Oh death, where is your sting?” the speaker read from 1 Corinthians 15:55.
It’s right here, I thought, tears brimming in my eyes and a hollow feeling of nausea in my belly. It’s right here!
We were all deeply stung by death. In front of me was the picture of a beloved friend—a young man, in the prime of life, struck down by cancer. And, to the right, a few rows ahead, sat another friend, now a 20something widow.
Death does sting.
What is truly awesome for the person who has been ushered into glory—who, absent from his or her body is present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8)—is the same event that has dealt a lifelong, traumatic blow to those left behind in death’s wake.
Yes, there will be healing; yes, there is hope, but they both intermingle with grief. And in those moments when we are touched by death—a miscarriage, a friend’s passing, a parent’s last words, a spouse’s final breath—we’re forced to contemplate the reality that we may often tend to ignore: We are mortal.
Psalm 90:12 says “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (NIV). In his Rule , Benedict encouraged this spiritual practice: “Have death always before our eyes.” How morbid, right? But how essential to what it means to receive God’s good gift of life and to live that life well. How differently would we each live if we knew today was our last on earth? We so easily forget that life is short, that life is precious, that we ought to live it to the fullest. Yet when we live in purposeful awareness of our mortality, we are better able to live this earthly life abundantly (John 10:10).
Death and loss also pull our gaze onto another central reality: Heaven is real. It is not just an intellectual concept or a creedal tenet we repeat. It becomes palpably, crucially real when we lose a loved one—when we miss them and we picture them there, more fully alive than ever they were on earth.
We long for heaven, too, when we face the evil and brokenness of our world. When we feel an inner rage at the injustice of cancer, the ugliness of racism, or the horror of terrorism—when we’re shaking our fists not just at death but at pain and evil itself—that’s our soul yearning for the place where all is put right. It’s our soul’s cry for the kingdom in which death, mourning, crying, and pain shall be no more and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21:4).
Even in the midst of heavy sorrow, Scripture offers us robust hope in the picture it paints of God’s heavenly kingdom. In our TCW cover story, Scot McKnight unpacks five crucial truths about heaven. And in “Seeing Our Parents Home,” Dorothy Greco explores what it’s like to aid our parents on their journey toward heaven as they face death. It’s not easy—yet God meets us even in the sorrow of loss.
Paul asked figuratively, “Oh death, where is your sting?” We know the sting of death is real when it wounds us and robs us of those we love. But Paul’s greater point is this: Death, our enemy, will one day be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26). The sting of loss may feel grievous and long, but it is temporal in the scope of eternity.
In this life, we do mourn. We mourn because we love. We mourn, though, with hope in the one who is the resurrection and the life. Even when we are bowled over by grief, we can yet say, “Thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
Shaking Our Fist at Death
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