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When I was young and invulnerable, I talked boldly about death. After all, I thought when a person knows Jesus, death is merely moving into better quarters. I encouraged dying patients to talk about death and got annoyed with other nurses and the doctors who habitually avoided the topic. I smugly lined up all my personal affairs, but, deep down, I knew I wouldn't die for a long time.

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I'm older now, and my bravado in the face of the enemy is not so brazen. Yes, the Bible tells us that death is an enemy, "the last enemy to be destroyed" (1 Cor 15:26). I have lost too many friends and family members to death. Surely, they are "in a better place," but I miss them. There is a hole in my heart, and it hurts. I don't want to think about death anymore, but ignoring the enemy does not win the battle.


The psalmists faced death squarely, calling out to God in their distress. In Psalm 107 we read, "They drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; he sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction" (vv 18-20). Psalm 116 describes the agony of dying, "The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the LORD: 'O LORD, I pray, save my life!!'" (vv 3-4). Death is destruction. Sometimes God rescues us from it; sometimes he doesn't. However, the psalmist assures us, "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints" (Ps 116:15).


The psalmists were not alone in their complaints. "In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death" (Heb 5:7). Even Jesus faced death with trepidation, despite knowing with certainty that "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die" (Jn 11:25-26).


It's okay to fear death. It's okay to hate that last enemy.


A friend who has suffered chronic illness since his teens has given me a new appreciation for the crush the enemies portions of the psalms that most of us would rather skip. He uses them to express his anger to God because of his disabilities. Lashing out at death and suffering is entirely appropriate because they work to destroy what God has created. The psalmist retorts, "Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with a perfect hatred; I count them my enemies" (Ps 139:21-22).


Death brings separation from those we love and from everything familiar. We feel guilty fearing death. We know that when we die, we are simply going to be with Jesus, and that ought to be thrilling for us. Instead, we grumble like my children on the day after Christmas, when told that they had to pack up and go visit their grandparents in Virginia. Even though they knew they would get more presents and lots of attention from their grandparents, they would plead, "Why can't they come here? We want to stay in our own house with our new toys and our friends!!"


The apostle Paul wrote to Christians in Thessalonica who were grieving the death of some of their friends, "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died" (1 Thess 4:13-14).


God expects us to grieve. It would be inappropriate not to grieve. However, our grief is different from those who do not believe. We have hope. We know that in heaven, precious relationships will be restored. We will be free from pain, suffering and misery. We will rejoice with our heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


God understands that we'd rather stay here with our toys and our friends, in the comfort of our own home, but the psalmist reminds us that "For when they die they will carry nothing away; their wealth will not go down after them" (Ps 49:17). In other words, "You can't take it with you."


Our hope is for something better than the best we could possibly experience in this life. It is that hope that we are privileged to share with those who have no hope. We hang on to that hope. We are comforted by God's Word. But in the meantime, we grieve.