Steve Brown of Key Life Ministries is a good friend of mine. He tells the following story, which makes it clear how human beings will do anything and everything possible to avoid the reality of death and pain and suffering.
It happened a number of years ago on a flight from Miami to Los Angeles. We were all enjoying a happy trip, since most of the passengers were returning from cruises. They had their trinkets in their hands, tans on their faces, and great memories to share when they arrived home.
And then the lady in the aisle next to my seat died.
Everybody got real quiet while the flight attendants asked if there were a doctor on the flight. Two or three came forward, and while they did their best to save her, she still died. The pilot landed the plane in Dallas and directed his passengers to disembark while the corpse was taken from the plane to a waiting hearse. Then we all reboarded the plane for the remainder of our flight to Los Angeles.
The crowd had changed into a somber bunch. Most people try to avoid death and all thoughts of it. But to be honest, it is hard to do that while encased in an aluminum tube cruising at 34,000 feet. There just isn’t anyplace to run.
I approached one of the flight attendants. “I’m a clergyman,” I said, “and deal with death a lot. If you would like me to help, please feel free to ask.”
“Thanks for your offer, Reverend,” she said, smiling, “but we’re going to give the passengers free drinks.”
Can you believe that? If you can get them drunk enough, they won’t have to deal with the reality of death. Just souse ‘em up.
I fear that Christians sometimes do that too. Only we don’t use alcohol; we use religious clichés, false theology, and Christian denial.
Wow! Let’s give people alcohol instead of a faith that can make sense of the reality of pain and suffering and death, and even provide hope and encouragement!
There was a time in this world when there was no pain and suffering and death—but Adam and Eve changed all that. Created by God for God, the first man and woman opted to remove God from the center of their lives and disobeyed the one and only “Thou shalt not . . .” He had given them. By engaging in that horrific act of cosmic treason, our first parents plunged all of creation into a sickening downward spiral that leads to the pit of hell. And that is why there is pain and suffering and death in this world.
To be sure, the world is broken and so are all the people in it . . . including you and me! But God did not leave us to wallow in damaged despair; He sent His beloved Son on a rescue mission to make everything that is broken whole again; all that is evil will be made righteous; every crooked thing will be made straight!
But before Jesus returns and finishes what He started in making all things new, we will all face the dark reality of pain and suffering and death. We can pretend it doesn’t exist; we may try to inoculate ourselves from it or anesthetize ourselves to it, but this will not shelter us from ugly reality. I am sure that the hearse waiting to take the dead woman off Steve Brown’s plane didn’t have luggage racks on it. Do you know why? Because she wasn’t coming back!
Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:22, 23)
I don’t know the spiritual condition of the woman who died on that plane, but if she was not in Christ, she is suffering unimaginable torment in hell today. When we are in Christ, we can face pain and sorrow and death with the confident assurance that God is working all of it for our good and His glory. When death comes for us, in the instant we are absent from our body, we shall be present with our Lord—forevermore!
Make no mistake, we will all come face-to-face with pain and sorrow and death. These are fires through which we all must pass. But for the Christian believer, these trials will be vastly different from what is experienced by the unbeliever. Only the Gospel will free us, when facing pain and sorrow and death, to say: “You keep the free drinks; I’ll keep my faith in Jesus!”
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!