Have you ever noticed that whether a death is an untimely one, such as the death of a young person, an expected one, after a long period of suffering, or a natural one, after a long and productive life, those left behind always think that the death was too soon?
I think that the reason for this feeling is that by nature we know that we were not created to die. When God created this universe, death was not a part of that creation.
In fact, God told the first man and woman in effect, "If you love me and obey me, you will live forever, but if you choose to go against me, you will suffer and die."
In the Garden of Eden, there were two very unique trees. One was the tree of life, and the other, a tree of testing, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The testing tree symbolically spoke of the idea of whether or not our first ancestors would obey God or would decide that they thought they knew better than Him what was good or bad for their own lives. You know the history: they chose poorly, and ever since that time, we also have followed suit.
Death entered this world not through the hand of Creation, but through the hand of the creature. We chose death over life. Yes, God is the One who sent death.
But it was a gracious gift because, once Adam and Eve decided to go their own way apart from God, once they chose to believe that they knew how to run their own lives better than God, God gave them a choice.
The choice was to either let them live eternally separated from Him -- and that is what hell itself means, living eternally separated from God -- or allow them suffering and death in an attempt, the only attempt there was, to plant the flag of truth in our hearts, driving us back to God where we could find forgiveness and life.
It is a sad thing when we realize that most of us only turn to God when things are desperate, when there is no other hope. But even here God is gracious and He accepts us and longs to restore us to Himself.
It is a sad thing to think that it takes death to get our attention, but honestly it does. Very few of us turn our thoughts to God when things are going good, but let something trouble us, let the reality of death stir us, and suddenly we find ourselves looking for answers -- answers that God longs to give to us.
In his book, "The Problem of Pain," C.S. Lewis wrote, "It is a poor thing to strike our colors to God when the ship is going down under us. A poor thing to come to Him as a last resort, to offer up our own when it is no longer worth keeping.
"If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms: but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him only because there is nothing better now to be had...
"It is hardly complimentary to God that we should choose Him as an alternative to Hell: yet even that He accepts. The creatures illusion of self-sufficiency must, for the creature's sake, be shattered; and by trouble or fear of trouble on earth, by crude fear of the eternal flames, God shatters it unmindful of His glory's diminution."
We live in an age where the vast majority of people call on a pastor on two occasions: one, to get married, and two, to get buried. How sad.
Let me assure you that death is not the entrance into heaven. In death, we enter eternity. The entrance -- the only entrance to heaven -- is through Jesus Christ.
He said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:7 10, NASB95).
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org.