Summary: Though unnatural, death comes to all. How shall we respond to death? We explore this neglected subject by looking at an incident in the ministry of Ezekiel.
“The word of the LORD came to me: ‘Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.’ So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.”
Death is inevitable; but that does not mean that it is natural. It is obvious that the statistics on death are pretty impressive—one out of one dies. From that perspective, death seems as if it is entirely natural—a final act of the drama of life. However, death was not in God’s original plan. Our first father received the divine command: “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die” [GENESIS 2:17]. Undoubtedly, Adam communicated this warning to Eve, the woman whom God created to be a helper that would make him complete. This is the most probable explanation for her knowledge that eating of the fruit of that tree would bring death [see GENESIS 3:3].
Immediately upon eating the fruit, the spirits of the sinning pair were separated from God who is life. They began what has become the inexorable, inevitable journey that concludes with the return of the body to the dust from which it was formed. By Adam’s disobedience, not only the race, but all creation was plunged into ruin and decay. Since that time, death has ruled over all mankind, even over those who have not sin in the same way that Adam transgressed. The evidence for this is that even those who have not openly rebelled—innocent children and those who are born horribly injured in their minds so that they cannot be responsible for their actions—are subject to death. Indeed, we are compelled by the facts to acknowledge the accuracy of the dark logic that teaches that “In Adam all die” [see 1 CORINTHIANS 15:22].
Every culture has mourning rituals. These ceremonial rites reflect commonly held beliefs concerning the nature of man, his relationship to God and the afterlife. Even casual reflection demonstrates that our understanding of spiritual truth is revealed through our mourning rituals. What rites should mark the passing of our loved ones? How do we honour God when death visits? How shall we prepare for death? These are pertinent questions that are worthy of exploration by those who seek to discover and pursue the will of God. Join me, then, in reviewing what must surely have been the most difficult day of Ezekiel’s sorrowful life.
THE LAST THING WE TALK ABOUT — We seldom like to speak about death. An ancient saying informs us that the grey hairs are the messengers of death. I might add that laugh lines, expanding girth and diminished visual acuity are reasonably accurate reminders of our mortality. Ours is a youth culture, in which elderly people struggle to cling to their youth. Anti-wrinkling creams and Botox injections, tummy tucks and breast implants, liposuction and dyed hair, are major means of attempting to defy the evidence of our pending death. Maybe we really believed that silly drivel that was current when we were young—you remember the old saw that spoke of living fast and leaving a beautiful corpse. However, there is nothing beautiful about death. Death truly is “the last enemy,” as the Apostle says [see 1 CORINTHIANS 15:26].
Because our culture worships at the shrine of youth, we neglect the wisdom of past years—wisdom that taught us to show respect to the elderly. Even among the churches of our Lord we witness profound neglect of the instruction provided in the Word. When did you last hear an exposition of LEVITICUS 19:32? “You shall stand up before the gray head and honour the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.” Did you get that? Honouring our elderly is tantamount to honouring God. We appear unconvinced that God knew what He was talking about when He included these verses in the Word:
“Grey hair is a crown of glory;
it is gained in a righteous life.”
“The glory of young men is their strength,
but the splendour of old men is their grey hair.”
The fear of death drives us to push far from our mind any thought of our own mortality. Fearing death more than anything else, we don’t want to give any opportunity for unwelcome thoughts to intrude, disquieting our mind. So, the elderly are treated politely, but generally ignored. Those who are ageing attempt to defy the inevitable, pampering their bodies, painting their faces and spending a king’s ransom on creams and potions guaranteed to make them young. Nevertheless, as the poet observed: