Is Death a Friend?
Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), a famed British author and philosopher has been often quoted, “Death is a friend of ours; and he that is not ready to entertain him is not at home.”
Many modern Christian leaders also claim that for believers, death is a friend. The following was lifted from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) website:
“What is death? For the Christian death is a friend rather than an enemy. It is another step on the pathway to heaven rather than a leap into some dark unknown.”
These words from Billy Graham were no doubt meant to be comforting. They do not, however, express the view given by the Apostle Paul by divine revelation.
1 Corinthians 15:26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
This record refers to a future time when death shall be destroyed. There will be no more death. But that time has not yet come. Today, we still have to deal with death, and according to the Scriptures, death is an enemy, not a welcome friend.
If death is merely the gateway to heaven, then I can understand thinking that it is something to look forward to. Forget health care. The sooner we get to heaven the better. If at the moment of your death you are immediately ushered through the gates of heaven to begin enjoying eternal bliss, how could Paul possibly refer to that event as an enemy? But he did and for good reason. The moment of one’s death is not the moment one goes to heaven. When Jesus Christ returns, he will raise the dead in Christ and we who are alive at that time will be gathered together with them to meet him in the air. We all arrive at the same moment. There is no advantage to dieing early.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [precede] them which are asleep.
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
There is no consciousness in death and thus no awareness of time. For the individual, it will be as though Christ’s return were the next moment, but it isn’t. Your grandparents are not watching you from heaven. There will come a day when all in Christ will be gathered together unto our Lord, but that day has not yet occurred. The same truth is shown in 1 Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 15:20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits [firstfruits, Old Testament believers did not precede him in being raised from the dead] of them that slept.
21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.
24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death….
51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
The saying. “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” will be brought to pass at the time of “the last trump” when the dead in Christ are raised.
Explaining every line people employ to endeavor to show that people go immediately to heaven at the moment of their death would take a book rather than a mere article. The bottom line, however, is that no passage of Scripture can be accurately interpreted in a way that contradicts what the above passages clearly state. I’ll briefly mention a few of the most common arguments. Some people use, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” The verse (2 Corinthians 5:8) doesn’t say that. It says, “…willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” This is not expressing a desire for death. The desire here is for Christ’s return when we will shed our old bodies, be “clothed upon” with our new heavenly bodies and enter into his presence. Philippians 1 is also used, verse 23, “For I am in a strait betwixt two [living or dieing], having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better”. Indeed, departing and being with Christ is better than either living (here on earth in this life) or dieing, and this will happen when he returns. Another one is, “God is not the God of the dead but of the living.” Yes, Jesus is recorded as saying this in Matthew 22, Mark 12, and Luke 20, but the obvious context of these records is the resurrection.
Many ministers have quoted Psalm 116 in an effort to comfort people at funeral services.
Psalms 116:15 Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. [King James Version]
Nice. I have just lost someone I loved very much, and now I am being told that the event is so precious to God. “Precious” is one of the definitions given in the lexicons for the Hebrew word so translated here in the King James Version. Another definition given, however, is “costly.” Some versions render this word in this verse as “precious” like the KJV and some give it as “costly.”
Psalms 116:15 Too costly in the eyes of the LORD is the death of his faithful. [New American Bible]
Psalms 116:15 Costly in Yahweh’s sight is the death of his faithful. [New Jerusalem Bible]
The context determines which meaning should be applied. In this psalm, the writer is expressing his thankfulness for God’s deliverance.
Psalms 116:8 For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.
9 I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living.
Following this up with a statement that God thinks it’s a good deal when one of His faithful dies makes no sense, and it doesn’t fit with the rest of God’s Word. “Costly” is the correct translation here.
Death is never a good thing. Many of the hits I got on my web search of death being a friend were relative to accounts of people who suffered horribly before “passing.” Even in these situations, death is not good. The good thing would have been deliverance. Death might have been less evil than continued excruciating pain before death, but it was not good.
Those of us who have lost close loved ones, understand the pain. We take comfort in reminding ourselves of the coming resurrection, but we still sorrow; just not as much as those who have no hope. Sorrow over the death of a loved one is an appropriate emotion. We do not need to try to convince ourselves that we should be happy that our loved one is now in heaven. Death originally came as a result of Adam’s sin. It is an evil enemy, and we should not try to pretend it is anything else.