! Sadly, there are people who have no hope or who hope in other things besides Christ, but Christians should not be among them!
Think about this: If we know where our loved ones are going when they die, why would we not temper our grief in order to testify to the greatness of God? Eternal life with God is not something we simply express but something we embrace! Knowing about eternal life increases our hope! Through these words God exhorts all people to keep the real thing real! Eternal life is real! We really are going to spend eternity with the real One – Jesus! Our loved ones ARE going to a real, better place! This is not a mere statement of comfort but a shout of victory.
The truth is that birth and death should be exciting! After all, just as a newborn baby is birthed into this world, we are birthed into eternity with Jesus when we die here on earth. Death is part of our earthly existence but once we are with the Lord, death will never touch us again. This is exciting news!
People of God, we are going to pass from death to life or death to more death depending on the presence or absence of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. But make no mistake about it – we will all take one last breath here, fall asleep, and find ourselves either in heaven or hell. Just as we have an irresistible desire to protect and nurture our newborn infants, we should have the same compelling desire to share the good news of salvation to all people knowing it protects and nurtures them for all of eternity. Just as we are amazed at the miracle of life and shed tears of joy at the birth of a child, we should be amazed at the new life a person is entering upon death, and shed tears of joy because of their eternal birthing.
We have the great responsibility of bringing life into the world and ushering life out of the world. Are we taking it seriously? Do we believe Jesus died and rose again and therefore God will bring us with Him when we sleep in Jesus? I mean, do we really believe it and then live in that reality? If we do, praise the Lord and we cry out, “More, Lord!” If we do not, let us purpose today to embrace birth and death in hope! Let our waiting be done with expectation! Let us not grow weary because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts, and we are blessed with Holy Spirit who has been given to us!