“We don’t know why God took her so soon, but we know it must be for some greater good.”
Have you ever heard or received a similar sentiment, meant to be offered as a type of consolation? For those of us who hold to God’s sovereignty over all affairs, such a statement may be our first recourse. We know this did not happen without God’s knowledge. We know that our times are in his hands. This must be for some good then; after all, Paul tells us, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Ought we not temper our grief because God intends to work some good?
Now the fact that God works things for good for those who love him—and only those who love him—is good, orthodox theology of God’s sovereignty over the affairs of men. Nothing can surprise God, and nothing can thwart his purposes for his people. Even evil can be used for his good purposes. But this may not be our best starting place in response to death. Why an immediate recourse to the greater good consolation may feel empty, I think, is because perhaps it either implicitly or explicitly communicates that the evil of death is actually a good thing. We may even go beyond saying that God can use it for good over to saying it is good, and those are two very different things.
Don’t say that death is a good thing. Don’t celebrate it. Death is an evil. Death is an enemy. Christian, hate death. Hate that it exists. Hate that it takes loved ones from us. Before looking for the good, hate the death that makes us mourn.
The presence of death should make us feel what is wrong with this present evil age. It should make us wish that there was no death. It should remind us that sin is its cause. It should lead us to hate the sin that is death’s origin.
I would contend that God actually intends for us to hate death. God has subjected the creation to a curse because of sin, and that curse makes us long for when it is fully removed:
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8:20-23).
Yes, God uses the evil of death for his good purposes, and I would argue that one of those good purposes is so that we who are his children would long for the unveiling of Christ, which brings with it the final destruction of death. How can we fully love an age in which death destroys? We long for the day when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). We hate death because we still live in this present evil age; how much more the contrast when death is done away with?
Although we still must face death, Christ has blunted its power: “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor. 15:21). Death cannot hold those who are Christ’s. The resurrection of Jesus shows that our enemy death is being defeated, that it itself is dying. Christ has even made death his weapon, for “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). The devil may wield his power of death for now, but it is a blunted weapon. Death remains our enemy, but it has only temporary power over those who are Christ’s.
Christian, I urge you to hate death. Hate your enemy. We must coexist with it for now, for, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26). But this state of affairs will not always be so; when our Savior is revealed at his coming, death’s power will be undone; “the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:52). Our hated enemy will be fully defeated, no longer only partially. We will one day take up the taunt against it, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55). Despise death; despise the pain it has wrought. Rejoice when death and Hades are cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14). Hate death and long for its destruction at the revelation of Christ.
Do not feel it is wrong to hate death. God may use death for good, but it itself is not good. It must one day be fully destroyed, and what must be destroyed is not good.
Before looking for the good in death, stop and lament that death still takes loved ones away from us. Lament that we live in this present evil age and must still deal with the effects of a creation that has been subjected to futility. Then give praise that God can use the evil of death for his good purposes, and that in Christ, death will ultimately be undone.