The Death of the Christian and the Atheist

Death. It’s not a pleasant subject, yet it is one that we all must face. As surely as we were born to life on Earth, we must leave it one day through the vehicle of death. None of us can escape. Sooner or later we must face the “last enemy.” We don’t like to talk about it. It is said that King Louis XV of France banned the very mention of it in his presence. We wish we could avoid it, but we all must face the reality of death.

What happens to me five minutes after I die? We need an answer. We have all stood around the open grave grieving the loss of a loved one. Not one of those loved ones has ever come back to tell us what lies beyond death. But Jesus Christ did come back, so we need to listen and learn from Him.

There are only two options in death: either we die like a dog, are buried, and just cease to exist. Or, when our body dies, our soul lives on beyond the grave. Some say we cannot know anything certain of life after death. But Jesus Christ built the doctrine of the immortality of the soul on the tense of the verb ‘to be’. He said, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:32). When Jesus spoke those words, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were long dead, yet very much alive.

Death poses many serious questions for the believer in God, and also for the atheist. Before the latter gets to the subject of death, he must face the question of life. Denying the existence of God as the great Creator, the atheist must explain the origin of life. To him, some primordial form of life appeared. But he is faced with the question, How did an animate (living) organism come out of inanimate (dead ) matter? And how did that organism recognize the need to develop a digestive system, a desire to procreate, and a means of locomotion, etc?

We are told that minute changes, or mutations, took place over millions of years as the organism evolved to the complexity of today. There is one serious problem with that theory. All of their experimental organisms die, and in some cases in short order. Present observation shows that all species have “a time to be born, and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2). And each species has its own lifespan — from insects that live only a few hours to animals that may live as many as one hundred years. Therefore, it would be impossible to transmit any mutated gene for the next generation to carry on the evolutionary process.

That is a question that the atheist has trouble to adequately answer. Surely, given their millions of years of evolution, some creature would have broken the bonds of mortality to live an undying life? Or at least shown some evidence of going in that direction by extending the lifespan of its species? But that has not happened.

The Christian, on the other hand, has no such difficulty explaining life and death. He turns to the Bible and learns: “In the beginning God created the heaven and earth” (Genesis 1:1). He discovers that organic life has its beginning in God (Genesis 1:11). Man was made by God from inanimate matter, “the dust of the ground” (Genesis 2:7) by an act of sovereign creation. God also set regulations to govern the life of man who, under satanic influence, disobeyed God, and brought the curse of God upon the whole world (Genesis 3).

Why does man die? The answer is simple and clear. “Wherefore, as by one man (Adam) sin entered into the world, and death by sin: and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). Death comes to all because we all are sinners.

“To everything there is a season . . . a time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2). We are not here on earth forever. In fact, we are here for a very limited time; therefore, having been born to physical life it is wise to make spiritual preparation for the end of life. We are going to die. Death is absolutely certain for every one of us. The only exception is at the second coming of Christ when those “which are alive and remain shall be caught up…to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Why is death certain? Because it is ordained by God. “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Some earthly appointments we may miss by design or accident. But when the angel of death comes calling, we must obey. There is no escaping the appointment with death.

Death is certain because it is the “wages of sin” (Romans 6:23). God is not unrighteous. By our sin we have earned death and God will pay our wages in due time. Death is also certain because it is irresistible. No exercise of the power of self-preservation will prevent it. No modern medical advancement will annul it. When God calls, we shall keep the divine appointment to the precise second. At God’s command, our heart will register its last beat, and our lungs will exhale their last breath.

The only uncertainty of death lies in the fact that we do not know when it shall come. It may seem beneficial to know precisely how long we have on earth, and which day will be our last one. But God has mercifully veiled that from us. Psalm 90 tells us that, barring accident or fatal illness, the biblical norm is seventy years, but even that is not a guarantee. The same Psalm tells us that it may come later, or it may come earlier.

We go to bed at night and fully expect to awaken the next morning as we have always done. But we are warned, “Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth” (Proverbs 27:1). We never know when our last day will be. For instance, when we are travelling by car at a modest 30 mph, we are doing 44 feet per second, which means that we are potentially only half a second from death at any time should an accident occur.
It is wise then to add the phrase “God willing” or the Latin abbreviation DV (deo volente) before our plans. The rich man in Luke 12:20 did not regard God’s will and instead heard the dread words, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.” In the midst of his godless festivities, Belshazzar also did not realize that his death was imminent with the army of king Cyrus of Persia breaching the walls of the mighty city of Babylon at that very moment. The Bible records, “In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain” (Daniel 5:30).

How do you know that the vehicle of death is not already working to bring you to the divine appointment sooner than later? The disease that will eventually terminate your life may be at work in your body at this moment.

This universe comprises billions of heavenly bodies, proven by the observations of modern equipment like the Hubble telescope. It is estimated that there are 200 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy, and about 100 billion galaxies. If a computer counted them at the rate of 10 million per second, it would take 63 million years to count them all! And that is as much as can currently be seen in space. The Bible tells us, “He [God] made the stars also” (Genesis 1:16). Compared to the known universe, Earth is but a speck of dust in the vast ocean of space, and we are mere specks of dust on the Earth. Well does the Bible describe the nations of the world as the “small dust of the balance” (Isaiah 40:15).

When faced with such evidence, how unspeakably sad it is that an atheist like Stephen Hawking will face death and meet the eternal God, whose existence he denied. What an unspeakable horror to hear those dread words, “I never knew you: Depart from me.” (Matthew 7:23). The Bible rightly declares: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm 14:1). The atheist’s statement requires the attribute of omniscience, for the whole universe would have to be searched to support his opinion. The atheist engages his relatively tiny brain to declare to the world at large, “There is no God.” Others observe the myriad evidences and declare, “God is, and a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Remember the former Russian premier Nikita Khrushchev who gleefully sported that their cosmonauts did not find God after they sent their tiny satellite Sputnik into space in 1957? Their 200-mile leap into space was nothing compared to the astronomical distances of the universe.

Some years ago, I was conducting a funeral for a man who used to attend our church. At the visitation, one of his young sons, about twenty years of age, came up to speak with us. He told us proudly that he did not believe in the “stuff” we had taught him at Sunday School, and that he was now an atheist. My response to him was simple and straightforward: “Young man, if there is no God, we have nothing to fear, for we will die like a dog. But if there is a God, you have everything to worry about.” How unspeakably sad it is that the atheist like Stephen Hawking will face death and meet the eternal God, whose existence he denied. What an unspeakable horror to hear those dreadful words, “I never knew you: depart from me” (Matthew 7:23).

David penned the immortal words, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4). David faced death confidently with the knowledge that the God whom he served would carry him safely over the Jordan of death and into His everlasting presence. This is the hope of every believer in death.

Dr. Frank McClelland is Minister Emeritus of Toronto FPC

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By Frank McClelland

Dr. Frank McClelland is minister emeritus of Toronto FPC,Toronto, ON.