Thursday, December 8, 2011

Death Is Not The End

I wrote this post a few weeks after my mother died of breast cancer.  At the time I was mostly interested in collecting those scriptures that testify of a life that continues beyond the grave, and I wasn't in a place emotionally in which I could write down my own thoughts on the subject.  After a few years I finally feel like I have some perspective from which I can approach this tender issue, and so I decided to revisit this subject in order to add my own thoughts and perspective.

Since the beginning of time, man has been confronted by the awful reality and immutability of death.  Death is our universal heritage, and it will come to all who have lived, are living, and who will ever live upon the Earth.  In its implacable certainty and chilling finality, death has inspired fear and worry in countless generations as long as there have been humans who have survived after losing those closest to them to death.  One of the great mysteries of existence is what happens to us after we die.  Where do we go?  What happens to us when we get there?  Should I be afraid when my time comes?  Do we go anywhere at all, or do we end up as worm food because there is nothing after this life but oblivion?  Is death the end?  These questions have puzzled, tormented, and fascinated us throughout our history; however, on a more personal level, questions like these proceed out of the genuine ache of loss and the deep, painful, and sincere desire to know:  Will I ever see my loved ones again?

In every age, poets, artists, parents, priests, and oracles have struggled in an effort to provide answers to the universal question which confronts all men.  They have produced elaborate mythologies and cosmologies in order to explain a mystery which in truth confounds them as much as it does the rest of us.  Without a true understanding of where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going how can these people, however well-meaning they may be, provide any answers that shed any real light on our fate after mortality?  The fact is that they can't, because they lack the basic truths that are necessary to provide meaningful answers to the deep questions of the soul.  Fortunately there is someone who knows exactly why we are here, and where we are going, because He is the one who put us here in the first place.  God cares about His children, and He mourns when we mourn.  From His earliest recorded dealings with men, through the means of His holy prophets, God has provided answers and comfort to those in every age who seek solace in the knowledge that death is indeed not the end.

In the grand scheme of things, our time in this life is incredibly short, or as Macbeth opines upon hearing that his wife is dead, "Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more." (William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5).  How great it is to know that there is hope beyond this short life!  That although our lives are altogether too brief, there is an answer to the question "If a man die, shall he live again?"
Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not. Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass;

For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground; Yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant. But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up: So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep. If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. (Job 14:1-2; 5;7-12; 14)

That we shall live again through Christ is the principal and quintessential Christian hope.  Thanks to Christ and His atonement there is nothing for us to fear in death. It is a natural part of life, and a part of God’s plan for his children. We could not progress to the next life without it.  If there is no life beyond this one, if Christ was not raised from the grave, then "we are of all men most miserable."
 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 firstfruits 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. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:16-23; 51-57)
"Viewed from an eternal perspective, we live to die; and we die to live again....Birth is the gateway to mortal life; death is the gateway to immortality and eternal life."  (Russell M. Nelson, The Gateway We Call Death, pg. 5)
Through Christ there is no sting in death, and the grave has been conquered for our sakes.  For this reason we have a unique hope which should comfort us in our sorrow.  Once we understand that we will live again, and that we will see our loved ones again, death loses much of its power over us, to frighten us and to cause us pain and loss.
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
"Irrespective of age, we mourn for those loved and lost. Mourning is one of the deepest expressions of pure love. It is a natural response in complete accord with divine commandment: “Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die.” (D&C 42:45.)  Moreover, we can’t fully appreciate joyful reunions later without tearful separations now. The only way to take sorrow out of death is to take love out of life."  (Russell M. Nelson, "Doors of Death," Conference Report, April 1992)
It is natural to mourn those that pass on before us, but how wonderful it is to know that we will see them again!  What sweet comfort comes through the assurance that we continue beyond the grave, and that God has a plan for each of us that stretches into the eternities.
Yea, and blessed are the dead that die in the Lord, from henceforth, when the Lord shall come, and old things shall pass away, and all things become new, they shall rise from the dead and shall not die after, and shall receive an inheritance before the Lord, in the holy city. (D&C 63:49)
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. (Revelation 21:1-4)
He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it. And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation. (Isaiah 25:8-9)

Oh, what sweet comfort that comes through the redemption of Christ!  The knowledge that "God shall wipe away all tears from [our] eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away" fills me with sweet joy and quiet relief!  The knowledge that I will see my loved ones again makes me glad beyond words, and I rejoice in His salvation!
Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book! That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever! For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me. (Job 19:23-27)
I feel to declare to the world with Job that I know that my Redeemer lives.  I know that although I will die someday, yet in my flesh shall I see God.  I rejoice to think that in that day I will see my mother again.  I miss her now, but I know that in but a small moment I will be reunited with her, never again to be separated from her.  I know that through the restored gospel of Jesus Christ I can be with my family for all eternity, if I make the right choices in my own life.  I rejoice in the knowledge and blessings and the hope that come through the message of Jesus Christ in its fulness and I gladly assume the responsibility that comes with it in the hope that I may gain eternal life side by side with those whom I love most in this life.

For more on this subject see my seven part series: "What happens to us after we die?"

Part I Death
Part II The Spirit World
Part III Resurrection
Part IV Judgement
Part V Degrees of Glory
Part VI What is Hell?
Part VII What happens to people of other faiths when they die?

You may also wish to read these helpful articles from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

Finding Solace After the Loss of a Loved One

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