Psalm 116:15

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”

Clearly, modern Westerners want to avoid death at all costs. Many people spend countless dollars making themselves look younger and thus “further away” from old age and the prospect of death. Others devote themselves to diet fads, exercise plans, and other techniques that promise us longer lives. Obituaries usually state that “so-and-so passed away,” which is less jarring than “so-and-so died.”

None of the things mentioned above are necessarily wrong in and of themselves. We should care for our bodies, for they are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). Still, Western culture’s preoccupation with eternal youth betrays a consuming drive never to face death head on. This is foolish, for all of us will die one day, unless we happen to be alive when Jesus returns. We need to face the reality of our deaths.

In question and answer 42, the Heidelberg Catechism considers why Christians die. It is a logical place to address the issue because questions 37–41 deal with Christ’s death for His people in order to bear the wrath of God in their place (Rom. 3:21–26; 1 Peter 2:24–25). Those for whom Jesus did not suffer — those who remain impenitent — endure physical death as one part of the divine wrath they must suffer for their sin (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23). This cannot be the case for believers, for Christ has been cursed in our place (Gal. 3:10–14). Why, then, do believers die?

There are many answers to this question. First, while the penalty for the sin of Christians has been paid, the Lord has not yet removed the presence and effects of sin from creation. Creation is groaning, waiting for the adoption of God’s children, which will be plain to all when our bodies are raised from the grave (Rom. 8:18–23). The full benefits of Christ’s work will not be consummated until He returns to bring the new heaven and earth (Rev. 21). We will suffer the results of sin until then, but we should be glad God did not wrap up His plan two thousand years ago. If He had done so, you and I would never have existed or seen His glorious grace.

Our deaths, as the Heidelberg Catechism states, do not pay the debt for our sins. Instead, they mark the point at which we enter directly into the presence of Christ (Phil. 1:21–23). The death of Christians is holy and precious to God. When we die, He receives us into heaven, where we rest before Him until the final resurrection.

Coram Deo

Considered in and of itself, death is not a good thing. It is only here because of the fall. Yet considered in the broader context of the Christian life, death can be viewed as a positive change. After all, when we die we will be in the immediate presence of our triune God, and we will never sin again. Christians alone have this precious hope, and it is a hope that we should proclaim to all those who do not know our Savior.

For Further Study