Summary: A Christian can die by natural causes or by accidents, or by the violent forces of evil. Seldom to never do they die because God says, now is the best time.
The Cruel Sea is the title of a World War II story about a German
U-Boat loose in an American convoy. It had already sunk several
ships, but a destroyer escort had finally picked it up on the sonar. As
the destroyer prepared to launch its depth bombs, the captain saw
that the U-Boat was taking a course where dozens of American men
were in the water as survivors of one of the sunken ships. It was a
clever maneuver and the captain of the destroyer had to make an
agonizing decision. Should he plow ahead and kill his own men and get
that U-Boat, or should he veer off, saving the men in the water, but
loose the U-Boat which would be free to sink other ships. He decides
to go ahead, killing the men in the water, but destroying the U-Boat.
He choose what he thought was the lesser of two evils. It was not good
those men had to be sacrificed, but he felt it was better that they die
than have the U-Boat free to kill others.
This story represents the actual decisions that men must often
make that determines the life and death of other people. There is a
popular theory that says God in His sovereign will determines the
precise time of every man's death. If this is true, it takes a great
burden off men, for it relieves them of the responsibility of their
decisions. This theory is also a great comfort to those who loose loved
ones in tragic ways, for it gives some meaning to what otherwise seems
so meaningless. If God willed their death, then even as tragic as it is,
the will of God is being fulfilled. The important question, however, is
not, is it a comforting concept. The doctrine of reincarnation is a
comfort to millions. Is that the basis on which we are to determine
truth? Is anything true because it is a great comfort? Almost all
illusions are comforting, and people follow false prophets because they
offer what is comfortable. No, the question is not, is the concept
comforting, but for the Christian, the question must always be, is it
true. Or put another way, is it Biblical.
To answer this question, I want to look at Dr. Luke's account of the
death of Stephen-the first Christian martyr. It is of interest to note
that this first Christian to die in the New Testament died as did the
first man to ever die, namely Able. Able and Stephen were both
Godly men, and both died by violence at the hands of angry men who
were jealous of them. Murder and mob violence were the means by
which their lives were ended.
One's immediate impression is that murder and mob violence do
not sound much like the will of God. In fact, they sound very
definitely like things out of His will. As we look at the details of
Stephen's death, it is confirmed that the entire proceeding was
contrary to the revealed will of God. In chapter 6 verse 11, we are
told that the Jewish leaders secretly instigated men to lie and bare
false witness against Stephen by charging him with blasphemy. In
verse 13 it says again that they found other false witnesses to lie before
the council. It is clear that men are making decisions to eliminate a
life they do not want in total disregard for the laws of God.
In his defense speech, Stephen is brutally frank in his denunciation
of their injustice. He charges them with the same crimes as their
fathers who murdered the prophets, and they now have murdered the
Prophet of all prophets-the Messiah. You would have a hard time
convincing Stephen that the Lord called his prophets home. The
Jewish leaders would like that theory, for it would take them off the
hook. But Stephen tells it like it is, and says, not that the Lord called
them home, but that hardened and blind leaders thrust them out of
this world by violent murder, contrary to the will of God.
In other words, the prophets did not die because God had
appointed a certain time for them to die, or because they have fulfilled
their purpose in life. They died because evil men made decisions to
take their lives, just as Cain decided to kill Able. It may not be a
pleasant thought that evil can be so powerful, but Jesus did not say
that pleasantness shall set us free, but that the truth shall set us free.
It is always better to know the truth about death than to cover it over
with pleasant illusions. I am convinced that the idea that you can only
die when it is your appointed time is just such an illusion.