Suffering and Death
“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (v. 13).- Hebrews 11:13–16
No discussion of suffering could long proceed without addressing the subject of death. History books tell us of numerous events, such as the Black Plague, in which immense suffering culminated in death. But death does not touch us only from a distance through the study of the past. We have all felt the impact of death personally as we have seen friends and loved ones die, many of them having suffered through long periods of illness. Furthermore, we know that the sicknesses we suffer in the present are evidence of the fallenness of creation and that, unless Jesus comes back first, we will likewise die, many of us from disease or simply because our bodies have worn out.
Certainly, Scripture never shies away from talking about death. Yet, while it does tell us that we will die (Gen. 3:17–19; Eccl. 9:1–6), Scripture’s teaching on death focuses far more on the condition of our souls at death than it does on the mere fact that we will die. God’s Word tells us that there are only two ways to die: in faith or in our sins.
To die in our sins is the most terrible thing we can imagine. Those who die in their sins do not enter heaven. They are separated from the sheep who trust in the Good Shepherd, the giver of eternal life, and placed among the goats, those who have never trusted in Jesus (Matt. 25:31–46; John 8:24). God’s Word tells us that there are only two possible ways to pass from this life into the next. All who lack a living faith in Christ when they die will not enter glory but will suffer forever in hell (Matt. 25:41–46; James 2:14–26). As the book of Revelation tells us, those who do not believe in Christ will suffer not only now but also forever in the life to come (Rev. 20:11–15).
People who die in faith, however, go on to a great reward. Everyone who rests in Christ Jesus alone for salvation joins His flock and experiences the eternal bliss of life in the presence of God (Matt. 25:31–40; 1 Cor. 13:12). God will never be ashamed to be the God of those who die in faith, and so all believers can be confident that a better country awaits them on the other side of the grave (Heb. 11:13–16). As we persevere in faith, we become more confident that by grace alone, we are already citizens of this better country. This means that true faith goes beyond a fleeting emotional experience, but it clings fast to Christ even when others might think it foolish or unwise to do so (Matt. 13:18–23; Heb. 11). May Christ Jesus grant and sustain this persevering faith in us.
We know that it is impossible for anyone who has truly put his trust in Jesus alone to fall away finally from Christ. How do we know that we have such faith, which is the only kind of faith that can save? One way is that we continue holding onto the promises of God and taking our needs to Him, trusting that He is walking with us always. As we walk with Him, our assurance will grow, and we will be confident that heaven is our reward.
Passages for Further Study