Death stings

I probably shouldn’t be asking this.

If death has lost its sting (1 Corinthians 15), then why does it … sting?

Stings hurt. They bite. They cause pain. Death does that. So why does the word say that it doesn’t?

Another translation has it as about last words and so on, which makes more sense. But we still have to wait a long time for the last, the final word. It’s an age away, literally, when you’ve lost someone who’s not here any more.

Nicholas Wolterstorff wrote a great little book called Lament For A Son, a snapshot of his journey through grief after his death in a climbing accident. Wolterstorff is a Christian philosopher, one of those people who is supposed to have answers; or at least help us find the right questions. The most moving section of his book, for me, is where he talks about how doctrines that he thought would comfort him didn’t. What use is the resurrection (true as he holds it to be) if you can’t have a hug from your son?

That’s a hell of a sting to not have.

My murdered friend is gone now; I believe, utterly, that I’ll see him in the new creation. I really do. But it doesn’t help now. I need him now; not then.

Some will see this is a crisis of faith. I once heard someone explain his nervous breakdown as doubting the doctrine that some are elected, chosen to go to heaven and some aren’t. Once he’d accepted it was true he said he’d got over his breakdown. Well I’ve never believed that doctrine; I don’t see it in Scripture. Questions are not symptomatic of losing faith.

I need to ask, though. Death seems to me have a hell of a sting. The last but one word echoes for a long, long, long time before the last one is finally spoken.

It’s easy for God, risen and ascended as His Son is, surveying it all from the vantage point of eternity where it all fits together, what with being the one who from His perspective has uttered, will utter and is uttering the last word.

We’re time-bound, here and now, and we can’t see or hear the final reality of those last, final words. I have to accept that. I have to accept that I can’t know, can’t see my friend, can’t have a hug or an argument or sort something out with him.

Hard, though. It stings.

Is the Bible wrong? Or did I miss the point?

If you can’t cope with silence, don’t ask an unanswerable question.

Where is death’s sting?

It’s right here, right now, where I am and you are.

The sting will be drawn. In time.

For now we live with the sting.





5 thoughts on “Death stings

  1. Death has lost its sting, but nothing is mentioned about the pain of death.

    — Sent from Mailbox for iPad

    On Wed, Feb 5, 2014 at 12:42 PM, The Blog of David Meldrum

  2. seangreathead: Has death lost its sting in that final sense? The apostle Paul says that the last enemy to be destroyed is death and, based on what God has done in the death and resurrection of Christ, firmly expects this to happen in the future. It seems to em that Hos. 13:14 (death, where is your sting?) just like Isa. 25:8 (death swallowed up) is still to be realized in the final resurrection-transformation (“then the saying that is written will come true” – 1 Cor. 15:54). There is a sense in which it is already true now – because the End has been set in motion – but there is also a sense in which it is not yet true now. Furthermore, death’s victory depends on sin (“the sting of death is sin”) and sin has both been dealt with decisively on the cross and nevertheless still rears its head and painfully so.

  3. The exultant rhetoric of hope from Paul lips as he focuses on the final victory of Christ; but he experienced, as with us now, the bitterness of sorrow upon sorrow, the travail of creation, which drives to Christ in hope.

  4. In this morning’s reading, Paul: “Epaphroditus… was indeed so ill that he nearly died. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, so that I would not have one sorrow after another.” The death of a friend brings sorrow.

  5. Amen. As Woodbine Willie wrote in the aftermath of that horror known as the First World War:

    O death, where is thy victory?
    O grave, where is thy sting?
    Thy victory is everywhere,
    Thy sting’s in everything.

    (“Lies and the Life Eternal” in Lies, Hodder & Stoughton, 1919 repr. 1932, p.119)

    Death sucks: it destroys and it hurts; and as Christians, we do neither ourselves nor the wider community any favours by pretending otherwise. Yes, we have a strong and steadfast hope, but that does not make us immune to the reality of grief.

    Thank you for sharing this.

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