1 Corinthians 15:55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
I think one of the best gifts family members and friends can give to each other is the knowledge that they will be in heaven after they die. It can be a great source of comfort both while they are here on earth and after they have gone on to heaven. Though this verse in 1 Corinthians is speaking of Jesus’ victory on the cross removing the consequences of sin for a believer, I experienced a new understanding of it this past December with the passing of my 87-year-old mother. With the assurance that she was victorious over death and now in the presence of God and Jesus in heaven, I have also realized that the sting of her death has been removed for me as well. Before becoming a Christian and studying God’s Word, the thought that someone might be in heaven was not that great a comfort to me. They were just sentimental words. I wasn’t sure I believed in heaven, and even if I did, I didn’t really know what it meant. The death of loved ones still stung, but becoming a believer and studying God’s Word changes one’s perspective. It’s not that we don’t grieve, but that we grieve differently. We no longer grieve “like the rest of men who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). People who are not believers see their loved ones who have passed away as just gone, but believers see them as in the presence of the Lord. So we grieve with hope because when a believer dies, it is not the end, but the first day of the rest of the best part of their lives. Shouldn’t that hope remove the sting?
The promise that we will be in heaven when we die is only the beginning of the good news. God’s Word says much about heaven which can be a great source of comfort, joy and peace in the passing of believing loved ones. From John 14:2, we know that when Jesus went to heaven, He went to prepare a place for us. I can only imagine how perfectly appointed that place will be when designed by the One who knows us best and always does more than we can imagine (Ephesians 3:20). We know that heaven is God’s dwelling place, and wouldn’t the Creator of all beauty make heaven something wonderful to behold? When Jesus hung on the cross, He said to the criminal next to him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). The Greek word for paradise means an Eden. Merriam-Webster defines Eden as a place of pristine or abundant natural beauty. So we know those who have gone to heaven are in a beautiful place. We know that believers in heaven are sinless because they could not be in the presence of our holy Lord otherwise, “…without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). We know that believers in the present heaven are absent from their bodies (2 Corinthians 5:8), so they are no longer trapped in bodies and minds that are deteriorating. They are in a place where things cannot be destroyed (Matthew 6:20). And in heaven believers know the full extent of God’s great love for them as they are in the presence of the One who is love (1 John 4:16). This is only a small amount of the information in the Bible on heaven, so if the sting of a loved ones death is still with you, will you turn to the Scriptures to learn more?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once preached, “Death is hell and night and cold if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death.” It is this transformation that removes the sting of death. He also referred to death as “the last stop on the road to freedom.” My husband jokingly said that he wasn’t ready to buy a ticket on that train ride yet, but as believers, we can have an excitement in the anticipation and preparation for that trip and have joy for those who have made the trip before us. So do not grieve as though you have no hope for though the bee may land on your arm, it has left its stinger in hell.
How has the sting of death been removed for you?
How might you be grieving as one who has no hope?