The church that I’m a member of is relatively new — we’ll celebrate our 7th birthday the first Sunday of November. Two weeks ago, we dealt with the first death in our church family as a young woman experienced an allergic reaction to a prescription and died just 5 days later. Ever since this happened I’ve been reflecting on what the Christian faith has to say about death.
In systematic theology (which is just an excessive way of saying the study of the nature of God and His beliefs) we study the atonement, the making right of God and man. There are many theories about how the atonement was accomplished, but one of the most famous that has been a consistent theme throughout church history is what is called Christus Victor.
I know this sounds heavy, but stay with me.
In this view of the atonement, Christ on the cross defeated sin, Satan and death. By Christ’s death, death no longer has any power. This is how Paul can say in 1 Corinthians 15:55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (Editor’s note: Ray Boltz, anyone?) In Christ the victory against death has been decisively won and we are no longer under the dominion of death.
This doesn’t mean that death is no longer painful. Clearly those of us left behind after loved ones die feel the sting of death as we live our lives without them.
But the reality is that we live with an eschatological (a fancy theological term meaning “pertaining to eternity”) hope. There will come a day when, as the Nicene Creed says, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and His Kingdom will have no end.” For those in Christ there is no death, only life.
As mentioned in an earlier post I’m a big fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As Bonhoeffer was being led to his death by Nazi soldiers for his part in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, he uttered his last recorded words: “This is the end — for me (which is really) the beginning of life.”
I hope we all have such faith in the living Christ who has triumphed over death.