I've recently seen this quote: "Death used to be an executioner, but the gospel [or "resurrection" depending on which version you find] has made him just a gardener" (George Herbert). This seems to be an attempt at a pithy summary of resurrection teaching from 1 Corinthians 15. I appreciate the sentiment for this reason: Jesus conquered death and the grave and those who die in Christ have certain hope of resurrection and eternal life.
"But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive...When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' 'O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?'...But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 15:20-22,54-55,57).
Praise the Lord! Death doesn't get the last word. The truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and all he has accomplished means that the dead in Christ will rise in the resurrection. I believe that Jesus as one song puts it, "laid death in his grave;" or another: "It is not death to die."
I love that truth, but I don't like the gardener quote. To call death a gardener makes death seem benign. To call death a gardener can call into question the suffering and mourning of those who love the one who died as though what they are mourning is really no big deal.
But you know what? It is a big deal. I hate death. People I love are in pain right now because of death. The reality is that death is not a gardener, but an enemy; a wicked enemy. 1 Cor. 15:26 "The last enemy to be destroyed is death." Death is part of the curse because of the fall. Death hurts those who are still alive. Death is evil. If death is just a gardener, he is the most vicious, cruel gardener I've ever met.
That doesn't change the reality of Christ's conquering work! But it does perhaps give us a better perspective than Herbert's clever quote on why grief is so painful. It reminds us that it is ok to grieve because death is so unnatural and is an enemy. A defeated enemy to be sure, but an enemy nonetheless. Our perishable bodies have not yet put on the imperishable, and until they do, death remains an enemy.
When I quote Scripture In this blog, unless otherwise indicated, the quotations are usually from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission.
All rights reserved.