Many of us love the Proverbs. Abounding throughout are sayings of wisdom in concise and logical format. Within each stanza are easily digestible portions of practical godliness. Often, however, there are deeper meanings that can only be spiritually discerned.
Proverbs 14:32 says, “When calamity comes, the wicked are brought down, but even in death, the righteous have refuge.” From the perspective of someone who has experienced the oppression of wicked men, this proverb is one of hope and consolation, but in the eyes of God this contrast of characters is much more black and white. Who is meant by the wicked and the righteous is not always apparent in life, but it will be apparent in death. The inevitability of death, as discussed in the last segment on the “Eternal State of Human Nature,” should make us consider the terms of death for both of these characters. A sense of urgency should overtake us when we contemplate the fact that our friends, loved ones, and we will die in one of these conditions, wicked or righteous.
The prospect of how one’s death unfolds should shape the perspective of how it is looked to. Those who are outside of the state of grace are literally thrust out of their place in this world. There is an utter hopelessness and despair when the hour comes. Death will come suddenly and unexpectedly even for those who know the end is coming. A lack of understanding of what the future holds will find them unprepared. Whether due to a long illness or a sudden outside cause, death will be irresistible. They are literally driven away from this life. The proverb referenced paints a picture of a great disaster. Imagine a powerful tornado coming toward a gathering of souls. Some will be led away to shelter but many will be barred from the door and scattered by the wind.
Death to the awakened mind and soul of the regenerate will be hopeful, for there will be refuge from the storm. Safe passage to the regions of bliss awaits. A dying day is a good day to a godly man. The wisdom of Solomon speaks to two better things. “A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of one’s birth”(Eccl. 7:1) We, who are the called, live as though we do not hear, when we give such joyous occasion to a birthday, but are broken down by the death of a saint. (We might even learn something from people of New Orleans with their funeral parades. Maybe a little much?)
A humbling, yet inspiring, read is “Fox’s Book of Martyrs.” First published in 1563, this work records the accounts of those who willingly gave their lives for the sake of their faith. From Christ to the early protestant reformers, Fox tells the stories of how the Holy Spirit empowered men and women to go happily and confidently to their death. Crucified, stoned, burned, and blown up with gunpowder(if they were lucky) these saints sometimes sang praises in the face of their peril.
You may correctly say that all the wicked nor the righteous die by these terms. There are mitigating factors that affect how a man faces death. Unbelievers sometime seem to go willingly to their death. The suicide bomber appears to freely give up their lives, but do so without the knowledge of the true God. Remember that God has allowed men to be deceived by the lies of Satan as a punishment for sin. 2 Thessalonians 2 speaks of a “powerful delusion” that men who believe the lies are under. This is not, as some believe, an end times or futuristic phenomenon. This powerful delusion prevents men from seeing their true condition and commissions their plunge into death. The prospects of happiness after death or relief of suffering, akin to the truth of the gospel, is only a lie that they believe. Some view death as a ceasing to exist, but when the time is near they always cling to their lives with insincerity.
Of course not all believers go to their death with courage. Though they go with difficulty, there is a seed of gladness in their greatest sorrows. Death is a frightful object and Satan will do his utmost to mar the peace and increase the fears of the saints. We create conditions for ourselves that make death dreadful. If death comes during a period of backsliding or guilt over sin, the weight of your transgressions may hold you down. Your conscience may make rising to the occasion impossible. A love for a life of ease will cause you to lose sight of your interest in Christ. Living a life with little acquaintance with spiritual things can make one not practiced in exercising the gift of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. An inordinate anxiety over leaving friends and loved ones behind puts death in the category with loss. The only reason Paul gives for desiring to continue in this life is for the benefit of the Church. “For me to live is Christ, but to die is gain.”(Phil. 1:21) Often there is a lack of understanding of sin, the misery it produces in this life, its affects on the soul, and the toil it demands. The death of a loved one or a child often shows how little we believe God. God shows mercy on the dead by taking them away from their sin, relieving them from all future pain, guilt and fear. He has seen fit to take away future opportunity for them to offend his law and heap up more of His wrath. Would we rather that they should live a long life struggling with sin and sorrow, pain and grief, or should we rejoice in their now being in the eternal presence of the Lord, safe in his loving embrace. In a sense clinging to life is covetousness. We desire to have more than what God is giving us. A most sorrowful condition to die in is when physical pain distorts the ability of the mind to inform the soul of Gods comforts. In this case it is only the wisdom of Gods providence that may be relied upon for solace. There is always the hope that the spirit may be comforted as the body is not.
By knowing some of the conditions we may find ourselves in at the time of our death, we must consider how to prepare for that day. Foremost in our minds, we must acknowledge death’s inevitability and relative nearness. Every available opportunity should be taken to clear the conscience. Past sins against our brothers must be amended and accounts settled, to produce “a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men.”(Acts 24:16) Unlike the foolish virgins who slumbered while the bridegroom tarried, we must be daily watching for His coming. Our hearts must be employed with weaning ourselves from the world. Like an addiction, we must gradually face our desires and direct them toward a more heavenly elixir. Our diligence would be best applied in the gathering of evidence of our own title to Heaven.
I must admit that my writing to you is a bit of a selfish endeavor. I hope that my efforts are a help, but it is also an exercise of my own examining of the soul. As agonists, our struggle is often against our own limitations, but true joy comes in its wake. Wrestling with our own fears of death will produce a soul more fit for the journey.