You are currently viewing Let Death Teach You How to Live

Let Death Teach You How to Live

My grandmother died last year on her 96th birthday. When I got the call that the end was near, I quickly drove to my parents’ home in Tennessee. In those final hours before she died, we held her hands and sang hymns. We recited Scriptures she loved and talked about heaven. Late in the evening, my grandmother died with family, friends, and a hospice nurse holding vigil by her side. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints,” I whispered, the room now quiet in the absence of her labored breathing.

A wave of conflicting thoughts swirled in my mind. Death is natural. Death is a part of life. But death is also unnatural. It’s an enemy. This isn’t right. My grandmother was a faithful believer. Though I knew she was with the Lord, I wasn’t sure how to feel about her death. There’s an ache of grief, even if it’s grief with hope. But how do we grieve? What do we do with death—the thing that everyone faces but none of us wants to endure? If death is a natural part of life, why are we so afraid of it?

In We Shall All Be Changed: How Facing Death with Loved Ones Transforms Us, journalist Whitney Pipkin answers common questions about grieving the death of a loved one and facing our mortality. Death is a doorway that leads us to eternity, but it’s also an enemy that will chase humanity until Christ returns to put it in its grave.

Theology of Death

It’s tempting to cloak our feelings about death with cheery Bible verses and “buck-up” clichés. However, if death is truly the enemy Jesus came to destroy, then it’s right to grieve its reach in this life. It’s right to lament because death is lamentable, even if it’s anticipated. Pipkin writes, “There is no tidy theology that will keep those tears from falling. But our suffering in death need not be deepened by surprise” (33).

We all must face our mortality. Walking with our loved ones through death is a rehearsal for our own step into eternity. Unless Christ returns in our lifetime, we will die. Developing a theology of death teaches us to sit with grief and understand the hope of Christ’s return.

Walking with our loved ones through death is a rehearsal for our own step into eternity.

Death is a result of sin. “For the wages of sin is death,” Paul argued (Rom. 6:23). But Jesus came to die to pay for our sin and give us the free gift of eternal life. We still bear the curse of sin, yet Christians no longer bear its condemnation for Jesus has swallowed it in victory for us (1 Cor. 15:54). Pipkin writes,

As Christians, we know that if Christ tarries, death will be the mode of our deliverance from this sin-soaked world and into His very presence. We do not welcome it because of this. But, because of this, we can look it in the eye. We can grab death by the horns and say, “How then shall I live?” (78)

By braiding together the inevitability of death and our victory in Christ from it—through it—we shed our fear by numbering our days as we look forward to the imperishable.

Grief and Hope

Walking through her mother’s illness and death forced Pipkin to grapple with what Scripture teaches us about death—both as a curse and as deliverance from suffering. Pipkin’s mother was diagnosed with cancer at age 43. Over the two decades of her battle with cancer, she pursued every possible treatment, clinical trial, and new medication. She fought to give her children as much time with their mother as possible.

Even so, the time was achingly short. “None of us is ever ready to witness the slow demise of a loved one or a sudden shocking departure,” Pipkin writes. “No—losing my mother’s presence on this earth has blown a chasm in me that will never be closed. I was not at all done being mothered at age thirty-three. I see now that I never will be” (26).

As a loved one is dying, Pipkin observes, it offers an opportunity to “extend improbable grace” as we serve them in their final days (27). We can draw close to them to offer the hope of the gospel, whether they’re believers or unbelievers.

Once they’re gone, though, we grapple with their absence. Grieving with hope means testing God’s promises, putting weight on all the things we’ve said we believed but have only now in the death of our loved one dared to prove. In the hope of resurrection, all God’s promises hold true.

Death Is Not the End

As Pipkin takes us through her experiences in caregiving, she paints a hopeful picture of what’s next for the believer. Resurrection day is coming. These bodies crushed beneath the weight of cancer, chronic pain, and old age will one day be raised imperishable just as Jesus was. The comfort in death is the hope of resurrection. Because of Jesus, death is not the end, nor is it a path we’ll travel alone. Pipkin writes, “Perhaps the greatest comfort Christians have in the face of death, then, is that their God went first” (73).

Grieving with hope means testing God’s promises, putting weight on all the things we’ve said we believed but have only now in the death of our loved one dared to prove.

We Shall All Be Changed is an honest book. Pipkin’s personal stories will resonate with anyone who has lost a family member. But it’s also a gospel-infused, hopeful book written with beauty and truth. Having read it, I fear death less but hate it more as an enemy. And I believe down to my bones that what Jesus accomplished at the cross and the empty tomb means everything for our present comfort and our future hope.

One day Christ will return, “and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:52). My grandmother, Pipkin’s mother, the faithful father you lost, the church friend you miss, me, you. Yes, we’ll face death, but we shall also all be changed.


Leave a Reply