I hate death. It’s an enemy. A formidable foe. A blight on God’s good creation. A thief who steals our friends and loved ones.

Death is so awful it’s no wonder people often prefer to speak in euphemisms that shield us from its ugliness. This is why we talk about people “passing away” or inform others when someone has “passed.” We look for a gentler way of describing the reality, of saying someone has died. To speak of someone’s death or to describe someone as dead—it lands hard on the ears. It’s cold. Harsh. Borderline impolite.

There are Christian ways we soften the blow, when we talk about someone “graduating” to glory or “transitioning” to heaven or when we rebrand funerals as “homegoing celebrations.”

I get it. I don’t judge anyone who turns to these and other phrases when describing death. (One could even make a case for why some of these descriptions have theological warrant.)

But I won’t do it myself. When someone dies, they don’t just disappear into the mists. They don’t just “transition.” The body dies. There’s a corpse. Even when we smile through the tears when someone dies well—as a testament to the faithfulness of God—death remains an enemy. Yes, the soul is immediately with God, but there remains a wrenching loss, a wretchedness, because body and soul were never intended to be separated.

And so I usually choose to say someone “died” or speak of someone’s “death.” Why?

1. How the Bible Talks

The Old Testament genealogies tell us again and again about various men and women—they lived, and then they died (or, for kings, sometimes we’re told they “rested with their fathers”). Even if death claims a faithful believer at the end of a long illness and is a relief after terrible suffering, it’s still their death that’s “precious” in the eyes of the Lord (Ps. 116:15), not their passing.

The New Testament doesn’t shy away from death either. Yes, Jesus described Lazarus as having “fallen asleep,” but even then he followed up with plainer language: “Lazarus has died” (John 11:11, 14). When Paul describes departed saints as “those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thess. 4:14), he does so not out of politeness or the desire to comfort us by softening the blow but because he wants to emphasize the temporary state of death so we maintain unshakable hope in resurrection awakening.

2. Death Is an Enemy

Death is not a friend but an enemy. Death hurts. We mourn the loss of loved ones. I don’t want to shy away from words that communicate the shock and harshness of death because, no matter what we say, it’s horrible. There’s no way to really soften it. You can change your communication but you can’t enliven the corpse.

Yes, a follower of Jesus goes to “a better place.” But their “transition” or “graduation” or “homegoing” has happened through death, which is never less than a tragedy. Our friend is in heaven because our friend died.

Thankfully, when we die in Christ, we’re at once with the Lord. That’s why I do like and sometimes use the language of “going to be with Jesus” or “went to be with the Lord,” especially if I’m with a grieving family or church that needs, in that moment, an emphasis on our hope of eternal life with Christ. But even then, I use that language knowing the person is still dead and that their loved ones mourn the temporary separation. Even those who are now with Jesus long for the day of resurrection, when their souls will be clothed again with new bodies in a glorified state, beyond the reach of death’s clutches (2 Cor. 5).

3. Resurrection Victory

Speaking plainly about death gives us more opportunities to highlight the future hope of resurrection. The Bible tells us death is awful but also that love is stronger than death (Song 8:6). Do you feel the power of that promise? Love beats death.

When I look for softer ways to speak about death, I muffle the shouts and cheers of resurrection victory. But when I acknowledge how harsh and horrible death is, I get to wave my finger in the face of that tyrant and say, “O death, where is your sting!”

That’s why I’d rather say “death” and then stand defiant in resurrection hope. No matter how many times that foe robs us of our friends and loved ones, no matter how gaping the hole of our own future gravesite, we can look that ancient enemy in the face knowing the decisive battle has already been won—when the last enemy is defeated, death itself will be swallowed up by the grave (1 Cor. 15). In Adam, all die. In Christ, all will be made alive.

So remember, Jesus didn’t come to conquer a friend. He didn’t come to ease our “passing.” He came to conquer and overturn death forever. “Passing away” language doesn’t do justice to the power of our enemy or the promise of our hope.

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