“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Some years ago I was speaking with a young medical student following a funeral. He asked, “Why is death stronger than life? Why isn’t it the other way around?” In response I quoted him the text for today. We die because we sin. No matter how flourishing a life we may have lived, we all have sinned and death is our future. Pretty simple.
The inevitability of death can result in all kinds of effort to rationalize, to attempt to put a positive construction on death, to put the proper ‘spin’ on death and thereby diffuse it of its sting and power. We like to say things like, ‘Well, at least he didn’t suffer’ – if, in fact, that is the case. Or, ‘She had a long life and did everything she wanted to do’, and so on. Or, keeping fashion with the latest in the rhetoric of death denial, nowadays you don’t even die…you simply ‘pass’. Whatever that means.
But can we really believe that these assessments are an adequate response to something that robs us of everything – including life itself? They sound much more like the remarks of those who are powerless and don’t know WHAT to say in the face of the sobering and irrefutable truth that the world is a graveyard.
The Christian faith does know what to say. The Scriptures do not gloss over death and treat it like a minor bump in the road on our inevitable way to some spiritual never-never land. The culture may deny it, sanitize it, rationalize it, try to make the best of it and so on, but St. Paul called it what it is: “…the wages of sin…”. So I quoted St. Paul to the young medical student, who didn’t care much for what St. Paul had to say about sin and death.
I also reminded him of the free gift. I told him that God in Jesus Christ has forgiven sin and defeated death on the cross and that it is because Jesus lives that we may look forward in trust and hope to everlasting life. My young friend wasn’t so sure about that either but he did concede that it was quite a promise. I said, “Indeed it is. And it’s for you.”