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.

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