The following quotes caught my attention as I read Tim Keller’s new book, On Death (Penguin, 2020). This is the perfect little book that would be both edifying to a believer and also an evangelistic tract for a non-believer.
Death is the Great Interruption, tearing tearing loved ones away from us, or us from them. Death is the Great Schism, ripping apart the material and immaterial parts of our being and sundering a whole person, who was never meant to be disembodied, even for a moment. Death is the Great Insult, because it reminds us, as Shakespeare said, that we are worm food. . . . Death is hideous and frightening and cruel and unusual. It is not the way life is supposed to be, and our grief in the face of death acknowledges that. Death is our Great Enemy, more than anything. It makes a claim on each and every one of us, pursuing us relentlessly through all our days. Modern people write and talk endlessly about love, especially romantic love, which eludes many. But no one can avoid death. It has been said that all the wars and plagues have never raised the death toll—it has always been one for each and every person. Yet we seem far less prepared for it than our ancestors. (1–3)
The human race as a whole can’t not fear and hate death. It is a unique and profound problem. Religion gave people tools to help in facing our most formidable foe, and modern secularism has not come up with anything to compensate for its loss. (19)
Rather than living in fear of death, we should see death as spiritual smelling salts that will awaken us out of our false belief that we will live forever. When you are at a funeral, especially one for a friend or a loved one, listen to God speaking to you, telling you that everything in life is temporary except for His love. This is reality. (25–26)
It’s in death that God says, “If I’m not your security, then you’ve got no security, because I’m the only thing that can’t be taken away from you. I will hold you in my everlasting arms. Every other set of arms will fail you, but I will never fail you.” Smelling salts are very disagreeable, but they are also very effective. But as you’re waking from your illusions, be at peace, because here’s what Jesus Christ offers to us if by faith we have him as our Savior. (27–28)
If Jesus died so you don’t have to pay for anything in your past and he has risen to be your living Savior, then what can death do to you? (34)
Death was not in God’s original design for the world and human life. Look at the first three chapters of Genesis. We were not meant to die; we were meant to last. We were meant to get more and more beautiful as time goes on, not more and more enfeebled. We were meant to get stronger, not to weaken and die. (39)
To say, “Oh, death is just natural,” is to harden and perhaps kill a part of your heart’s hope that makes you human. We know deep down that we are not like trees. We are not like grass. We were created to last. We don’t want to be ephemeral, to be inconsequential. We don’t want to just be a wave upon the sand. The deepest desires of our hearts are for love that lasts. (42)
Death is not the way it ought to be. Death is abnormal, it is not a friend. It isn’t right. This isn’t truly part of the circle of life. Death is the end of it. So grieve. Cry. The Bible tells us not only to weep, but to weep with those who are weeping (Rom. 12:15, NASB). We have a lot of crying to do. (43)
Jesus knew that to raise Lazarus from the dead would push his enemies toward extreme measures. So he knew that the only way he could get Lazarus out of the tomb was if he put himself into it. Indeed, if he is to guarantee resurrection for all who believe in him, he must put himself into the grave. On the cross that’s what he did. (44–45)
Christians have a hope that can be “rubbed into” our sorrow and anger the way salt is rubbed into meat. Neither stifling grief nor giving way to despair is right. Neither repressed anger nor unchecked rage is good for your soul. But pressing hope into your grief makes you wise, compassionate, humble, and tenderhearted. Grieve fully yet with profound hope! Do you see why I said that this is not some midpoint moderation but a combination of extremes? This will give you more strength than stoicism and more freedom to lament than hopelessness. (46–47)
Anything wonderful or great in this world is only an echo or foretaste of what is present in infinitely greater depths in the Vision of God and in the New Heaven and New Earth, the world of love. (63)
While people have many reactions to being in the presence of death, there are two opposite mistakes we can make when we’re in the presence of death: One is to despair too much; the other is to shrug it off and not learn what we should from it. Neither will be of much benefit to you, so we must do as the Bible tells us to do in the face of death: We should grieve, yet we should have hope; we should wake up from our denial and discover a source of peace that will not leave us; and finally, we should laugh and sing. (69)
George Herbert says, “Death used to be an executioner, but the Gospel makes him just a gardener.” Death used to be able to crush us, but now all death can do is plant us in God’s soil so we become something extraordinary. (72)
Grieve with hope; wake up and be at peace; laugh in the face of death, and sing for joy at what’s coming. If you have Jesus Christ by the hand, and he’s got you by the hand, you can sing. (72)
If we live to old age we can feel our bodies (and our beauty) fading, yet if we are growing in God’s grace, our souls, as it were, are becoming stronger and more beautiful. At death this reversal becomes complete. Our bodies disintegrate and we become blindingly glorious. Comfort yourself with these words. (80)
The world can only give us peace that says, “It probably won’t get that bad.” Jesus’s peace is different. It says, “Even the worst that can happen—your death—is ultimately the best thing that can happen. We all long for a “place” that is truly home. Jesus says that it awaits you. (82)
From our perspective, death—especially for the young—is nothing but a great evil. Yet we don’t know the future, and what if death is God’s way of taking people to himself, giving them peace, and saving them from future evil. Why is this so counterintuitive for human beings? (90–91)
Remember that when you walk into the valley of the shadow of death, it is Jesus, the Shepherd, who has led you there. He has comfort to give you and ways to strengthen, deepen, and grow you that would be otherwise impossible. So give thanks for his presence, refuse self-pity, and seek him in prayer even when you don’t feel him present (because he is). Jesus himself walked into death, solitary and rejected by everyone (Matt. 27:46) so when we face the death of loved ones or even our own, we will never be alone. (95–96)
Many people are unaware of the condemnation that has been pronounced over them, or else they are unacquainted with its magnitude, except perhaps for a nagging sense of unease. When facing death, however, our enemy allows us to see the full scope of our cosmic treason, and what answer do we have then? Only this—that Jesus has taken our punishment and set us free, and there is now no condemnation left for us. Rejoice! (96)
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